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Opinion: Icelandair Stopover Option Offers Unique Experiences
Icelandair’s business model of leveraging the country’s mid-Atlantic geographic position allows the carrier to serve four markets: ‘TO, FROM, VIA and Within Iceland.’ With the population of Iceland estimated at just below 350,000, reliance on traffic to and from Europe and North America meant during the dark days of the pandemic that Icelandair did not have the benefit of a strong domestic market. As a comparison, the least populous of the 50 U.S. states Wyoming has a population of approximately 585,000. The U.S. domestic market with a population base of 350 million rebounded quickly but international routes and the airlines that relied on international passengers were hampered by varying travel restrictions.
Thankfully Icelandair endured and last month the airline announced that its winter 2023-24 schedule would be its most extensive to date. Tomas Ingason, Icelandair Chief Revenue Officer, advised: “We have been able to extend previously seasonal routes to year-round services and increase frequencies on other routes throughout the network for the winter 23/24 season. As a result, I’m delighted that we have been able to increase Icelandair’s capacity by 20-25%, compared to winter 2022/2023.”
Great news for the airline but also good news for its passengers as Icelandair continues to offer high customer service standards. On a recent flight from Toronto Pearson International (YYZ) to Keflavik (KEF) the airline offered access to the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 3. For departures from KEF the airline operates its own excellent Icelandair Saga Lounge with its distinctive fireplace and panoramic views of the surrounding vistas.
Onboard, Icelandair has made the strategic decision not to offer lie-flat beds in the Saga Premium cabin. Given that single flight times rarely exceed six or seven hours this is understandable and did not detract from the premium experience. YYZ-KEF was a little over 5 hours with an early morning arrival time allowing for a leisurely meal with the viewing of a movie or two. Passengers traveling in the Economy cabin can pre-purchase meal items up until 24 hours prior to departure or cashless purchasing is available onboard.
Icelandair is certainly a strong advocate for the country it serves with regular ‘Taste of Iceland’ events promoting the country’s culture, specifically its cuisine. This is obviously evident onboard with the food the airline offers in both premium and economy cabins but also the extensive local gin and beer selection and inflight entertainment content. On the flight I undertook to Iceland, the main meal in Saga Premium was the best lamb dish that I have tasted, either in the air or on the ground. The tenderness and generous portion size were unlike any other airline meal I had experienced, and this was echoed by others who were traveling.
The airline’s strategy allows passengers to stopover in the country for one to seven days at no additional charge. Travelers flying transatlantic select this option when booking flights and can book the accommodation at the level that suits their needs and budget. On my trip, proximity the center of Reykjavik was required so we stayed at the Reykjavik EDITION. This new hotel is across the road from the Harpa Conference Hall and Conference Centre on the waterfront and close to the excellent FlyOver Iceland experience.
As part of the trip to Iceland, a day trip to the town of Akureyri on the northern coast of the main island was scheduled. This service was scheduled to be operated from the Reykjavik central city airport (RKV) by a De Havilland Canada DHC-8, or ‘Dash 8’. Once boarded the aircraft was beset with a mechanical issue and all passengers were made to deplane and await further instructions.
With every minute of delay eating into potential time on the ground at the destination, it became a concern as to whether all passengers could be accommodated on the next flight. That concern was alleviated when the airline announced that it was flying a 757 from KEF to RKV to ensure that everyone made it to Akureyri for however the amount of time they were planning on being there. A return flight from Akureyri was achieved on the Dash 8.
That level of customer service highlighted what is special about Icelandair and why the airline has seen a dramatic return to demand post-pandemic. In Q1 2023 the Icelandair Group achieved an operating income of $233.3 million up 47 per cent on the equivalent period in 2022. The carrier is set to operate to 54 destinations over the coming summer period, the most in the airline’s history. Recently, the airline’s future fleet strategy was announced with A321XLR and A321LR aircraft scheduled to enter the fleet beginning in 2025.
Icelandair provided all flights, accommodation and access to attractions.
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