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Bailey: I Traveled with Flyers Prospects from Las Vegas; Inside Our 24 Hours from Hell

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Jack Berglund (L), Austin Moline (M), and Spencer Gill (R) after our flight was canceled for the night in Chicago.

LAS VEGAS, NV. — Jack Berglund, Spencer Gill, and Austin Moline all had their lifelong NHL dreams realized when the Philadelphia Flyers called their names on Day 2 of the 2024 NHL Draft on Saturday morning.

It was a lifelong dream realized for me, too–a 23-year-old kid who’s been out of college for 14 months and has only held the title of ‘beat reporter’ for seven of those months. Everything we, all four of us, went through the very next day was nothing short of a disaster.

Welcome to the NHL.

“I didn’t know you had to take the train to Terminal 1,” Gill said, recalling his first impressions of Las Vegas at the Harry Reid International Airport. “It was buzzin’!”

We had to take the tram, or the train, as Gill called it, to Terminal 3 to repeat the process and then return home to Philadelphia. But no sooner did I arrive at the airport, at roughly 6:30 a.m., did I find out our 8:30 a.m. flight had been delayed to 10 a.m. And so it began.

The delay was at least palatable at first since I could occupy myself on social media; many friends on the East Coast were up and out and about already due to the three-hour time difference. Then came another 30-minute delay, followed by a notification that we were being diverted to Chicago.

I hadn’t seen much of Berglund before or after his media availability after the Flyers drafted him 51st overall in the second round on Saturday morning, and it took me a while to recognize him, but it wasn’t hard to spot a 6-foot-3 Swedish kid quizzically studying the television atop gate D8.

At first, I thought nothing of him at first and instead figured I would go up to the American Airlines attendant to find out why on earth we were being diverted to Chicago.

Supposedly, the story was that we only needed to stop for fuel for 30 minutes, wouldn’t be deplaning, and would be back in the air after 30 minutes. All of those things ended up being false.

After realizing the fellow in a grey, fitted baseball cap was Berglund, I decided to explain the situation to him. It was probably scary being from another country in a place you don’t know, going to a place you don’t know, and then having your destination changed to another place you don’t know. It was understandably overwhelming, even for me, at times.

As our quick talk turned into a full-blown conversation, melting away the hours-long delay, all Berglund could talk about was how excited he was to be a Flyers player.

“How’s the weather over there?”

Berglund couldn’t stand the blistering heat in Las Vegas much longer than the weekend he was already there for.

“I stayed inside pretty much the whole time.”

Soon after, we all piled into the plane cabin one after another. Philadelphia eagerly awaited us after our near five-hour flight, just as the Flyers awaited their newly selected prospects. And for a while, things were looking nice.

I unknowingly sat behind Gill, who was seated in 13C, in front of me at 14B. Berglund had the aisle seat on the other side of 13, while Moline was somewhere a few rows back, mostly keeping to himself.

We made it to Chicago with no problems, aside from a bit of turbulence going through Colorado and Utah. We landed around 4:30 p.m. local time and waited out the proverbial 30-minute refuel time, though around 5:10, people were starting to get restless and wondered why the plane wasn’t preparing to take off again. We were delayed until 6:30 p.m. local time, and after 45 minutes, that got pushed back to 7:15 p.m.

The plan was for us to deplane, get something to eat, walk around, and begin boarding again at 7:15. I offered to buy the young Flyers food in case they were hungry, weren’t able to afford it, or whatever the case may be. Berglund said that, at one point, he needed to call his dad to pay for something since he only had Apple Pay and needed a physical card, which his dad fortunately had.

I jokingly suggested McDonalds, but the three of them laughed and shook their heads in disagreement before grouping up and venturing off in search of healthier alternatives.

The Flyers will assuredly be proud of them for resisting that temptation ahead of their big week at development camp.

Gill and I eventually met back up again at Starbucks near gate H8; he grabbed some breakfast sandwiches and I opted for my second coffee of the day. As for my first meal of the day, at roughly 6:30 p.m.? I got a Cajun-style grilled chicken sandwich from some joint in the food court, which came with fries. For $14, I thought it was a pretty solid choice.

We did board again at the scheduled time and began taxiing a short while later, only to stop taxiing after 30 minutes of driving around aimlessly. The pilot parked us at a gate that the plane wasn’t compatible with, so we drove to another gate and settled in there.

At around 8:05 p.m., the pilot announced that we were done for the night. Gill turned around to look at me and looked like he’d seen Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghost. Berglund clocked his food tray with a UFC hammer fist out of frustration, and it was maybe deserved after it buckled earlier and caused the young Swede to spill Diet Coke on himself. Moline was silently stewing in his seat a few rows back.

Why was Berglund, in particular, so frustrated?

“I have no contact with my family now. Two are flying and one is asleep,” he explained. “I love Philadelphia… I hope I make it there.”

Gill and Moline settled after getting to the gate, and together the four of us decided to take American Airlines up on their offer of a one-night hotel stay and two meal vouchers. Berglund and Moline didn’t care to get their bags, but Gill and I requested our bags to be sent down to baggage claim so that we could shower at our hotels and be ready to fly again at 6 a.m. Monday morning.

“Are airlines in America always like this?” Gill asked, still visibly flustered.

It was hard to keep up with the Flyers prospects with a foot that was badly blistered from all the weekend walking in Las Vegas, but the boys were considerate enough to wait for me, the rookie reporter, to head down to baggage claim with them and help them get to the right place.

It took me back to my days at Monmouth University, where I served as a New Student Orientation Leader for incoming freshmen in my junior and senior years. I was like a fish taking to water.

We waited at baggage claim for nearly 20 minutes to no avail, and when I checked my AirTag, per Gill’s request, my luggage was still on the plane. That was enough for us to just leave and head to our hotels.

“They didn’t give you the same hotel as us?” Berglund asked. His voice wavered with a tone that was a mix of worried and confused. Nope. I got the DoubleTree of Rosemont in Chicago, and I had to wait nearly 40 minutes for the shuttle to pick me up and take me there.

The room was dated, smelled of urine, had a leaking shower faucet, and had stains all over the carpet. ‘Whatever,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s good enough for the night. I can write something, take a short nap, and get up around 4 a.m. to make it back for the 6 a.m. flight,’ and boy was I wrong.

Before I could even get to bed, American had delayed us from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.. Fifteen minutes later, it was moved to 10 a.m., then 10:30, then 11. I was mad, sure, but these kids were now guaranteed to miss almost their entire first day of development camp. The Flyers weren’t happy, the players weren’t happy, and now their weekend of a lifetime was tainted by an obnoxious amount of flight delays that left them with nowhere to go.

I took my lumps and made it back to O’Hare International close to 9:30 a.m., giving me barely an hour to clear security and make it up to the gate. Naturally, that was a problem, too. Because American’s systems were so badly wracked from the night before, my original boarding pass was denied, therefore I had to run around and manually get a new one from a different customer service agent.

I had made it upstairs by 10 a.m., just in time to settle at the gate before we boarded again. Just like Sunday, the actual flying portion was no issue and the ride to Philadelphia went swimmingly. Finishing the job wasn’t as simple, though.

Our baggage claim was supposed to be No. 17 in Terminal C, and after standing around for 30 minutes, we were told it was No. 14. Then it was No. 17 again. Gill, growing restless, asked me a few times to check my AirTag, but my luggage was showing up on the opposite side of the airport. It wasn’t coming.

After some time, Berglund, Gill, and Moline’s belongings slowly began trickling out of the machine onto the belt. Berglund’s suitcase was first, and the teenager lurched forward to grab it like King Arthur and the Excalibur and spiked it on the ground with pride and relief. Gill’s hockey bags shuffled along the belt, as did Moline’s. Moline made sure to run over, take one bag in each hand, and throw them off the belt to the floor.

At some point in between, Gill verbally expressed his excitement at fellow Flyers prospect Matvei Michkov following him on Instagram. “Sure, I’ll follow ya back!” he exclaimed.

“Michkov?” Berglund asked, equally curious and impressed.

Berglund’s Farjestad bag was out next, accompanied by the clattering of hockey sticks against the sides of the machine. Moments later, a fellow named John arrived to retrieve the three young Flyers.

“Is he here for you?” Berglund asked me.

“No,” I replied, admittedly disappointed that John didn’t even acknowledge me, despite the fact that I was standing in the middle of the three Flyers and actively conversing. “He’s here for you guys. Go home, don’t worry about me.”

Off they went, wishing me safe travels, waving goodbye, and shouting “See you later” across the baggage claim area. It was nice to bond with the young Flyers, but I had to quickly turn my attention to finding my luggage across the airport before someone else made off with it, knowing my luck.

As it turned out, I had to walk all the way to Terminal A to search a room stocked yea high with luggage from canceled flights. There I was, after everything that happened, playing ‘Where’s Waldo?’ with my luggage, using the ‘Find My’ app on my phone to ping the AirTag.

“50 feet… 45 feet… 50 feet… 60 feet… 35 feet… ah! Getting warmer!”

American couldn’t even get the baggage right after all that and forced me to play a game of Marco Polo with my suitcase, like I hadn’t gone through enough torture up to that point. After all that, I made my way to Terminal F to re-book my shuttle from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, New Jersey, since I missed my 10:40 connection by five hours; it was already 3:10 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten a single bite of any food yet.

They tried to make me pay $45 to check my bag again, even though I had done so already well in advance. After that was resolved with a lengthy phone call to some higher authority, I was accommodated with a shuttle to Atlantic City that arrived at 6:35–three hours from then.

Unsurprisingly, nobody has reached out since to offer any sort of compensation for the disastrous weekend travels.

I had to suck it up one more time and deal with the suffering, and I was really out of options at that point. My first meal of the day was a bag of Jack Link’s, a bottled Starbucks coffee that looked like it had curdled, and a ‘Cool Blue’ Gatorade bottle. The Flyers would throw fits if their players had to eat that.

It couldn’t come soon enough, but I arrived home around 9 p.m. after being picked up at Atlantic City International–nearly 36 hours after my original flight time, and over 24 hours after I was originally supposed to arrive in Atlantic City.

That’s the hockey life on the road, baby. Now I turn my gaze to Flyers development camp; Berglund is really excited to be going surfing in Ocean City, New Jersey this week.

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