A romantic getaway to a winter wonderland instead became three days of delays and disruptions for Missouri couple Becky and Robert Carson who, along with dozens of others, have been stuck at an airport in Iceland with little food or communication and forced to sleep on cold floors.
Heavy snow and strong winds have restricted operations at Iceland’s Keflavik Airport since the weekend, with a notice on the country’s airport authority Isavia’s website warning passengers of delays due to the weather.
The Icelandic Meteorological Office issued a weather warning for the entire country, forecasting poor visibility and dangerous driving conditions. One Icelandic member of parliament tweeted that the country’s branch of the Red Cross had set up shelters for stranded travelers.
Many passengers who landed at the airport have not been able to travel to their hotels in nearby Reykjavik, while others who are waiting for connecting flights or traveling to New York, Boston, Washington, Paris, London and other global cities are faced with cancellations.
The Carsons, whose trip to Iceland was their first abroad, arrived at the airport Sunday morning for their flight home, ending a holiday celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. They missed their flight by minutes after trudging through the snow and wind since the airport shuttle bus was not running, and they had to hunker down in the airport as hotels in the area were full.
"We found a couple of luggage carts and used them as a chair," Becky said. "I have never appreciated all the things I normally take for granted so much in my life. We were stranded with no real food, just overpriced snacks and a floor to sleep on."
Multiple passengers speaking to NBC News said that the main issue they faced was a lack of communication and organization from the airport authorities.
"Where I feel they failed in their duty was to provide guidance and announcements to those stranded," said Jolene Christensen of Richmond, Virginia. "Then, when we boarded the bus, they could have put people in a queue, but no attempt was made, which made it dangerous for everyone."
Tom Stirling, 43, who was stranded at the airport with his wife and their two sons, ages 10 and 8, said he slept on the floor Monday night while his younger son, Liam, slept on a metal bench, sick with a fever. Tom is originally from Scotland but lives in Kennebunk, Maine. Their Icelandair flight to Glasgow to visit family for the holidays was canceled.
"I understand that weather factors can affect things but I think the lack of preparation and foresight ... You should have never let people come here knowing the forecast," he said. "Today, it’s like everything’s canceled and no one's really doing anything to make this right."
Both Isavia and Icelandair, the country’s flag carrier, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A statement on Icelandair’s website said that it would reimburse travelers who had to stay at a hotel overnight up to $159.45 or 150 euros per room. It said that passengers would be rebooked automatically, but this would take longer than usual due to the volume of requests.
Despite the ordeal, Becky hasn’t let the days of disruption at the end of her first trip abroad deter her. "I want to see the world," she said. "I’ll definitely be planning my vacations more carefully in the future, but winter is the best time for the northern lights and that was at the top of the bucket list."