Going to Manchester via Iceland

This past Christmas we went to Manchester, UK, but it took us five days to get there. We bought a roundtrip ticket on Icelandair, which meant we had to fly through Keflavik Airport. Icelandair touted a two night excursion into Reykjavik where we could sit in hot springs and see the northern lights. We thought this would be a fun thing to do on our way back from Manchester. As it happened, we ended up flip flopping, and our stay in Iceland was going to be at the front end, and not by design. What we didn’t know is that one of the worst winter storms in ten years would be passing over this North Atlantic island, making our trip just a little different than what we had planned. 

My first indication that we might not have smooth sailing was the day we were to leave (Dec. 17th). Our flight was canceled. We went to the airport to see if Icelandair could put us on a different flight and reroute us through a different airport. To our surprise, no one seemed to be working at the Icelandair check-in counter. We waited for an hour before someone showed up. The agent immediately sent us over to jetBlue, their partner airline, to find a flight. Then jetBlue sent us back to Icelandair. Well, you get the picture. There was no help, until we persisted and the agent finally rerouted us for a flight the next day going through Boston on jetBlue. The caveat was that we still had to fly Icelandair out of Boston to Keflavik to make our Manchester connection. 

We made it to Boston, but I got another ominous message from Icelandair, that our flight would be delayed. We went to the gate to check, and they immediately started loading us on the plane with no explanation. I was confused. When we started to descend into Keflavik, I realized something was wrong. We bounced around like a balloon in a windstorm. I had not experienced turbulence like this in my life, and I had actually been a flight attendant in my thirties. The pilot set us down quite well, but I was ready to get off the plane. I felt like my stomach was in my throat, and I needed to be on solid land. I kept looking for the jetway. It never happened. I’m guessing because of the strength of the wind rocking the aircraft made it impossible to connect it to the door of the plane. We made our way down stairs so slick that in America a lawsuit would be in the works. We got on a bus that scooted us off to the airport. Now, it was cold, and not just cold and windy, but biting and sharp, with gales howling mad. 

We all piled off the bus, again, careful not to slip and break every bone in our bodies. Once my husband and I made it inside, we were again hit with a realization that something was wrong. The airport was dimly lit, people were sleeping on the benches and in chairs, and there were very few people working in the shops and restaurants. We landed at 6 am and were supposed to catch our flight to Manchester at 8 am. It was now December 19th. About 6:30, someone who was actually working, came on the loudspeaker and announced all flights out of Keflavik were canceled. And there we were, stranded for three days. 

The first night we spent on a bench alongside all kinds of other people. We met Monica, who was from the Netherlands, but lived in Boston. She was on her way to meet her daughter to ski in Austria. Then we met Preston and his wife. They were from Manchester and were trying to get home. Preston was most convivial and terribly entertaining. We discussed everything from Donald Trump to Megan Markel. He had us all laughing and kept us busy during our airport stay. 

We also discovered the best creamy lobster bisque with succulent bits of shellfish, and a hint of sherry on top. The food court was really quite good. Before retiring, I discovered a shop with pizza and beer. That was dinner. Afterward we rolled out our coats and extra sweaters onto the padded bench (we claimed it as soon as we realized we were stuck in the airport) before going to sleep.

That first day we learned that all roads were closed in and out of the airport. We couldn’t get to Reykjavik. We also learned that with no gate agents and no customer service agents to help us, we were sunk. Sleeping that night wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t great. The next morning the roads were opening up and finally some agents appeared. We stood in line for hours just to be told we were not getting to our destination. Planes were flying in and out, but we were going nowhere until . . . a very kind woman, obviously someone who had some pull within Icelandair, took pity on my husband and me. We had been told that we were not going to get a flight to Manchester. Everything was too backed up. This was December 20th. Our only recourse was to get a flight back home. That would mean spending Christmas without our boys. My oldest son was on his way to Manchester to meet us, so we could all spend Christmas with my youngest son, who is in school at York. 

Finally, after waiting another forty-five minutes, this kind woman scheduled us on a plane out of Keflavik to Manchester, but it was going to be leaving December 22nd. We took it. Then she suggested we go downstairs, get a taxi, and stay in the little town of Keflavik. We did just that. We got in the taxi, but the road looked like solid ice and the wind was still blowing. The driver maneuvered with ease through a narrow lane with four foot high snow banks. When we got to the hotel, little did we know, he let us out at the back. We pulled our roller bags and pressed our bodies into the wind and flying snow, dragging our belongings over frozen sidewalks. We tried to get into the hotel but the side door was locked. I could only guess that with the powerful winds that entrance could not be used. Luckily someone walked by and we banged on the door and he pressed it open. Once inside we found the main lobby. The women at the counter were so helpful and comforting. My husband asked them if we could have a room for two nights. The woman said of course that they had rooms available, but if they had not had any, she and her colleagues would have put us up in their homes. We were stunned at the kindness and generosity of the Icelanders. Even with all of our travails, I was falling in love with this place. We stayed two nights, ate delicious food, and even did a little shopping. It was cold, but the people were so warm, friendly, and hospitable that I cannot wait to return when all the blizzards are over and the snows have melted. 


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