This week was my first flight experience with Icelandair after writing about their low cost economy flight deals from USA airports to Europe for several years. The flight experience was better than I anticipated with Norwegian Airlines type low prices, yet a couple of advantages like free seat selection and flying from SFO rather than Oakland airport. Norwegian’s flights generally arrive in Oakland just in time for an I-880 rush hour traffic drive home.
When Icelandair announced they were launching San Francisco-Reykjavik service starting in June 2018, I knew there would be some incredible low fare deals from SFO for travel after the summer season. My fare research over the past several years revealed low Icelandair ticket prices from their USA airport destinations are a regular catalyst for lower fares from the major airlines. Some of the best all-around great flight deals to Europe over the past several years were initiated by Icelandair low ticket prices. And since the major airlines slashed their redeemable frequent flyer miles earning on economy tickets, there is little advantage for most budget travelers to favor flights on legacy airlines.
San Francisco SFO – London LHR $270 round trip Economy Light flight review October 2018
In May 2018 the deal I wanted came around when Icelandair had SFO to London on sale for $263 to $280 round trip in October and November. I grabbed a $270 ticket for SFO-LHR round trip travel in October.
I like to travel to Europe in September and October after the peak summer season tourist crowds and when the temperatures are cooler than summer.
Icelandair flies to both Heathrow and Gatwick. I like flying into Heathrow for easy London Underground service from the airport to city.
Icelandair San Francisco Airport Check-In and Departure
Check-in was automated through a self-serve kiosk since I did not have a checked bag. Icelandair has free seat selection and a 2-3-2 economy cabin seat arrangement on the 767-300 aircraft.
After a quick snack and beer at the Air France lounge using my Diners Club card for free entry, I headed to the gate. The flight was boarded with rows 1-5 Business Class first, followed by boarding from the rear of the aircraft to the front. My seat was 7A and I was among the last group to board, but no problem with cabin bin space on the full flight.
Carry-on Baggage Allowance for Icelandair Economy Light
There was sufficient empty bin space around my seat to stow both my roll aboard and backpack. I had the backpack under seat 6A until the flight was fully boarded, then moved it up to an empty bin.
Each Icelandair aircraft has an Icelandic geographic name. The inflight magazine has a page with aircraft names and description.
The flight attendant handed each passenger a plastic bottle of Icelandic glacial water upon entering the aircraft door.
I also had my own one liter water bottle I filled in the Air France lounge before boarding.
There was no underseat divider. When the flight was fully boarded and still an empty bin above the middle section, I moved my personal item backpack to the overhead bin.
There was a pillow and blanket on each seat.
Buy On Board Menu
Looks like I missed the drinks page of the menu.
The day was gorgeous in San Francisco at 3:00 pm take-off on one of those October days when the weather tends to be the best weather of the year for the Bay Area.
In Flight Entertainment
I tend to binge watch movies for long-haul flights. Unfortunately for me, I had seen just about every one of the 47 movies in the IFE system that I cared to see. Many films were older movies.
The bulkhead row 6 on the 767-300 has an extra large monitor on the wall. I was in seat 7A with a seatback monitor.
There were two Icelandic films and one grabbed my attention.
And Breathe Normally was a 2018 Sundance Film Festival entry and winner of Best Director for IÍsold Uggadóttir. The film, subtitled in English, is a gritty look at Iceland and a culturally pertinent film for our times. The film deals with the issue of illegal immigration from the perspective of a black African woman and a white Icelandic single mother struggling with her own issues.
There was a selection of audio books that could easily fill the long-haul flight with one book reading.
While many people can get through a long-haul flight with their own music, I don’t use my phone much for music and have very few songs available.
The outstanding aspect of Icelandair for me was their music selection with 475 albums and over 500 hours of music. Much of the music is classic rock and I listened to several albums I had not heard in years. The music was alphabetized by first names, one of my pet peeves.
Arcade Fire, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Kate Bush, Kurt Vile were some names that grabbed my attention.
Much of the music being decades old probably makes sense since older travelers like me are most likely not to travel with their own music and can pass the flight time reminiscing through songs of our years past.
There was also a large selection of Icelandic musicians. I listened to several of those too.
No Of Monsters and Men albums. I thought Kata of Mammút sounds a lot like Nanna Hilmarsdóttir, but not being a musician and with moderate hearing loss, I might be way off base. Anyway, both Mammút (2004) and Of Monsters and Men (2010) won Músiktilraunir, the annual Icelandic battle of the bands.
Both the SFO-KEF and KEF-LHR flights offered same IFE selections.
One of the joys of the flight was about 4 hours in when I looked out the window to see a lighted sky from the aurora borealis. It was certainly not my best sighting of northern lights, but kept me sky gazing for about 40 minutes. They were not that colorful and kind of slow motion changes.
One time around 2001 in British Airways First Class, when the cabin was empty and dark, except for me watching movies, the flight attendant suggested I go to an empty seat on the other side of the cabin to see a real show. That viewing was a hallucinogenic natural experience for a couple of hours as the colors and lights truly danced across the northern skies.
Flight Transfer in Keflavik KEF
Our flight arrived in the dark morning with rain falling. With only an hour scheduled between arrival in KEF and departure for LHR, I stepped off the flight and right into the nearby line for the LHR flight with no time to do anything at KEF.
My seat for the flight to London was changed to the exit row. There was a shuttle bus ride to the aircraft and the handle bars in the bus were cold to touch. As one of the first passengers to board the London bound aircraft, I got both of my bags in the overhead bin above me.
Then I waited for about 30 minutes next to the open aircraft door with Iceland’s chilly air blowing inside. The flight attendant brought us blankets to wrap up against the cold. There was a problem with bin space on the full London flight and flight attendants were shuttling bags around.
Listening to more music while reading the Icelandair magazine on the monitor kept me amused on the flight to London learning about réttir, Iceland’s annual sheep roundup and reading about Ateria, the 2018 winners of Iceland’s Músiktilraunir.
And I was the first passenger off the aircraft in Heathrow.
Battle of the Budget Airlines – Bay Area to Europe
Over the past 18 months I have flown Level, Norwegian and WOW from the Bay Area to Europe.
Here is my Battle of the budget airlines ranking:
Icelandair #1 due to free seat selection, IFE selections and 2-3-2 configuration on 767-300 from SFO. Allows carry-on bag and personal bag for underseat.
Norwegian #2 Seat selection is pricey at $45. Better IFE movie selection, but no music. 787 Dreamliner is a nice aircraft, but 3-3-3 in economy. I don’t like flying out of Oakland.
Level #3 Main advantage over WOW is free carry-on bag. Level plans to make in flight entertainment a paid service in 2019.
WOW #4 At $69 one-way to Copenhagen and London, I did fine on two 2017 trips with my backpack as my free personal item. But I prefer being able to bring two free bags. Carry-on bag is about $50. No entertainment on WOW. Bring your own.
All in all, when the price is right, I expect I will fly Icelandair again from SFO to Europe. There were some great low fares SFO to Amsterdam last week.
Loyalty Traveler – SFO to Amsterdam $333 Icelandair Nov-March (Oct 9, 2018).