The day began early, 3am alarm to be ready for a 4 am pick up. Not that it was needed as we were both already awake, unable to truly sleep with the looming travel day ahead. Still we rolled out of bed, dressed in our previously selected clothing, and headed out.
Bizarrely, as we approached the elevator I saw a familiar face looking at me with an expression of mirrored surprise and confusion that no doubt reflected my own face. It was a coworker from a previous position traveling as we were to Sweden, having taken a few days, just the same as us, to explore Iceland.
We chatted and introduced our respective partners, bonded over a mutual love of Dungeons and Dragons, and happily exchanged stories while waiting for the bus, riding the bus to the depot, and changing to the airport bus.
The bus was full and got off to a rumbling start, every person in their layers, small conversation flowing as we rolled out of town. It was around the time that we were 15 minutes outside of Reykjavik that we heard some disturbing news.
The road was closed.
And so we waited. First at one location, where a bathroom was available off the bus, later just on the road, a deserted stretch of asphalt beyond civilization’s warming lights.
Time ticked past.
The bus was warm but the seats quickly showed their true characters, growing uncomfortable and cramped.
Someone told their seat neighbor that their flight had been cancelled which caused a flurry of similar investigations and similar conclusions. All the flights had been cancelled. It soon became a question of why were we continuing to the airport if we couldn’t fly out, let’s go back to Reykjavik. For what in hindsight would be very misguided opinions, a mere handful of passengers, some 5 individuals, insisted that we must continue onwards.
At this point I must bring to light the trio of Icelandic women, 3 generations, the daughter most especially, who stepped into a leadership role in this situation. They talked with the bus driver, communicated with the bus what was happening, tried to convince the individuals that there was no reason to continue to the airport, tried to find solutions for switching those people off the bus so that not everyone would have to be dragged along due to the few misguided souls. It was their comment which perfectly captured the general public’s opinion which I used for the title. Truly, these women were essential in keeping everyone calm and informed.
Despite their best efforts, the bus would not turn around.
Instead, we waited 6 hours, sometimes still, occasionally in motion, until we were brought to the airport.
And the road was closed behind us.
The airport was brimming with passengers, some who had just landed that morning, some, like us, trying to fly out. The wind and snow whipped outside and flowed through the doors at every opportunity, making the arrival and departure areas incredibly cold. Seating was limited so most people were sitting on the ground, against walls, anywhere there was space and some distance from the frigid blasts that erupted through the doors whenever some godforsaken soul decided to step outside. The floor was also painfully cold to touch so bags were raided for items to make a seating pad to shield one’s self from the ground.
We stuck close to our friends, making a wind break from our collective luggage and joking about buying out all the snacks from the one available food stall and setting up a black market. Occasional meaningless messages would play over the airport loud speakers about Icelandair appreciating our patience (as if we had a choice) and how they were working on getting everyone rebooked (not helpful if the wind is so strong that everything is grounded). But regardless of anything, there was no way to leave because every road around Keflavik was closed.
So we waited.
We looked for a better spot to wait.
Time took on no meaning.
At some point there was an announcement that if you had your booking pass and luggage tags, you could go to the second floor, the proverbial land of milk and honey with heat and more seating and hot food vendors. Sadly, we had none of those things.
In need of some action, some means to better our situation, we began to see what exactly was needed to get to the second floor. We didn’t have our old baggage tags but we did have companions who could watch our luggage while we went into the second floor area and looked for answers.
Well, I bought fish and chips and my partner looked for answers. As I attempted to eat around the anxious lump in my stomach, he returns, telling of how he went in search of any Icelandair personnel, found a gruff security guard who offered no assistance, and a kind security guard who suggested trying to check our luggage despite not having tags.
Worried the baggage could be closed at any moment, we raced back to our luggage, filled in our companions, and tried to make our way to the baggage line. I can’t recall how but we learned that we could print our old boarding tags from our cancelled flight and reuse those luggage tags so thats what we proceeded to do. There seemed a light at the end of this dark and windy tunnel.
When finally it was our turn we rolled/carried our bags up, popped the first one on the belt, and the airport attendant placed their leg blocking it’s further path on the belt. My heart sank. They told us that they were no longer taking luggage.
And then they told us that the reason they were no longer taking luggage was that everyone would be escorted out of the airport, put on buses, and driven back to Reykjavik under police escort.
From preparing ourselves to sleep on the airport floor to knowing that we could get back to the hotel bed we had reserved for ourselves hours ago. The relief. The elation. It was giddy. We returned to our 4th companion who had stayed in our second floor patch with all the carry on luggage and told her the news. People nearby came over to hear what we knew. News passed quickly from one person to the next and we began moving to the arrivals area where the buses were assembled. In the midst of our movement, the announcement was made and everyone, like a wave, moved to the arrivals area.
Now the urgency was staying with your group, the struggle to not be separated. People had left baggage trolleys randomly on the floor and they now acted like tiny icebergs, that would appear and threaten to trip you. I moved one to the wall to prevent such an accident and another person followed suit just after.
The crowd flowed like water, currents of people pressing faster forwards. A tall and stalwart officer barred the door, holding back the tide of humanity. As a bus was opened, the police would stand aside and people would flow through. As he returned, the way was shut. A count would be shouted and so many were allowed to pass. There was a terrifying crush though, the kind that could lead to people being trampled and I think we all realized this.
My partner got through first and I was cut off from following by the flow of people, only managing to insert myself into the main flow as the door warden retook his post. My heart sank, worried we would be separated. Tense moments passed. “Ten” and I hurried past into the biting wind and blowing snow.
Our companions had not been able to follow me and I kept looking back, hoping to see the orange jacket that had been such an easy landmark. Luggage was thrown onto the bus storage. The orange jacket appeared a few feet beyond us. Thank goodness. Our little adventuring party would not be split.
The bus was loaded, every seat carefully filled, and we made our way back into the dark, returning to the road.
2 hours it took us, maybe more, to find our way back to Reykjavik. The wind at times hitting the side of the bus hard enough to make it shake, the snow whiting out all vision. Only at one point, while creating a small hill, could we see the line of rear lights, creating a continuous segmented creature of red points, as far forward as could be seen. They must have mobilized every police officer is Iceland to pull of this feat.
But return to Reykjavik we did. Return to our hotel. Too tired to venture out, we dined in the hotel restaurant, toasted the phenomenal power of adversity to bring people together, and went to bed.
I would be amiss if I did not devote some measure to addressing the conviviality with which most people faced our trial. People were attempting to make jokes, passing what news they had to each other, looking out for one another in a way that rallied the spirit. Were some people defensive, aggressive, rude? Of course, it was a difficult situation. But by far, people came together. And it was beautiful.