Airlines Eye Direct Flights Between China and Iceland

Keflavík airport

Chinese airlines, such as Juneyao and Air China, are exploring direct flights between China and Iceland. He Rulong, the Chinese ambassador to Iceland, revealed this at a press conference at the Chinese embassy today, VB.is reports.

Shanghai or Beijing to Keflavík

Last week, the ambassador discussed potential flight routes with Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland. He told reporters that Isavia wants to strengthen its cooperation with Chinese airlines and that direct flights could begin within a few years. He hopes to see them up and running even sooner, as a large portion of tourists in Iceland visit from China.

“The discussions have been ongoing this year and I know they’re looking at options with a few different airlines,” the ambassador said. “The flights could be between Keflavík and either Shanghai or Beijing.”

Plans halted by pandemic

Direct flights had been in discussion shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began and the airline Juneyao was already planning flights from Shanghai to Keflavík with a layover in Helsinki, Finland. Two flights per week were being scheduled, but the pandemic disrupted these plans.

“Many are now asking when this could happen,” the ambassador said. “Some say in five years, others in three. My answer would be that we should be even more optimistic and work hard to make this happen sooner rather than later.”

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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.”

First Niceair Jet Arrives in Akureyri

Airplane from Niceair

Niceair’s first passenger aircraft, an Airbus A-319, just landed in Akureyri, North Iceland, in preparation for the airline’s maiden voyage this Thursday, June 2. The aircraft has arrived from Lisbon, Portugal, where it was painted in the new airline’s design.

The airline’s maiden voyage – to Copenhagen – is sold out. CEO of Niceair Þorvaldur Lúðvík Sigurjónsson told Vísir the company’s first scheduled flights have sold better than expected.

To start with, Niceair will offer flights between Akureyri, North Iceland, and London, Copenhagen, Manchester, and Tenerife. It will be the only airline offering international flights from North Iceland and for the time being, will operate a single aircraft. The company’s goal is to secure scheduled flights year-round to foreign destinations from Akureyri Airport. Regular international flights would both improve the quality of life for residents in the area and improve the access of foreign tourists to North Iceland.

Readers can view the aircraft’s journey at this link.

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.

Majority of Icelanders Not Planning to Travel Abroad this Year

Just over a third of Icelanders plan to go on holiday abroad this year or have already done so. This was among the findings of a recent survey conducted by Prósent on behalf of Fréttablaðið.

Although 28.2% of Icelanders have plans to go abroad later this year, only 7% have actually done so already. A far greater majority—57.9%—said that they were not going to travel abroad and 9% said they didn’t know.

People in the highest income brackets are the most likely to travel abroad, as are capital-area residents. Looking just at residence: 45% of capital residents have gone or are going abroad this year, versus 29% of those who live in the countryside. Otherwise, the distribution among various social groups is fairly even. Age does play a factor: Icelanders aged 24 – 44 are the least likely to travel abroad.

The survey was conducted from July 15 – 23, just around the time that the COVID-19 infection rate began to increase again. According to Þráinn Vigfússon, who works at the travel company Vita, bookings for trips abroad during the upcoming Merchant’s Weekend ground to a halt after outdoor festivals within Iceland were canceled or postponed due to stricter gathering limits.

The current infection level in Iceland means that the country will be red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s country map next week, regardless of how many infections are diagnosed within the coming days. This may have affected Icelanders’ plans to travel abroad, as well as the answers of survey respondents.

The survey had 2,600 respondents, aged 18 and older, and answers were organized according to gender, age, and place of residence. The response rate was 52%.

Seventy-Five Years Since First International Flight from Iceland

Icelandair history photo.

The first international flight departed from Reykjavík to Largs Bay, Scotland 75 years ago on July 11, 1945, RÚV reports.

The passengers aboard Icelandair’s Catalina flugbátur, or ‘flight boat,’ were mainly Icelandic merchants travelling to buy goods to be sold in Iceland.

The maiden flight, which took six hours, was captained by Jóhannes R. Snorrason, and was crewed by pilot Smári Karlsson, engineer Sigurður Ingólfsson, and radio operator Jóhann Gíslason.

Icelandair to Receive Government Support

icelandair757

The Icelandic government will pay down part of Icelandair’s losses so the airline can continue to operate minimal flights to Europe and the US in the coming weeks, RÚV reports. The airline will receive up to ISK 100 million ($710,000/€644,000) from the government to support their operations, which have slowed to a trickle in the wake of border closures aimed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a meeting on Friday, the Icelandic government decided to enter into a contract with Icelandair to ensure the airline could continue operating flights to Boston and London or Stockholm two days a week. The contract was signed on Friday and has taken effect.

“These are at least six trips to each destination over the next three weeks while these closures around us have been [scheduled to stand],” Minister of Transport Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson stated, adding that the agreement may be extended if necessary. According ot the Minister, the government will pay Icelandair at least ISK 70 million ($498,000/€451,000) and a maximum of ISK 100 million ($710,000/€644,000) during this period, “then we have to take stock again if this continues.”

CEO of Icelandair Bogi Nils Bogason says that the company will faces losses in the coming weeks, even with the government contribution. “We just think it’s important that the airline keeps these connections going. It’s important to get the state involved, even if only partially,” he stated. The exact amount of the government contribution will be calculated retroactively, taking into account the number of passengers and revenue of each flight.

Akureyri and Egilsstaðir Airports to be Expanded

Akureyri in winter

The expansion of Akureyri and Egilsstaðir airports in North Iceland and East Iceland respectively will be part of the government’s public investment measures intended to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the ISK 20 billion ($142m/€132m) set aside for infrastructure, ISK 6 billion ($43 million/€39.1 million) will be invested in transportation infrastructure.

The construction at both airports is scheduled to start this year, according to a notice from the government of Iceland. At the Akureyri Airport, the terminal will be expanded, as will the tarmac, adding longevity to the airport and supporting tourism in the region. The construction at Egilsstaðir airport will increase operational security and safety at the site, as well as creating space to accommodate up to 20 large jets in the case of closures at Keflavík International Airport.

Minister of Transport Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson stated that construction of roads, airports, and ports was an important step toward preparing the country for tourism once the COVID-19 epidemic has passed. “Despite the collapse of the tourism industry, there is an urgent need to build up infrastructure and airports are one of the key components of the investment initiative.”

The construction at both airports is intended to facilitate international flights as well. As Sigurður Ingi added in a Facebook post about the initiative: “In the long run, the country’s competitiveness will depend greatly on international flight connections and more gateways into the country have been on the government’s agenda.”

Local government in Akureyri has long been lobbying for expansion to the airport in order to make it more viable for international flights. Akureyri Mayor Ásthildur Sturludóttir celebrated the announcement. “We are extremely pleased that the Transport Minister and the government as a whole have looked at and listened to our wishes.”

Direct Flight from Egilsstaðir to Tenerife to be Offered in the Fall

Direct charter flights from Egilsstaðir in East Iceland to Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands will be available starting this fall. Mbl.is reports that a similar, limited-time package vacation will be offered from Akureyri to Tenerife in January 2020. The travel agency scheduling these flights says this is an opportunity to better serve Icelandic travelers who live in rural areas.

This will be the first time that a direct flight to Tenerife from Egilsstaðir will be possible, although Ásdís Pétursdóttir, the spokesperson for VITA, says the travel agency offering the trips says that it has made a point of scheduling special getaways departing from Iceland’s rural airports. “In order to serve our customers in the regions, VITA has regularly offered flights to various foreign destinations from both Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, but up until now, these have mainly been city breaks.” She noted that the trip from Egilsstaðir to Tenerife has generated a lot of interest and is almost sold out.

Jakob Ómarsson, the marketing director for VITA says that similar trips from Akureyri to Tenerife have been offered previously and he hopes that these will be able to be offered more regularly in the future, although it is currently possible to say how often would be feasible. “We have, at any rate, a great interest in serving our customers in the regions and offering them direct flights to the sun,” he said.