The Worst Journey
Due to some policy changes at work, I needed to take a week vacation at short notice or I would stop accruing additional paid time off. I decided to turn that particular lemon into lemonade by using the time for a visit to the UK.
Flights were surprisingly pricey for the time of year but I did find a decent deal on Iceland Air flying to Manchester via Keflavik. I wish I hadn’t.
Things started out well enough, my flight out of Boston left on time (midnight Iceland/UK, 7pm Boston time) and wasn’t totally full. The 767 was in good shape and the in-flight entertainment had a good selection of movies. The approach to Iceland was little bumpy but we touched down at 5:30am without incident and the plane started to make its way to the gate. After a short taxi we approached the terminal but instead of pulling into a gate we executed a sharp u-turn and came to a halt. The captain came over the PA to let us know that because of gusty winds he was unable to move the plane into the gate area and that we’d have to wait for a ground crew to arrive with stairs. Shortly after that he told us that it was too windy for the portable stairs to approach the plane.
We stayed there, about 100yds from the terminal, for the next 12 hours. Every half hour or so the captain would come back on the PA to tell us that nothing had changed and that the ground crew were trying to figure out how to get us off the plane.
My connection to the UK was scheduled to leave at 7:30am but that and pretty much every other flight in or out of Keflavik was cancelled that day. Later on we learned that IcelandAir had arranged hotels for people that were stranded and that more information would be available once we finally deplaned. I also got an email notification that I had been rebooked to Manchester via Amsterdam the following day but the 30min gap between planes had me very concerned.
Around 5:30pm the captain’s tone changed from an apologetic mumble to something brighter and he announced that the plane would soon be moving to the gate. A good thing as the mood on board had turned sour, people were tired and hungry, and the toilets were getting pretty grim.
Once we finally got off the plane I made my way to customer services where there were only two IcelandAir representatives to handle a huge line of passengers.
Once I got to the head of the queue, I managed to persuade them that the rebooked itineray wouldn’t work and got them to re-rebook me on a direct flight to Heathrow instead. That done, I made my way to the next long queue to wait for a hotel transfer where I learned that all of the hotels were a 2 hours plus journey away by bus. It was nearly 8pm by this time and I’d need to back at the airport around 6:30am so, after being cooped up on an airplane for 18 hours, I decided to forgo that and stay overnight in the terminal.
Keflavik airport is kind of Scandinavian in design, lots of wood and minimalist furniture. It looks great but its a really (really) uncomfortable place to spend a night. Here’s a picture to illustrate.
The next day, after very little sleep due to the uncomfortable conditions, I boarded my plane to Heathrow at 7:30am and suffered the final insult of a 1 hour wait to depart due to fog in London. Once we left Iceland, the rest of my journey passed smoothly, I got the Healthrow Express to London Paddington, the tube to Kings Cross, and then a train to Wakefield Westgate where Martin picked me up. A 14 hour sleep that night sorted me out.
Door to door journey time was about 42 hours, about 30 hours longer than it should have been. I will never fly via Iceland in the winter again.