Icelandair Review: Economy to Europe with Kids

posted in: Europe, Travel Tips | 0

I feel compelled to write about our family’s trip on Icelandair to Norway after overhearing an acquaintance complain about the Iceland airport last week. Maybe it was due to low expectations — the airfares on Icelandair were far lower than anything else we could find for a summer trip to Europe — but I was pleasantly surprised by our flights on Icelandair and would heartily recommend it for other families traveling to Europe.

Why Choose Icelandair?

The main reason to choose Icelandair is because it is frequently cheaper than any other airline that flies between the United States and Europe. Like…a lot cheaper. Go on, look around. They’re tough to beat.

Because Icelandair is a budget airline, I was a little worried that we would starve to death squeezed together in the back of a flying canister of steel, but that wasn’t the case at all. We were kindly treated and given pillows and blankets and complimentary nonalcoholic beverages for our transatlantic flight.

Basically, it was like flying domestic in the U.S. except we traversed the Atlantic. And the flight attendants were taller and blonder.

Can You Check Luggage with Icelandair?

My other major concern was luggage. Which you would recognize as a totally valid concern, if you could witness the hurricane that is my family trying to pack the three days prior to a trip. 

Whether or not a checked bag is included in your ticket price is dependent on the fare you paid, so check your ticket and the fine print carefully. We had to pay for checked baggage, so we were trying to travel carry on only. We managed to sweet-talk the American at the check-in desk on this side of the Atlantic, who took pity on the five of us and our ragtag collection of backpacks and a roller bag and approved us to carry on our bags, but the agents on our return flight did NOT. 

The one area in which Icelandair and most American air carriers differ is in the strict use of that little metal carry on bag measuring thingamajig. You know the one that’s there by the boarding gate and says, “If your bag doesn’t fit here you may be asked to check it”? 

I’ve never ONCE seen that used in the U.S., but we were forced to use it in Europe, and totally failed the test. Even my roller bag that I specifically purchased based on Icelandair’s carry on size restrictions failed the test — the wheels killed me.

Long story short, if you intend to avoid checking luggage, make sure you have very small backpacks or tiny roller bags that meet their strict carry on requirements.

Icelandair sleep mask
Is this not the most adorable little eye mask you ever saw?

Is Icelandair Comfortable?

Yes…as comfortable as an average domestic U.S. flight, I would say. Icelandair flies a fleet of 757 and 767 aircraft. You won’t find two-aisle, wide-body aircraft, which means these long-haul flights might feel a little different (read: smaller) than if you took other airlines. 

I had very low expectations — I was worried about legroom — so I was pleasantly surprised. Their standard seats have 31-32 inches of legroom. For a higher price you can get 34 inches of legroom or up to 40 inches in the exit row, but we are traveling with kids here, so the exit row is only a wishful fantasy.

We were greeted during boarding with smiles and bottle of water, so I was already impressed.

Icelandair kids
The bag of goodies Icelandair gives to kids made me a fan for life.

Is Icelandair Family Friendly?

YES. This is where they won me over. We’re pretty much done with those little plastic wing pins most airlines will give my kids (the gesture is nice, but they’re over it). During boarding each flight, Icelandair gave my kids an entire bag of goodies.

Furthermore, the bag was thoughtful. For our redeye flight, it included a little kids eye mask as the sun was up the entire time as we chased the sunrise. It also included things like a set of cards, removable stickers (smart, airline people!), as well as earphones — just in case you forgot yours.

Since Icelandair has a very good inflight entertainment system with a screen in the back of each headrest, my kids were pretty happy. The only challenge was getting them to turn it off so they could sleep!

As the kicker, the kids also got free food. Also very smart, as hungry kids are not happy kids! Fairly early in the flight each child was delivered an adorable box with items like a sandwich, yogurt, and fruit juice. The box itself was even a toy, as you could pop out the cardboard animals on it and make a playset, if you happened to be a nice Pinterest-worthy child who would do that and not one of my boys who just wanted to watch Avengers

Flying on Icelandair
Happy kids with their free meals on an Icelandair flight to Europe.

Do You Get Food on Icelandair?

Not for free, unless you are under age 12, but there is a menu for adults to order meals from. You do get free soft drinks. I felt like the meals were pretty reasonable considering how notoriously expensive Iceland is.

Also, if you travel with a bunch of kids, you can just eat their leftovers…just saying.

What to Expect at the Iceland Airport

If you are flying to Europe on Icelandair, you’ll be stopping in Keflavik International Airport. 

We had a very short layover there, and were surprised that nobody at Icelandair was concerned about this — until we got there.

Keflavik International Airport is small, beautiful, and efficient.

We didn’t have a lot of time to explore, but there were a few coffee stands that sold food, and we were able to pick up breakfast essentials after our long flight. Did they cost an arm and a leg? Probably, but I wasn’t capable of doing the exchange rate math after our red-eye flight, so I have no idea if that yogurt was $15 — and at that point I didn’t care.

Iceland is your entrance point into Europe if you’re traveling from the United States, so you’ll go through immigration/passport control here — which was GREAT. This was a major selling point for me. 

If you have kids, you’ll agree that waiting in passport lines is TERRIBLE. Both flying to and from Europe, we waited for five minutes or less in line at Keflavik airport to get our passports checked. While the kids were disappointed they didn’t get Norway stamps in their passport (ah, nostalgia!) being able to speed through these lines was thrilling.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be willing to face Heathrow or Amsterdam again.

I was glad our layover was short, as there didn’t seem to be much seating available, especially around the boarding gates. Boarding was a little chaotic, and this is where we had to get used to the fact that we were in Europe now, where more processes are automated.

Boarding tip: Passengers are expected to scan their own boarding passes as they board. This is pretty challenging if you have a gaggle of kids with you and other passengers are prepared and moving swiftly. Look for an airline employee, who will usually take families to the side and assist you in the process. 

Should You Stop in Iceland on Your Way to Europe?

That’s up to you.

I was pretty glad we didn’t, based on the trauma we experienced with jet lag our first few days in Bergen, Norway. Similarly, by the time we left Europe, our kids were so burned out (and us parents pretty much at the ends of our proverbial ropes) that there was no way we would have had any fun during an expensive stopover. 

My four-year-old spent our last few moments in the Oslo airport hitting every person in sight with his giant Atlantic stuffed salmon named “Swimmy Swim,” if you want an idea of how our trip ended. (Swimmy Swim had to go to time out, of course, and almost ended up back in the ocean from whence he came.) 

Icelandair does offer a free layover in Iceland for up to seven days, though. So if you are looking to check a box off your list of world destinations, and you have travelers in your party that can handle that kind of thing (and the budget for it — Iceland is notoriously expensive), consider a few days in Reykjavik!


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Flying Icelandair with Kids