Icelandair recently started flying to Dallas/Ft. Worth nonstop from Reykjavik, and was soon followed by WOW Air and American Airlines (although it could have been in a different order), but irrespective of who announced first, the reality is that now three carriers were flying nonstop from Texas to Iceland instead of none. American flies a 757-200 from DFW to KEF on a daily basis and will operate the route through October 27, 2018. WOW Air flies from KEF to DFW three times per week on an Airbus A330-300, with the outbound flight leaving KEF on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the return flight leaving DFW on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. WOW will fly to DFW also through October 27, 2018.
Icelandair, on the other hand, will continue flying to DFW on a year-round basis, with 4 weekly frequencies, with outbound flights from KEF to DFW on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and return trips from DFW to KEF on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Trip Purpose and Booking
Fares were competitive in late December 2017 when I booked this routing home (originating in Brussels, where I was attending a wedding). I paid roughly $400 one-way for my flight home and was able to credit the miles to Alaska Airlines. For my flights, I was sure to purchase the fare class that allowed for at least one checked and one carry-on bag.
As a hybrid/low-cost carrier, Icelandair provides some amenities for free, like carry-on luggage and entertainment, but charges for other things, like meals and seat selection. I did not purchase a seat in advance, but I did buy a meal for each flight ahead of time in order to try out the buy-on-board. I was also offered the chance to “bid” to upgrade on my flights, which in hindsight, I should have considered for the KEF to DFW leg (more on that later).
Booking was fairly easy on Amadeus’ Altea reservation system as well as check-in via Customer Management (the Amadeus DCS system). The flight times were also good with an afternoon departure from Brussels at 14:00 and an evening arrival into DFW at 21:00, with a 2h30m layover in Reykjavik.
Day of Departure
BRU airport has been through a sorrowful past and so I was appreciative of how efficient it was. Passengers could use automated bins and biometric screening to process through formalities. Of course, there are the usual people who bring everything but their kitchen sinks in their carry-ons, so that added some delays. Overall, however, the ground experience at BRU was very positive. I used the Diamond lounge in Terminal A prior to my flight.
I used mobile boarding passes all the way through to the gate at Brussels airport. However, at the gate, customers were being paged for security re-checks and so I was ultimately given a boarding pass that would be used all the way to Dallas. This was the first time I had ever been on an airline that used a single boarding card issued for all flight segments.
The boarding process at BRU airport was chaotic and SWISSPORT does the ground handling for Icelandair at Zaventem. There were few announcements made and virtually everyone was queued up much longer than necessary.
For today’s flight to KEF, the passenger mix was primarily U.S. and Canadian citizens. The flight from BRU to KEF was completely full, whereas the flight from KEF to DFW would not be.
I had selected row 13 for the seats on both of my flights (13F, a window, to KEF and 13A, also a window, to Dallas). I was asked by the flight attendant, however, to sit in the aisle seat, which I was fine with. I think the person who was supposed to be in the aisle may have either been ill or fearful of flying, but either way, I was happy to comply.
Due to the ground handling mess at the gate at BRU, we departed late from the gate. Thankfully, taxi time in BRU isn’t too crazy at that hour. The vast majority of Icelandair’s fleet is comprised of 757-200s, and on today’s routing, we were flying Grimsvotn.
Icelandair offers a Saga Business Class as well as an Economy Class. There was previously a premium economy offering, but the carrier has done away with that.
There is a magazine and a duty-free catalog in the Saga Stopover magazine. Icelandair sells the free Icelandair Stopover at no additional cost as if it were going out of style tomorrow. The reality is that it is a good deal, and many people like using this Stopover option to explore Iceland’s uniqueness in between North America and Europe. For passengers flying in economy, the stopover is allowed up to 7 days, whereas for business, it can be longer.
The flight from BRU to KEF took about 3 hours in total. There wasn’t much to do besides sleep and watch TV on the Saga screen, which is complimentary and includes a pretty decent array of films, TV shows, podcasts, documentaries, and music channels for passengers.
I slept for the first hour of the flight and was awoken by a flight attendant who handed me Icelandic cheeseburgers for my meal. I had booked this flight back in December and was clueless about what meals I had pre-ordered (if any) and so I was a bit dazed to get this offering. These came with Fabrikkusosan “factory sauce” which I guess is like Icelandic mayonnaise?
Sadly, these cheeseburgers were pretty revolting. I would rather have the United cheeseburger or Sun Country Airlines cheeseburger with its famous spice over these guys. The meat on the Icelandair cheeseburgers tasted a bit too mysterious for me, unfortunately. Live and learn, I guess.
I was tempted to try the Isey Icelandic yogurt, which appears to be a big staple food in Icelandic culture. So, I paid the 3EUR for a mere scoop of the dulce-de-leche tasting custard. It wasn’t bad! But, reminded me eerily of Danon Le Crème (remember these from the early 2000s?) just a bit more…I don’t know, Greek? Icelandic? Whatever…
I also was a sucker and decided to buy an Icelandair 757 to add to my collection. Why not? Duty-free sales these days are becoming a rarity, and something about being able to buy a model aircraft hearkens me back to my youth. So, I splurged. A 757 model was 15 EUR.
The rest of the flight progressed uneventfully. I was dozing in and out of sleep, watching a few documentaries on Iceland, and binging on a few TV shows I had already watched. Before long, we were landing in KEF.
Transfer at KEF
The approach into KEF was unremarkable, especially from an aisle seat. It looked pretty overcast, and in general, since the airport is already operating beyond capacity, things are pretty spread apart with most of the aircraft parked on remote stands in various places. It looked like it was just prior to the peak late afternoon rush hour of departures back to the North American mainland and the European continent.
Of course, being as capped out as KEF is, this meant disembarking via remote stand. I did not know this would become a precursor to my next few flights when I left again for Europe a few days later (more on this to come in future blog posts) but I was excited to be “bussed” to the terminal. My layover in KEF was about 2 hours.
So, the upside of the bus was that I could see the spread of aircraft around KEF. There’s little diversity, but you do get to see how it is almost like a miniature Dubai, with Icelandair 757s and 737-MAXes, WOW A330s and 321s, and the like.
We had arrived into the Schengen zone, so all USA/Canada-bound passengers had to transit through formalities. Thankfully, there was no secondary security screening required, but we did have to go through a customs officer, and then we were placed in the sterile zone for North America-bound flights.
Once in this area, I started looking for the SAGA lounge, which is available to Priority Pass members. There was no signage, and airport employees were clueless about where it was. It then dawned on me that it is only located where the Schengen flights depart from in a completely different section of the airport, which I found infuriating. I had to purchase food at KEF, and let’s be real: it is like eating on the top of a ski mountain. Expect to drop $25 for a salad, soup, and drink. It’s brutal.
With not much else to do, I headed to the gate area for my flight to DFW. This flight left at 4:00 PM, and arrived at DFW slightly after 8:00 PM. The timing felt a bit weird, but its why I booked this routing, with a late departure from BRU and decent arrival into DFW.
Flight 2: Keflavik to Dallas/Ft. Worth
Once again, we were bussed to the aircraft. I noticed how few people there were in the gate area, and how there were not very many people on the bus. I was expecting it to be a packed flight, just as the flight from BRU to KEF had been. When I boarded the aircraft, I was surprised to see that few of the seats were filled after the first bus had disembarked and settled in. I asked the flight attendant if it was a full flight, and she remarked, “no, there are some open seats.”
Little did I realize this would mean that there would be almost 80 or so open seats (based on a count that I did manually). I later discovered that the return flight from DFW to KEF would be completely full, per a conversation I had with one of the captains in the galley later on. But, on tonight’s flight, we had the freedom to stretch out.
The flight attendant asked me if I would be willing to move to one of the emergency exit rows. I asked if the seat reclined, which it did not, but she said that I could sit there for takeoff and landing and then move to another empty seat for the duration of the flight, and then move back for landing. She also did this with several others, and we were given the ask along with a mandate to keep our shoes on for takeoff and landing. I thought this was interesting.
So, we took off from KEF a short while later. I saw an abandoned AA MD-80 in the graveyard as we lifted off. That was interesting…
After take-off, I watched some TV and then got my second surprise of the day. I was given a Margherita pizza, served warm, that I again had previously pre-ordered and forgotten about. In spite of my consumption of a $25 salad and all, I thought that I should eat this along with another dish, simply because I was likely going to be peckish again on this 7 hour plus flight home.
I opted for the Tapas box that was on sale for about 8 EUR. Soft drinks are complimentary on Icelandair flights, along with water, coffee, tea, and juices. Alcohol, of course, comes with a charge.
Around hour 2, I was getting bored with the films and items that were on display and thought I’d do myself a solid and create a “poor man’s flatbed” with one of the empty unoccupied rows in the back of the cabin. There were already some passengers who were starting to occupy spaces in those areas, so I figured it was time to stake my claim.
Pillows and blankets were plentifully available and distributed in the cabins, so we had our pick of the pillows and blankets that we wanted. I made myself a pretty cozy pillow arrangement with three spare pillows, tossed a blanket over, pulled on some eyeshades, and went for it.
I probably slept on and off for about 3 hours or so. It wasn’t GREAT sleep, but it was good enough to pass some time. I woke up with about three hours left to DFW.
Back in the upright position, I tried to watch a few more movies that were on display, and just killed time. It’s amazing how not being in an MBA program makes you have all these spare hours to just sit around.
I chatted with the flight attendants, did some meditating, and stretched my legs. Pretty soon, we were on final approach and touched down in Dallas. I was pretty amped to be flying such an exotic carrier into my hometown, something that I would have never imagined a decade ago. At one point, I ventured into the first class cabin, and noticed only one seat was occupied. I really should have bid for that upgrade! Oh well.
In conclusion, Icelandair is a solid airline. For the price, it gives you the “extras” that you’d expect on a hybrid carrier, and I was perfectly content with the value of the ticket and the amenities I received. KEF airport leaves a bit more to be desired, but for the level of comfort, travel time, (relative) efficiency, and service I received, I was happy that I chose to fly with them.