Three days before Christmas, travelers from all corners of the country streamed steadily into the Colorado Springs Airport to visit family and friends. Braving inclement weather, long wait lines and flight delays, holiday travelers were welcomed with open arms and smiling faces Sunday.
Dressed in a bright red Christmas outfit complete with Santa Claus hat, 5-month-old Emerie Linthicum was arguably the cutest greeter at the airport as she waited with her parents, Byron and Tracy Linthicum, to meet her aunt for the first time. Janice Linthicum, 23, flew from Richmond, Va., to spend Emerie's first Christmas with her.
"It's been so wonderful to have the whole family here. Emerie loves all the affection she's getting," said Tracy Linthicum, 26.
Originally from Virginia and Georgia, Byron and Tracy Linthicum always dreamed of living farther west. Three years ago, they followed their hearts to Colorado Springs, settled at their jobs and recently started a family.
"We just loved the idea of living in Colorado, so we picked up and moved here," Tracy Linthicum said. "I am a certified nurse's assistant at Penrose Hospital, and Byron is a DMV employee with El Paso County."
Since their move to Colorado Springs in 2010, Tracy Linthicum said every Christmas has been different, but with the birth of Emerie last July, they wanted family to travel here.
"We want to go to The Broadmoor and look at all the Christmas lights, check out the gingerbread houses, maybe even go ice fishing," she said. "There's so much to do here, and we want to share it with our family."
For some, Colorado Springs may not be where they call home, but it's the most convenient spot to meet their loved ones.
Lisa Theis, 49, was visibly excited to greet her sister, Pat Theis, 54, who was visiting from Madison, Wis. Lisa Theis drove two hours from Raton, N.M., to pick up her sister because the airport in Colorado Springs was the closest meetup point.
"I just moved to Raton from Madison, and I'm not used to being away from her," Lisa Theis said. "We always spend Christmas Eve together and open our presents. I really love my sister. I'm so happy she's here."
With most of her family in Madison - especially her mother, who will turn 80 in April - Lisa Theis said she plans to visit often, in spite of the long commute from Raton.
East of Colorado, people have had to deal with tough winter weather causing delays and complicating holiday travels. Audrey Alltop, 23, experienced delays on both flights she took to make it to Colorado Springs from Illinois.
"My flight from Peoria to Denver was delayed because of bad weather. Then the flight from Denver to Colorado Springs was late because they got held up in their layover or something," Alltop said.
For Alltop, her trip to Colorado is really a homecoming: She and her parents have lived in Peyton since 2001, she said. Her father retired from the Air Force and her mother teaches nursing at Pikes Peak Community College. Alltop graduated from Knox College in Illinois and teaches voice lessons to children. Usually, she flies to Denver and drives to Peyton, but airfares were lower with a connecting flight this year.
"I was surprised, but this time it was cheaper to connect in Denver and fly all the way to Colorado Springs," Alltop said. "I try to visit as much as possible, this is where I grew up and I like it a lot. I hope to come back after grad school."