Iceland & Greenland 3/7/2020 - 3/21/2020
Saturday 3/21/2020 - DepartureWe woke up around 7 a.m. and I took a shower. We went to breakfast, which was very sparsely populated with guests. A lovely, picturesque, light, large-flaked snow was falling on Hallgrimskirkja and the statue of Leifur Eiriksson, and I excused myself from the table to run outside to take some photos.
I returned to the table and we finished our breakfast. We then returned to the room until it was time to check out at 11 o'clock. Anna at the front desk told us that there are only two rooms booked for tonight, and one for Sunday night. If no other bookings come through, they may close temporarily as early as Monday.
I had pre-booked a FlyBus to the airport prior to the trip, and I asked Anna to please verify that it was still running as scheduled. We expected her to call someone, but she was able to check it real-time online. Icelandic tourism is quite efficient; hotels, transport, and excursions are well integrated amd managed. Anna confirmed that we would be picked up around 1 o'clock at Bus Stop #8 across the street. We had a couple of hours to kill, so Craig got a Viking beer and I typed up notes on my laptop while we sat waited in the hotel bar area.
At 12:45 p.m., we walked across the street to Bus stop #8. By now the sun was out, and it was so bright that we could hardly see. Who was there but Hak-Ye and Roger! Their flight isn't until early tomorrow morning, but it turns out that the 1:00 FlyBus is the last from Reykjavik to Keflavik today! So they are going on the same bus as us, and will stay the night at a hotel near the airport.
We chatted with them until the bus arrived. We boarded the bus and sat far away from others.Not a lot of people were out and about in the city. Businesses and individuals seem to be taking Coronavirus precautions seriously. The bus picked up a few more passengers at other stops and then dropped us at the bus terminal. We joined passengers who had been delivered from other bus routes and waited in line to board the airport bus.
As we all boarded the bus, we tried to sit with an empty row between passengers. But they kept packing more and more passengers in. Soon almost every seat was filled. People had to sit with strangers, and they even needed to move a baby seat from one of the chairs so that a couple could sit there. There were maybe 4 empty seats on the entire full-sized bus.
We were surprised and disappointedd at this blatant disregard for social distancing measures. We understand the demand; this is the last bus and everyone wants on. But it's not like there is a shortage of buses. They have a fleet immense enough to handle high tourist season in summer. Couldn't they spare one more bus so that people aren't sitting right on top of one another? Or make two trips, so that the people who don't fly until tomorrow are on a slightly later bus? Maybe there was a shortage of people willing to drive, but who can blame them when there are this many travelers packed in together? It just seemed like FlyBus could have done better today.
The weather today was crazy. Light snow in the morning, then sunshine. Now there was much heavier snow and dark skies on the way to Keflavik International Airport. Hopefully the weather wouldn't negatively impact our flight. We just wanted to get home.
We arrived at Keflavik airport at 2:30 p.m. It was like a ghost town. It was incredibly surreal. We checked in and requested a wheelchair for Craig. Since we had been upgraded to first class, we were able to go to the Saga Lounge. We had read about this world-class Icelandair lounge, but had been warned that there was "limited service" due to the pandemic.
There were only about 10 people in the lounge and we all socially distanced quite well. The departures boards in the lounge were one canceled flight after another. It was such a relief to see that Boston was one of the few flights still on schedule. We chose a place to sit far from everyone else and went to the buffet. If they call this "limited service", then I can only guess what it is like with regular service! There was a wide variety of food, including duck spring rolls with Thai chili sauce, veggie balls with ranch dressing, Doritos, cheese and crackers, bread, donuts (just like the ones in Turkey!), and lemon strudel. You could help yourself to water, coffee, tea, soft drinks, and even booze! I loaded up some plates with snacks, and Craig got himself a Tuborg beer. I then got us each a glass of Bailey's on the rocks.
Lunch at the Saga Lounge
After this went on for 10-15 minutes, Craig couldn't take any more. After they hung up from the call, Craig approached them. The husband sneaked off to the bathroom, leaving his wife sitting there. Craig told her that the rest of us didn't appreciate listening to their hateful phone call at full volume. She said her husband is partially deaf, and Craig said then maybe they shouldn't sit in the middle of the room and use it as their personal phonebooth, especially when they are talking about blowing things up. She acted like she didn't know what he was talking about. He elaborated: "Nairobi? And I bet if we asked your son Cameron he would remember it too!" She backed down, realizing that we truly had been subjected to every nuance of their conversation despite the fact that we were on the other side of the room. Craig said this is a first class lounge and they are anything but. When hubby got back from the toilet she said something to him quickly and they both high tailed it out of there. I've never been more proud! Craig was of course all wound up, and we had another two rounds of Bailey's to relax.
At 4 o'clock, we asked the desk attendant to call the wheelchair attendant. She came right away and wheeled us to immigration. The immigration line, which had been a bottleneck last year, was practically deserted. We didn't have to wait at all. We found a seat for Craig near the gate. I went to the duty free shop and bought Craig an Iceland buff depicting the northern lights. He had worn one of my buffs to cover his unwashed hair while in Greenland and had liked it very much. This one was only $8, and was a good souvenir of our northern lights experiences.
They started "boarding" our flight at around 4:20, but really they just bunched everyone up in a staging area. Everyone tried their best to keep their distance from one another, but it felt too claustrophobic for the current situation. Through the window we could see the crew boarding the plane. They were driven onto the tarmac and climbed up an outdoor staircase. It was snowing and the wind was insane...it almost blew them over, and their coats were blowing all over the place. It started to hail with little pellets that looked like ice melt pellets or styrofoam beads. We just kept our fingers crossed that the weather would not cause a flight cancellation. We expect it isn't easy to re-book a flight out now.
While we waited to board, the sun came out again. As we boarded the plane, we were handed bag lunches. There would be no service on this flight due to the pandemic. We got to our comfy seats in the second row. Craig needed to use the bathroom, but was informed by the flight attendants that the first class rest room had been commandeered for crew-only use. This was an inconvenience, especially since Craig has trouble manouevering and walking around in planes especially when he has been seated for a long time. Luckily, there were restrooms in the center of the plane, and the flight was probably only 20% full.
We barely saw the flight attendants for the duration of the flight. They were up front self-isolating with the pilots. We ate our tasty bagged lunch chicken and salad. The flight attendants did come by a couple more times offering us more bottled water. We had to fill out paperwork about where we had been, where we were seated on the flight, whether we have been around anyone who has tested positive (we haven't), and whether we have any symptoms (we don't). We had to provide our passport numbers and all of our contact information.
When we landed in Boston, they disembarked 20 people at a time. Since we were at the front of the plane, we were among the first batch. We were each directed to a CDC worker wearing protective equipment and standing behind a table. There were security officers observing. The CDC workers asked us the same questions from the Traveler's Health Declaration form. We assume that our temperatures were scanned via thermal imaging while we went through this process as well. The CDC workers handed us information cards detailing what to do if we become ill. They advised us to self-quarantine for 14 days because we came from high-risk Europe (we were planning to do that anyway).
The whole thing was quite well-managed. It didn't feel like an interrogation; everyone was friendly and helpful.
We went through immigration, and our luggage was pretty much immediately available. Sometimes we take the Logan Express bus home, but then somebody needs to pick us up and drive us the short distance back to the house. We didn't even know if the buses were running, and we didn't want to ask someone to pick us up and potentially risk exposure. Luckily, taxis were still operating, and we took one straight home to begin our two week self-quarantine.
We are very thankful for all of the airport workers and the cab driver who brought us home. We tipped them well. We realize how lucky we are to have gotten back home on our originally scheduled flight. Many people in Reykjavik had uncertain flight plans and were staying in the airport hotel in the hope of getting on a plane within the next few days. We have never seen so many cancelled flights listed on a departure board.
In all of our travels, we have never been so happy and relieved to return home. It's unbelievable how much everything has changed since we left home 2 weeks ago.
Leifur Eiriksson in the snow
Leifur Eiriksson in the snow
Craig confronts passengers for racist hate speech in the lounge
United States Traveler Health Declaration
CDC handout given to us on arrival at Logan Airport