Icelandair Boeing 757 (named Katia – reg TF-FIV) in Anchorage. Photo by Brandon Farris.
Who wants to fly from cold to not as cold? Now you easily can with Icelandair starting service from Anchorage to Iceland. Well, most passengers do not stop in Iceland, but continue with Icelandair to Europe. I had the opportunity to check out the inaugural flight celebrations recently on the ground in Anchorage.
Icelandair’s Boeing 757 sits at Seattle, waiting to be towed to its gate. Photo by Ben Whalen / AirlineReporter.com
My friend Ben recently made the trip from Seattle to France and had a number of choices to going. After quite a bit of research (and many questions to me) he decided on trying out Icelandair, which flies from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Keflavík International Airport (KEF) before changing planes and flying to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). Since I have never flown on Icelandair, I asked him to write a review for me. Here is his Icelandair review in his own words:
ICELANDAIR REVIEW: SEATTLE TO PARIS
I bought the ticket online today, February 2nd, 2012 and the online process was a bit confusing. They first have you select your home airport and then the dates which are all simple enough.
This however is a bit confusing when you are used to the mm/dd/yyyy format, which most people use in the US. Icelandair has theirs in the dd/mm/yyyy format making me have to triple check that I was flying on April 7th not July 4th. Then unlike other websites where you can type in the airport code CDG for example I had to type the city name Paris. Okay, maybe these are not the biggest deals, but first impressions matter.
The rest of the ordering was simple enough. On the flight to Paris, I chose the cheaper economy class and on the way back it was only $47 more for the economy comfort. I figured it was worth the extra money to check out the differences. I was able to choose my seats for all of the legs except one where it showed no seats available, which is always annoying.
The economy class and economy comfort has a 3-3 layout. Photo by Benjamin Whalen / AirlineReporter.com
It is now April 7th, the day of my flight. I show up a few hours early and head to check in. Although they run only one flight per day out of Seattle, the airline had their own ticket counter with three lines: Economy, Comfort and Saga.
Because I was a bit early, there was no line and the front counter lady was extremely nice, checked my passport, and tagged up my luggage. My passport was in a cover and she organized my tickets and baggage claim tickets nicely in the different compartments then could tell by my fresh passport that I likely have not flown from the international terminal recently (wait Ben… “recently” wasn’t your last international flight like 13yrs ago? – David) and gave me directions.
I go through security and was disappointed that the body scanners weren’t operating; I was hoping to show off. My flight departed from the S-Terminal, so I the short train ride over. When I arrived at the gate the plane was parked across just sitting by itself away from the terminal.
Later, I found out that the flight from Iceland to Seattle lands an hour after the one from Seattle to Iceland leaves so one of their 757s sits on the ground 23 hours every day. About an hour before boarding they towed my aircraft to the gate.
Boarding was pretty painless and typical. They load first class (Saga) first then fill from the back.
Each seat has its own in-flight entertainment system, although I wish there were more options. Photo by Benjamin Whalen / AirlineReporter.com
It was a full flight but I didn’t have any trouble getting my stuff in the overhead bin. Everyone had a pillow and blanket on their seats and the IFE system displayed fun facts about Iceland such as the prime ministers phone number is listed in the phone book and that every Icelander can trace their family back to the original settlers.
As we were taxing, the IFE system started working. You could pay $4 for headphones provided by the airline or use your own. The IFE consists of about 30 movies and 11 TV shows, but they most only showed the pilot episodes. I thought this would be plenty, but after 24 hours in the air (round trip), my choices felt quite limited.
The food service started as soon as we started to level off. Being fairly close to the front of the economy section, I only had to wait about 15 minutes to get my food and beverage. But the food doesn’t come free and everyone must pay, which takes time.
You have to pay for the food, but it isn’t too bad. Photo by Benjamin Whalen / AirlineReporter.com
After choosing the main hot meal and a beer, the flight attendant said it would cost twenty four hundred — uh WHAT? At first she thought I was being cheap but then realized I was just an ignorant American and gave me the cost in US currency — $18. Not too cheap. I noticed that a good majority of people declined a meal and drink.
Upon arrival in Iceland I had 50 minutes before the next leg of my trip to Paris. We were led off the plane through a series of passageways and then we had to go through security again. The downside to this is I had a liter of water in a Nalgene bottle I had filled up in Seattle and it was chug it or lose it. There was no opportunity to dump it out.
Once through security and getting my passport stamped into Iceland, I still had time to check out the gift shop before heading to my gate (thanks for not getting me anything –David). Boarding in Iceland was a bit different. The gates were just in the hallways and the flights weren’t announced. Because it was a hallway, people just naturally were lined up and they just started boarding without announcing anything. The remaining leg of the flight was pretty uneventful.
Upon arrival in Paris we disembarked and by the time I made it to the baggage claim I only had to wait two minutes for my bag to arrive.
The signs diving the different classes can be moved to offer quite a bit of versatility. Photo by Benjamin Whalen / AirlineReporter.com
BACK HOME, PARIS TO SEATTLE ON ICELANDAIR
The check-in process was a bit odd in France. The notes on the ticket for comfort Economy stated there would be a separate check-ins, however there was only Economy and Saga check-in. After 20 minutes in line the gate agent was quite abrupt and told me to stop when he was the next free agent. When he finally let me approach and after a minute of looking at my passport he just handed me a ticket and pointed to the security line.
I thought his abruptness may have been a language barrier thing as I am non-French speaker in France but then I heard him speak fine English to the next person asking questions.
When buying my ticket for this leg there were no seat options available. Turns out I got put in seat 4A, which was actually a Saga class seat. I was able to sit in the 2-2 Saga class, but still received Economy Comfort level of service. There were moveable signs on the seat backs marking the separation from Saga and Economy Class seats.
The Saga seats were plush with plenty of leg room the info card said 39″ pitch in first class, 33″ in comfort and 32″ in coach. The only other difference I noted was a much nicer pillow. It was not a bad deal having a Saga Class seat with a lower level of service.
Food in economy comfort is free, except for spirits and champagne. I had the sandwich of the day which was a chicken and a cheese thing, a gull beer, and an Icelandic milk chocolate bar. All of which tasted decent (I say this after spending a week dining on French cuisine).
I was able to sit in Saga Class, which has a 2-2 layout, but still received Economy Comfort service. Photo by Benjamin Whalen / AirlineReporter.com
After landing back in Iceland, I had 90minutes and was excited to check out the lounge that you have access to with an upgraded ticket. We were guided out of the plane and directed through passport control after which I could easily locate my gate however could not find the lounge.
The airport at KEF looks very simple and clean with hardwood and glass everywhere. The challenging part is there is not much seating at the gates which are long hallways so people are standing around crowded a bit.
This time I was in an actual comfort class seat it is an economy seat with an inch more leg room and the center seat has a tray folded down. I got lucky with my seat being 9C because it was by the loading door and gave me an extra four feet of leg room. If you get this seat, I suggest boarding last, since I had the whole plane squeezing by me as they boarded.
The seven hour flight from Iceland to Seattle was pretty uneventful, which I prefer on a flight. We landed on time even after taking off a few minutes later than scheduled.
Overall I would recommend Iceland air when traveling to Europe. They seem to have the scheduling down for very short layovers. Their whole fleet is 757s which seems to take less time to load. If you choose economy either plan to pay for the food or pack your own. The only other downside is their IFE is quite limited I watched all the tv shows and most of the movies. If the ticket is not much more, I wold suggest springing for economy comfort. It gets you much better service more legroom and not having to fight over the shared armrest.
Boeing builds their 737s in Renton, WA, but their aircraft are used all around the world. How does an airline get a brand new plane, built to go short distances, half way across the world? Well, they fly it there of course.
As previously reported, I was lucky enough to be invited on a delivery flight of RwandAir’s first brand new plane, a Boeing 737-800, to Kigali, Rwanda. I have already covered it in three different stories (one, two, three), but it can’t beat a video… Luckily I made one of those too.
This video follows our adventure from Boeing Field (KBFI), heading to Iceland (KEF) for fuel, then to Istanbul Turkey (SAW) to spend the night. Then finally to an amazing welcome at Kigali, Rwanda.
In Part 1, I discussed what it was like from pre-delivery of RwandAir’s first Boeing 737-800 to taking off from Seattle. Part 2 will cover our adventures from lift off to a stop over in Iceland and Turkey. Here is Part 2:
The Boeing 737-800 normally has a range of about 3000 miles with an average load, but this was not an average flight. With only 30 people on board, the aircraft was much lighter which allowed us to fly over 3,600 miles non-stop from Boeing Field in Seattle, WA to Keflavik (KEF) just outside of Reykjavik, Iceland.
I had the entire 14th row to myself, and rows 13 and 15 were totally empty. I felt like a king sitting in economy, which doesn’t happen too often. Though I had ample space, there were some disadvantages to sitting in the back of the plane was the in-flight entertainment system. Business Class passengers got their own in-seat entertainment system, but it is all about sharing in the rear. After we took off and leveled out, the movie Cedar Rapids started playing, but I opted for a nap instead. I knew I wouldn’t have too much time to sleep since we were racing against the sun. Even though we took off at about 5:30pm, we were going to land in Iceland after it would be dark a little under seven hours later.
The in-flight map shows we just left Seattle. We have a long trip ahead of us.
Even with an entire row to myself, it still was not easy getting comfortable as a 6’1″, 250lb person. Still, I managed to sleep a few hours lying down and a few hours while sitting up. When I awoke, it was time to eat our first meal. Before the flight, food service was loaded onto the aircraft, and I was looking forward to (eh, more afraid of) what it might be. Fortunately, the food was better than your standard economy fare, consisting of a decent steak and shrimp.
At first, the service on the flight was a bit strange. Although there were only about 30 people on the aircraft, the flight attendants provided separate levels of service for business versus economy. I have been on a few VIP flights with a smaller number of passengers and service was the same in the front and back. At the start of this trip, the front got hot towels, champagne and first class service. Not that we were hurting in the back, but I wanted my hot towels and extra drinks (how spoiled I have become). It turns out the cabin crew just never thought about it was initiating the standard level of service they regularly complete. From Iceland on, the divider curtain was not shut and everyone received the same high level of service.
Some of the different flavors that Boeing's Sky Interior can produce. Upper left is meal service and bottom right is sleep. The others are standard operating settings.
Most passengers might not realize they are on a 737 with the new Sky Interior. But they should notice how modern and roomy the plane feels. After catching a ride on American Airline’s first Sky Interior 737 and now after about 20 hours in RwandAir’s, I can truly say I love it. It is not revolutionary, but a very smart evolution to the 737.
There are optical illusions and actual changes that make the cabin seem larger. The windows now have a round surround and updated paneling on the walls. The ceiling has color-changing LEDs and the standard setting is a nice blue, which makes the cabin feel taller. The overhead bins have been re-designed to be opened and closed more easily, while providing more head space for passengers. As of now, the Sky Interior is an option for airline customers and about 88% of airlines are opting for the new interior. Boeing has announced that all 737 MAX aircraft will come with the Sky Interior standard.
Because this was a longer flight, I was able to see a larger array of lighting choices. Airlines are able to choose different light settings for different parts of the flight: blue for boarding, white before landing, an orange while eating and maybe a deep blue for sleeping. But by the time we were getting close to Iceland, it was already quite light outside.
Coming into Iceland is quite bare. I wasn't sure we were actually landing at a main airport, but it was.
When finally breaking through the clouds outside of Iceland, I assumed it was going to be a while until we hit the airport since there was nothing but land in sight. Sure enough, the airport was in the middle of nowhere. When landing, I was hoping for some pretty heavy cross wind normally found at the airport, but on this cold morning there were only a few gusts. The airport is great if you love Icelandair Boeing 757s, since there were quite a few. We ended up parking next to the cargo loading area and waited to be fueled. We were allowed to leave the plane and hang out on the tarmac and even though it was nippy, I opted to spend almost the whole time out there.
After being fueled up and loaded back in, I noticed the special Iron Maiden livery Boeing 757 was behind us, providing a nice treat. Even the non-airline nerds on the plane found the livery interesting. Then was were back in the sky, heading south to Istanbul, Turkey.
An Icelandair Cargo Boeing 757 looks on while we wait to be fueled. Lots of nothingness in the background.
We were supposed to land at Atatürk International Airport (IST), but our late arrival meant, there were not any slots available during our new landing time. We landed instead at the much smaller Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW), which operates low cost carriers like Pegasus Airlines. This wasn’t a bad thing, since it allowed us to deplane on the tarmac, giving better photo opportunities.
After clearing through customs, we had a van waiting to take us to Divan Hotel. It was about 8pm local time when we arrived, but I knew I did not just want to eat and go to sleep. First things first; it was time to take a nice long cool shower and then prepare for a night-time adventure.
Not too shabby. View from my hotel room while in Istanbul, Turkey.
After cleaning up, most of our group met on the rooftop bar of the hotel. When I first arrived there were only four people including RwandAir’s CEO John Mirenge. He welcomed me to the table and offered food and drink and I asked him what it felt like to see his brand new plane for the first time. He stopped and it was obvious he was emotionally affected. It was not only about buying a new plane, but it was about being able to take the plane back to Rwanda. I have never seen an airline executive so connected to one of his aircraft — it was quite powerful.
After talking about airplanes, it was time to relax and have some local Efes Beer and some food. Even though it was late, most of us decided to head out into town. I was told we were on the Asian side of town, but there is also the European side of town as well. We got three cabs and honestly I have no idea where we went, but I was just along for the ride. After some coffee we decided to get some “adult” drinks and ended up at a bar called “The Sheriff” that was Old West themed. It took us a while to realize we had just flown half way around the world to go to a western bar — oh well. We were quite surprised that it happened to be so dead around midnight on a Friday. We asked some locals and learned it was Ramadan. Religious natives were not going out, which I can understand, but it made the night life more like a mid-week evening life.
After hanging out for a while, it was time to take a cab back to the hotel. Driving in Istanbul seems like every man for himself. At intersections, people do not yield and speed is the name of the game. During the taxi ride home I sat in the front seat and my belt did not work — it was quite the hairy ride. The driver had a hard time finding his way back to the hotel, and just decided to stop in the middle of the freeway where he pointed to stairs across the road that we could take. Obviously hospitality was not a concern of his.
It is difficult to judge an entire city by just spending 14 hours there, so I would love to return with some additional time and maybe a better taxi driver.
Loading back on the plane in Istanbul, getting ready to fly to Kigali, Rwanda.
After a short rest, we met up in the lobby of the hotel ready to continue our journey to Kigali. While heading back through the airport customs, the security official was shocked when he saw my boarding pass said “Kigali.” Because of a minor language barrier, it took me a while to realize he wasn’t questioning me for security purposes, but because of his own interest in the boarding passes he sees.
The RwandAir 737 was right where we left it. We quickly re-boarded and I decided to take a seat a bit closer to the front of the engines for better photos while landing. I already had quite a few assumptions about what Rwanda was going to be like and I was about to find out how wrong I was. We had about a five and a half hour flight down south and we heard we had quite a celebration waiting for us at our destination. I buckled up, sat back and was ready for the real adventure to begin.