Love at first flight: A bag­gage-claim con­nec­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSEUMS - BY ME­GAN MCDONOUGH me­gan.mcdonough@wash­post.com

Jason Lifton and Jenna Stein­berger made a last­ing con­nec­tion in Jan­uary 2013 while wait­ing for their lug­gage at Rea­gan Na­tional Air­port’s bag­gage claim.

Jason first no­ticed Jenna and her older sis­ter, Jess, back in Palm Beach, Fla., at the gate wait­ing to board the same U. S. Air­ways flight. They had all spent the win­ter hol­i­days with their fam­i­lies at va­ca­tion homes in south­ern Florida and were headed back to Washington.

He re­calls think­ing: “Two cute girls on the plane, yes! I hope I can sit next to one of them.” In­stead, to his dis­ap­point­ment, he was seated in a far­away sec­tion next to a not-as-cute neigh­bor.

Af­ter the flight, Jason no­ticed the pair again at bag­gage claim. Re­al­iz­ing this would prob­a­bly be his last chance to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion, he walked over and asked whether they knew at which bag­gage carousel their lug­gage would be ar­riv­ing.

“No idea,” Jenna cheer­fully replied. She no­ticed that the friendly, out­go­ing stranger was wear­ing a Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity sweat­shirt. Her in­ter­est was piqued; she was a GWU doc­toral grad­u­ate and phys­i­cal ther­a­pist at GWU Hos­pi­tal. She queried him and learned he also was a grad­u­ate and then-chief of staff to one of the univer­sity’s as­so­ciate provosts.

When their bags ar­rived, the two were still rapt in con­ver­sa­tion, dis­cussing work, fam­ily and friends. “He was re­ally cute and re­ally dorky. I liked it,” Jenna says. “They say you should never talk to strangers, but this time it paid off,” quips Jason, a de­vel­op­ment an­a­lyst for Ur­ban In­vest­ment Part­ners in Washington.

Jenna was hop­ing he would ask for her num­ber. Although he was in­ter­ested, given their short visit, he sim­ply parted with “I’ll see you around at the Whole Foods!”

“I have no game, clearly,” he says now with a laugh.

That night, they both Googled each other. Jason was un­suc­cess­ful, but Jenna found him on Face­book. When she saw that his main photo fea­tured another girl (who she would later learn was his sis­ter), she de­cided to let it go.

But Jason was still de­ter­mined. The next day, over din­ner with a friend, he lamented the fact that he hadn’t asked for Jenna’s num­ber. “Imet this re­ally cute Jewish doc­tor at bag­gage claim, but I didn’t even get her num­ber,” he said. Turns out, his friend was headed to a phys­i­cal ther­apy ap­point­ment at GWU the next morn­ing and of­fered to track Jenna down.

Sure enough, his friend’s phys­i­cal ther­a­pist was a col­league of Jenna’s. As Jenna re­calls, “She called me in the mid­dle of the day and said, ‘Did you meet a guy at the air­port yesterday?’ I stopped dead inmy tracks and turned bright red. All my col­leagues were star­ing at me.” She passed along her num­ber, and Jason called the next day.

For their first date a week later, they planned to squeeze in drinks at Lin­coln res­tau­rant in down­town Washington be­fore Jason had to meet friends at a GWU bas­ket­ball game. The date went so well that he skipped the game and the two talked for nearly five hours.

“Ihada gut feel­ing that thiswas go­ing to work on our first date,” Jenna says. “It was just re­ally fun and com­fort­able. We were so com­pat­i­ble.”

Two weeks later, on their third date, Jason felt a sim­i­lar in­stinct. He of­fered to cook Jenna chicken Parme­san at his home in Foggy Bot­tom. Ev­ery­thing was go­ing well un­til he opened an ex­pired can of pasta sauce, which ex­ploded and left Jenna cov­ered head to toe in sauce. “When she laughed about it and didn’t flip out, I thought, ‘ This is a good sign. . . . This [one] may be a keeper,” Jason says.

A re­la­tion­ship quickly de­vel­oped over the next sev­eral weeks, and the two moved in to­gether in De­cem­ber. It didn’t take long be­fore they were dis­cussing mar­riage.

In Au­gust 2014, on a beach trip to Mar­gate, N. J., Jason sur­prised Jenna with a pro­posal at the Mar­gate Dairy Bar Ice Cream Shop. “Ice cream, the beach and di­a­monds [are] three of Jenna’s fa­vorite things,” he says. “So I fig­ured the chances of her say­ing yes with those things present would be pretty good.”

Jason’s mom had snuck over to the par­lor early and tipped them off to her son’s plan. She re­quested that they make what­ever dessert Jenna or­dered mas­sive. “Her ice cream sun­dae was at least two feet tall,” Jason says, laugh­ing.

Dis­tracted by her Hulk-size treat, she didn’t no­tice that Jason had tip­toed be­hind her and dropped to a knee. He tapped her on the back, she turned around and he asked: “Would you be in­ter­ested in more than just some ice cream?” She was.

Jenna Stein­berger, 30, and Jason Lifton, 26, ex­changed vows May 30 be­fore 250 friends and fam­ily mem­bers at the St. Clair Coun­try Club in Up­per St. Clair, Pa. “I got very caught up in the cer­e­mony,” Jason re­calls. “When the rabbi said, ‘Do you, Jason . . .’ I jumped in [early] and­said, ‘I do!’ ”

At the re­cep­tion, guests dined on a break­fast buf­fet and, in­stead of wed­ding cake, burnt-al­mond torte and mini milk­shakes. The cou­ple spent their hon­ey­moon in French Poly­ne­sia and, upon their re­turn, made sure to snap a photo at Na­tional Air­port’s bag­gage claim — “where it all be­gan,” Jason says.

“I love telling peo­ple the story of how we first met,” Jenna said af­ter the wed­ding. “I’ve al­ways wished my life was like a ro­man­tic movie or a mu­si­cal, and now I feel like it is.”

“I had a gut feel­ing that this was go­ing to work on our first date.”

Jenna Stein­berger

ALI­SON MISH PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Jenna Stein­berger and Jason Lifton were mar­ried May 30 in Up­per St. Clair, Pa. They first sparked a con­ver­sa­tion while wait­ing for their bags at Rea­gan Na­tional Air­port.

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