“Can I tell you my story?”
West Hills Chaminade High boys’ basketball coach Bryan Cantwell was telling a flight agent about trying to get his players and fellow coaches home for Christmas after traveling to St. Louis last week for a tournament. They were stranded because of the many flight cancellations caused by the blizzard and other problems.
Cantwell was the last of the Chaminade traveling party to arrive at LAX on Monday night via Houston.
“Sir, I’m going to get you on this flight,” Cantwell said the United Airlines agent told him.
“She punches it and hands me the ticket and I fall down crying,” Cantwell said.
It all began a week ago. The travel agent warned Cantwell that there was a “big storm” coming and asked if the team could leave for home Wednesday.
Cantwell said yes but the team couldn’t find any flights out of St. Louis to Los Angeles and the players weren’t allowed to travel by themselves because they were minors, unless it was a direct flight so they wouldn’t be stranded in a connecting city.
One of Chaminade’s players, Bryce Goldman, injured his toe and got a flight home with his parents. Another player had family in St. Louis and would be able to fly home with his parents on Christmas Day. On Thursday, all flights were canceled. On Friday, there were no flights. On Saturday, players and coaches went to the St. Louis airport at 5 a.m. to try to fly standby. Four players and one coach made it out on one flight, then two coaches and six players made it out on another flight.
Ethan Johnson and manager Carly Cosby got on a third flight sprinting to a different terminal in St. Louis for a direct flight to San Jose. Cosby’s father drove to San Jose to drive her home.
Left behind were Cantwell, his 15-year-old freshman son Kahlil and player Corey Jones. They spent Christmas Eve at a hotel. Cantwell looked at a 40-hour train ride home or a 26-hour rental car as options. They spent Christmas Day eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together while watching football on TV.
On Monday, all three went to the airport at 5 a.m. and were booked by United on a flight to Houston. Only Corey had a seat on a connecting flight to Los Angeles. When they arrived, Kahlil got a seat thanks to the agent working while the flight was in the air, leaving Cantwell stuck in Houston. The only flight out for Cantwell was one to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, but the flight was delayed so long it wouldn’t make an 11 p.m. deadline, so Cantwell assumed it would be canceled.
That’s when he pleaded with the agent in Houston to find another flight to Los Angeles.
“Excuse me, can I tell you my story,” he said. “Can I get on any flight to Southern California?”
The agent got him on the flight. His wife, Beth, who had picked up their freshman son at LAX and drove him home, then drove back to the airport and picked up Bryan at 10 p.m.
“The people from United were amazing,” Cantwell said Tuesday as he prepared to send a letter thanking the agents for the many hours of work securing flights for himself and the players. “This was a freak occurrence. There was nothing they could do.”
Chaminade resumes play Wednesday, though several players are feeling ill after their memorable trip during the Christmas storm of 2022.