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Icelandair’s 767-300ER economy made a decent, affordable option for flying between Reykjavik and New York. The Pros: A fresh and comfortable coach product with good service. The Cons: A chaotic boarding process and unreliable Wi-Fi.
On a recent trip to Iceland, I decided to fly on different carriers in each direction to judge the best way to get to the Nordic island. I had flown on WOW’s new A330 from San Francisco (SFO) to Reykjavik (KEF) on the outbound, but decided to take Icelandair back from KEF to New York (JFK). The only other carrier flying nonstop to Iceland from the US is Delta, which operates from JFK and offers seasonal service from Minneapolis (MSP).
Icelandair operates 13 routes between the US and Iceland — service to Cleveland and Dallas-Fort Worth starts in May 2018 as well — and its stopover program is a popular way to connect to mainland Europe. The fleet consists of 26 Boeing 757s and four wide-body 767s. I was lucky enough to grab a seat on one of its recently renovated 767-300ERs. Here’s what it was like.
My one-way flight on Icelandair from Reykjavik to New York was relatively cheap, at just $209. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card to pay for it, which let me earn 3x points — or in this case, 627 Ultimate Reward points, worth about $14, according to TPG’s most recent valuations — for the travel purchase. Alternatively, I could have booked with The Platinum Card from American Express, which would have given me 5x points on all flights booked directly through the airline, and would have netted me 1,045 Membership Reward points, worth about $20.
Unlike WOW, Icelandair isn’t a low-cost carrier, so it doesn’t charge for things like carry-ons, checked bags or seat assignments, so I didn’t have to worry about paying any extra fees when I was booking. It is worth noting, however, that since my flight this summer, Icelandair has launched a new fare class called Economy Light, the only difference being that it doesn’t include a checked bag. Hopefully, Economy Light will be cheaper than current economy fares.
You can also book Icelandair flights with Alaska miles, and the redemption rates aren’t too bad. On flights between North America and Iceland, it will cost you 22,500 Alaska miles to fly one-way in economy or 50,000 miles to fly one-way in business class, though you’ll see fairly high fuel surcharges tacked on. You can earn a nice chunk of Alaska miles right now if you sign up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card, which offers 30,000 Alaska miles after you spend $1,000 within the first three months of opening your account. Since this was a revenue flight, I also was able to credit it toward the Alaska Mileage Plan program.
Keflavík International Airport (KEF) is Iceland’s primary airport, and nearly all international flights operate from here. It’s relatively small and I had no problem navigating it.
If you’re heading to the airport from downtown Reykjavik, I would definitely recommend taking a bus. Cabs from the city center are notoriously expensive — sometimes over $100 — and many of the buses will pick you up from or near your hotel. I chose to go with FlyBus, which cost $28 for the one-way trip. This bus was equipped with free Wi-Fi and dropped me off right at the terminal. I didn’t have to check a bag, so I checked in at a self-service terminal and was able to change my seat and print out my ticket.
If you need to check a bag or talk to an agent, there’s a large check-in area nearby as well. For me, what helped Icelandair stand out from WOW was the lack of extra fees. An economy ticket entitled me to one complimentary full-sized checked bag, a free carry-on and a free personal item. WOW, on the other hand, only allowed me to have a free personal item and levied ridiculously high fees for checked or full-sized carry-on bags.
A cool perk when you’re traveling in Iceland is that you’re eligible to get money back as tax refund when you leave the country. Definitely stop by the VAT tax refund counter and fill out the form if you qualify — save your receipts, but note that this really only applies to purchases over 6,000 Icelandic Krona (~$57) for goods that you’re bringing out of the country.
After heading through security, I entered Keflavík’s main terminal, which featured a beautiful stained-glass window that let in tons of light onto the large seating area. Keflavík is an airport where you may find yourself with a long layover, so make sure you check out out our KEF edition of Layover Lowdown. Note that while free Wi-Fi and solid duty-free shopping options were available, I did find the dining options here to be limited.
As I headed to my gate, I snapped a few photos of the 767 I’d be flying on. Icelandair has some slick livery and I even caught a glimpse of its Northern Lights-themed 757.
When I arrived at D21, it was relatively empty, with not even any staff in sight. Icelandair’s boarding process was a bit chaotic. As boarding time approached, the narrow hallway started to fill up. There was no real seating area near the gate, so the hallway became crowded with passengers milling around in addition to all the travelers who were trying to get to the other gates down the hall.
Once the gate agents began the boarding process, things got even worse: Passengers were pushing each other and trying to get to the front of the line, which was not orderly at all. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to how the staff boarded the plane, simply asking half the passengers to board at once. The Icelandair employees even let in someone who didn’t have the proper documentation and there were a few of us who had to notify the employee that they needed to check their passport. Once we showed our documentation, all passengers were crammed in a small waiting area for about 15 minutes.
After being let out of the holding pen, we walked down the jetway and finally made our way onto the aircraft. I spotted a sticker next to the plane door showing our 767 had its very own name, Gullborg, which I though was a nice touch. You can see all of the fleet’s names here, with a handy guide to how to pronounce them in Icelandic.
Cabin and Seat
As I mentioned before, I was flying on one of Icelandair’s recently retrofitted 767s, which the airline started flying in February. Its previous owner, Air New Zealand, operated the aircraft from 1997 to July 2016. The cabin felt super fresh and the recent retrofit gave it that new-plane smell.
Icelandair’s business class, which the carrier calls Saga Class, is nowhere near the level of luxury you’d find on other international business-class products. As I passed through on the way to economy, I spotted 25 recliner seats staggered in a 2-1-2 configuration. Each Saga Class seat has 40 inches of pitch and is 20 inches wide.
The economy cabin was also quite clean and still felt new, with muted colors throughout. Icelandair’s 767 seated 216 in economy and 33 in economy comfort — they’re essentially the same as economy seats but with slightly more pitch and a few extras like priority check-in and complimentary food and drinks, among other perks.
All seats had a pillow, which I wasn’t expecting since it wasn’t technically an overnight flight. I had chosen 11B, which had direct aisle access and was near the exit. I found it to be pretty comfortable, with plenty of cushioning and adjustable headrests. According to SeatGuru, economy seats have 32 inches of pitch and are 17 inches wide. The seat also had a decent amount of recline, more than many other aircraft I’ve been on recently.
I’m 6′ 1″ and felt like I had a decent amount of legroom as well, although there seemed to be an in-flight-entertainment box under the seat in front of me, so that limited my movement a bit.
There were four bathrooms for economy passengers to use, two located in the middle and two in the back. The two I checked out were basic but clean.
Overall, I was happy with the seat and cabin. I definitely think the seats would be okay for one of Icelandair’s long-haul routes, but I’d try to avoid seats that include an IFE box in front of them if possible because I’d want all the legroom I could get. The seats weren’t super roomy, but seemed more comfortable than the ones I’d been in on WOW and some US carriers.
Food and Beverage
I was impressed with Icelandair’s food and drink options, although you will have to pay for it, unlike on other full-service carriers that usually offer free meals for economy passengers. There were cool bundles to help you save a few bucks, like the tapas snack box and a glass of wine, a 21% savings over ordering these items individually. À la carte items were priced at typical airplane rates, but the quality of the food definitely made it worth it. Soft drinks, juice, water and coffee were all on the house.
I opted for the chicken cordon bleu, which came with a side of sweet potatoes and regular potatoes, and it cost me 15 euros (~$18). The meal wasn’t anything outstanding, but I thought it tasted better than most other airplane food I’ve had. Cocktail sauce definitely made the tender chicken much tastier.
I also ordered a cocktail made with Icelandic vodka, rhubarb liqueur and sparkling water. If you’re flying Icelandair anytime soon, I’d recommend you try it as well. It was sweet, refreshing and complemented my meal well.
Icelandair excelled when it came to in-flight entertainment. I had a wide variety of options from TV, movies, music, audiobooks and more.
There were lots of recent movies and TV shows, and you could even watch the entire first season of Westworld. The touch screen worked great too; I’ve noticed many IFE systems have unresponsive touch screens, so this was a welcome change.
There were no AC power outlets in economy, though they were available in economy comfort and business class. In coach, all you got was a USB port.
Icelandair had a full onboard duty-free shop so you could buy toy Icelandair 757s, perfume and scarves from the plane — if I’d been flying to Iceland on this leg, I could’ve even purchased tours or bus tickets. And you have the option to pay with Icelandair Saga points.
The flight attendants were all very friendly and performed multiple food and beverage services throughout my journey.
Icelandair offered Wi-Fi, but I would’ve had to cough up 9.70 euros (~$11) to connect. Unfortunately, the service kept going out and the flight attendants had to keep resetting it. The few times it did work, the speeds were good enough to browse the internet and send a few emails.
After a while, though, I wasn’t able to connect with my computer and had to rely on my phone. Then, with 90 minutes left, service went completely out and the crew was unable to fix it. I’m not sure how common these issues are on Icelandair, but the carrier recently announced it will be the first to offer speedier internet on its new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in 2018.
While there were a few mishaps with boarding, Wi-Fi and the IFE box under the seat in front of me, I can still say that I enjoyed my flight. The interior of the 767 was fresh and clean, and the seats were comfortable, even for an economy product. The food, service and free in-flight entertainment were solid. The crew were friendly. Icelandair also deserves good marks for not charging extra fees and for its competitive fares.
If I’m ever flying to Iceland again or connecting through it, I’ll definitely choose Icelandair over WOW. With better service, seats and prices — after you tack on all of WOW’s crazy fees — Icelandair delivers a superior experience any day.
Have you flown in economy on Icelandair’s 767-300ER? Tell us about your experience, below.
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