The flying weather continues to be dismal in Seattle – I’ve lost track at how many training flights have been canceled due to low ceilings, low visibility, potential icing, etc. – I stopped counting after 14. Even by Seattle standards, we’ve had an exceptional stretch of bad weather this winter.
However, during a recent trip to Iceland with Icelandair (watch for upcoming stories about their maintenance operations, fleet and route plans, plus an economy-class flight review), a series of fortuitous introductions led to my being able to do something I’d only dreamt of – fly in Iceland.
That experience more than made up for all the weather-based frustration with my stalled Seattle flight training.
The Piper PA-28-151 Cherokee Warrior we flew that day
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.
I have flown internationally before and the standard international travel excitement led me to show up way too early. I arrived at noon and still had thirty minutes until Icelandair’s ticket counter opened. Since the airline doesn’t fly every few minutes, they don’t staff their counters at all hours of the day and night — which makes sense. I tend to forget this since I mainly travel with larger carriers and have little problem getting to the airport super early.
Promptly at noon, an Icelandair ticket agent had the place running, checked in my bag, and had me on my way. They recently adopted online check-in and ticketing and it worked perfectly. No paper, no fuss.
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 Keflavàk 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’¦ ’œrecently’ 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.