Can Condor Airlines Help Phoenix Become a "Real City?"

Condor Airlines just might help Phoenix become a real city. Here’s what I mean: Whenever Phoenix and Philadelphia play leapfrog in the city size rankings (which invariably makes our local journalists generate reams of predictable content), I always bring up Sky Harbor International Airport and its lack of intercontinental flights.

My view: I don’t care how many people live here – Phoenix won’t be a "real city" as long as its residents must go to Los Angeles or New York or Houston to fly to locations far abroad.

And finally, at long last, Sky Harbor has made a step in the right direction: In June, Sky Harbor announced that new service to Frankfurt, Germany, would begin in 2018 with twice-a-week flights on Condor Airlines. Condor will use a Boeing 767-300 for the flights, which are scheduled to fly May-September.

Condor Airlines
Autumn in Germany

Condor Airlines Reconnects Arizona to Germany

If you’ve lived here long enough, you might remember that Lufthansa used to connect Phoenix and Frankfurt. But that’s been gone for a long while, with only British Airways connecting Arizona to another continent. That, my friends, is not the stuff of a true "big city."

So the Condor flights are definitely a nice addition, even if it belongs in the "It’s About Time" file. And it’s only twice-weekly service. But it’s an airline rated 3 stars by Skytrax (that’s a star better than most domestic airlines, right?). Condor also has partnerships with Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines, if that matters to the air miles hogs out there.

Hoping for More Condor Airlines Flights from Phoenix

I’d also like to see that window open up a bit more: To me, October is THE time to be in Germany. You want to talk about an amazing autumn? Then you need to see a place like Schwabisch Hall or Rosengarten in October. And that whole Oktoberfest thing, right? Still, I’ll take any service at all at this point. And I really want to motivate Arizonans to just get on this plane already.

Condor Airlines
A Condor Airlines 767 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look, Arizona -- traveling abroad is a good thing. You need to get out there and see a bit of the world, and Frankfurt is a terrific gateway to the rest of Europe. From there, you’re close to some really nice parts of Germany and also a fast train ride away from France, Belgium – just about anywhere in Europe!

So book some flights on Condor. Show the airlines that we’re not a bunch of insular homebodies who won’t go anywhere. Help Phoenix become a real city. And then maybe Sky Harbor can score daily service instead of twice weekly. From there, who knows? Maybe Asia?

Chasing the Dreamliner – A Lesson in Aviation Photography

aviation photography
Nearly everyone in aviation photography is trying to get nice shots of a Dreamliner in the air.

This is reason # 6,579 why my wife thinks I’m weird, I thought as I headed out the door, camera and monopod in-hand.

I had just explained to her that, on this sunny Sunday, I was off to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to take a photo of an airplane. Well, not just any airplane – I’d heard that American Airlines was testing two of its shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft out with practice runs. And that Sky Harbor was one of the spots.

aviation photography
Here I am trying to get artsy with a Dreamliner photo. This is the most-distant shot I got; but even from so far away, the huge upswing of the wings screams “Dreamliner.” The wings droop down considerably on the ground.

I consider the Dreamliner one of the prettiest commercial aircraft to ever fly. And Sky Harbor is unlikely to see many of them since it’s essentially an overgrown regional airport -- and the Dreamliner is made to fly far – I’ve flown San Jose-Tokyo, Shanghai-Los Angeles and Houston-Chicago on one (OK, that last one isn’t very far). This was a rare chance to see a Dreamliner in my home city.

Now, I’m an opportunist of a photographer. I’m the sort of guy who will hear about something, do a little bit of web browsing in sites like FlightAware.com, grab his camera and go. I imagine better-prepared people who truly think of themselves as aviation photography experts will dive into tail numbers and flight plans – maybe even tune into a scanner.

aviation photography
The flag makes in interesting foreground object in this Dreamliner shot.

Me? I stepped outside my door, looked south to the Sky Harbor flight path a few miles away. Oh, and I grabbed my Pentax K50 and an old 70-200mm autofocus lens. This thing is old, cheap but very good – one of the reasons I started Pentax was because its cameras are backward-compatible with old lenses – and they have the image stabilizer in the body. One more thing before I pipe down about Pentax – the K50 is also weather sealed.

Anyway, I noticed that planes were landing from the west -- and muttered dark curses. That means I had to drive a bit further, and navigate one of the most unpleasant parts of Phoenix to get a shot.

aviation photography
The light poles, powerlines and billboards were making me crazy.

The area west of Phoenix is a study in blight. That, and it’s criss-crossed with tangles of powerlines, dotted with ugly building just tall enough to be in the way and infested with billboards. On the other hand, it traffic was landing from the east, I could: plunk myself on a bridge over Tempe Town Lake; sit atop a nice sandstone butte; maybe even scale A Mountain. The options are numerous, and far more scenic.

As it was, I found a decent place to park -- a fenced-but-unlocked mass of crumbled asphalt smack between the two southern runways, and the northern runway. This presented a bit of a problem – I wasn’t sure where the Dreamliner would land.

aviation photography
My favorite one since it was so up-close and personal.

My gut feeling: It would come into Runway 8 since it’s the longest. But I wasn’t sure – I kept sprinting into good positions between the flight paths, trying to ID each aircraft as it came in to see if I could get in decent position for a photo. FlightAware gave me a good idea of the arrival time, but you know how that can go.

After a long parade of 737s, small Airbuses and CRJs, I finally saw something coming in with the distinctive upswept wing I associated with the Dreamliner. It was lined up for Runway 8 as I guessed -- and damn, was that thing graceful in the air – and noticeably bigger even from distance. I had the powerlines and billboards to content with, but that’s life. Maybe I’ll be able to catch a future Dreamliner landing from the east side.

Overall, I’m happy I caught a few shots of the American Airlines Dreamliner. I did some minor contrast correction, and got a bit artsy-fartsy with one of the shots. I don’t feel like any were spectacular, but aviation photography isn’t easy. I need to spend more time getting the shutter speed just right so all the details come in nice and sharp, but without being too underexposed. I’ll have to try another time for that perfect shot.

There are probably locals who know better places to catch some good photos. I hope they’ll read this and share a few tips with me.

One Old Photo and an Avgeek Mystery -SOLVED

avgeek mystery
A very young Wandering Justin meets the captain and poses for a photo. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.

UPDATE: Consider this avgeek mystery solved. See the italicized text at the end for the thrilling conclusion.

I have an aviation geek (avgeek, for short) mystery on my hands. It’s this photo.

Believe it or not, that’s me. I’m pretty sure I’m 5 years old. I’m definitely making my first visit to Phoenix from Chicago. That’s Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. And, in a throwback to the days of Catch Me if You Can when airline pilots were semi-celebrities, I’m posing on the apron with the captain.

Now, here’s the avgeek mystery: What is that plane?

For the longest time, I thought it was a TWA 707. But I no longer think so. The red stripe is perfectly rectangular, where the TWA red stripe tapered. My best guess is that it’s a Western Airlines plane.

I’m also no longer sure that it’s a 707. First off, it doesn’t appear to have a tandem landing gear. Also, there are only two windows between the two doors, where I believe the 707 had three. That made the Boeing 727 my lead suspect.

But there’s also a ridge on the wing that I haven’t seen before on a 727, so I’m uncertain.

Is there an avgeek out there who can solve this mystery for me?

On a related note, how cool would it be if people these days still recognized the skills involved in flying a commercial aircraft full of paying passengers? I see way too many people saying stuff about how "these planes practically fly themselves."

Yeah, right. I’d love to put someone in a 737 flight simulator and see if they could even manage to figure out how to start the thing up.

Update: I posted a link to this post in the Boeing Airplanes community on Google+. The enthusiastic and knowledgeable people there soon had me convinced that this was a 727. But what about the airline? It took this photo of a Western Airlines 727 at Sky Harbor to confirm for me that the 727 in my photo was a Western Airlines plane. Thanks to Henrik for digging up that photo on airliners.net. Great work, avgeek detectives!

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Flights from Phoenix to London – Beyond British Airways

Flights from Phoenix to London
The daily British Airways flights from Phoenix to London seem an obvious choice. But are they really the best option?

At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, my home airport, the lone intercontinental flight is the British Airway 747 to London Heathrow. So that’s my obvious choice to London, right?

Well, not exactly.

Few people love British Airways. And it always seems this flight is priced higher than other routes to London. It’s a nonstop flight, which means a lower chance of delays or lost luggage.

Still, I’d rather pick one of two other flights from Phoenix to London, even if they involve a stop at Los Angeles International Airport.

Norwegian Air Shuttle is planning to add two weekly flights from LAX to London Gatwick (an alternative to Heathrow). Part of the attraction here is being very curious about what it’s like to fly Norwegian Air Shuttle on a long-haul flight. I really liked Norwegian when Sarah and I hopped among Sweden, Norway and Finland. And since Norwegian Air Shuttle will fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, I’m extra-curious. Reviews of its long-haul flights are mixed. That said, I think a good chunk of the traveling public looks for excuses to complain. My short flights were uniformly on-time, and the crews and ground staff members were all courteous and accommodating. I think this would be a good alternative to British Airways for flights from Phoenix to London, stop or not. It would likely be my first choice just for the curiosity factor.

And then there’s Air New Zealand. A short hop to LAX turns this into a great option for flights from Phoenix to London. I prefer the shiny new Boeing 777 Air New Zealand flies to the British Airways 747. The 777 just has a modern feel that you won’t see on many 747s. I’ve only flown two short legs on Air New Zealand, but those who have flown it on intercontinental flights have good things to say. Blogger Ben has high praise particularly for the LAX to London flight. Let’s see if you can find anyone to crow that much about the British Airways flights from Phoenix to London.

So if you’re OK with an extra stop, you might save some money and get far better flights to London. And there are plenty of other options on good airlines. Just spend some time looking around. Still, these two would be my top choices.

I also have plenty of other airline reviews and thoughts. See some of them here.

  • Norwegian Air to offer U.S. to London flights for $240
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Hawaiian Airlines Flight Deals to Asia from Phoenix

Hawaiian Airlines flights deals

The latest Hawaiian Airlines flight deals could motivate some of my fellow Phoenix residents to travel further afield. For years, Hawaiian Airlines has quietly offered travelers from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport a gateway to Asia and the South Pacific.

With just one nonstop intercontinental flight from Phoenix (the daily British Airways flight to London Heathrow), most Phoenix travelers have to get to a major intercontinental hub like Los Angeles, O’Hare or John F. Kennedy if they’re headed to a far-flung destination. But Hawaiian Airlines lets locals skip that by flying direct from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Honolulu, where they connect to a broad variety of cities in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and more. And really, who wouldn’t want to skip LAX?

Hawaiian Airlines flight deals
Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor can be your first link to Auckland or Taipei.(Photo credit: Tim Patterson)

I’ve called Hawaiian Airlines Sky Harbor’s best-kept secret for intercontinental travel without the stop at LAX. And it seems they’re making a better effort to spill the beans – I just got a newsletter about Hawaiian Airlines flight deals from Phoenix to Auckland and Taipei. The flights start at $1080 if you book before Aug. 26. The travel dates are limited.

Here’s the thing, though: This seems to be an unadvertised special. I got it by signing up for the Hawaiian Airlines eNewsletter. If you want to find about Hawaiian airlines flight deals, you should sign up at the Special Offers page.

I’d really like to see Phoenix travelers jump on deals like this. I’ve heard from local travel agents that the lack of intercontinental flights frustrates them (and their clients), and I’ve ranted about this more than a few times. This is a good way to show demand and encourage more airlines and routes from Sky Harbor.

Icelandair Expands Routes – Plus Sky Harbor Versus Gateway

What U.S. cities are trying to lure service from Norwegian Air Shuttle and its coming fleet of 787 Dreamliners? (Image from Boeing)

Icelandair is set to fly to yet another U.S. destination starting May 15, 2013. It’ll start serving Anchorage, Alaska with two flights a week. It’s only seasonal service, so it will only last through mid-September, according to the Alaska Dispatch.

This news made a few things pop into my head.

First, no news outlet has asked Icelandair the interesting question: What’s the purpose of this intercontinental flight? Who’s it going to serve? Tourists? Business travelers? If the latter, what sort of business connections are Alaska and Iceland forging? What’s the bigger, more-interesting story behind this route? How did Anchorage land it? The Denver Post did a decent job when Icelandair announced seasonal service to Denver International Airport … so why is even the Washington Post satisfied to ralph up the Icelandair press release close to verbatim?

Second, I see this as yet another sign that foreign airlines are eager to push into the United States. I recently wrote that Norwegian Air Shuttle will soon have the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in its fleet … and it hasn’t announced all of its destinations. Who are the players, as far as U.S. airports? Who is jockeying to connect to Norway? As for the why – it has a sound economy, and it’s a spectacular destination for travelers. The former is important because it represents a chance for American cities to connect with a solid eonomic power. And let’s not forget that Air New Zealand is also looking to shack up with more U.S. airports.

Air New Zealand could serve Sky Harbor – if airport officials work up the nerve to ask for a dance. (Follash, via Wikimedia Commons)

My final thought brings me back to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, as so many things do … or rather, to its lack of intercontinental flights. I’ve watched other airports announce new intercontinental flights while Sky Harbor acts like a wallflower at the high-school dance. It makes me wonder if Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport isn’t Arizona’s future for intercontinental travel. It has the runway space, that’s for sure. How long will Phoenix-Mesa Gateway stay content with Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit? A long shot, I know, since so much traffic connects at Sky Harbor. But a few more domestic airlines could position Phoenix-Mesa Gateway to oust Sky Harbor. And it’s really not addressed in its master plan. But who knows? Master plans can change when opportunities arise.

Sky Harbor – 5 Reasons to Step up for Air New Zealand

An Air New Zealand 777 in Shanghai, where the air looks like Phoenix during a summer haboob. (Follash, via Wikimedia Commons)

Air New Zealand wants more flights to the U.S. Denver and Houston appear to have inside track, according to Aviation Week.

Keep in mind, United Airlines pulled the plug on flights from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. And Denver has done a nice job of snagging intercontinental travel.

What we have here is an opportunity. Air New Zealand – the flag carrier of a country that loves leisure travel – is telling airlines “come and get us … we’re ready, even before we get our new 787s.” And let’s remember: Phoenix Sky Harbor doesn’t need to fill an Air New Zealand 777 with Phoenicians to succeed – it needs to draw enough people from the region … an entirely feasible goal.

This is another opportunity for an airport like Phoenix Sky Harbor International to step up. Air New Zealand is confident that flights from cities from other than Los Angeles and San Francisco are viable. Sky Harbor should step into the void – especially since Denver told Aviation Week “We haven’t talked to Air New Zealand.”

You see, Sky Harbor has a few benefits that Denver and Houston don’t. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Better Weather

Phoenix Sky Harbor has better flying weather than either. The only time Phoenix has much potential for weather-related delays is in the very narrow scope of the summer monsoon season. So you have a better chance of on-time flights. These benevolent weather conditions are also good for flights that would connect flyers from the region to flights bound for New Zealand.

And let’s remember: Winter here is summer in New Zealand. So Americans will take the chance to escape winter weather and bask in the super-mild New Zealand summer. An airport like Denver means de-icing, which means increased costs and flight delays. Ever seen an aircraft de-ice in Phoenix?

Queenstown would be just two flights away if Air New Zealand and Phoenix could team up.

2. Convenience

Sky Harbor’s footprint is relatively small, and it will only shrink when the new Sky Train opens in early 2013. So no matter what airline brings New Zealand-bound travelers, they will be able to get to their Air New Zealand flight easily.

3. Lower Operating Costs

If you’ve been to Los Angeles International Airport, you’ve probably noticed the fancy-fication of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Somebody has to pay for that – often, that means airlines as part of a charge to use the facility. Brett Snyder, aka Cranky Flier, writes that “costs per enplanement at the airport will rise from $12 today to ‘only’ $17 somewhere around 2016.” Sky Harbor’s own website boasts that its enplanement costs rank in the bottom 20 percent of the nation’s airports: “Airline costs will increase an average of 5 percent per year over 10 years resulting in the cost per enplaned passenger increasing from almost $5 now to between $7 and $8 by 2016.” These figures are per passenger.

Air New Zealand Pacific Economy 777-300ER cabin
The nice-looking interior of an Air New Zealand Triple 7.
For the record, Denver is more than $12 per enplaned passenger.

4. Shorter Lines

Again, travelers used to LAX will smile and nod here: Customs at LAX is a miserable snaking line of humanity. It’s an unwelcome “welcome home”. And imagine being a visiting Kiwi who encounters this after a flight from laid-back New Zealand; you’ll be ready to get back on the Air New Zealand flight that brought you. The far-more-homey Sky Harbor can do better. It already does.

5. Teaming up for Visiting Tourists

A flight from Sky Harbor to New Zealand is a chance to bring Kiwis to Phoenix, too. And they are avid travelers. It’s a great opportunity to create some itineraries and deals to get Kiwis to see the best of the Southwest.

And it would be a great experience for the Arizona Office of Tourism. As a country, New Zealand does a magnificent job of making travel easy for visitors. Its network of “iSites” are a great resource for visitors – for first-hand local advice and booking in equal amounts. An exchange of ideas could benefit Arizona with an influx of concepts that could make our state more welcoming for foreign visitors.

This adds up to opportunity. If Phoenix has the foresight and fortitude, it could be on the shortlist for flights from Air New Zealand. And it can start acting like the big city that it is.

Special thanks to my man Chris in Denver for the heads-up on this news. He was lookin’ out for me while I was in Scandinavia.

Sky Harbor Responds to “International Flight” Criticism

Welcome to Sky Harbor – small planes, small goals.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport isn’t happy with a WanderingJustin.com post that hints that its staff lags in securing intercontinental routes and airlines.The recent “addition” of another British Airways flight didn’t impress me. More accurately, this will bring Phoenix back to seven flights a week from the current six; (seven years ago, the British Airways flight went from daily to six days a week, a fact The Arizona Republic skipped in its rush to cheerfully ralph up the city press release).

So, there’s little net gain. Sky Harbor is just back where it was seven years ago. Contrast that to Denver International Airport, which just made hay by snagging seasonal direct service to Iceland. Nice score for an outdoorsy metro area! It puts this snippy, defensive reply to my post from unnamed Sky Harbor personnel into perspective:

We have seen your blog in response to the added British Airways flight. Your disappointment in the number of international flights is concerning. Please be advised that airports compete heavily for air service and airlines make business decisions about where to fly based on the estimated profitability of the flight. This begins with the number of passengers that will fly daily in full-fare first and business class seats, followed by the number of additional passengers in full-fare and discount economy seats. Under the direction of the Mayor, Council and City Manager, the Aviation Department actively evaluates this local market and presents competitive information to airlines to encourage them to consider Phoenix. If you have research about the areas you mention in your blog such as Asia and Europe and evidence of 150-200+ people per day in the Valley who would buy seats on these flights, please share it with us. We would appreciate any such information that would assist the airlines in making what amounts to a multi-million dollar investment in our market and more international flights for the Valley. 
Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.
 

Customer Service
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

So, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport wants me to do its job. It wants me to do what its staff can’t –  compete with competition like Denver International Airport. Sounds to me like Denver and its staff researched areas where 150-200+ people might make it worthwhile for an airline to make a multi-million-dollar investment in their market for international flights. Denver displayed the initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport crew lacks. The score? Denver International Airport – 4 new Icelandair flights, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – 1 “sort-of-new” British Airways flight.

My response:

Dear Customer Service,

Thanks for your response. I would be happy to help Sky Harbor in its mission to add intercontinental routes and carriers. We can approach it two ways: A per-hour consulting fee of $150, or a retainer for up to 20 hours of research per month. You could also arrange a panel of local travelers representing leisure and business segments to determine what routes are worth your thought. Finally, you could poll Sky Harbor travelers with questions related to their thoughts on intercontinental routes – a sample of about 3,000 is enough to be statistically relevant. 
 
Or, and I’m just spitballing here, you can encourage the people already on the city’s payroll to display initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
 
Here’s a bit of free advice: Study the number of Phoenix travelers who have to fly to Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International, Newark, John F. Kennedy and Houston Intercontinental to transfer to flights abroad. Determine the top destinations. Court those airlines and routes heavily. Just off the top of my head, I know that United Airlines – possibly as a punitive punishment over a squabble for international flights – cancelled the soon-to-be-implemented 787 service from Houston to Auckland (word is it was an excuse to put the 787 on a route to Japan instead, while also sticking it to the Houston City Council). Now, if I were a Sky Harbor employee tasked with attracting new routes, I’d look into pitching 787 service from Phoenix to Auckland starting at four flights a week. Such a flight would pull passengers from the Qantas and Air New Zealand flights from LAX and possibly SFO. Name a passenger who loves flying from LAX … oh, that’s right: Nobody likes flying from LAX. Other aspects to consider: New Zealand is an English-speaking country that makes a convenient travel experience for American travelers. And the U.S. dollar is strong next to the Kiwi dollar. Plus filling up a 787 on this route wouldn’t be as difficult as a 777 or 747, which is the 787’s mission – long, thin routes. 
 
Here’s something else I’d add – consider what Phoenix Sky Harbor could offer travelers seeking intercontinental routes. Phoenix Sky Harbor has a compact footprint, and it will be even easier to navigate with the opening of the rail system that will connect each terminal. That will make a connecting experience far better than the mad scrambles of airports like LAX. That means quicker, easier connections and less stress. Sell that hard.
 
I will be out of the country starting next week until mid July. Feel free to contact me to further discuss a consulting arrangement. 

I’m curious: Why does Sky Harbor care what one blogger thinks about international flights? Why acknowledge me at all instead of crowing about the “new” British Airways flight?

I know attracting new routes and airlines isn’t easy. They don’t appear overnight with the wave of a magic travel wand. But … nothing new in seven years? Is this really the best Phoenix can do?

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.

Why I Went to Iceland

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

People often ask me why I went to Iceland. Ever since my wife, Sarah, and I have traveled together, every international destination (sorry, Canada, but you don’t count) has taken us south. New Zealand took us to 45 degrees south.

This time, we’ll go north. To spitting distance from the Arctic Circle.

Iceland.

We tell people our destination. They ask "why? What are Iceland’s attractions?”

Honestly, if I have to tell you, you probably won’t get it. But I’ll try, anyway:

Scenery. The place has volcanoes, glaciers, massive slabs of hardened lava – some of which are younger than I am. Explosion craters. Post-apocalyptic remainders of geological wrath. We love these things. No, Iceland is not a lush tropical paradise of cocktails sipped from coconut husks. Only 1 measly percent of the island is arable. It’s stark. Parts of it are are visually indistinguishable from Mars. Others look like Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. [Edit: Since I went to Iceland, the country has provided many scenes for Castle Black and areas north of The Wall in A Game of Thrones.]

Solitude. You can hike four hours without seeing another living creature. And that’s on the country’s premiere hiking route, the Laugavegur. I drove from Lake Myvatn to Húsavík in the north part of the country – and saw a mere handful of vehicles. Most of the route was unpaved. Outside the capital, the main highway aka The Ring Road, is often just one lane.

Novelty. Yes, most people speak English in Iceland. They have a high standard of living, and you’ll find all the modern conveniences. But you’ll see the interesting little differences. Like the language. Iceland’s language has been largely untouched since Vikings landed on its shores 1,000 years ago. They work to preserve it via the Iceland Language Council, which scrupulously adds words as-needed rather than letting foreign words invade willy-nilly. Iceland is modern, but it’s thoughtfully developed.

This adventure starts with a trip to New York’s JFK airport.

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