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13 strangers go viral for renting van, driving 10+ hours together after flight cancellation

An unlikely group of people rented a van and drove more than 10 hours from Orlando, Florida, to Knoxville, Tennessee.
/ Source: TODAY

It sounds like the beginning of a movie: After a flight cancellation left passengers stranded in Orlando, a ragtag group of 13 came together to drive a rented van more than 10 hours north to their final destination. Along the way, they found viral fame and, hopefully, lifelong friendship.

This is what actually happened on Sunday, Dec. 4, when after delaying twice, Frontier eventually canceled the flight to Knoxville, Tennessee, altogether.

"They were like, 'Well, we can get you out on the next flight, which is Tuesday night,'" Michelle Miller tells on Dec. 7. "That's like 48 hours later! We can't wait two days to go back, people have things to do!"

As people milled about in line and near the customer service center, Miller says one woman, named Amy, took charge and shouted that anyone who wanted to try driving north to the final destination in a rented vehicle could join her.

"The line was super long. I was like, 'I'm just gonna let my mom handle it,'" Alanah Story tells with a laugh. "And so she yells over at me and she's like, 'Alanah, we're headed downstairs to get this van with all these people!'"

Surprised but still game, Story joined her mother and godmother in the group of 13 for the drive north to Knoxville.

After they hit the road in a rented van, she shared a TikTok about their surprising circumstances and introduced their cast of characters.

"So we post the video and, like, we're not really thinking anything's gonna come of it. But within, like, 30 minutes, it is starting to get hundreds of thousands of views," Story explains, adding it ended up being a "very, very noisy ride."

"People in the van are refreshing my page the entire time. They're like, 'Oh my gosh, we're at this many views' ... and they're reading the comments out loud the whole time," she says laughing. "I slept maybe max 20 minutes."

The unlikely crew included Story, who works in media and lives in Knoxville, her mother and godmother, Miller, who is an agriculture influencer known as The Farm Babe, a family taking their teen daughter on a college visit at the University of Tennessee, and two Mexico-based Europeans who became farmers.

They kept updating fans on Story's TikTok and eventually arrived the next morning, Dec. 5, at about 8:30 a.m. ET.

Mikayla Puckering, the student touring University of Tennessee with her mom, Laura Puckering, and future stepdad, Carlos Cordero, made it on-time. A local influencer, @shamelesscloutchaser, even tracked them down after the tour to make a video. Mikayla also posted from her mom's TikTok account along the way, including one that said:

"I was just trying to make it to my college tour and ended up on a road trip in a creepy white van with a bunch of strangers from the airport."

In the days that followed, the group's story continued to spread online. Miller says she thinks it's because people want to hear about more good news in these trying times.

"This is the key take-home message: Why did this go viral? Why did we have 20,000 comments of people that were happy (about) the viralness of it all?" Miller asks. "(Because) it's about coming together when life gives you a s---ty situation, you turn it into something awesome."

Story echoes those sentiments. She says she thinks people are craving "good, wholesome fun" and "people just being trustworthy of each other."

"I feel like a big part of it is, because in my video, you can clearly see our differences. And, you know, I feel like we're so divided right now and to be able to see just a ragtag group of strangers who are totally different from each other, come together and just enjoy a crazy situation together," she said. "I feel like it resonates with a lot of people."

“For me, it was kind of restorative,” Story concludes, adding she hopes people hear the story and “maybe find a little bit more hope and humanity.”

The two confirm the people who wanted to stay in touch currently have a group chat. Story adds she plans to go to karaoke night with one of the other Knoxville-based passengers, Q, soon.