Never More International Flights Direct to Icelandic Countryside

Akureyri Iceland

Residents of Iceland who live outside the capital area normally need to travel to Keflavík to go abroad, adding an often lengthy and costly leg to their travel itinerary. However, this summer will see a record number of international flights directly from Akureyri, North Iceland and even one international route from Egilsstaðir, East Iceland to Germany, RÚV reports. These flights will not only make it easier for residents of North and East Iceland to travel abroad, but they will also help spread out tourists across Iceland, who normally have to travel through the capital area.

This summer, three airlines – Niceair, Condor, and Edelweiss – will offer direct flights between Akureyri and Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Tenerife, Alicante, Zurich, and Frankfurt. Direct flights between Frankfurt and Egilsstaðir, East Iceland, will be offered for the first time ever this summer.

Hjalti Páll Þórarinsson of Visit North Iceland says the flights provide new gateways to Iceland, and can help spread out tourists across various regions as well as more evenly throughout the year. Hjalti Páll says that although inflation must be impacting tourists in Iceland as it impacts locals, so far it does not seem to be leading to a drop in tourist numbers.

Couple Who Are Blind Twice Denied Entry Onto Flight, Told to Pay for Escort

An Icelandic husband and wife who are blind were twice prevented from boarding an SAS flight to Iceland after being told that they needed to pay for an escort to accompany them onboard. RÚV reports that the couple, who were traveling with their one-year-old daughter at the time, will be pursuing legal action against the airline.

Eyþór Kamban Þrastarson and Emilía Pykarinou had a flight booked from Athens, Greece to Copenhagen, Denmark, and then on to Iceland. However, when they tried to board the Scandinavian Airlines flight, they were denied entry. “The airline insisted that we be accompanied by another person,” explained Eyþór, who said that the couple was also supposed to pay for a third seat for this purpose. They tried to board another flight two days later but were prevented from boarding for the same reason. Eyþór believes that the fact that he and his wife were traveling with their young daughter played a part in the airline’s reluctance to allow them to board, but insisted that they’d have never booked the flight if they didn’t feel comfortable looking after their child while flying.

In the end, the Eyþór and Emilía were only able to board because, a week after they were supposed to have traveled home, they found an Icelandic woman who already had a ticket for the same flight and who agreed to act as their escort.

The couple intends to pursue legal action with both Blindrafélagið, the Icelandic Association of the Visually Impaired, and the Icelandic consul in Greece, supporting their case. “This is by no means over,” said Eyþór, pointing out that the airline’s policy allows for children as young as five to travel unescorted. “We are in no way okay with the fact that we were ordered to find someone to fly with us, let alone pay for it.”

Three Hundred Participate in Disaster Drill at Reykjavík Airport

An extensive disaster drill was held at the Reykjavík International Airport on Saturday, involving police, the fire department, ambulances, search and rescue teams, Red Cross representatives, and 60 people who volunteered to play injured civilians. RÚV reports that three hundred people took part in the exercise. Drills of this magnitude are held at every international airport every four years.

Jónas Sigurbjörnsson (Björgunarsveitin Ársæll)

These drills are extremely important for emergency responders, says Árni Birgisson, coordinator of airports and aviation security for Isavia. “Fortunately, flying is our safest form of travel, so our readiness is very seldom put to the test other than through these exercises.” To ensure that responders are prepared for every eventuality, considerable effort is put into making the drills as realistic as possible.

Jónas Sigurbjörnsson (Björgunarsveitin Ársæll)

The scene on Saturday was a dramatic one, with thick black smoke wafting over the site of the drill. According to the staged scenario, an airplane was supposed to have skidded off the runway during landing and collided with a stationary plane. This crash would have caused one of the planes to burst into flame and resulted in the death or serious injury of dozens of people.

Volunteers playing victims in the drill were, therefore, posed in various states of distress along the runway so that responders would have to act fast and prioritize the injured, even as the plane continued to burn.

July Sees Large Increase in Flights from Icelandair, Play

Keflavík airport Icelandair

In recent press releases, both of Iceland’s international airlines, Icelandair and PLAY, have reported significant increases in passenger counts in July 2022.

In the previous month, Icelandair’s total international and domestic passenger count was 529,000, representing a 141% increase from July 2021, which saw only 219,000. June 2022 saw some 431,000 passengers. The July totals for 2022 are 89% of the July 2019 numbers, signaling a recovery in the travel industry from COVD-19.

However, Icelandair has not been immune to the many travel disruptions caused by difficult conditions in international airports, with a 64% on-time performance rate. Icelandair is not unique in this, and many other airlines have reported similar problems as travel has begun resuming at pre-pandemic levels. Many international airports had to lay off staff during the pandemic, and are only now beginning to work again at full capacity. An influx of new, untrained staff and sudden ramp-up in operations has resulted in many reports of lost baggage and delayed flights.

A highlight for Icelandair is a load capacity of 89.6%, which they state reflects both a well-optimized route network, and also the pent-up travel demand from COVID-19.

PLAY also sees increase

The story is much the same for Iceland’s most recent budget airline, PLAY.

July 2022 saw PLAY servicing some 110,000 passengers, an increase of 25% from the previous month’s 88,000. Notably, the recent July figure is greater than PLAY’s entire 2021 year.

PLAY has enjoyed a passenger load of 87.9%, an increase of June’s figure of 79.2% and May’s 69.6%. As in the case of Icelandair, this likely reflects a pent-up travel demand following relaxation of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The budget airline has also enjoyed a comparatively higher on-time performance rate of 79%, which is seen as particularly impressive given the difficult situation seen in many international airports.

July 2022 also saw the introduction of PLAY’s latest aircraft, and Airbus A320neo, bringing their total fleet to six.

German Airline, Condor, to Begin Service to Akureyri and Egilsstaðir

Akureyri in winter

The German airline, Condor, is set to begin servicing Akureyri and Egilsstaðir starting in the summer of 2023, according to a recent press release.

Ralf Teckentrup, CEO of Condor, stated: “Iceland is one of the most popular destinations in the north. We are looking forward to offering our guests the opportunity to discover this diverse destination with its beautiful nature. With the connections to Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, we are also responding to the great demand from numerous tour operators offering round trips in the north and east of Iceland.”

Icelandic authorities have been trying for some time to open up more ways to fly to Iceland. The current arrangement came about through the cooperation of Austurbrú, Isavia Domestic Airports, Íslandsstofa and Markaðsstofa Norðurlands.

Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, Head of Visit Iceland, said in the statement: “These new flights give our visitors the possibility to explore Iceland further by landing directly in the north or the east of Iceland. Both regions offer breathtaking landscapes and have a great tourism infrastructure in place, with a wide choice of hotels and outdoor activities and facilities.”

Currently, Egilsstaðir is only serviced by domestic flights, while Akureyri has several international connections to London, Copenhagen, and Tenerife. As both towns have developed airports and other tourist facilities, the hope is that this new service will further open up these regions to travel.

Condor is based out of Germany and services locations throughout Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

PLAY Reports ISK 1.5 Billion Loss in Q1, Maintains ‘Strong Balance Sheet and Healthy Cash Position’

iceland budget airline play

Iceland’s newest discount airline, PLAY, reported a loss of ISK 1.5 billion [$11.5 million; €10.78 million] in the first quarter of 2022. Per the Interim Report (January – March 2022) issued by the company this week, this comes as no real surprise, and can largely be credited to global factors, namely, “[t]he Omicron variant impacted revenue during the quarter, and the war in Ukraine resulted in higher fuel price towards the end of the quarter.”

The negative EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) was “expected,” writes CEO Birgir Jónsson, who remains optimistic about the airline’s prospects. Travellers are showing an increasing willingness to fly, and the airline’s “financial position…continues to be strong, with a strong balance sheet and healthy cash position.” PLAY’s equity ratio stands at 22% ($56.5 million; €52.7 million; ISK 7.3 billion) and it is maintaining a cash position of ISK 5.4 billion [$43 million; €39.2]. Currency risk is a factor in the airline’s operations, “…since a large part of its cash position is in the ISK, while PLAY’s operating currency is in USD. PLAY is therefore exposed to the fluctuation of the two currencies against each other.”

Rapid network expansion

Between January and March 2022, PLAY carried 57,500 passengers, with a 20% jump in passenger numbers from February to March. The airline hired 45 pilots and over 100 new cabin crew members in Q1.

PLAY is steadily expanding its network and plans to continue to do so in Q2. Service to Baltimore/Washington, D.C. began in April; service to Prague, Boston, Lisbon, Gothenburg, and Brussels began in May, with destinations Stavanger, Malaga, and Trondheim on the horizon before the end of the month. In early June, service to Palma de Mallorca and Bologna will commence, as will daily flights to New York in the US. Indeed, PLAY will be the first airline to operate international flights from New York Stewart International Airport (located about 75 mi; 120 km outside of New York City) post-pandemic.

‘Strong booking momentum’

As part of its strategy to counter rising fuel prices that have resulted from the war in Ukraine, however, PLAY is adjusting its summer fleet plan and will not be offering three weekly flights to and from Orlando, Florida this fall as planned. Additional measures to counter rising fuel prices include a fuel hedging strategy, a fuel surcharge, and ongoing schedule adjustments “to eliminate unprofitable flying.”

Passenger hesitation in the wake of the Omicron variant and global unrest appears to be waning, and bookings are on the upswing. “In February, [there were] 59% more sold seats compared to January, despite the war in Ukraine. This improvement in booking inflow has continued into the second quarter of 2022, with more than fourfold increase in sold seats in April compared to January. Because of this strong booking momentum,” concludes the report, “PLAY expects to report improved utilization in the coming months.”

Amsterdam to Akureyri: Direct Flights Expected Next Year

A Dutch airline is planning to operate direct flights between Amsterdam and Akureyri, North Iceland, beginning next year, RÚV reports. With a population of around 20,000, Akureyri is the largest town in the region but has only ever had sporadic international flights. Tourism industry representatives from North Iceland say flights would need to be more regular in order to support tourism in the region.

“We have direct flights between Akureyri and Tenerife, people who are going on holiday, they have sold well and gone well,” stated Ragnheiður of AK Travel (Ferðaskrifstofa Akureyrar). She added that Dutch airline Transavia planned to begin operating direct flights between Akureyri and Amsterdam in February and March. “We only have a few seats that we’re selling to North Icelanders and there is interest.”

The vast majority of tourists visiting Iceland arrive through Keflavík International Airport in Southwest Iceland. Ragnheiður says that international flights to Akureyri would need to be more regular for the North region to be competitive with South Iceland. “This has been in the works for 20 years, since I started in the industry […] We have a dream that we’re seeing 1-2 flights per week, 52 weeks per year. With foreign tourists. Why should they have to drive over heaths in snowstorms to come north?”

Expansion of Akureyri airport begun

On June 16, construction crews broke ground on an expansion of Akureyri airport that is expected to take two years. Both the airport terminal and tarmac will be expanded and the developments are expected to facilitate international flights. The development of Akureyri airport and the airport at Egilsstaðir, East Iceland were two of several infrastructure investment projects the Icelandic government initiated in response to the pandemic recession.

Travellers Without Negative COVID Test Could Face Fine

Keflavík Airport

Travellers arriving in Iceland must produce evidence of a negative COVID-19 test. RÚV reports that this requirement applies to both Icelanders and foreign nationals, regardless of vaccination status. Those who cannot produce proof of a negative COVID test taken could face a fine of up to ISK 100,000 [$810; €682] upon arrival in the country.

The imposition of fines follows in the wake of new governmental regulations issued earlier this month, which require airlines to inspect COVID test and vaccination certificates prior to boarding for all international flights.

Per the government’s website, as of July 27, all passengers—including vaccinated individuals and those who can furnish proof of a prior COVID-19 infection—”must present a negative PCR or antigen (rapid) test that is no more than 72 hours old before departure to Iceland.”

WOW Applies for Air Operating Licence

WOW air

More than two years since Iceland’s WOW air went bankrupt, the company that purchased its assets has applied for an air operating licence from the Icelandic Transport Authority, RÚV reports. Airline management specialist Ögmundur Gíslason, who is working for the new owner of WOW, says there are plans to rebuild the defunct airline. Ögmundur says it will take a few months for the licence application to be processed.

Following the bankruptcy of low-cost airline WOW air in March 2019, the company’s assets were purchased by Michelle Roosevelt Edwards, known until last year as Michelle Ballarin. The resurrected airline was originally set to take to the skies in late 2019, but the launch has yet to happen.

Edwards is something of an enigma and has made several claims to Icelandic reporters that have not proven true. In November 2020, she gave an interview to an Icelandic television crew at a Virginia mansion she claimed was her home. The Washington Post reported last week that she did not in fact own the property and accessed it without the knowledge of its true owner. In the interview, Edwards also claimed other parties owned shares in Icelandair on her behalf and there were plans to merge the company with WOW air.

Ballarin introduces WOW asset purchase.
Michelle Roosevelt Edwards (then Michelle Ballarin) introduces WOW asset purchase at a press conference in Iceland, 2019.

The news of WOW air’s resurrection comes during the same week that a different low-cost airline will launch in Iceland. PLAY, founded by former WOW air executives, will fly its inaugural flight tomorrow. Ögmundur stated the success of the company was irrelevant to the fledgling WOW air. “It doesn’t matter if PLAY is successful or not.”

US Tourists Return to “Safe” and Spacious Iceland

Reynisfjara - Vík - suðurland

There were few empty seats on Delta Airlines’ first scheduled flight to Iceland this year, which brought 130 – mostly vaccinated – passengers from New York to Keflavík yesterday morning. Iceland’s tourism leaders say the industry’s wheels are finally turning again. Travellers from the United States have been banned entry to Iceland throughout most of the pandemic, but as of April 6, those who are vaccinated or have COVID-19 antibodies have been permitted entry and do not have to quarantine upon arrival.

The Delta Airlines flight was the first scheduled flight from the United States in over a year, with the exception of Icelandair’s state-subsidized flights to Boston, RÚV reports. Delta is now operating daily flights between New York and Keflavík, and will begin flying from Boston and Minneapolis later this month. United Airlines will begin flying from New York in June and Chicago in July, while Air Canada plans to resume flights from Toronto in July. Icelandair currently has 11 US destinations on its roster for the coming months.

“Tourist Summer is Beginning”

“The wheels are somewhat starting to turn again,” stated Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, CEO of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association. “Now we see the impact of better and faster vaccination both here and in the countries around. And the interest from for example US travellers who have been vaccinated or have already had COVID-19 is significant. So I hope that now these are sort of the signs that the tourist summer is beginning.”

Jóhannes believes travellers from the US and UK will be the first to arrive, while those from mainland Europe, where vaccination has been proceeding slower, will come to Iceland later. Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason also stated the airline had seen an uptick in bookings from the US, with Europe and Canada lagging behind. “This is still a very challenging environment for airlines around the world and tourism companies, but very positive that things are somewhat starting up again,” Bogi stated.

Iceland a Safe Destination, Say Tourists

Strati Hvartos, a photographer from Los Angeles, was one of the passengers of Delta’s flight from New York yesterday. He arrived with his girlfriend Caroline Fiorito, and they plan to spend two weeks in Iceland. “I think we chose Iceland cause it seemed like the best place to go right now, after COVID,” Strati told Vísir reporters. “It seemed like one of the safer places to go, and also one of the least amount of tourists right now.”