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Opinion: Icelandair Showcases the Best of Iceland

An Icelandair 757-200 (Photo: Kambui (Icelandair Boeing 757-256 TF-ISJ “Keilir”) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons(

Commercial aviation is shaped by nationhood and foundations agreed by countries at the Chicago Convention of 1944. This event also saw the beginnings of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The initial freedoms of the air which emerged from the convention have been added to since 1944 and still form the basis of the air service agreements negotiated today between countries. The agreements then give airlines registered in the respective countries specific commercial rights of passenger and cargo carriage.

Given the focus on nationhood in commercial aviation, a significant number of airlines define their identities by their country of origin. One such airline which does this to a high degree of success is Icelandair. The airline uses its mid-Atlantic geographic location to leverage a strategy connecting North America with Europe via its hub at Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport.

The airline has seen significant growth in the last decade in the wake of a concerted government program promoting the tiny island nation of 330,000 people. Icelandic locations have been featured in movie and television productions including one of the biggest programs of all-time, Game of Thrones.

The airline features the country’s stunning landscape on several special-liveried aircraft including one featuring Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Statista estimates that Icelandair has seen the number of international passengers carried by the airline grow from two million in 2012 to over four million in both 2017 and 2018. 

An Icelandair Boeing 757 Landing at Toronto-Pearson (Photo: By BriYYZ from Toronto, Canada – Icelandair Boeing 757-300 TF-FIX, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25906183)

Icelandair has made the stopover in Reykjavik a key part of their strategy for North American and European passengers and collaborates with tourism partners to give passengers a total Icelandic experience. The airline’s partnership with Reykjavik Excursions opens up the island to passengers on layovers with day trips to the Golden Circle or a visit of a few hours to the Blue Lagoon, close to the airport.

At this time of year, the Northern Lights are a draw for many and the airline and Reykjavik Excursions cater to those who wish to experience this amazing natural phenomenon. If the lights don’t appear on the night you’re scheduled, you’ll be given another opportunity.

The airline’s SAGA Premium class gives the airline further opportunities to highlight the best of Iceland by including local products in their inflight and lounge services. Those who choose to travel in SAGA Premium can avail themselves of a selection of Icelandic gins and beers including the award-winning Gull beer. Seafood is a big part of the Icelandic experience and the airline exports a significant amount per year — salmon exports increased in value by 68 percent this year.

With the rise in passenger numbers and increased interest in the airline’s SAGA Premium class, Icelandair has designed a showcase lounge at Keflavik. The Icelandair Saga Lounge has a total layout of 14,530 square feet with spaces created for the needs of business passengers, those who are relaxing and those with families.

The Icelandair Saga Lounge at Keflavik Airport (Photo credit: Icelandair)

Given the nature of the airline’s schedule, the lounge facilities benefit those transiting Keflavik as well as those departing after a stopover or locals heading away. Local products are again a highlight of the airline’s offerings with a wide and varies selection of food and beverages. The Nordic design features stone walls and a central fireplace, with a view of the airport comings and goings which in winter include efficient snow clearing operations.

The author attended the Icelandair Mid-Atlantic Tradeshow as a guest of Icelandair. The tradeshow is a travel industry event with suppliers from Iceland, Europe, USA and Canada sponsored by Icelandair.

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John has held the positions of course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and has been a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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