Layover in Iceland

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I recently traveled from Finland to the French-speaking part of Canada, Quebec City to be exact. I was attending a congress there and decided to spend a few days touristing in Montreal before the official program started. There are no direct flights from Helsinki to Montreal so a layover was mandatory. Paris-CDG is out of the question, always. Seriously, a stopover at CDG is never an option, even if Paris is the final destination I try to select airlines that land at Orly. And sure enough, a friend of mine attending the same conference chose to fly via CDG and she ended up terribly delayed and forced to take a detour via Switzerland to Finland. If you look at a map you’ll see that this makes no sense.

However, what does make sense geographically is Iceland. I compared prices and flight times and after some hesitation I booked Helsinki-Montreal with one stop at Keflavik. I didn’t have any expectations towards the airline, but even so, the overall experience left me a bit disappointed.

On one hand, you can see that the airline has made a big effort to create a modern and attractive image. The safety video was brilliantly and innovatively realized, as you can see in the picture below. The entertainment system’s selection of movies was very limited, but did include some interesting nordic films. Coach tickets to and from North America also include two checked luggages à 23 kg and one cabin luggage à 10 kg. On the other hand, the aircrafts are old and tired, and the interiors are showing their age. My 1,76 meters fit well in the seat lengthwise, however, the width was a bigger inconvenience. The rows were extremely narrow compared to other airlines I’ve used. This was a problem especially when eating or trying to work on the laptop. The flight Helsinki-Reykjavik was fully booked. The connecting flight to Montreal was almost empty, which was a very welcome surprise since it was night and I got a whole row to myself to rest. Same thing on the way back.

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The food. Well what should I say? I, as so many others, am no fan of airplane food and I usually avoid subjecting myself to it. Icelandair did not convince me otherwise. You can read more about the in-flight selection here. But I can show you this picture of the expectations (left) you have of this 13 euro meal and what you actually get (right). Sure, the menu said “mini” but I didn’t expect teeny-tiny. The picture doesn’t lie, it literally was just a bite.

Keflavik is a fairly small airport, so the layover is quite painless, just be aware of the price level. However, I found boarding to be a bit chaotic. Prior to getting on the bus for boarding, everyone stood clueless of what was going on in a small area for quite a while, some were even forced to stand in stairs. On the plus side, the departure times are clearly optimized for layovers. There were a lot of flights departing to North America around the same time as our flight to Montreal, and a lot of flights arriving from Europe around the same time as our flight from Helsinki. But boarding didn’t start at the indicated time and the departure was delayed. I also find it rather disgraceful to make passengers go exposed through the icy rain and cold wind to the aircraft after first boarding a bus packed like sardines.

So in a nutshell, Icelandair won’t be my first choice in the future, mainly due to the onboard comfort and the outdated planes. But it’s no CDG. If the alternative is a more comfortable airline with a layover at CDG, Icelandair wins any day. I’d compare it to your average budget airline. If you have the chance to combine your stopover with a visit to Reykjavik or other parts of Iceland, I would definitely recommend it. Iceland is a beautiful destination and thanks to the island’s location the flight time is mostly tolerable.

+ Two checked bags – Outdated fleet
+ Departure/layover times – Price level (onboard/airport)
+ Ticket price – Boarding arrangements
– Comfort onboard
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