I would be remiss if I began telling you about my Iceland trip without sharing about how I got there.
WOW Air, a discount airline that just started direct routes to Reykjavik from San Francisco, has directly impacted the amount of friends and family visiting this tiny little country. I first heard of WOW when a $299 round trip SFO – KEF promotion was blasted all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Even my mom shared it with me, that’s when you know something is REALLY big. So we booked tickets for June, awesome right?
Except wow, the flight experience really sucked. To be fair, I do have friends who arrived in Iceland unscathed but this is how my trip went down:
First of all, the seats weren’t that cheap. Typical discount airline stuff like additional charges for check-in baggage, leg room, food, etc drove the price far above what was originally advertised. There were seemingly strict guidelines around the weight and size of your carry-on and check-in luggage too. For example, carry-ons were cautioned to be 11 pounds or less which is doable but hardly realistic for most travelers. Pro tip: they don’t check your carry-ons at all. With only 1 added check-in luggage share among the 3 of us, the tickets still came to ~$700 per person. The key in the end though was that we were getting a direct flight for this price, making it somewhat reasonable. Only 7 hours to Iceland!
7:30am, the morning of my flight on June 17th, I got a text that my flight was delayed until the next day. Not an hour, not even 3 hours, a whole 24 hours! After doing some social media lurking, it was clear Twitter fingers had turned to trigger fingers. My fellow passengers on this flight were very, very upset. One in particular was trying to get to a wedding in Paris and probably had to miss it. After seeing these posts, I was thankful because a) I didn’t have a pressing need to be in Iceland (except work escape) and b) I was at home and not stranded in some layover situation in a different city. It was reported to be an issue “on the ground” (probably this) that prevented the plane from even leaving Reykjavik in the first place. With such a small operations airline, it was impossible get another plane quickly or schedule us on a related airline.
At last my parents and I were on the road to SFO the next morning, yes! We get to the counter only to find that we now have different seats since we’re flying a different aircraft. My mom had shelled out for extra legroom but it became clear the canceled flight has erased all prior settings. The attendant wasn’t able to do anything for us so we ended up with normal seats and had to attempt to get a refund later (*post-trip update: we did).
We found out later that the plane we sat on was a chartered plane from a Portuguese airline. I wish I had taken a picture to show you because we boarded a completely white, unbranded airplane — basically the equivalent of getting into an unmarked white van on the street. To no one’s surprise, the entertainment system was down. The only good thing about the flight was that food was actually free, which is not normally the case. It’s European law that airlines need to compensate for delays with things like free food. However, in extended delays over 3 hours, passengers are actually entitled to up to 600 euros in cash compensation. I learned this when I overheard a regular Iceland traveler at baggage claim. Our baggage, by the way, took 1.5 hours for us to pick up.
As you can see, a lot of things did not go our way. A full 26 hour delay on the flight there and we would later experience a 3 hour delay on the way back. My only conclusion is this: you get what you pay for.
On a separate but related note, my mom was quick to point out I’ve had bad luck with them on international trips for the past 3 years. In 2014, I was forced to spend the night in LAX and arrived in Sydney 12 hours later than my parents. In 2015, our flight was also delayed a full day. I guess this simply means I should stop traveling with them.
Anyway, now that the flight mess is over, let’s talk about the trip!