The COVID-19 pandemic made for some mighty strange times. A January 2023 trip to Reykvavik with Icelandair marked my first time out of the United States since early 2020. I’ve been able to fly a lot domestically, but this would be the first time I’d get to use a passport in nearly three years, ending my longest international travel dry spell in decades. And, boy, was I looking forward to it, especially as Iceland is one of my very favorite destinations.
The trip was from Seattle to Keflavik on TF-FIN, a 25-year-old Boeing 757-200, a jet Icelandair has owned since it was built back in 1998.
Icelandair seems to work hard to keep its aircraft interiors in good shape; I’ve flown with them roughly 10 times in both Saga and economy, on their 737 MAX-8, 757-200, and Bombardier Dash-8s, and don’t recall having seen anything in the cabins that was in desperate need of repair.
Flying domestically in Iceland is like stepping back in time.
Security? Not necessary here. Just check in for your flight at the ticket counter, wait for the boarding call, and get on the plane. No X-ray machines, no body or iris scans, no checks for bottled liquids, etc. Just check your big bags and walk on board with your carryons. A very civilized process in an equally civilized country.
Our flight was from Reykjavik City Airport, RKV, which is right in the center of the capital city, flying to Akureyri in the north of the country, 250km (155 statute miles) by air. The much larger international airport is 50km (30 statute miles) to the southeast, in Keflavik. We were a group of six; five of us from various media outlets, and our very capable and patient Icelandair media wrangler.
Icelandair has two 76-seat DHC-8-400s and three 37-seat DHC-8-200s in its fleet; they acquired them in March of 2021 when the airline purchased Air Iceland Connect to create an integrated domestic/international route system.
Icelandair’s livery refresh features larger titles with a revised font, and a variety of new colors on the tail – Image: Icelandair
In what Icelandair’s director of marketing Gàsli S. Brynjólfsson describes as “More of a refresh, not a total change,” the airline has begun rolling out an updated livery and associated marketing collateral.
Icelandair’s current branding was last updated in 2006. “We needed to strengthen our story and the emotional part of the brand,” Brynjólfsson said. “Icelandair culture has changed a lot, it’s much more relaxed than it was before.”
For perspective, he explained that the idea was to democratize the brand, as the current white, blue, and gold livery had been seen as a bit stuffy. “We took the gold out – it came up a few times in the talks with experts and focus groups that the gold-and-blue feels a bit royal – Icelandair is not a royal airline – Iceland is very democratic with small power differences,” he said.
Icelandair’s now-former livery seen on its very first 737 MAX-8, TF-ICE, which was also the first in the fleet to receive the update
“We are so much like a normal Icelandic company – the power distance between people is very little – we’re a company of equals, so that’s something that needs to be represented in the brand,” he explained.
For those who are fans of the airline’s iconic special liveries like Hekla Aurora and Vatnajökull (the glacier livery), he was reassuring. “We’re definitely going to continue to have special liveries.” But don’t expect to see the new livery on the airline’s substantial 757 fleet.
“I doubt that we will do the refresh on the 757s – we’re doing just the MAX to begin with. The fate of time for those planes (the older 757s), combined with the cost of changing those planes, would not be reasonable.” He did say the airline’s two 767s would likely receive the makeover at some point.
The nose of our 757 shadowing the engine nacelle as we climbed above the clouds. Heading west from Iceland at 5 p.m., we had sunset conditions for the whole flight
à¾etta reddast is an iconic Icelandic phrase that roughly translates to “it’s all going to work out.” It seems a suitable title for the review, because everything on my economy-class flight on Icelandair worked out very well.
My flight was from Keflavik International Airport (KEF) to Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA) in seat 14A aboard TF-FIK, a 20-year-old 757-200 that must have gone through a refurbishment relatively recently, as the interior looked very fresh. The aircraft had originally been built for Iberia back in 2000, and, if you look closely, you can find traces of that heritage the aft lavatory doors still have their “occupied” signs written in Spanish.
I was headed to Seattle on a Monday evening in February (before the coronavirus became an issue); not exactly prime tourist season, even by busy Icelandic standards. Correspondingly, the flight had quite a few empty seats. Once people finished shuffling themselves around to sit with their traveling companions, it left me in the fortuitous position of having an entire row to myself, a treat that I haven’t enjoyed in a very long time.
Backing up a bit, though, boarding was fast and easy. It was my third visit to Iceland, and my first time departing from a jet bridge at the terminal instead of being bused to a hardstand – KEF has been busily building out its terminals to add more jet bridges and basic capacity.
It was snowing outside, so even though I was disappointed at the missed photo opportunities you get when boarding from the ramp, it was nice not having to go out in the snow to get on board.
Loyal readers will recall our 2017 review of Saga Premium (which, at the the time, was called Saga Class) on Icelandair’s venerable 757-200s.
Since then, Icelandair has added several Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets to their fleet (they ordered a total of 16 of the MAX in both the -8 and -9 variants), using them on routes to U.S. destinations on the east coast and upper midwest, along with several European routes.
I flew SEA-KEF on a 757, then returned via Chicago on a 737 MAX 8, as Seattle is, unfortunately, beyond the working range of the MAX 8.
So, two years on, what was it like to fly Saga? Candidly, I was a fan of the last trip, so the memory still felt fairly fresh. My outbound flight was on TF-FIR, aka Vatnajà¶kull, aka 80 years of Aviation, aka the glacier livery.
This AvGeek was stoked at the opportunity to fly on Vatnajà¶kull, even though it was parked at a corner gate between two diagonal jetways at SEA, making photos pretty much impossible that day. IMHO, it’s the one of prettiest planes in the sky today, tied for that honor with Icelandair’s Hekla Aurora livery on TF-FIU.
The outbound flight from SEA to KEF was as good as the last time – I was in seat 1A for this flight, which is in a bulkhead row. The seats themselves are the same as we reviewed in 2017. They feel even more dated now, especially when compared to contemporary options even on some domestic US carriers, but they’re still very comfortable and offer a generous amount of recline.