By Paul Rhodes, publisher and editor
Sitting in an airport watching flight after flight get cancelled is a horrible way to spend a Saturday afternoon. It’s even worse when the clock for your connecting flight in another city just keeps ticking.
And if you had told me that “Windy City” could be anything other than a fun nickname, I would have scoffed at you that same afternoon. But when wind gusts in Chicago hit 60 mph that day, I developed a healthy new respect for the simplest little things that can almost ruin a vacation.
The weekend started off just fine for Kim and me and our travel companions Bruce and Mary Chapman. Months earlier, on a bit of a whim, we had booked a four-day travel package to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. The price was exceptionally cheap, and what the heck…it was a chance to check off another bucket list item.
We all met at the airport mid-morning Saturday for a noon flight to Chicago, where we were scheduled to board a direct flight to Reykjavik, Iceland that night. We had built a nearly six-hour layover into our connecting flight, just to be on the safe side.
Immediately upon arrival at Eisenhower Airport in Wichita, we learned that wind gusts in Chicago were wreaking havoc on takeoffs from Wichita. Our flight, we were told, was going to have to wait a couple of hours.
No problem, we thought. We’re prepared.
Over the next eight hours, we experienced delay after delay, a cancellation that pushed us over to a United Airlines flight, and another cancellation that pushed us back onto an American Airlines flight.
Finally, at 6 p.m. that evening, we were in the air and headed to Chicago. After a bumpy approach, we landed safely at 8 p.m., only to find out that our flight to Iceland had taken off on time a half hour earlier. The Iceland Air counter had already closed for the night, leaving us with limited options. Rather than spend the night in O’Hare International Airport, like thousands of people were preparing to do, the four of us all got on our phones. We found a hotel with open rooms, called it a night, and headed back to the airport in the morning.
Because our trip to Iceland was a travel package, we had just two options: book one-way tickets to Reykjavik, or go home. Collectively we all decided we were not going home. We were going to Iceland.
New tickets in hand, and in line for our new flight to Reykjavik, the worst news was yet to come. Since we had missed our initial flight to Iceland, our travel company had cancelled our entire trip. We were aghast that this could happen, but it had. As people passed by us to get checked in for the flight, I negotiated furiously over the telephone with our travel company. Finally they agreed that rather than making us rebook our entire trip – at our cost, mind you – they would reinstate our accommodations in Iceland if we would buy the return flight home.
At that point determination kicked in, and we coughed up the money for our return flight to Chicago. It was all we could do, and we were all in.
A few hours later at our hotel in the heart of Reykjavik, Iceland, we shook our heads and shared a laugh over breakfast. At that point, our four-day trip to Iceland had been whittled down to three days, and we had our work cut out for us. With some minor rescheduling at that point, we were able to squeeze in all of our excursions around the island nation over the next few days, and honestly…we had a ball. We quickly forgot the hellish two days we had just endured, and focused on the amazing adventures we had waiting for us in Iceland.
One thing we will never forget, however, is the lesson we learned from our fantastically priced vacation package. Package deals like this, almost always, come with no cancellation or rescheduling options, and are best coupled with a full day of wiggle room on the front end of your trip. From now on, any kind of trip like this will include an overnight’s stay at the takeoff point to ensure such a disaster like this never happens again.
It would have been a much, much cheaper deal – and less exasperating experience – all the way around.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned next week for a look at why Iceland is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world.