Airlines and other industry participants are bidding more and more amazing announcements at the Dubai Airshow this year. AirBaltic, an…
Interview: Icelandair Talks Network and Fleet Plans
Icelandair began nonstop flights from Detroit Metro to their home in Iceland on May 18, 2023, and along with the festivities of the inaugural, I also had the chance to interview Michael Raucheisen, who is the communication manager for the airline in North America.
AirlineGeeks (AG): Is Icelandair actively looking for replacements for your Boeing 767 fleet?
Michael Raucheisen (MR): Ultimately, our fleet is kind of in transition right now, and we will eventually transition to newer aircraft, the MAX, 8, and 900 series are still on order, and of course our new order for the Airbus which is coming. We will gradually filter out the older aircraft and bring in the new fleet.
(AG): When are the A321s expected to be delivered to Icelandair?
(MR): Those are, I believe, five years away, so not tomorrow but we are starting to plan around them. It will still be a while before the 757s are completely gone.
(AG): Why did you decide to order Airbus A321s versus additional 737MAXs?
(MR): Well we do have more  MAX on order still, but the 321XLR particularly will give us more range and kind of diversify our network and give us the ability to fly a little bit further. We are planning on the opportunities that we are going to have around that to broaden our destinations
(AG): What do the colors on your forward tails represent?
(MR): The colors are representative of northern lights, so the greens, blues, and pinks. So it is kinda built around the colors of Iceland.
(AG): WOW has been gone for many years at this point, is Icelandair thinking of trying to fill some of their old routes like Dallas and St. Louis?
(MR); Well, we actually flew from Dallas, and so did WOW, and so did American and we see where that ended up. But, we are always looking to expand our network and we have a lot of planning that goes into those decisions, I am not the guy that makes those decisions. We are always looking to broaden the network and we will, as years go on and we get new aircraft we will start to be able to fly longer distances and continue to grow into the years. But any specific gateways? There are many on the table but I can’t say [any] specifically that will be announced anytime soon.
(AG): The MAX issue first came about in 2019. There were a couple of routes that you served with that aircraft that ended due to the aircraft issue, Cleveland being one of them. Do you have plans to reintroduce any of these destinations?
(MR): Yeah I mean Cleveland was one of the gateways affected, I think as we are rebounding from the pandemic and from the MAX situation, I can’t say it’s not on the table but I think right now we are focusing more on our current gateways than expanding right now. We are looking more to add capacity to existing routes and utilize the fleet in the best way we can. For example, in Boston, we have three flights a day, New York, three flights a day, Seattle, three flights a day on the 757, 767, and the 737MAX. So, once again I can’t comment on what gateways are in the mix but these cities are all viable and we have a team that evaluates and figures out the best opportunities for those airporrta as well as Icelandair.
(AG): How have your newer routes like Raleigh been doing load-wise?
(MR): Raleigh has been doing fantastic, and I mean, I can just be very blunt, surprisingly so. The team that investigates and figures out the routes were expecting it, but personally, I was very surprised at how it was doing. So much so, that earlier this year we announced we moved it from seasonal to year-round service so now we operate Raleigh year-round.
(AG): What is the first thing you want passengers to notice when they step on board an Icelandair aircraft?
(MR): We like to say your Icelandic experience begins as soon as you step on board, that’s our brand. And all of the saying on the back of the seats, the entertainment center, the food, and the brand on board really shines Iceland and Icelandair, and Icelandair is Iceland, so we try to incorporate it in everything we do. Everything from the uniforms to the flight attendants are very formal and traditional and it has an old-school feeling in that sense, it’s not joking or light-hearted, they are very graceful.
(AG): With carriers like Norse and Frenchbee, those lower-cost airlines that operate flights from Europe to the United States, do you see that as a threat to the stopover program?
(MR): No, because they are a different product, Icelandair has never been a cheap airline, we consider ourselves a value airline. We are very competitive in price, but we offer a little bit higher standards than a cheap airline, and our prices usually include more amenities than a low-cost carrier
(AG): Do you see more people using Icelandair to travel to Iceland as a final destination or using the stopover program?
(MR): A little bit of everything, there is a cross mix. A majority of passengers are going beyond Iceland, people forget that Icelandair is not only Iceland, but we fly to Europe, and there is a growing interest in Iceland. I have been with the company for 23 years, and when I started people thought Iceland was far, remote, cold, and that Icelandair was an air conditioning company, but now people are aware of who we are and where Iceland is, along with our beauty, nature, volcanoes, and the films that are made here. So, there is more awareness now that has drawn more to the Icelandic market, and it’s been growing. The stopover program, we do encourage for all travelers on Icelandair, but I would say it is a healthy mix.
(AG): How did Covid affect Icelandair?
(MR): It affected us greatly, we went from 23 North American gateways with multiple flights a day, to one flight a week out of Boston and it was mostly cargo and essential travel only. So, we have rebounded greatly and our network is strong and thriving and we are having some of the best seasons we’ve had in years.
(AG): Do you plan on increasing the size of the aircraft serving Greenland when they open the new runways in the country?
(MR): I think that is something that we have evaluated because Greenland is trying to grow their market as well and Iceland is a perfect carrier and destination to go through to get there. I think that remains to be seen, but I do think Greenland will be a growing market and we will somehow fit into that in the future.
(AG): New Icelandic carrier PLAY started from what remained of WOW, do you see them as a threat to your operations at all?
(MR): I mean, we just view them as competition. I think people take it out of context in Iceland, cause people think they are a big deal here because Icelandair has always been the main carrier and now we have an upstart, which is really the third one. You have to remember there was IcelandExpress, there was WOW, and now PLAY, and we have seen the transition they have all made into each other. I think on a global market, and from our perspective, they’re even smaller than we are, and we are a small airline. We consider competitors airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air France, but from a North American perspective, they are a very small competitors other than that they fly to our home.
(AG): What do you see the North American route system looking like in the next 2-5 years?
(MR): Well, I can’t see definitively because I’m not the guy that makes those decisions. but, we have some new aircraft coming, we have new gateways potentially on the block, and I would say if things continue the way we are going now, which is fantastic, Detroit is starting right now as we speak, I’m sure we will see a few more like this along with the aircraft variables, I would say 2-5 years will be a very impressive time for us as a carrier.
(AG): What is one thing that you think Icelandair could improve on?
(MR): I mean, I think we are great and I’m sure our passengers feel that way as well. but there is one discussion that keeps coming up and there are pros and cons to it, and it’s a great question; Lie-flat beds, why don’t we have them? First of all, most of our flying time including this one (referring to Detroit) is five hours, and most of our flights even though they happen in the evening, get to Iceland in the morning and there is usually a meal served so there isn’t really too much time to get comfortable and go to sleep. It would also have to fit in with the network, that those aircraft would then be flying a two-hour flight to London, where those lie-flat beds aren’t necessarily needed. That is a hot topic, and I do see both sides to it, but if I were to say one thing, I think it would be cool if we had lie-flat beds but I don’t know that it’s going to be sold to the higher-ups.
(AG): If you and the company had unlimited funds and capital, what would you hope to see happen with that?
(MR): I could do anything? I mean, obviously, we would love to break into markets like Asia and Africa, it’s a big world and I would love to see Icelandair expand and be part of it. Both to and from Iceland and North America, I would love to see us expand as an airline. I think the aircraft we’ve been needing, the Boeing 757, was our dreamchild, it was the perfect plane for our network and if they still made them we would still be buying them, and our friends over at Boeing know that. So, I would say broaden our horizons on different aircraft and we are kind of already starting to do that and we are headed in the right direction.
The video recording of this interview can be found below;
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