Thanksgiving is that special time of year when friends and family travel from near and far to celebrate together. Hearing about all my friends’ and acquaintances’ travel plans got me thinking about the last time my family and I traveled together and how it really seemed like we’d never make it back home.

I traveled from the D.C. area with my mother and brother to Bellingham, Washington, to visit my father, who was working there. We had a great time hiking, sightseeing and enjoying new family memories and togetherness.

Batya Carl/Photos

Our flight back also gave us some new shared memories and definitely brought us together, but maybe not in quite the same way it had while hiking mountains and Pacific rainforests.

We left our hotel at 6 a.m. to catch a connecting flight from Seattle to Chicago. When we arrived, we were told that our flight was delayed by a half-hour. No one really likes to hear the word “delay” while traveling, but a half-hour didn’t raise any alarm bells. But it really should have because it was the beginning of the end for our flight.

On our flight, we got our peanuts and drinks and got on our way. We were nearly in Chicago when the pilot announced on the PA system that gusts of wind were preventing us from landing. After circling over Chicago for an hour, we were told that the plane needed to be refueled, and we were rerouted to Des Moines. We shared puzzled glances with fellow passengers as we awaited the next update.

We trudged through the airport, a weary pack of strangers from all walks of life, united by the single desire to get out of limbo and on our way home.

Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images

The next few hours were marked by a series of reassurances that were dashed moments later. Our pilot timed out, and we were promised a “brand-new airplane and a new pilot.” But then the airline couldn’t find another pilot in Iowa.

We were herded to the baggage claim, where we were told that charter buses would take us to Chicago, only to be told soon thereafter that they could not find any charter buses in Iowa. The buses would make a seven-hour drive from Illinois, pick us up, then take us to O’Hare International Airport.

The tiny airport did not have any restaurants open, save a Dunkin’ Donuts that ran out of food. So we bought snacks from vending machines and sprawled out in the waiting area, counting down the hours until the buses would arrive. During the wait, all I felt like doing was playing with the Snapchat filters on my phone, as if one of those filters could transform the airport waiting area and our circumstances.

Batya Carl/Snapchat

Around midnight, we boarded the buses and got some much-needed rest until we arrived at the airport seven hours later. We learned that we were not the only ones. The airport was filled with stranded travelers whose flights were diverted or delayed.

We watched bleary-eyed as a red-faced man shouted at a ticket agent that if he did not get on the next plane to his destination, he will have been in the airport for 50 hours.

Luckily, back in Des Moines, the airline staff worked tirelessly to rebook everyone from our Seattle flight, and my family and I were on standby for seats.

As we inched closer to boarding, we were told that there was yet another delay. At this point, I’d lost count of how many delays we’d had and was more or less zoned out due to my exhaustion. So when my mother told me we were delayed because of “the bees,” it didn’t really register.

Every so often, I’d pick up on hearing people talking about “the bees,” and I finally perked up:

Me: Wait — you said that we are delayed because of bees?!

Mom: Yes, a swarm of them.

Me: This makes sense.

At this point, considering all of our setbacks, even the most absurd obstacle didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

Eventually, we got home and got some rest. It had been 36 hours since we stepped out of our hotel in Bellingham. The airline apparently felt bad for our never-ending flight and sent me this letter:

I’m so sorry we were unable to get you to Chicago Midway (MDW) last night…As you know, your flight diverted to Des Moines…because of thunderstorms, and subsequently cancelled due to Crew duty time restrictions. I hope you will accept our sincere apologies for the very long evening and the overall situation. We value you as our Customer and would like another opportunity to provide you with a better travel experience.

They included travel vouchers for each of us and ended their apology letter with:

You can be sure we are looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Thanks for the voucher, but really not sure we can say the same.

So although you may encounter traffic or delays during your travels this holiday season, I sincerely hope you don’t have to experience what I did. But just in case, maybe bring a coloring book or download a movie. You may just need it more than you realize.

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