Over the pond

Minneapolis, here we come!

Today, the Travelin’ Golfer is heading to the US for the first trip of the fall season, and the target is Minneapolis. To get there we chose Icelandair, one of my favorite ways to cross the Atlantic.

Why Icelandair? First of all it is convenient. If you are traveling between cities serviced by Icelandair (and there are many; 25 in Europe and 15 in North America), you get to your destination with only a short stopover in Reykjavik, which is located right on the great circle route between Europe and North America. Quite cleverly all the flights converge on Iceland at the same time, so the stopover is brief, just enough to stretch your legs and maybe do some shopping. The airport is compact, so everything is close and transfers are smooth. This is also the home base of Icelandair, so in case of the “technical difficulties” dreaded by all frequent flyers, there’s always another aircraft available.

Another advantage is that the stopover is outside the US, so you clear customs and immigration at your final destination. If you go on another airline and have your stopover inside the US, you have to clear customs at the stopover, something that adds hours to your total travel time, not to mention the inconvenience. By the way, if you want a longer stopover to see some of Iceland, you can stay up to a week on Iceland on any ticket.

Icelandair flies only narrow-body (mostly 757) aircraft, which means fewer passengers, which translates into faster boarding and generally faster everything.

One last thing: Your golf bag travels for free on Icelandair. You get two pieces of baggage up to 23 kg each included with your ticket, and one of them could be your golf equipment (golf bags are charmingly referred to as “small items” in the baggage rules). A rarity these days, with airlines charging an arm and a leg for baggage in general, and sports equipment in particular.

Did I mention that ticket prices are quite reasonable?

Enough praise. How was the actual flight?

The flight to Iceland was fully booked, and they had only three people manning the check-in, so the line was rather long. All in all, it took almost an hour.

The flight was delayed by about 20 minutes due to a sick passenger on the inbound flight, so we took the opportunity to have lunch at the airport. This was a good thing since all food is for sale onboard, only coffee and soft drinks are complimentary, and the food for sale is limited to sandwiches and salad. You can however bring your own food if you wish.

The aircraft was clean and fresh, and seat comfort on par with what we have gotten used to in economy class nowadays. The entertainment system was pretty basic, starting to show its age, and headphones cost extra, but if you bring your own headphones the movie selection was decent.

The service was good, but not special in any way. Water was offered more than once, and we didn’t have to put up with any annoying tax-free sales.

We made up most of the delay, and during our stay in Keflavik, we had time to enjoy the lounge. It is a very good lounge, clean, uncrowded, and with a good selection of snacks and sandwiches, and of course free wine and beer.

All too soon we had to continue. Again long lines for passport control, and more long lines to get on the aircraft. But everything flowed very smoothly, and the entire transfer at Keflavik was mostly a pleasant experience (if an airport transfer can ever be called ‘pleasant’).

The second leg from Keflavik to Minneapolis is the longer one, 6.5 hours flight time. We got underway quickly since the airport is almost never busy. I lucked out and got a window seat in an emergency exit row, so the flight was very comfortable with lots of legroom. Again the aircraft interior was clean, with nothing broken or out of service. Same deal with food and headphones though, for sale again, only soft drinks are free. This is unusual on transatlantic flights, so be forewarned. On the other hand, our checked-in baggage and golf bag was free, so that makes up for the cost of meal and then some. All in all, we came out ahead.

The flight arrived more or less on time, and all our golf bags arrived too. All in all a pleasant and uneventful experience, just like travel should be. If I was giving out grades, Icelandair would get a strong B+ for total experience, and an A in value for money.