When Richella Heekin and her boyfriend Ben Marlowe turned up at Birmingham Airport for their dream holiday flight from the UK to Las Vegas, they were in for a bit of a shock. There was no flight listed. In booking their flights online the young couple had accidentally booked them from Birmingham in Alabama (airport code BHM) instead of Birmingham in England (airport code BHX). Birmingham in Alabama may have been named after Birmingham in England, but unfortunately for Richella and Ben they're a few thousand miles apart.
It was especially disappointing for Richella, as she had saved for months to provide this surprise dream holiday to Las Vegas for Ben's birthday. Fortunately Richard Branson heard about their plight, stepped in and offered the unlucky couple complimentary flights on Virgin's service from Manchester to Las Vegas, with a free hotel stay too. The hero quickly became villain, though, when he commented: 'Manchester is a lot better than Birmingham, Alabama.'
I don't know if Mr Branson has actually been to Birmingham, as when I paid a visit recently I was easily able to come up with The Best of Birmingham, a list which only scratches the surface of the attractions there.
The Birmingham tourism people also felt slighted by Richard Branson's remark, and are flying the couple from Las Vegas to Alabama to show them what the city has to offer in an unusual twin-centre holiday.
The couple will be in the city for three days and two nights, during which time they'll be escorted by five local couples who'll be sharing Birmingham's best with them, including the best restaurants and the craft beer scene. Richella and Ben will also get to see Red Mountain Park (one of the biggest urban parks in the USA) and enjoy its ziplining feature. They'll do a city centre tour on electric bikes, have a Porsche Driving Experience and go to Regions Field to make the first pitch at a baseball game there.
And as if that wasn't enough, they'll also get tickets for a concert by Jenny Lewis, formerly the singer with Rilo Kiley, who's in town for a performance at Birmingham's Iron City events venue.
For Richella and Ben, then, all's well that ends well for the luckiest mistake they ever made.
To find out more about Birmingham, Alabama, see http://birminghamal.org.
To make sure you book flights from the right airport, you can visit Birmingham with American Sky or Audley Travel.
Trips to Las Vegas are available through American Sky, Trailfinders and Western & Oriental.
Mike Gerrard is a British travel writer who has won several awards for his writing, and spends half the year in the USA at his home near Tucson, Arizona. He is also co-editor of the 101 USA Holidays website. He sympathises with Ben and Richella as he once turned up for a flight to China at the right airport but on the wrong day.
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