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Icelandair Review: What it’s Like to Fly Icelandair Economy

icelandair

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Before there were budget airlines, there was Icelandair.

With roots way back to the 1930s, the Icelandic airline began flying to the U.S in 1947. Today, it’s still known as one of the cheapest ways to get to Iceland or onward to Europe.

And while its reputation remains as a budget airline, few parts of the Icelandair experience feel “cheap.” I found out firsthand recently on the nonstop flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Reykjavik (KEF).

Read on for a review of the entire Icelandair experience, from booking to arrival.

 

Booking Process

Icelandair flies to Reykjavik (KEF) from 11 cities nationwide, from San Francisco (SFO) all the way down to Tampa (TPA). The airline also flies to Iceland from Vancouver (YVR) and Toronto (YYZ).

 

icelandair review route map

 

I searched Google Flights for a reasonably priced fare from Minneapolis (MSP), and eventually pulled the trigger on a $479 fare for eight days in early May.

Thrifty Tip: Need help getting a cheap fare to Iceland? Check out Thrifty Traveler Premium, our international flight deal notification service. We find cheap flights with average savings of $250 – $500 off of typical fares.

Booking on Icelandair is straightforward. I selected an Economy Light fare, but be sure to view the comparison chart and choose a fare class that’s best for you based on checked baggage, whether meals are included, and more. Unlike most budget airlines, you don’t have to pay for a seat assignment on Icelandair, regardless of which fare you choose.

 

icelandair review allowances

 

Even with an Economy Light fare, you can bring one personal item, one carry-on bag (up to 22 pounds) and select your seat.

 

Bidding for Upgrades

Icelandair offers the option to upgrade your regular economy seat, but with a novel twist: You can bid for an upgrade to Icelandair’s business class, called Saga Class. Select how much you want to offer for your one-way upgrade, submit, and keep your fingers crossed!

Here are a few things to know about upgrade bidding on Icelandair:

  1. The opportunity to bid on an upgrade opens ten days before your flight departure.
  2. Bidding closes three days before your flight departs.
  3. You bid separately for the departing and return flights, and pricing is one-way.
  4. If your request for an upgrade is approved, Icelandair will notify you via email at least 36 hours prior to departure.
  5. You will only be charged the bid amount if your offer is accepted. Otherwise, your travel itinerary remains the same.
  6. The bid amount is additional to and does not include the original flight ticket cost.
  7. Each bid is per passenger. If Icelandair accepts your bid, that value will be multiplied by the amount of passengers in your itinerary.

 

When I was given the option to upgrade to Saga, the lowest offer I could make was $290 USD.

 

icelandair saga upgrade

 

Saga Class passengers get the following benefits.

  • 2x checked bags (up to 70 pounds each)
  • 1x carry-on bag (22 pounds) and a small personal item
  • Priority Boarding
  • Priority Check-in
  • Seat Reservation
  • More Comfortable Seats
  • Gate-to-Gate Wi-Fi Access – Included for 2 Devices
  • In-flight Entertainment
  • Lounge Access
  • Saga Points Accrual

 

The Saga seats themselves are similar to what you’ll find in domestic first class – not a lie-flat business class seat. And while the more comfortable seat and lounge access were tempting, it wasn’t worth nearly $300.

The lounge access and comfortable seat were tempting! For me, an upgrade to Saga Premium on my flight home wasn’t worth nearly $300, so I didn’t bid.

 

Check-In and Boarding

On our way home from eight days exploring the Ring Road in a camper van, we got a better feel for the Reykjavik (KEF) airport. When we arrived for our afternoon flight, the Icelandair check-in line was completely empty.

 

icelandair reykjavik airport

 

They do have automated check-in kiosks, but we checked in online the day before so we wouldn’t have to worry about the (nonexistent) lines at the KEF airport. We made sure to measure and weigh our personal item and carry-on bag before our flight, but it didn’t hurt to check in online and hopefully bypass anyone looking to weigh our bags.

 

reykjavik airport kiosks

 

Boarding

The automatic ticket scanner system was down when we boarded, so the boarding experience quickly became backed up and crowded. Eventually, we all got our passports and tickets checked by the two gate agents and lined up to board a shuttle bus to board the plane on the tarmac.

 

icelandair

 

icelandair review boarding

 

Upon boarding the aircraft, we were greeted by a stewardess and given a bottle of water straight away – a very nice touch.

 

icelandair

 

Seats

As we boarded, my first impression was that the seats looked fairly spacious and had a touch of Iceland. The headrest cover had a quote about Iceland, as did the pillow cover and blanket.

 

icelandair

 

This flight was on a Boeing 757-200, which has some of the most spacious seats in Icelandair’s fleet. Each seat in economy is 19 inches wide, compared to the 17 inches you’ll get on most of Icelandair’s other planes. And trust me, those extra 2 inches are huge. It means the seats are wider than you’ll find on most airlines flying to Europe – from Norwegian to even the major carriers like Delta or American.

The blankets were nice and thick, and big enough to actually cover your feet and arms at the same time.

 

icelandair review seats

 

With 33 inches of pitch in economy, I found the legroom to be reasonably comfortable. For reference, I am 5 feet 9 inches tall. It’s more legroom than you’ll get on Norwegian Air and most major international airlines flying to Europe, where 32 inches is the norm.

 

icelandair

 

My only complaint with the seating was that the aisle seat I selected had a smaller storage space beneath the seat in front of me. My purse barely squeezed in, leaving me with little room to stretch my legs out.

 

icelandair

 

Entertainment

While budget carriers (and even some major airlines) are pulling out seatback screens, Icelandair has some fairly modern and crisp TVs at each seat, each with its own headphone jack and USB outlet to keep your devices charged.

The in-flight entertainment offered plenty of movies and shows, mostly leaning toward older hits and just a few newer releases. Check out everything streaming onboard Icelandair flights. 

But what interested me more were the Iceland videos that Icelandair offered. You could watch short segments on each area in Iceland to prepare for your nearing trip, or reminisce on your way home.

 

icelandair review entertainment

 

Ahh, the soothing overhead lights! The nonstop route between Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) and Reykjavik (KEF) goes fast.

 

icelandair cabin

 

Food and Drink

Icelandair’s website says Economy Standard passengers and up get free non-alcoholic drinks, but I was provided beverages as well. The standard juices, coffee, tea, and soft drinks were available.

With the Economy Light and Economy Standard fares, food is not included free. But there was food available for purchase from a lengthy menu. I typically pack my own food but decided to try out one of the Icelandair offerings from the four-page menu.

 

icelandair

 

I ordered a Tapas Snack Box, which was 9 euro. While still expensive, it was on par with what I expected to pay for food inflight (and in Iceland). I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of food included in the Tapas Box: Serrano ham, mini breadsticks, mini fuet cheese, bruschetta dip, and Iberico cheese.

 

icelandair review food

 

Other snacks like chips, hummus, protein bars, and chocolate were three euro.

 

Service

The service was exceptional on this Icelandair flight. I loved the hospitable touch of a bottle of water upon boarding. The stewards and stewardesses were attentive and came around frequently to fill up waters, tea, and coffee. They offered to fill up the water bottle rather than using a new glass and save on some waste.

 

Bottom Line

While Icelandair is often considered a budget airline, and I did get a crazy cheap fare to Iceland, my experience on Icelandair didn’t feel “cheap.”

Depending on what aircraft you fly, the seats are more spacious than what you’ll find on most top-dollar airlines in economy. The service was attentive, and getting a water bottle upon boarding was a step above.

As with most airlines, the key is knowing what you’re getting into. Make sure your carry-on bag is under 22 pounds, and bring your own food (or get ready to buy some onboard).

Keep those factors in mind, and you can hitch a cheap ride to Iceland or elsewhere in Europe without sacrificing comfort.

 

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Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

3 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    I’ve flown Icelandair for about 8 years with trips to Reykjavik for work and using the airline as a means for other European travel – including the trip I’m currently on (MSP – KEF – PAR). I routinely book Economy Light and agree with the review – excellent blankets, in flight entertainment, night lights, courteous staff.

    The challenge we experienced this time though is with seating. While yes, you can select your seat for free, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get switched or that the carrier will change airplanes. This time they changed from a 2 + 3 + 2 across plane to one 3 + 3 across, meaning that our booked seats that were aisle and window for 2 were changed to aisle and middle. We weren’t aware of this until check in (Icelandair didn’t alert us to the change), at which time there was no movement possible. The seats also were not reclinable, though the ones in front were. That left us penned in as the folks in front asserted their reclining privileges . 6 hours in the middle with no leg room and unable to recline. My nightmare realized. My suggestion would be to cough up the money for extra leg room.

    I’ll continue to consider Icelandair for its advantages compared to other carriers that are nickel and diming for seats, baggage (carried and stowed), and even water (EasyJet). But it seems to be suffering from growth with the loss of Wow and offers for layover. Fortunately they’ve seemed to figure out passport control at Keflivik airport a bit better, and wait times are reduced.

    Thanks for the review of Icelandair!

  2. SHARON ELLIOTT says:

    I flew Icelandair to Glasgow from Seattle. I opted for the xtra leg room, and was very glad I did. Pros – bottled water at entry. Cons – be sure you are pretty well able to stand for a long time, walk at least a city block, and climb stairs. The completely full return flight to Seattle was like a cattle call. Also, I was randomly selected for “special” processing, so spent the time I needed to get in line to board the shuttle bus in a weird metal room having my carryon stuff gone through… again. Managed to get fairly close to front of line for boarding because I am partially disabled, but there was no place to sit and you still have to board the shuttle bus (some of them are standing room only) and climb the stairs onto the plane. Even though my seat was far forward (xtra leg room), I had to put my carryon far behind me and the flight attendants didn’t help me retrieve it (even tho they said they would), so nearly missed my transfer bus in Seattle. The blanket looks comfy, but is huge and takes up a considerable amount of space in your seat area. Tip – check in at airport and ask to check your carryon (put electronics in your personal item). Since it will be, by necessity, under 22 lbs they will probably check it for free. For me, I won’t be traveling on Icelandair again. It’s just too stressful and physically challenging.

  3. Latrelle Gibson says:

    I recently flew Icelandair from Seattle to LHR. The 1st flight was a Boeing 757-200. I’m 6’4 and booked an extra leg room seat. Not only was I cramped with my knees almost hitting the seat in front of me, but the seat itself was not very wide and not comfortable. My 2nd leg from Reykjavik to London was on a 767-200 and wasn’t much better in the extra leg room seat, although the seat did recline much further then the previous flight. On my return back to Seattle, I changed seats to exit row, and this was the best choice I could’ve made. The leg room was ample for me. The cons to exit row are, Icelandair doesn’t allow you to have ANYTHING on the floor beneath the seat in front of you. Another con is, Icelandair doesn’t recognize your elite status on their partner airline, Alaska airlines, as well as they don’t include food in the price of the ticket, so you have to either buy food at the airport or on the plane. Although the airfare was extremely affordable, I’d rather spend the extra money & fly British Airways Premium Economy. The flight is Non stop and they include the food in your ticket. And for those who frequently fly, as I do, you’ll want to be comfortable.

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