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Planes, Buses, and Busted Oxygen Tanks: 21.5 Hours to Santa Fe?

Editor’s Note: The life of an HSLDA attorney is much more than meetings, phone calls, and writing letters. Advocating on behalf of homeschool families often requires leaving the comforts of home and office and heading out on an adventure. One such journey is recounted below.

by Tj Schmidt • August 28, 2018

The day started out well. I got into the office later than normal so I could have a longer goodbye with my wife and kids as I had to catch a 5 p.m. flight out of Dulles airport that evening.

I was flying from our Virginia offices to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to take part in a rally at 11 a.m. with homeschoolers from across the state. We were protesting changes to the homeschool notice form and related abuse of authority by the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED).

After taking care of some calls, emails, a letter and some final prep work I left the office for the airport at 3 p.m.

The First Crisis

A little more than two hours into the flight, the gentleman next to me suffered a medical emergency. I summoned the airline staff for help, and they quickly paged a doctor on the flight and examined the man.


After nine hours on board, HSLDA attorney Tj Schmidt deplanes in Cheyenne, Wyoming—the opposite direction from his destination.

By this time we were in a holding pattern over Denver, waiting for bad weather to clear so the plane could land.

Unfortunately, the gentleman suffered another medical episode and the pilot decided to divert to Cheyenne, Wyoming. We landed, and EMTs whisked the man to the hospital.

The plane was refueled and prepped for takeoff once Denver airport reopened—or so we thought. We were still on the ground when it was discovered that we had only had three working oxygen tanks. FAA regulations require four. The airline had used at least one for the medical emergency and at least one other tank was inoperable.

For two hours we sat on the tarmac. The flight crew tried in vain to locate a certified mechanic who could refill at least one tank. (Eventually we learned the inoperable tank had the wrong fitting to be filled in Cheyenne.)

A little after midnight the flight was canceled and everyone disembarked—over nine hours after originally boarding the plane.

The airline arranged for all of us to be put up at a local hotel, a mile and a half from the airport. But with only two Uber drivers available to shuttle more than 150 passengers, I quickly realized getting a ride would take some time. I grabbed my bag and set off at a jog to the hotel.

A little more than 20 minutes later I walked in the hotel lobby to see about half the passengers from the plane.

Running out of Time

At this point I made some sobering mental calculations.

Not only would it take too long to check in, but the bus the airline had scheduled to take us to Denver was leaving too late. Its 7 a.m. departure would not get me to the airport in time to make it to Santa Fe for the rally.

I found a local shuttle leaving at 2 a.m. from a hotel two miles farther away. With the two Uber drivers still tied up, I set off jogging again, determined to up my pace. Twenty-five minutes later I sank down into a bench outside the hotel with less than 10 minutes to spare.

I boarded the shuttle bus with two other travelers and managed to catch a little sleep before transferring to a nearly full bus outside of Fort Collins. We pulled into the Denver airport a little after 4 a.m.

With no flights on my original airline that would get me into Santa Fe or Albuquerque in time to make the rally, I turned to the rental car facilities. I was hoping to make the five-hour drive and get to the rally a few minutes late. There were no cars available until 8 a.m., too late for me to drive to Santa Fe.

I checked other airlines. One had an 8:20 direct flight to Albuquerque, which would put me only an hour away from Santa Fe.

I bought my ticket on my phone and breezed through security shortly after 5 a.m. I found a family bathroom where I could shave and freshen up. At 7 a.m. I contacted Dave Jones at CAPE-NM. He and his wife Emily quickly agreed to meet me at the airport in Albuquerque.

Timely Arrival

My plane landed early, and at 9:27 a.m. I walked out of the airport. With approximately half an hour to spare before the rally at the PED building we pulled into a parking space outside.

Over 150 New Mexico homeschoolers turned up at the rally. And they had a dramatic impact, that will hopefully be felt for years to come.

While my 21.5-hour journey to get to the rally is not one I will forget for a while, it was totally worth it to stand with all the equally hard-working homeschool mothers and fathers who made it to the rally.

HSLDA could not fight the battles we do without the daily sacrifices of our members in homeschooling their children and supporting our mission: to defend and protect the right of parents to home educate their children. And I know that any of my fellow attorneys at HSLDA would have made the same effort as I did that day.

We believe that strongly in the right to homeschool and in freedom!


Thomas J. (Tj) Schmidt

Staff Attorney

Tj is an attorney and homeschooling dad dedicated to defending the rights of homeschooling families across the country. Read more.


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