CategoriesTravel

Icelandair Review – JFK to Reykjavik

IcelandAir review
IcelandAir’s “Surtsey” pulls into Gate 2 at JFK’s Terminal 7, ready to take another load to Iceland.

I originally wrote this IcelandAir review for Yahoo.com and its Voices platform. I’ve updated some info to give you an idea of what to expect today if you fly IcelandAir to Keflavík International Airport.

If you’re headed to Iceland from the United States, you don’t have many options. It comes down to Delta Airlines, WOW and IcelandAir. Here’s my IcelandaAir review to give you a first-hand idea on the original option for visiting Iceland.

A Step Back in Time

When was the last time you boarded an airliner and saw a pillbox hat and black glove-wearing flight attendant? It gives the IcelandAir staff a classy retro vibe. The airline even names its airplanes: The Boeing 757-200 that I boarded for my flight from New York to Reykjavik (and back) was named Surtsey after a new volcanic island that emerged from the sea in the 1960s.

IcelandAir review
Now boarding in Bergen – the daily flight to Keflavik, Iceland.

And crossing into the aircraft itself is a revelation of how pleasant a commercial airplane can be. Despite being just short of 20 years old, Surtsey was immaculately clean, softly lit and equipped with on-demand entertainment systems at every seat. I was able to watch a movie, some TV and even use the system to take a few lessons in mastering Icelandic phrases. Or maybe I should say "get schooled" rather than "mastered." That’s a tough language!

IcelandAir review
A chilly morning at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland.

There was also plenty of legroom between rows. Also kind of fun: Each seat had an Icelandic phrase and its translation on the headrest.

Stomachs Run on Empty

After boarding, it didn’t take long for the crew to start handing out free bottles of very nice Icelandic glacier water. That was especially considerate considering a nearly two-hour delay in taking off – we spent most of that time sitting on a taxiway.

Aside from the on-demand entertainment, that was the last of the perks. No free meals or drinks. Considering this is otherwise a slick, classy airline, I’m a bit dismayed – especially for the price. Flying to Reykjavik was only marginally cheaper than Qantas flights that were more than twice as long (Los Angeles to Auckland, Los Angeles to Sydney). In contrast, the Qantas flights also included free meals, snacks and drinks along with some very friendly service. The IcelandAir staff was uniformly pleasant, but nowhere near as exuberant as the Australian crews on Qantas. It was more like the polished formality of a premium Asian airline like ANA or Asiana. I keep going back to the words like classy and elegant.

Odds & Ends

Beautiful plane, good service, comfort, entertainment – all are impressive on an IcelandAir flight. Bring some snacks, and you can overcome the meal quibble. It makes IcelandAir somewhat less of a value than other airlines – but if you want to shop in Reykjavik, hit the hot tubs at the Blue Lagoon or backpack the Landmannalaugar highlands … well, you have few alternatives. Another word of advice: Sign up for the IcelandAir netclub. They will send you some legitimately good offers for flights, tours and accommodations. I wish I’d signed up before my trip. I really can’t imagine either of the IcelandAir competitors winning me over the next time I go to Iceland.

So what about WOW and its super-cheap fares to Iceland? I crunched the numbers to see if it’s really a better value than IcelandAir.

CategoriesTravel

How I Make My Airline Choices

airline choices
The 787 Dreamliner makes United a serious choice for flights to Asia – now it needs to keep up to South America.

I’m not one to tell an airline "I’ll never fly you again." But I definitely have a pecking order for my airline choices. And I will absolutely pay more for an airline I prefer. I wonder how many other people are in the same – ahem – plane of existence (I thought "same boat" would be mixing my metaphors). So tell me about your airline packing order, and I’ll share mine with you -- I’m going to break my list our by domestic and international, base on those I’ve flown before. Airline alliance membership continues to be a huge factor for me, and I’m often willing to shell out more to stick with my preferred Star Alliance. And I’d also like to here what makes you make your airline choices – what’s beyond the ticket price for you?

For Those Little Domestic Trips

airline choices
Delta could become a bigger option in my future.

United Airlines
I have the overwhelming majority of my frequent flier miles through the United Airlines OnePass, so it’s one of my top airline choices. I started flying Continental about 15 years ago, and stayed on-board during the United merger. I’ve never had a bad experience -- and I’ve even had a few great flights. Booking is always easy, though I’ve sometimes had to chase down my mileage credits. Plus, United Airlines is based at my favorite terminal at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Extra bonus!

Delta Air Lines
I don’t fly Delta very often. Sky Harbor isn’t a hub, and I haven’t collected a fistful of miles or anything. Most of them have been somewhat accidental. But I also haven’t had any truly bad experiences (I was even able to endure a poopy-diaper sort of stink on a flight to Minneapolis). Since I don’t fly Delta very often, I don’t hoard SKyMiles like Smaug guarding his gold – and it’s easy to donate SkyMiles to my preferred charity -- you won’t believe how important air miles are to nonprofit organizations.

airline choices
Southwest is a nonfactor because of its loyalty program.

American Airlines/US Air
The merger between these two airlines has really made them fall in my rankings. Over the past few months, I’ve tried a few times to merge my accounts. Every single time, I got "Our system is down" or "Your records do not match" messages. Blah.

American is also eager to talk about its fleet renewal, but I still see a lot of silver MD80s flying over Phoenix -- though I don’t mind the US Air domestic fleet. I know this is the domestic portion of this post, but I have avoided flying these airlines on international routes: American’s fleet is still pretty old, and I really dislike the US Airways choice of the Airbus A330 (my least-favorite airliner). The combined mega-airline isn’t doing itself any favors with its continuing difficulties in merging my AAdvantage and Dividend Miles accounts.

airline choices
Asiana flights are always amazing … now, if only it went to more destinations!

Southwest Airlines
Some people love Southwest Airlines. I get it. The employees are genuinely nice and the fleet is pretty modern. But when I fly, I want air miles that I can apply to my big trips -- my international, intercontinental adventures. Southwest Airlines makes itself a nonfactor as one of my airline choices with a loyalty program that does nothing to help me reach exotic destinations.

For My International Adventures Abroad
This is a tough category. My airline choices for international flights are closely linked to my destination. If I had my way, Air New Zealand and Asiana Airlines would be able to take me anywhere I want to go. But nope, that’s not the reality. So let me break it out by region.

airline choices
Norwegian Air Shuttle could also benefit from an airline alliance.

Asia
Asiana Airlines stand out among my other airline choices anywhere in Asia, even if flying through the Incheon hub costs me a bit of time. I flew All Nippon Airways on my last trip to Asia – and while its service absolutely schools US-based airlines, it still takes a backseat to Asiana.

Now, Hawaiian Airlines remains an intriguing option I haven’t yet tried. It flies directly from Phoenix to Honolulu, and then from many points to Asia and Oceania. The only not-so-great factor is the potentially awful choice of the Airbus A330; if Hawaiian Airlines was wise enough to equip them with air conditioning nozzles at every seat (which SAS and Vietnam Airlines do not do), I’d be OK with the A330.

United Airlines is a factor as one of my airline choices – the crew of its 787 flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles International Airport does credit to the airline. But it still falls short of Asiana or All Nippon Airways if all things are equal.

airline choices
I’d like to give one of the Virgin airlines a shot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Europe
I have a dilemma here: I want to pick Norwegian Air Shuttle – yep, a low-cost carrier. Its shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet puts it above SAS and its Airbuses. And even though there’s a British Airways flight to London directly from Phoenix, I’m more likely to start my trip in Scandinavia -- and I haven’t heard many frequent travelers sing the praises of British Airways. On the other hand, I’ve experienced great service on every single Norwegian Air Shuttle flight. Granted, those were short-haul flights. But still, I think that will translate well to intercontinental flights. But a flight on Norwegian Air Shuttle would net me zero airline miles. That doesn’t sit well for one of my airline choices. If it’s part of an airline alliance, I don’t know about it. I’d be thrilled to be wrong about this.

So where does this leave me? With Air New Zealand. I can take a short flight to Los Angeles International Airport and grab an Air New Zealand flight to London. The quick stopover nets me an excellent airline, a shiny new Boeing 777 and a fistful of air miles on a Star Alliance member airline.

South America
It’s hard to get to South America from Phoenix on anything but American Airlines or United Airlines. I’ll give the nod to United Airlines – as I have twice – since it’s a Star Alliance member and is generally decent.

But I haven’t been able to try a South American carrier like TAM or LAN. That’s pretty disappointing.

One Airline I’d Love to Try

I already mentioned the Norwegian Air Shuttle intercontinental flights. But I’d also be eager to try any Virgin airline – America, Atlantic or Australia. I’m trying to parse its codeshare agreements, which seem all over the board.

There are no Virgin America flights from Sky Harbor, though. If that ever changes, I’d be up for some Virgin America flights. The praise-complaint ratio for Virgin airlines remains far into the positive, so I’d consider this great news.