(CNN) — When Finlay McAfee boarded a flight from Edinburgh to Paris to surprise his girlfriend Salma, he knew it was a big, romantic gesture.
But still, anyone who’s watched a few movies in their time knows that a surprise visit to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, not to mention an unexpected airport reunion, has been the basis for many a great cinematic moment.
It was January 2017, and McAfee was a 23-year-old student at Edinburgh University. Before he booked his plane ticket, he told his roommate, Adam Jenkins, about the idea. Jenkins laughed, telling him it was silly but romantic.
McAfee phoned his father for the final seal of approval. His dad told him it was a great idea, so McAfee went for it: the plane ticket was booked.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend, then-21-year-old Salma Saade, was on her way back to Edinburgh from Beirut.
Saade had a day layover scheduled in Paris, and she was traveling alone. McAfee figured he’d surprise her at Charles de Gaulle airport.
In theory, what could go wrong? There weren’t that many flights between Beirut and Paris, so McAfee was pretty sure he’d pinpointed which Saade was on.
Little did McAfee know that just as he boarded his Edinburgh to Paris flight, Saade was already landing in the Scottish capital.
Turns out, she’d switched to an earlier flight, with the same goal: to surprise her partner and be reunited a day earlier.
The couple had no idea that they’d both been transiting through Edinburgh Airport at the same time. Even worse, the Scottish air hub is so small, they could have easily bumped into one another. And if Saade had texted McAfee right away upon landing, he could have avoided getting on his flight.
“It’s crazy to think about, there’s probably a point in Edinburgh Airport where we literally walked past each other,” says McAfee.
Fast forward to January 2021 and Saade and McAfee are still together, now living in London where McAfee is a software engineer and Saade works for the Scottish National Party.
Today, they’re on Zoom, drinking coffee together in their kitchen, reminiscing about the early days of their relationship and their missed connection.
“We’d only been going out for three months,” says McAfee.
“Yeah, like two and a half months,” says Saade. “It was our first time apart.”
“We really missed each other,” says McAfee.
“Your first time apart is so difficult,” agrees Saade.
When Saade disembarked her flight in Edinburgh, she decided not to contact McAfee right away. She was tired from the flight — and she wanted to go home first, shower, get ready — and then head round to his flat (apartment) and surprise him.
“I was ready to be back with my boyfriend… and then I realized we were not in the same place,” she laughs.
Saade found out things had gone wrong when, back in her apartment, she dropped McAfee’s roommate a text.
“Hey Adam do you know if Finlay’s in the flat by any chance?” she wrote. “I’m back a day early and wanting to surprise him.”
“He just flew to Paris,” wrote back Adam. “Like to do the same thing. Like literally.”
Saade was in disbelief.
“I genuinely thought he was messing with me.”
She quickly texted her boyfriend: “Please tell me you’re not in Paris lol.”
No answer, so she tried to call him. When McAfee didn’t pick up, the realization of what had happened started to sink in.
“It was a combination of disbelief, and I don’t know, I was upset, but I also thought it was really funny,” says Saade.
“COME BACK I AM HERE,” she typed. “HERE AS IN EDINBURGH NOT PARIS.”
“I’M SORRY I WAS TRYING TO BE CUTE. COME BACK NOW.”
“Hahaha,” responded McAfee, also in disbelief that his surprise had failed so dramatically. “Wow. I’m in Paris.”
Saade booked McAfee an airport hotel in Paris for the evening, while McAfee updated his Facebook status:
“Anyone in Paris? I flew in to surprise Salma but she flew back to surprise me and now I’ve got 12 hours to kill.”
It received 173 likes, and the comments came flooding in: “This situation is trophy-worthy,” wrote one friend.
“Your love is killing the planet,” said another.
No friends were in Paris, so McAfee had a solo winter wander around the sites, snapping a photo of himself in front of Notre Dame looking melancholy, and getting that prerequisite shot of the illuminated Eiffel Tower.
The next day, he flew back in Edinburgh. Saade picked him up from the airport, her second visit in as many days.
She was just really happy to see him, she says, and for everything to be back in control after things had gone unexpectedly haywire.
Alone in Paris, McAfee embarked on a solo sightseeing tour.
Courtesy Finlay McAfee and Salma Saade
As they’d only been dating a short while at the time, the couple hadn’t met each other’s families.
In the years since, it’s become “a really great sort of icebreaker story,” says McAfee.
“Anytime I’ve met Salma’s family, we tell the story and they’re like, ‘This guy’s just an idiot,'” he laughs.
“We’re not a very impulsive couple,” says Saade. “Apart from this story, I think we have a very normal relationship. So I find it even funnier that both of us made a really impulsive decision when neither of us are particularly impulsive.”
It solidified what they’d already started to suspect, that they had a good basis for a strong partnership, and they were falling love.
Saade and McAfee had met in the fall of 2016 on Tinder, for both of them, it was their first ever Tinder date and it was a success.
They quickly figured out they had a mutual friend in common. The friend had actually been in a student play that McAfee had directed, and Saade had gone to see the show, but their paths hadn’t directly crossed at the time.
When they finally met, the duo quickly hit it off. They spent their days exploring their historic home city of Edinburgh together — their second date was a memorable visit to the city’s dungeons.
While killing time alone in Paris, McAfee snapped this shot of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night.
Courtesy Finlay McAfee and Salma Saade
On January 12 of this year, Saade was reminded of the eventful trip to Paris via Facebook’s “Memories” function, where past posts from years earlier resurface on your timeline.
The memory made Saade smile, as it always did, and she decided to Tweet about it.
“I usually just Tweet about politics,” says Saade.
But she thought this slightly more personal post might bring others a bit of joy, as it had her.
The Tweet has since had over 1 million likes and over 150,000 Retweets and Quote Tweets. Their story has gone viral, much to the couple’s surprise.
“The whole Twitter response has been really surprising, and lovely,” says McAfee. “It’s weird that so many people have responded to it, and almost everything everyone has said has been genuinely lovely.”
Saade says people have reached out to her from across the globe with sweet messages.
“Although comparing us to Ross and Emily [from the TV show “Friends”] is not the best comparison,” she laughs.
In the intervening years, Saade and McAfee have enjoyed other memorable vacations — ones where they both managed to be in the same place at the same time.
Highlights include a snowy road trip through Iceland, and a visit to the stunning Baalbeck Roman ruins in Lebanon, where Saade has family.
Right now, the couple are locked down together in their apartment in London. It’s been a little surreal, they say, to watch their story reverberate across the world while they’ve barely left their home.
As for Paris, well, the couple have still never made it there together. They’d actually hoped to go last year, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to those plans.
But seeing their story spread across the globe, and spending the last week reflecting on that fateful day, has only made them more determined to one day make it to the City of Light together.