Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Flight Review: Icelandair

The mid-October blizzard that blanketed Edmonton making driving unnecessarily stressful couldn’t prevent me from weathering the storm to get to the airport to board my Icelandair flight to Copenhagen by way of Reykjavik I’d booked one sweltering summer day that seemed years and not mere months earlier.

While I braved the difficult conditions and arrived at Edmonton International Airport early the same could not be said of the inbound Icelandair aircraft which was delayed 30 minutes departing Reykjavik. When it was announced to the assembled passengers that a late arriving plane and not the adverse weather was the cause of the delay I couldn’t help a wry smile at the irony.

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photo by author

Once fully boarded and after enduring a short detour through the airport de-icing station we took off an hour later than scheduled putting my original 65 minute connection in jeopardy. The crew did apologize several times for the delay and the captain noted a tailwind would help us gain back some of the lost time so should allow those of us with razor thin connections to just make it. Knowing there was a later day flight to Copenhagen if I did miss my connection and being unable to control a thing sat back in my economy window seat for the six-and-a-half hour overnight flight to Reykjavik.
20161014_184949photo by author
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photo by author

Icelandair’s stalwart Boeing 757 aircraft are configured with three classes of service: a business class cabin called Saga Class that features many extra service perks and a comfortable if not world-class lie-flat seat, an upgraded economy seat branded  Economy Comfort with a few more inches of legroom and the center seat converted as a console similar to WestJet’s Plus seats on its Boeing 737 aircraft and the standard economy seats I was travelling in. There’s a video overview of all three classes of service here and these will remain even as the airline introduces larger Boeing 767 and new Boeing 737 aircraft into its fleet over the next five years. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the Economy Comfort seats as economy passengers are paraded past them upon boarding.
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photo by author

Economy seats offers a healthy 32 inch seat pitch in one of three seats on either side of a narrow center aisle. The in-flight entertainment system was a small disappointment as I found a limited amount of content compared with other airlines I’ve flown transatlantic flights recently including KLM. The few newer movie releases and TV shows are augmented by classic movies such as 1967’s Bonnie & Clyde and Iceland travel documentaries but should the somewhat limited selection not be to your liking there is always in-seat power to plug in a tablet or laptop although I would recommend packing earbuds as forgetting them will set you back EUR6 buying a pair onboard.

As in-flight meals are not included in the ticket cost there are a number of buy-on-board meals available for purchase from the basic Skyr, an Icelandic cultured dairy product not unlike yogurt, for EUR3 to the more adventurous chicken curry or hamburger sliders for EUR13 – 15 which at around CAD$20 I found a little on the pricey side. There’s a more detailed in-flight menu here but have your credit or debit card handy to pay for on board purchases as cash isn’t accepted.

While in-flight food and alcohol are for purchase even the lowest priced economy Icelandair ticket allows up to two complimentary checked bags and advance seat assignment and are free perks which are sadly becoming increasing rare among its competitors.

Once the snack and meal service was over the cabin lights are dimmed and the northern lights dance on the aircraft ceiling, a neat effect unique to Icelandair.
Northern Lights aboard our Icelandair flight to Reykjavik
Northern Lights aboard our Icelandair flight by sergejf is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.

In the end I made my connection in Reykjavik but only because I travel with carry-on luggage and sprinted through the airport and an empty customs hall to arrive at the gate for the Copenhagen flight a scant few minutes before it was closed, which was closer than I’ve ever experienced during a connection. When the airport terminal announcement is calling for the last few travellers by name and warning that the flight is about to be closed momentarily you know you’ve cut it very close.

The organization of gates at the Reykjavik airport isn’t ideal as at least half-a-dozen U.S. & Canadian flights all depart within minutes of each other from gates so close it creates a logjam of passengers all squeezed into a small terminal space which added to a few frayed nerves when boarding time for the Edmonton flight arrives and there’s not an airline staffer to be seen. Once the lone airline employee did arrive and set up the station boarding commenced unannounced and on a first come, first served basis unlike all other Icelandair flights I’d flown where boarding was conducted by rows from the back of the aircraft to the front in an orderly fashion. Airport administration isn’t Icelandair’s responsibility so can’t blame it for terminal design however flight scheduling is very much within its control and while I can appreciate that the late afternoon departures are clustered together so they arrive at their destinations early evening and can make a short turnaround to head back to Reykjavik having so many departures set for almost the same time seems to compound overcrowding.

Worth noting is that while Icelandair has a loyalty program called Saga Club the lowest priced economy tickets earn very little frequent flyer miles, around 8,400 roundtrip, which represent a fraction of the 67,000 required for a free roundtrip ticket Edmonton – Reykjavik. The one advantage that makes enrolling before your first flight beneficial is that Saga miles may be used to pay for on board purchases so even a relatively few may be enough to pay for an in-flight food item on a future flight and so offer a small value.

The in-flight service is friendly and polite and so despite a few issues with in-flight entertainment and connecting in Reykjavik it’s hard to beat the sheer value of Icelandair as my ticket Edmonton to Copenhagen with a stopover in Reykjavik on the return came in just under CAD$500 with taxes on a summer seat sale, a price low enough to forgive a few limitations. I am sure the airline will tempt me to fly to Europe again on one of their low fares as I can resist almost everything except the temptation of super low airfares.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the info! It helped in making some decisions about flying this airline.

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