“COVID-19 highlights how truly interdependent we all are. How reliant we are on cooperation, communication, and compassion to successfully combat the virus. It highlights how important it is that we work together for a sustainable recovery that delivers for our economies and our planet.” Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
After completing our two month trip through Greece, I really felt the world was ready to open up again. We made travel connections seamlessly, complied with all of the Covid mandates, and were fully vaccinated. With only a few hiccups, all of our connections with trains, ferries, planes, and taxis were smooth and enjoyable.
Not so for our planned trip to Iceland.
My two college friends and Ron and I were looking forward to our 10 day trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. The first sign that maybe this Aurora Borealis bucket list item was not to be, was when Virgin Atlantic canceled our trip in July. “No problem,”I told myself. They notified me in plenty of time, refunded our tickets, and I rebooked flights on Icelandair, who partnered with Jetblue.
Then, Jetblue canceled our connecting flights to Iceland and I rebooked a second time. This flight was cheaper because I booked Iceland as a layover and we would end up in Sweden. We were excited because it would be our first time in Sweden.
Things began to spiral out of control when Sweden closed its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens. So I rebooked again, although it was disappointing that we wouldn’t get to visit Sweden because of Covid restrictions.
A week before we left, I checked the seat assignments on Icelandair…only to discover that the Jetblue connecting flight from Iceland had been canceled…and no one informed me. I scrambled to book yet another flight. I kept telling myself, “You are a seasoned traveler. You’ve got this!”
Meanwhile, six days before we left, Jean was in an accident and totaled her car and she canceled her flight to recuperate. While helping Jean, I wrote to Icelandair everyday asking for a refund for the Jetblue leg of our trip. I was a little frustrated, but we still planned on going.
On Sunday, the day before our flight, Chris called. ”I have bad news. Very bad news,” she said. “All of my flights are canceled.”
I thought about what Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said about our reliance on cooperation, communication, and compassion to successfully combat the virus. I expected cooperation and communication from the many cancelations we had already experienced. Surely, Jetblue and Icelandair communicated frequently. That comforted me into believing that all was well and just Ron and I could continue with our plans to go to Iceland.
As we waited for our first flight to Atlanta from our tiny regional airport, a large man with a Trump mask wrapped around his neck stood behind us at check-in. The airport staff reminded him several times to wear his mask. Like a third grader who thought he could pass notes unseen, he looked around to see if anyone was watching, and if no one was in his peripheral vision, he removed his mask. Another couple nearby pretended to sip on soda through straws, and puffed up like cocks waiting for battle at the thought of someone reminding them to wear their masks.
We arrived in Atlanta and spent the day walking around the airport and waiting for our late afternoon flight to JFK on Jetblue. The departure board said our plane was delayed by an hour. We anxiously counted the number of hours needed to catch our 8:30pm flight to Iceland. We’ll make it in time. No worries. We still had an hour in JFK to catch our flight.
Things began to get real, when after boarding, the pilot said we were delayed because he had to fill out more paperwork and have it approved. Another 45 minutes passed, and now it appeared grim.
Our only hope was that Jetblue would notify Icelandair of at least 7 passengers’ late arrivals and they would hold the plane for us. The flight attendants couldn’t tell us what gate the Icelandair flight left from, nor could they help us in calling Icelandair and asking them to hold the plane for us. They told us it was a short distance from terminal 5, where we arrived, to terminal 7 where we departed. They told us not to worry, that we would be there on time. They didn’t know!
When the Jetblue plane landed at JFK it was 8:15 pm. We were seated near the back of the plane and our only hope was to try to run to the front of the plane before everyone left their seats. We made it to the middle of the plane, where a woman harassed me and screamed nasty things at me for blocking her path to get her luggage from the overhead bin. Luckily, she was seated in the middle as she snarled and lashed out at me. I had no place to go. I was trapped in front of a crazed woman. I tried to explain that we would miss our connecting flight if we couldn’t get to the front of the plane and we only had 5 minutes to get there. She continued howling at me and I finally shouted, “Shut up, just shut up! ” She rose with her hackles up and teeth bared. ”Fuck you, ” she shouted as her husband tried to restrain her. I was horrified! I’ve never been in a fist fight before! Ron tried to keep everyone calm.
I discovered much later, after looking at my pedometer, that terminal 5 and terminal 7 were separated by a skytrain and almost one mile of walking. I ran behind a much younger woman who appeared to have experience in running marathons. I was proud of the fact that I could keep up with her, although it did worry me that I might have a heart attack on the way. I lost her when Ron and I took the skytrain and she didn’t.
At 8:30 pm, we caught up with another couple we met on the plane who were also going to Iceland. The check-in counter of Icelandair was empty and the plane had left. We all shook our heads in disbelief. We were only a few minutes late. Why was there no communication between Jetblue and Icelandair? Why couldn’t they hold the plane for 7 people whose plane was delayed? What do we do now? Where was our luggage? This was turning into one big clusterfuck!
The airline reservation agent at the Iberian Airlines desk told us to demand a night at a hotel from Jetblue. ”Don’t let them deny you your rights to a hotel room,” said the agent. He must have seen this one too many times. I told him not to worry that I could be a bitch if I had to be. He laughed, and called Icelandair and told us to go to the office to see if they had our luggage.
At Icelandair, we met up with another couple who had missed their flight and a young medical geneticist who was on his way to Munich, Germany via Iceland. We were all tired, hungry, and frustrated with the lack of communication and lack of cooperation. The couple said they really would miss seeing the Northern Lights if they couldn’t go, and I said (trying to be funny) that I would miss the Penis Museum. The woman looked at me with a strange look. I think she thought I was crazy, until I described the Penis Museum in Reykjavík, and she was intrigued.
Noreen, from Icelandair said she would look for our luggage and she sent us to see Rudy in the pit at Jetblue. What in the world? I felt like we were already in a big cockfight. What was the pit all about? It was past midnight before Rudy and another airline agent got us a hotel room and Icelandair found our luggage.
We met the Russian shuttle driver at the pick-up spot. He was grouchy and asked us if we were with American (Airlines). Apparently, our hotel was full of disgruntled American Airlines customers whose flights were canceled. The Russian was not pleased! After we arrived at our hotel, I asked Ron if he tipped him. He looked at me and laughed. Of course. I was afraid not to tip him!
Ahhh! At least we didn’t have to spend the night in the airport. Ron looked forward to a hot soak in a tub to relieve stress. Unfortunately, there was no tub in our room, and to make a bad situation worse, there was no water! We had to call a maintenance man!
We slept fitfully, hoping that we could be rebooked the next evening on the one and only Icelandair flight at 8:30 pm. We had to have new rapid antigen tests because of the 72 hour requirement. Rudy in the Jetblue pit told us that Jetblue had a free Covid testing clinic and we could receive the rapid antigen test in the morning before our flight.
We were still unbelievably hopeful to make it to Iceland, although the signs were all pointing to us going home. Another Russian driver picked us up at the hotel in the airport shuttle. This one was the ying to last night’s Russian driver’s yang. He took us to the clinic outside of terminal 5 to get our Covid test. But wait! Something was eerily wrong. The metal doors were chained. No sign saying the clinic was closed…nothing. The Russian driver told us to walk a little further to the next entrance. He followed us slowly in the shuttle. That gate was chained and closed, too!
This felt like a dark, grim cloud hovering over us. I had lost almost all hope of going to Iceland. Our trip was doomed from the beginning. There were signs all along the way!
The Russian dropped us off at Jetblue and we went to the pit again to find Rudy. The pit was packed with what looked like refugees being processed, so we found a supervisor who, at first, didn’t believe us when we told her the clinic was closed. She asked a security guard, and he confirmed it was closed. She called the clinic number, but never received an answer. Finally someone standing in line told her it was election day and all the offices were closed due to elections. Sigh! We were not able to get a covid test and the only one available in the terminal was a PCR test. We would not get immediate results, and it would cost each of us $210.
I started to cry! I was tired, overwhelmed, angry, and frustrated at the inefficiency and lack of communication between the airlines. I just wanted to go home.
Bye bye Icelandair.
Lloyd, at the Delta check-in counter was very sympathetic to our plight. He booked us on Delta to Atlanta that afternoon, then we had a short flight the next morning to reach our home.
Once again, we had to run to catch our Delta flight. A pilot was behind us and I asked him if he was flying to Atlanta. He was the pilot of our plane! I was overjoyed and babbled on with relief about how Delta had helped us get a flight out of Nicaragua during the civil revolution, and how Delta had gone out of their way to help us with several other problems, including our botched Iceland trip. I wanted to hug him! We were loyal Delta customers!
When we boarded the plane to Atlanta, we both were filled with relief, until the pilot announced that the door to the airplane wouldn’t close and he had to call maintenance. We just turned to each other and laughed.
We used to love flying. Years ago, when we were dating, our favorite date spot was the Pittsburgh airport. We could sit in a terminal restaurant, drink milkshakes, and watch travelers arrive and depart. We knew then that traveling was our passion. We long for those carefree traveling days.
NPR describes the decay of customer service as skimpification. “It’s all about maximizing profit now. The economywide decline in service quality that we’re now seeing is something different, and it doesn’t have a good name. It’s a situation where we’re paying the same or more for services, but they kinda suck compared with what they used to be.”
Kinda suck is an understatement. I think we have both developed Post Traumatic Stress syndrome from this unbelievable set of circumstances leading us to cancel our trip to Iceland.
The decay of the service industry blinks in neon warning signs everywhere. Airlines put customers who call them on hold for hours. Restaurants, bars and hotels are understaffed and stretched thin. The quality of service seems to be deteriorating everywhere, yet we pay the same or more and the buzz phrase for the deterioration of services is “ It is because of Covid.”
But, to stop the degradation of the service industry and tales such as mine, we need to work together. Times are hard during Covid, yet for a sustainable recovery to help our economies, we need cooperation, compassion, and most importantly, accountability.
We need to stop blaming Covid for the lack of quality we encounter daily in the service industries. Service workers problems are all of our problems. A good society shows compassion to its workers. It demonstrates to each and every worker that they are ”worth it” and pay them a living wage with decent health benefits.
A good society helps us fulfill our goals and our dreams, whether they be travel oriented, education, family, or any other goal we strive to achieve.
This pandemic has shown us how truly interdependent we all are and for the sake of our wold economies and our planet, we must be able to work together to combat this virus. This tale, fraught with anxiety, has shown us that we are still very leery of traveling. Traveling during covid is not for the faint of heart.
Do you think the world is really ready to open up?