Today: May 26, 2024
Today: May 26, 2024

In-flight fate: An Unexpected love story from 30,000 ft above the ground

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LA Post: In-flight fate: An Unexpected love story from 30,000 ft above the ground
April 19, 2024
Nahal Garakani - LA Post

When Krystina Burton and Gabriel Solberg sat next to each other on an Alaska Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles in July 2018, neither expected they would fall in love. Yet that chance encounter led to a fairy tale romance that continues today.

The first meeting was awkward, according to Ms. Burton. She was waiting alone in a mostly empty terminal at JFK Airport to catch a morning flight back to LA after an audition. Mr. Solberg plopped into the seat beside her despite plenty of empty chairs. Annoyed at the invasion of personal space from this "oblivious" stranger, Ms. Burton checked his ticket and saw he was assigned to the seat next to hers on the plane. She inwardly groaned.

Mr. Solberg disputes her account. "That's her perspective," he said with a laugh. "When I went to that terminal, it was packed, full of people, and I just grabbed an empty chair." He sat there briefly before boarding was called.  

Their first impressions were equally unflattering. Ms. Burton felt her seatmate arrogantly cut in line during early boarding. Meanwhile, Mr. Solberg didn't notice Ms. Burton until she walked onto the plane with a dazzling smile. When she stopped at his row, recognition set in. "Hey, weren't you sitting next to me in the terminal?" he asked with a grin.

After boarding finished, Alaska Airlines announced a multi-hour delay. With the window passenger already asleep, Ms. Burton and Mr. Solberg struck up a conversation to pass the time. All initial awkwardness melted away as the pair bonded over their international upbringings and careers involving frequent travel. Although the flight eventually departed and movies played overhead, the lively discussion never halted. 

Serious topics like religion and humorous debates on which films to watch arose. There was an instant chemistry between the strangers, with Mr. Solberg calling their chat "just a really organic conversation." When the plane landed after the overnight trip, it felt like years of knowing one another. However, parting ways was in order, as Mr. Solberg still planned to visit family while Ms. Burton returned home to LA as scheduled.

Both parties sensed a deeper connection but had reservations about rushing into romance so fast. Having ended a long relationship five months earlier, Mr. Solberg swore off dating for now. Ms. Burton cherished her carefree, single lifestyle, focusing on professional dance. Yet neither could deny the strong pull, so they exchanged numbers. Promising to visit Ms. Burton on his return from family, Mr. Solberg gave her a quick kiss on the cheek goodbye. They then excitedly texted loved ones about the airport meet-cute. 

Upon his visit one week later, Ms. Burton suggested dinner, but Mr. Solberg had grander date ambitions for his cross-country return. He proposed renting an isolated cabin in the woods north of LA. Wary of horror movie tropes, Ms. Burton armed herself with brass knuckles from an equally concerned friend and reluctantly traveled to Topanga Canyon. But the cozy, rustic accommodations simply enhanced their continued rapport. Long drives along the photogenic California coast and heartfelt discussions only brought them closer over the short stay.

When Mr. Solberg prepared to fly back east from LAX days later, neither wished to separate again so soon. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, he invited Ms. Burton to accompany him to New York City for two weeks. Securing the last open airplane seat beside his, she readily accepted the spontaneous offer and continued their romantic adventure on the other coast. However, her brass knuckles were confiscated at airport security, causing police involvement and great embarrassment.  

After comforting a distraught Ms. Burton through that ordeal, Mr. Solberg worked to keep communication open about her feelings rather than letting her shut down emotionally. Experts agree this bilateral transparency around problems or tough situations is the bedrock of long-term healthy relationships. 

The couple soon settled into a comfortable NYC routine of exploring the sights and having thoughtful talks about priorities. When professional obligations pulled Ms. Burton back to the West Coast earlier than planned, it became clear they must soon decide whether to pursue a formal relationship or permanently separate. Within just months, she took the leap and relocated to NYC to live with Mr. Solberg full-time.  

Whirlwind romance aside, Ms. Burton's dance career remained the top focus, as evident when an immediate multi-month touring opportunity arose. But during fleeting moments together, she and Mr. Solberg already envisioned a shared future of globetrotting, marriage, and kids. One year after meeting on the plane, he proposed during an Italian vacation in October 2019. Agreeing on adventure and worldwide travel as joint passions, they started wedding planning.

The COVID-19 pandemic would abruptly halt those arrangements, of course. Recently, the couple revived their quest to officially tie the knot, although Ms. Burton is currently starring abroad in Germany. Managing long-distance and schedule challenges comes easier knowing they are both living out career dreams, according to the pair. Compassion around racism issues has also led to open dialogue. 

Bringing varied backgrounds on religion and race into harmony takes compromise - one key, they say, to over four years of relationship success so far.

Above all, entering that instant airport connection with individual happiness and contentment paved the way for finding each other. Experts concur that personal confidence and independence can better position single people for meeting a well-matched partner than desperation or self-doubt. For this reason, among others, Krystina Burton and Gabriel Solberg view crossing paths at 30,000 feet as the perfectly preordained start of a lifelong love story, resetting their stance on romance.

Perhaps other singles flying solo during hectic holiday travel or facing the prospect of solo seating on any packed plane can find hope in this meet-cute tale. When boarding with strangers of all types inevitably resumes as pandemic anxiety further recedes, striking up friendly banter just might unveil common interests or ignite a first spark. At the very least, keeping an open attitude can improve the journey.

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