Icelandair is the perfect example of how a successful airline can be born out of a modestly sized island nation with big ambitions. Iceland has a population of less than 400,000, yet Icelandair – the national carrier - transports over 4 million passengers per year. The Business Class product offered by Icelandair may not be the most glamorous in the skies, yet it has a loyal following of who appreciate the airline’s attractive pricing and impressive transatlantic network.
Today, Icelandair is a major player in the transatlantic market, connecting 31 airports in Europe with 12 airports in the USA and two in Canada.
Until 2018, Icelandair called its premium cabin Saga Class – which was then rebranded to Saga Premium. Staff will informally refer to Saga Premium as Business Class, but the change may have been a clever move, helping to manage passenger expectations.
Icelandair was one of the first airlines to offer a stopover program letting customers make a stop in Iceland with no extra charge to the ticket. There are numerous Icelandic touches to your journey -especially in the food and beverage offering.
Frequent fliers on Icelandair are invited to join the airline´s loyalty programme - Saga Club - which offers three tier levels – Blu, Silver and Gold. Icelandair is not a member of any airline alliance, but it has codeshare partnerships with Air Baltic, Alaska Airlines, Finnair, JetBlue, and SAS. Agreements with an additional 50 airlines allows for seamless connections.
Keflavik Airport is located 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Reykjavik, the nation´s capital, and serves as the gateway to Iceland and the home of Icelandair. The airport is small by international standards, but this is also one of its strengths. As many passengers transit through Keflavik, the airport has understood the importance of making the transit experience as smooth as possible.
As Icelandair and its local low-cost competitor PLAY have grown their businesses, the airport has not quite managed to keep up with the pace of expansion by adding enough gates with aerobridges at the main terminal. Consequently, many aircraft are parked at remote gates that require bus transfers. Thankfully, the airport has come up with an unusual way to minimize the impact of the Icelandic weather, which can be too cold and wet to make boarding by stairs bearable. Dotted around the tarmac, there are “mini terminals” that are effectively just an aerobridge connecting to a small two-story building with stairs and lifts indoor that lead directly to a waiting bus. Unusual but effective.
With its business model largely evolving around connecting flights, Icelandair operates on a 24-hour rotation with flights connecting each morning and afternoon. The airport is very quiet in the early morning before flights start arriving from North America. After a few hours on the ground, Icelandair sends most of its fleet of 30+ aircraft to destinations in Europe. In the afternoon the fleet returns, passengers switch planes, and the fleet heads West to North America.
While Keflavik Airport handles all flights from Iceland to Europe, North America and Greenland, domestic flights operate from the smaller Reykjavik Airport close to the capital city. Passengers connecting between international and domestic flights must make the 50-kilometre journey between the two airports by bus or taxi.
The Icelandair Saga Premium Lounge is centrally located at Keflavik Airport, just by the passport control. The lounge is relatively large and features windows on three sides. There is plenty of comfortable seating for relaxing, and a dedicated area with tables close to the buffet. Sleeping recliners are also available in a dedicated area. Several art features made of Icelandic rocks are placed around the lounge, and a fireplace adds a nice ambiance during the dark winter months. A selection of snacks, cheese, salads, and desserts are available, but few hot dishes are on offer. The beverage selection is more impressive – in particular the generous selection of liquor.
There are three shower rooms which are usually available without a wait.
For those looking for an Icelandair gift to bring back home – a selection of Icelandair aircraft models is available for purchasing from the lounge reception.
As is expected, Saga Premium passengers have access to dedicated check-in desks, fast track security and priority boarding at most airports.
Icelandair operates an all-Boeing fleet of 30+ aircraft consisting of primarily Boeing 737-8/-9 MAX and Boeing 757-200/300 narrowbody aircraft, supplemented by a small sub-fleet of four widebody Boeing 767-300ER. There is no denying that the 757s and 767s are getting old, most having flown for more than 20 years. Thankfully a fleet modernisation plan is well underway.
To support the airlines operating model, the idea is that any aircraft can operate any route, and they all feature the same Saga Premium seats. Due to the geographical location of Iceland - halfway between Europe and North America - most flights have a duration of 2-6 hours. Only a handful of flights take 6-8 hours.
The recliner-style Saga Premium seats have clearly been selected with regional flights in mind. Seats are wide and comfortable, if perhaps a bit on the hard side, and offer a 40” (102 centimetres) pitch. On the Boeing 737s and 757s, Saga Premium offers 16-22 seats in a 2-2 configuration, with the larger 767s featuring 25 seats in an unusual 2-1-2 setup. There are no leg rests, but a footrest folds down from the seat in front. Foldable headrest wings add some comfort when sleeping but recline is limited. On the Boeing 737s and 757s, individual air nozzles are available, something which is sadly missing on the larger Boeing 767s.
There are two Boeing 737 MAX8 aircraft that stand out from the rest of the fleet as they were originally intended for Royal Air Maroc. These aircraft do not offer personal monitors, but entertainment is available by streaming to personal devices. The Saga Premium cabin on these aircraft offers 12 seats that are more comfortable and offer more legroom than the rest of the fleet. A nice touch is that Icelandair sends out a notification email to passengers informing them of the unusual aircraft.
On flights between Iceland and Europe, Icelandair offers a Business Class hard product that is far superior to most other airlines. As any experienced Business Class traveller in Europe knows, the standard “Euro-Business” normally consists of regular Economy Class seats with the adjacent seat blocked, and in contrast to this the Icelandair offering is significantly better.
The source of grievance for many passengers is that Icelandair is a significant player in the transatlantic market, where the competitive landscape is very different. All other airlines connecting Europe and North America offer flat-bed Business Class seating, setting the bar higher than what Icelandair offers.
On shorter flights the Saga Premium seats are good, but for longer flights they are the weakest link in the Icelandair Business Class experience.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes images, videos and seat maps for most airlines and aircraft Search results also include details such as seat pitch, width and recline. This way you can see the seat and cabin configuration of the flight in which you are interested, before making your choice.
Meals in Icelandair Saga Premium are hearty and filling, if perhaps not offering the most elegant dining in the skies. Meals are presented on trays with a printed menu, with all dishes served at the same time. Lunch and dinner are accompanied by a warm Icelandic bread roll served with delicious Icelandic butter with lava salt.
On flights between Iceland and Europe, a two-course meal is served consisting of a main course and a dessert. The main course is usually served cold, and there is only one option.
On flights between Iceland and North America, there are one or two meal services depending on flight duration. Only the longest routes connecting Iceland with destinations such as Orlando, Portland or Seattle feature a second, lighter meal. For the main meal service, a three-course meal is offered, including a starter, a main course, and dessert. There are two options for the main course – one of which may be cold.
On all flights, Saga Premium passengers can order freely from an extensive ”Snacks & Candy” menu that includes sweet and savoury snacks. The menu includes Icelandic and international classics such as olives, Pringles, cheese snack, crispy chips and chocolate bars. Staying true to the seasonal spirit of the food and beverage offering on Icelandair, the snack menu takes on Icelandic seasonal favourites in December, including Jólakôttur, Sirius Gingerbread Chocolate and traditional sugary cinnamon almonds.
Before landing, individually packaged, handmade “Icelandic Miracles” chocolate pralines are offered as a parting gift.
The beverage selection in Icelandair Business Class is impressive, offering a wider selection than what most other airlines do. A 12-page Drink Menu is distributed after take-off, and cabin crew take individual drink orders for pre-dinner drinks. The drink service is elegantly done, without the use of trolleys, and each passenger is offered a ramekin with delightfully spicy nibbles.
On flights to and from North America, a pre-departure glass of Prosecco is offered. There is however no non-alcoholic alternative beyond the small bottle of water that is placed at each seat before boarding.
The extensive drinks menu includes two white wines, two red wines, Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne, an Italian Prosecco, a selection of Icelandic beer, and a range of non-alcoholic beverages including juices, Pepsi, 7Up, still or sparkling water and Appelsín – the Icelandic version of Fanta. Hot beverages include tea, hot chocolate, and coffee, although there are no espresso-based coffees. The selection of liquor and liqueurs includes Bacardi Rum, Baileys, Grand Marnier, Loch Lomond Single Malt Whisky, Icelandic Reyka, Vodka and Remy Martin VSOP Cognac. Cocktails include classics plus surprises such as Italian Spritz or Espresso Martini.
When flying Icelandair Saga Premium, the unquestionable star of the show is the “Gin library”, featuring a selection of seven different types of gin – all from Iceland! For a G&T out of the ordinary – try the Himbrini Old Tom Gin, handcrafted from Icelandic botanicals such as arctic thyme, organic juniper berries, wild angelica flowers and honey. The gin is deep orange in colour, and when mixed with tonic water it produces an orange cloudy cocktail unlike any G&T you have seen before – absolutely delicious!
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
Cabin crew are friendly and professional, if perhaps somewhat reserved, and all speak excellent English. On most flights there are two cabin crew dedicated to Saga Premium, usually including the cabin supervisor.
Unlike most other airlines, Icelandair cabin crew never use trolleys in Saga Premium. Instead, all meals and drinks are hand carried on trays from the galley. This approach is more commonly seen in First Class, and makes the service appear more elegant and personal. Throughout the flight, cabin crew frequently pass through the cabin and a refreshment is never far away.
Each Saga Premium seat offers a personal monitor with access to a decent selection of entertainment. There are more than 100 movies, including some recent releases, classics, kids, and some Icelandic movies. There is also a good selection of television shows, including several episodes of each series. A small selection of audio is also available, although it only seems to feature Islandic music. Games are also available. Noise-cancelling headsets of a fairly good quality are distributed before take-off and collected before touchdown.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is available for Saga Premium passengers.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on WiFi and inflight entertainment.
A comfortable quilted blanket and fluffy pillow plus a small water bottle awaits at each seat when boarding. On flights connecting Iceland with the USA and Canada, an amenity kit is also presented. There are two versions of the amenity kit – a brown toiletry bag in the shape of a small doctor’s bag for westbound flights and a slimmer black version for eastbound flights. The purses are made from sustainable materials such as recycled canvas, vegan leather and felt made from plastic bottles. Contents include the usual suspects such as socks, a sleeping mask, a dental kit and earplugs plus handy stickers to be placed at the top of your seat with messages such as “Do not disturb” and “Wake me up for meals”. Although made in PRC - lip balm, hand lotion and mineral face mist come from Icelandic family-owned skincare company Hannes Dóttir.
Most flights in Saga Premium offer a largely similar experience. For long-haul flights the Icelandair concept may fall short of the competition, but on short flights the tables have turned. Icelandair and Turkish Airlines are the only two airlines in Europe to offer a “proper” Business Class experience on short and regional flights, and they deserve credit for this. On flights between Europe and Iceland, no other airline comes even close to offering the same level of Business Class service and comfort. You can expect the full beverage menu, a good meal and inflight entertainment.
Icelandair has several sustainability initiatives designed to reduce emissions, conserve natural resources, a d optimise the use of sustainable energy and recyclable materials. The airline takes part in the work of various environmental working groups, such as with IATA, Airlines for Europe (A4E) and the Environmental Committee of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association. Icelandair is also a key player in the incentive project of Responsible Tourism in Iceland along with over 300 companies, with the purpose of maintaining Iceland’s status as an optimal future destination for tourists by supporting sustainability for future generations. Icelandair has partnered with with Klappir – Green Solutions to track and follow the environmental aspects of the company, to foster the data, ensure traceability, integrity, transparency, usefulness, and reliability of the data set.
On each flight, passengers are encouraged to donate leftover coins in special envelopes, with the funds going to the Icelandair Special Children Travel Fund. The fund enables children with long-term illnesses and victimised children, as well as their families, to travel.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on CO2 emissions for each flight. Our quality algorithms also give a higher score to flights operated by the most modern and environmentally friendly aircraft.
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