This is the fifth part of my Arctic Circle adventure. You should probably go back and read part 1 to get the whole story.

December 21, 2022 Wednesday

We got up extra early and I stepped into the shower cubby to find that the water was almost suitably hot. Not quite as hot as I would normally like, but not like the on/off showers I'd been taking all week because the stream wasn't hot enough to comfortably stand under. We finished packing up our igloo to start the long trip home. There aren’t any phones in the igloo to be able to call the front desk, so the night before we arranged for someone to come pick up our luggage so we wouldn’t have to haul it through the snow which is normally a 10 minute walk to the front desk would be very long with having to drag the suitcases.

The guy arrived early, he pulled up in a minivan right in front of our igloo as I finished organizing everything. I didn’t need to pack three outfits into my small suitcase, as we only had 1 overnight left. So I used that space for souvenirs. Our big suitcases had our dirty clothes and I left space for us to pack our bulky coats in the small suitcases. I brought our suitcase scale with us and weighed our bags to make sure we wouldn’t have any surprises at the check in counter.

I was looking forward to one more last walk in the pre-dawn but normally waking hours dark. But the man in the minivan said he’d drive us so we hopped in. We checked out and paid our bill, on which we were charged for about a zillion geisha bars. One of the women behind the front desk, the one whose boyfriend was in Australia, came out and gave us both a big hug. We’d become friendly with everyone behind that desk. There was an incident when I was waiting in line to speak to them and a woman was in front of me talking to the front desk clerk. When I stepped up the clerk looked angry and threw her pen onto the floor in frustration. I asked her if she was OK, and tears filled her eyes and I suggested thst she step away and take a breath. She thanked me for being nice to her and then asked me what I needed. It seemed to me that the staff was incredibly busy and incredibly stressed the week we were there. The fact that one of them hugged us goodbye spoke volumes to the rapport we had developed there.

Then we had to wait for the shuttle to come and take us to the airport. All week long we’d seen a cat hanging around in the lobby and she (I am assuming she) jumped into my lap and purred at me.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music stayed in a glass igloo at Kakslauttanen Finland

When we got to the airport in Ivalo the drama started. And the rest of the day would be pretty dramatic from this point on. We checked in at the Finnair desk for our flight to Helsinki. When we had initially booked our flights we had booked round trip Boston to Helsinki through Icelandair. Then we booked round trip Helsinki-Ivalo on Finnair separately because we were unable to select Ivalo as an option on the Icelandair web site. The flights to and from Helsinki from Iceland would be on Finnair despite them being booked with Icelandair. This proved to be a problem later on downstream.

It had occurred to us when we were checking in at Ivalo that when we arrived at Helsinki we’d have to go retrieve our bags from baggage claim, re-check in at Helsinki for the remainder of our trip home at Helsinki. Our flight was already delayed and Todd asked the check in clerk how we would possibly make it to our flight to Stockholm if we were delayed and had to do all that. She couldn’t see the remainder of our itinerary because it was booked through Icelandair, not Finnair, and we had to get on the flight. He tried getting online to change the flight before we boarded but didn’t have enough time. We’d have to figure it out when we got to Helsinki.

When we landed in Helsinki I sprinted to the baggage claim and waited right by the door where the bags come through. I grabbed the bags and lugged them upstairs to the departures area and to Todd at the special assistance desk.

We had missed our flight to Stockholm. The representative at the desk tapped on her keyboard and scratched her head. It would seem that because we had missed our flight to Stockholm Icelandair had cancelled the remainder of our itinerary. We had no more tickets to get home. I learned later on, in trying to get Icelandair to remedy the situation that this is their policy. They don’t keep the itinerary in the system so you can rebook on a later flight, like is common practice here in America. They just cancel the whole damn thing and then leave their customer to figure out how to get to their destination on their own.

When Todd was looking online before we’d departed from Ivalo he’d seen that there are several flights to Stockholm, and we had expected that we’d just get booked onto the next one and pay a few hundred bucks and be done with it. Nope. We were told that there was nothing they could do to help us. We couldn’t even purchase tickets at the airport and had to call Icelandair.

We found a café and I brought us lunch while he whipped out his laptop and called Icelandair. The hold queue was incredibly long, as Icelandair was experiencing major difficulties. We’d learned that the Saturday before there was a massive storm in Iceland. The storm was bad enough that the road between Reykjavik and Keflavik had been shut down due to a massive amount of snow. Airline and airport crew had to be airlifted from Reykjavik to get to work at the airport, which is normally a 45 minute drive away. The weather restricted flights from getting out, and passengers were stuck sleeping everywhere they could in the airport for two days. Then other things happened at the airport, there pipes froze and burst, there was a fire and there was some electrical problems in the tower. In other words, a hot mess. We ate while we sat on hold. We held while we sat on hold.

Eventually a representative answered and Todd explained to her what was going on. She said we would have to re-purchase all of our flights. We had already purchased them back in November, but to get onto the plane that day we’d need to buy all the tickets all over again to the tune of $1,800. We decided we would just buy it and then call Icelandair after the fact and get refunded, seeing as how we already purchased the tickets and we were getting forced to purchase them again so that we could get home. She told us she would fix it, and then we got disconnected from her. So then he called and went back into the hold queue, and I decided to call too, figuring I’d double our chances of getting a representative. It was at this point that flights started returning on the Icelandair app on our phones. We’d lost our upgrades of course, but at least flights were coming back. Our flight to Stockholm was in an hour, and then the rest of the flights were the same ones we had already booked back in November.

We checked our bags and headed to the gate, irritated that we’d basically been scammed into buying our tickets all over again. It seemed impossible to believe that they would just delete our itinerary because we’d missed our connection—which is something that happens a zillion times a day in airports all over the world.

We landed in Stockholm and were starving. We still had a few hours to kill before our flight to Keflavik so we wandered the terminal checking out all the restaurants. There was a buffet that lacked sneeze guards that we promptly turned our back on. We settled for tacos, Swedish style, and then boarded our plane.

Once we got to Keflavik we got a taxi to the hotel we checked in and quickly learned that the check in desk doubled as a bar. Todd and I love a Moscow mule, but with a twist. We discovered that using grapefruit vodka instead of plain makes an awesome mule. Rut, the check in attendant/bartender, had grapefruit soda on hand. So we did equal parts grapefruit soda and ginger beer, vodka and lime. We headed back to our room and Todd tried calling Icelandair again to see if we could get the ball rolling on the $1,800 refund. The hold music was so dreadful we just couldn’t sit through it and decided I’d pick the ball up on that after we got home.

As of this writing, over a month later, I still have not managed to get a refund from Icelandair. I’ve called almost every day, I’ve logged cases, I’ve argued. They do not seem to think that my buying 1 set of airplane tickets twice is an issue. After a month of working on the problem I finally have managed to get the phone number of the business office, and will call there on Monday. Icelandair, if you are reading this you need to make this right. It is obscene that I was charged another $1,800 to get home, when I had already purchased tickets. There was no notification on the app or via email that our itinerary was cancelled. We went to check in and there was nothing to check into anymore. Please do the right thing!

I went back out to get a refill on our drinks and talked to Rut about all the problems they were having at the Keflavik airport. I also learned that she actually is an airline pilot and trained on the supermax. She was hired by Icelandair about 5 minutes before the pandemic began. With the big reduction in air travel that the pandemic created she was promptly let go from Icelandair, and is still waiting to be hired to fly for them again.

December 22, 2022 Thursday

We woke up in the dark again and got into the taxi to the airport. We got in, checked in at the kiosk, I stuffed my coat into my little suitcase, as our suitcases were left at the airport from the night before. The airport was still crowded from all the issues they had several days ago. Todd and I wore masks in the airports and on the planes, as we’re still nervous about being around crowds. Most of the people in the airport were not wearing masks, and most of them were also coughing everywhere. We had time to kill so I wandered into the 66 North store in the airport to buy more Christmas presents from home. (66 North has amazing cold weather gear! Gorgeous!) Then we sat down at a gate at a table that faced the windows so that our backs were to the crowd.

There were two women sitting directly behind us. Their skin looked waxy, they were coughing their heads off, they were obviously feverish and sick. And they were not wearing masks. Then we looked around and so many people looked like that. We immediately stood and found an empty gate down the stairs were we could sit alone and not worry about unmasked sick people coughing and sneezing everywhere.

It was on the plane that I started coughing. I was masked and I grabbed a handful of Hall’s cough drops from Todd’s backpack and sucked on them one after another for the 5 hour flight to Boston. When we landed we made our way up the jetway and into the airport when I felt fatigue set in.

“I’m coughing. And just walking up that thing and I am tired,” I said to him.

“It’s probably all the flights and the time zones catching up to you,” Todd said. We stood in line at customs and I covered my face as much as I could as I coughed. We got our suitcases and made our way through the terminal and to central parking. We had packed Lucira COVID tests in our suitcases just in case, these are the at home PCR tests that need batteries and take about a half hour to run. I put on a second mask, just in case, after I swabbed my nostrils and started the test as Todd drove us out of the garage, through the Callahan tunnel and onto 93 south. We had left the city limits when I saw the test come back negative.

But I didn’t feel right. When we got home I decided to sleep in the spare bedroom until I felt better. I tested again the next day, the 23rd, and still tested negative. But by then I was definitely sick. We cancelled our trip to Vermont for Christmas because my mother in law had just recovered from COVID and was compromised. Days went by and I felt worse. The fatigue set in. I would sanitize my hands and empty the dishwasher, and then need to take a nap. I felt a sinus infection coming on and I called my doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics that I would take for 10 days.

New Years rolled around and I was always exhausted, my cough loud and barking. I figured I’d tested negative and thought it was a bad cold. We had friends over and I stayed well away from them. The next day we took the dogs to the dog park and I needed to sleep after we got home from that.

“Maybe you should test again,” Todd suggested. I jammed the swabs up my nose, swished them around in the purple liquid and set the test. I read while I waited for the results, darting my eyes to it sitting on the coffee table until it read positive. Of course we notified our friends and told them all to test. Thankfully they’d all tested negative.

My case wasn’t so bad. I coughed a lot and was tired. I suspect that because I was on antibiotics I’d managed to fight off the worst symptoms. It took about a week for me to test negative again, and another week for the tired to end.

The parting gift from Iceland was annoying but not enough to wreck the awesome memories we created on this adventure. I am so grateful we got the chance to go and I will never forget it.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.