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 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.


British Airways Adds Extra Flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor

Sky Harbor needs more than a daily flight from London to make Arizona a major air travel player.

British Airways will increase the number of flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to London Heathrow Airport from six a week to daily.

Phoenix city officials are aflutter about the extra flight, which starts Dec. 5.

“Intercontinental flights are huge contributors to the success of our Phoenix airport system, our city’s economy and our region’s overall economic future,” says Mayor Greg Stanton in a press release. The same release claims that British Airways flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor put $100 million into the local economy.

Even if we take that figure at face value (and I’m skeptical), let’s curb our enthusiasm: The mayor’s overstatement of economic impact belies typical Phoenix thinking – measuring success against its own past rather than against cities of similar size.

If I were the mayor, this would be my quote.

“This is a minuscule step in the right direction. The Valley of the Sun is far too populous an area to be served by only one airline that connects us to but one intercontinental destination. It’s an embarrassment that residents need to stop in other cities to reach international centers for business and leisure travel. Phoenix Sky Harbor must connect to the world – for commerce and for tourism – if we are to grow beyond being the nation’s largest small town.”

The press release includes a quote from David Cavazos, city manager: “My goal is to continue to gain additional international routes, while ensuring that this British Airways flight remains successful.”

I hope that’s in his annual review with measurable expectations of success. In my time here, Phoenix Sky Harbor has done a pitiful job of being “international” in anything more than name (remember the Lufthansa service to Frankfurt? R.I.P.). Of course, Cavazos says “international,” which could mean more routes in North and Central America. Big deal.

This extra British Airways flight is nice. But those charged with pursuing new routes and airlines should be cautious about patting themselves on the back before Phoenix Sky Harbor connects non-stop – at a minimum! – to Asia, Oceania and continental Europe.


Travel in Japan – Tips and Ideas

If you're traveling to Japan, think about starting in Osaka. (Photo by JKT-c)

A five-day visit to Japan just isn’t enough. While I managed to squeeze a lot into my short visit, I didn’t even scratch the surface.

I enjoyed a few days in Tokyo, plus an overnight trip out to Hakone. That leaves a lot I skipped. If you want to know a few fun things about my stay, check out my Yahoo! Voices story "Six Cool Things to Expect During a Visit to Tokyo". You’ll find out that, behind the weirdness and cleanliness, you’ll be surprised by a friendly vibe rare in such large cities.

Kansai International Airport from the Air (photo by TDK)

But for now, I’m left to ponder what I’d do during a longer visit to Japan. First up, I’d think about my starting place. It doesn’t have to be Tokyo. I’d look into Osaka flights just to start off a bit further from Tokyo. And I’ll admit it – the air travel nerd in me loves the idea checking out Kansai International Airport, which is built on an artificial island.

And it’s not like Osaka is actually some small town: It’s Japan’s second-largest metro area, with plenty to do -- temples, shrines, amusement parks, museums and a ton of sports. High on my list? Sumo! I missed all the sumo action during my last abbreviated trip – and there’s no way I’ll make the same mistake.

Awesome Japanese bullet trains. (By Rdb at de.wikipedia Later versions were uploaded by Srittau at de.wikipedia)

And allow me to unshackle my inner travel geek again: I also didn’t get to use the awesome Japanese bullet train. The Korean KTX train was a revelation, and I’d like to give it a go in Japan. I could catch a bullet train in Osaka to several other cities.

I also like the architecture in Osaka. You have the usual mix of skyscrapers, but with some wild and crazy stuff like the Umeda Sky building. And as a mountain biker, I’d want to see what sort of building Shimano – which builds the majority of the bike components I’ve used over the years – calls home.

Of course, I’d still make my way from Osaka to Tokyo, but with a detour or two along the way. I might also swing further south. With a country like Japan, I can head in nearly every direction and find something interesting.

I thought about visiting Yokohama, but I couldn’t spare the time while still seeing Hakone. Next time around, I’ll carve time out for it.

If you plan to head to travel in Japan, you’re sure to find it just as interesting. But give yourself more time than I did!

This post is sponsored by Flight Centre and its experiences, highly trained experts who are dedicated to finding the best travel deal for any destination and any budget. They are widely traveled and enthusiastic about travel.