There's been an explosion in travel to Iceland over the past five years, due largely in part to the launch of WOW Air and the expansion of Icelandair, the two main carriers servicing Keflavik International Airport. It seems like everyone has traveled to Iceland over the past couple of years, or is at least planning to. With this increase in options travelers in select markets now have two choices of which airline to take to Iceland or on to Europe. Since both options are available to us in Washington DC, as they are for those who travel out of Boston, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, and Dallas airports it’s important to know what traveling on the two airlines is like. So if given the option like us which would you choose? WOW Air or Icelandair?
As with some of our trips Carrie and I took different flights. Often this is due to us piggy-backing off our work trips, as was the case with our most recent trip to Svalbard and Iceland. We both had flights from Keflavik International Airport to the Washington DC area. Albert traveled on WOW Air and Carrie on Icelandair. Since we had the option and many of you may as well we’ve written a post that compares with options. Here’s what our experiences were like.
Icelandair is considered by many to be a budget airline. Although the prices are typically lower than most of the traditional international carriers, I’ve found that Icelandair’s quality of service, in-flight amenities, and overall comfort are often much better.
My round trip ticket from Washington Dulles to Oslo via Keflavik was $908. For the dates and time of booking, this price was less than SAS and Lufthansa and included a four day stopover in Iceland. My flight departed Keflavik at 4:50 pm, an hour and 50 minutes after Albert’s scheduled departure. Interestingly, the route and time are so popular for Icelandair that another flight to Dulles left 10 minutes later.
Most people will point to the fact that you have to pay extra for meals on international flights on Icelandair to demonstrate their claim that the airline is “budget”. And, they’re right, you do have to pay for meals but, who is eating airline food these days anyway? Well, I admit on my flight from Oslo to Reykjavik I was so hungry I had to buy a meal (the Oslo airport doesn’t have much to offer Zero Waste Vegans and we weren’t able to make it to the grocery store in Longyearbyen before we left). Lucky for me, they had a Vegan sandwich, which was wrapped in paper (double score). It was much better than the food I’ve had (and seen) on other carriers and not too expensive (12 Euro).
In addition to the food, the seats are in good condition, very clean, and comfortable. I always feel like I have plenty of space (except for luggage underneath the aisle seat for some reason). They have a great selection of new and classic movies and current tv shows on their in-seat entertainment, which typically works. And, in my experience, the staff have been friendly and helpful. This most recent trip I was seated next to a family and the staff moved me so we would all be more comfortable.
All in all, I think Icelandair is a great airline. They are reasonably priced and provide good service to boot.
WOW Air (Albert)
Transatlantic budget airlines have become increasingly popular and WOW Air is one of the options. WOW Air and its unmistakable color now serves much of the east coast of the U.S. as well as several midwest and west coast cities, making travel to Iceland or Europe much more accessible and of course affordable. Often you can find mid-week, off season tickets for as low as $99 one-way! It is without a doubt the most affordable way to travel to Iceland. I took my first WOW Air flight recently at the tail-end of our trip from Svalbard in the high Arctic Circle and Iceland.
I bought my one-way ticket because of the price (unbeatable base fare of $171 no assigned seat, no carry-on and no checked bag) and ideal departure time (depart Keflavik at 3:30 pm and arrive in Baltimore-Washington at 6 pm). I actually priced out the Icelandair option (Carrie’s flight) which was $350 for a one-way flight. WOW offers several add-ons like seat selection, checked bag, carry-on (basic fare only includes a personal item), and larger seats to upgrade your experience. If you are traveling lightly then the WOW Air pricing model will allow you to travel for the cheapest possible option to Iceland and Europe. I paid to select my seat, worth it not to have a middle seat, and checked and carry-on bags. Still, at $249 one-way was too good an offer to pass up. So you might be wondering, well what was the inflight experience like at that price point?
Expect nothing, bring something. There is no in-seat entertainment, nor WiFi, free or for purchase (at least on my flight), not even an inflight magazine to browse through to kill 15 minutes. Worst of all there was no plug, which means even if you do use your own device on a 5 hour plus flight you may arrive with little to no battery. WOW does offer the other option to pay for an iPad that has movies preloaded on it. My advice is to prepare for the situation and bring a book, a portable charger, or plan on sleeping.
As for the food. Don’t expect much. They offer sandwiches (all with meat) and a cheese pizza (the only vegetarian option). Par for the course with a budget airline you have to pay for drinks. They have a decent selection of Icelandic chocolates and beer. My recommendation is to order the Ulfrun Saison, an Icelandic craft beer. It’ll make the flight better. One positive is the drink special, which incentivizes buying two beers at once. Why, not especially if you’re traveling on a $99 one-way fare!
As for the seat, I’d rate it as average comfort-wise and for legroom (I’m 5’10). It certainly didn’t rank as the worst (Frontier), but it was nowhere near the best.
We’re in the unique situation in that we live within easy distance of two major international airports (BWI and IAD) both served by either WOW Air and Icelandair, giving us the option to take either when traveling to Iceland. Icelandair is expanding with a new flight to BWI. If you are purely motivated by price, then WOW Air is your best bet. If you are willing to spend a little more, not a lot, then Icelandair is the better option-if you add up the additional expenses you might incur on WOW you might not be that far off anyway.