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Icelandair’s Economy Comfort product is inconsistent where it counts, and it’s the on-the-ground experience that really carries the weight. Pros: priority check-in, boarding and lounge access on par with business class, and complimentary food and beverage. Cons: an inconsistent hard product and average service.
Flying from New York to Reykjavik is a short journey. And with the rise in the number of carriers, both low-cost and standard, flying between the US and Iceland, I was curious to see what the experience would be like on such a (relatively) short-haul flight with a full-service carrier. So, I opted to test out Icelandair’s Economy Comfort product on its 757-300 between Newark (EWR) and Reykjavik (KEF), then continuing to London Gatwick (LGW).
But I was even more curious to compare it to the economy experience to see if the extra money was worth it.
Like Iceland’s other airline, WOW Air, Icelandair is not a member of any alliance. Given that I didn’t have a surplus of Saga points built up, I paid cash for the reasonably priced ticket. After all, I was only traveling one-way between New York City and Reykjavik.
After searching on Google Flights, I found Icelandair’s Economy Comfort product between Newark (EWR) and Keflavik International Airport (KEF), near Reykjavik, was going for $652. On the same route on the same day, the one-way flight in economy was about $350 cheaper.
My ticket was purchased for me using the American Express Centurion Card, so we could take advantage of the card’s 50% points rebate on tickets purchased through Amex Travel. If you’re looking to purchase an Icelandair ticket with cash, you should use the Platinum Card from American Express, which would earn you 5x points for booking airline tickets directly through the airline.
Newark’s Terminal B was far from the most innovative and fresh airport experience, but that’s where Icelandair operates from — right next to fellow Icelander WOW Air.
When I got to the check-in counter, at about 5pm for a 7:45pm departure, there was already a pretty long line of economy passengers. Premium economy has priority check-in, so I was able to bypass the queue. Both Saga Class (the carrier’s business class) and premium-economy passengers used the same priority lane, but it wasn’t crowded.
I ended up getting through the line in less than five minutes, and after the agent told me the flight was delayed by 45 minutes, I was on my way to the security checkpoint and then to the Lufthansa Business Lounge, which gave access to Icelandair premium-economy passengers.
I’d been to the Lufthansa Business Lounge in Frankfurt (FRA) before, so I had high expectations. But the rude front desk agent quickly reminded me that I was in Newark, New Jersey, not Frankfurt, Germany. The lounge was nowhere close to its counterpart over the Atlantic, with few dining options and few seats despite the fact that it was fairly empty.
If anything, I’d say it was a glorified Admirals Club with better food — though I’d take this any day over Admirals Club’s cheese cubes and Bud Light.
The Lufthansa Business Lounge was located just steps from my gate, where I was to board at 8:05pm I was there at 8:00pm, but the flight was delayed by another 30 minutes, so I headed back to the lounge. When 8:30pm rolled around, I was concerned, having read Brendan Dorsey’s experience when flying Icelandair in economy, but I was granted priority boarding because I was traveling in Economy Comfort.
On the ground, Icelandair treated its Saga Class and Economy Comfort passengers the same: same priority check-in lane, same business-class lounge and same priority boarding.
As we boarded the aircraft — the stretch version of the Boeing 757, far less common than the standard 757-200 — a flight attendant greeted everyone with a “Velkomin!” and a bottle of Icelandic water. That is, until she ran out about three-quarters of the way. While it’s a great way to welcome passengers on board, they should have had enough for everyone.
Cabin and Seat
It was immediately evident that the Economy Comfort class was just a spruced-up economy product. As on intra-Europe routes in business class, Economy Comfort with Icelandair was a row of economy seats with an open middle seat that had been converted into a small table.
On the Boeing 757-300, Icelandair offered 44 seats in the Economy Comfort class in a 3-3 configuration. Passengers were only seated in seats A, C, D or F in each of the rows, while seats B and E remained occupied only by the shared table.
Each of the seats offered 33 inches of pitch (legroom) and 17 inches of width, barely larger than in standard economy. While you’d still have the same 3-3 configuration in economy (albeit with a potentially occupied middle seat), you’d get a reduced 31 to 32 inches of pitch but the same 17 inches of width.
On my flight, the Economy Comfort cabin was far from capacity, so instead of having two passengers per row of three seats, there were many rows that only had one passenger — so flight attendants actually took out the middle table so that economy comfort passengers could have a whole row to themselves. For example, the photo below was well within the Economy Comfort zone but configured in to standard economy, with the middle seat not converted to a table.
Icelandair sometimes offers Saga Class-style seats in the Economy Comfort cabin. So you’d have the more comfortable, spacious Saga Class seats but with Economy Comfort service. If you have the chance, take the seats further up in the cabin, as you’ll have a more comfortable hard product. If you can get a hold of one of the Saga-style seats, it makes the Economy Comfort experience all the more worthwhile. (On my connecting flight from Keflavik to Gatwick, I had one of the Saga-style seats with Economy Comfort service and found the experience to be much more comfortable. As you can see in the photo below, the two cabins were separated by curtains.)
If you are booked in Economy Comfort, avoid rows 7 and 8, directly across from the lavatory at the forward of the cabin, which I found extremely loud and bright.
For my flight from Newark to Reykjavik, I was seated in 9A, a bulkhead seat right next to the boarding door. So I had plenty of legroom, which was only partially impeded by the cabin door when it was shut.
During taxiing, takeoff and landing, flight attendants required that the middle seat remain empty. So, there was really no benefit to the middle seat in that time.
Each of the traditional Economy Comfort rows came with an in-seat power outlet, an added benefit that those sitting in regular economy didn’t enjoy. In addition, each seat came with an in-flight entertainment (IFE) system in the seatback. Because I was sitting in the bulkhead row, my IFE screen came out from under the seat, and my tray table could be accessed from within the armrest.
Overall, I found my seat to be comfortable with plenty of legroom, especially given that I was in the bulkhead row. If you’re thinking about flying in Icelandair Economy Comfort, though, shoot for rows toward the front of the cabin, even if seat maps show that they might be in the Saga Class. (Likewise, if you’re flying in economy, try to choose a seat up as far as possible in the cabin, as you could luck out and get an Economy Comfort-outfitted row, meaning you’d have access to an in-seat power outlet and slightly more pitch.) That being said, I wish the Economy Comfort hard-product experience were more consistent.
Food and Beverage
As an Economy Comfort passenger, I was entitled to free food and beverage on board, with the exception of Champagne. About an hour after takeoff, flight attendants made their way around the cabin with a food-and-beverage cart.
The menu was nothing crazy — chicken, salad, tapas and other, smaller selections. Given that it was so late and I had eaten in the lounge, I opted to order the Wanderlust salad just to try it.
It came with lettuce, sweet potatoes, pickled red cabbage, cherry tomatoes and pumpkin seeds with a chili-vinaigrette dressing, plus a side of chicken-and-mango salsa. I found the salad to be pretty good, and the sweet potatoes were especially fresh and tasty. The vinaigrette was a bit too spicy for my taste.
The highlight of the meal was the Icelandic rhubarb cocktail. According to the menu, it was normally served with vodka, sparkling water and a rhubarb liquor from a Reykjavik distillery. But the flight attendant recommended it with prosecco instead of the vodka, so I opted to go that route — and it was amazing. The drink section was the highlight, and I appreciated that the airline served local favorites.
It was nice to have complimentary food and beverages, but I wish there were more of a designated meal service and more substantial options. That being said, it was a short flight at only four and a half hours, so there wasn’t a huge need to have an extravagant, multi-course meal service.
Each seat in Economy Comfort was outfitted with a pillow and blanket, but my blanket had a stain, so I didn’t use it.
Besides the Icelandic water, the only other amenity offered was a set of earbuds. Again, this EWR-KEF leg wasn’t long, so the lack of in-flight amenities wasn’t that big a deal. That being said, it would have been nice to have a small amenity kit — eyeshades and earplugs are always welcome.
The in-flight entertainment system was pretty standard, and I found the functionality of the system to be good. The selection was pretty on par with what you’d find on other international carriers, with a good mix of new releases and classics for both movies and TV.
One thing that I did find off-putting about the IFE system was that before being able to leaf through the library, all passengers were required to watch a three-minute montage of ads, mostly for tourist attractions in Iceland.
Each of the IFE screens on the aircraft had a USB port, even in economy. Economy Comfort and Saga Class also had a full charging port below each of the seats.
For Saga Class passengers and those with Saga Gold status, the Wi-Fi was complimentary. Since I fell into neither of those categories, I purchased a full-flight Wi-Fi package for 11.90 euros ($15). I found the speeds to be just enough for doing the basics — sending texts, emails and browsing social media. A speed test came back with a download speed of 11.6Mbps but an abysmal upload speed of 0.38Mbps.
I found service to be just OK on this flight. The welcome with a water bottle was a nice way to start the flight, but I didn’t find many other instances of exemplary service that set this flight apart. Flight attendants weren’t outright rude, but they didn’t go out of their way to make it a more enjoyable experience.
Economy Comfort could be a worthwhile purchase, if not for the seat then for the preferred treatment at the airport. As far as ground operations are concerned, Icelandair treats its Economy Comfort passengers the same as those in its Saga Class. You have access to the same check-in line, business-class lounge and priority boarding group. If that’s mostly what you’re looking for, then Economy Comfort is worth it.
But the hard product should be more consistent. While the empty middle seat and bit of extra pitch is more comfortable than regular economy, the Saga seat is a much better option. But because it can vary so much, it’s truly hard to predict what you’ll get. If there were more consistency across the board, I think Icelandair would have a decent premium-economy product.
Some advice: If you’re sitting in Economy Comfort, try to get a seat in rows 1 through 6. They’re technically Saga Class, but Icelandair sometimes classifies them as Economy Comfort (and you’ll still get Economy Comfort service). If you’re traveling in economy, try to book as close to the front of the cabin as possible — up to row 18. Rows 7 through 18 are classified as Economy Comfort, but when the cabin is undersold Icelandair seems to reconfigure the cabin so you’ll have access to the in-seat power outlets.
Images by the author.
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