We're welcoming new guest blogger and Jonathan Tilden to Wine:Thirty Flight. In his first piece, he's traveled to Iceland on ultra low cost airline WOW air, and reports back to help you decide of this off-color (or on?) means of travel is for you.
Iceland: A land of sagas, legends, waterfalls, and restaurants that serve puffin. The main way to travel to Iceland from the USA is on their national airline Icelandair, but this can get pricy. For the last few years there has been a new game in town, an Icelandic low-cost carrier named WOW. WOW offers very cheap tickets to Iceland from east coast airports such as Baltimore-Washington International (BWI), Boston (BOS) and Newark (EWR) as well as San Diego (SAN) and Los Angeles (LAX) in the west. Google "WOW", and you will also find a litany of complaints ranging from the fact that they nickel and dime you for everything (baggage fees, etc) to the fact that they charge you for even water on the plane. That being said, if you plan smartly and go into your flight knowing what it is, you can get a deal much better then anything other carries offer.
This trip started when a friend found a package deal to Iceland on one of the travel sites, but it was gone before we could book it. I hypothesized correctly that we could do our own planning and bring the cost down further, which we were able to do. This post will just focus on our flights and airport experience.
Flight: WOW #118
Date: 23 September 2016
Origin: Baltimore-Washington (BWI)
Destination: Reykjavik (KEF)
Depart: 7:00 PM
Arrive: 4:55 AM (+1 day)
Aircraft: Airbus A321-200
Our trip started at BWI in their international terminal at check in. WOW has very strict carry on limits, and as I mentioned previously will charge you for pretty much everything. You are permitted a small carryon (included in your ticket price) of size 42 x 32 x 25 cm including wheels and handles, max. 10 kg (22 lbs).
Anything larger than that hits you for $40.99 per carryon or $50.99 for a checked bag! Ouch! What they don't mention is that you get a personal item like any other airline. I filled a backpack up as my under seat personal item and then put a bunch of clothing in a small duffle that met their size requirements. I also wore the heavier jacket I was bringing to Iceland through security and stuffed it in my bag after it had been weighed. Total was $0 baggage charges! Another option we considered, but ended up not doing, was to check a massive bag and then share the luggage space to make the charges more manageable. They tag your bags -- so the gate crew can see all the size and weight requirements are met -- before you are permitted go through security. There was no TSApre line at BWI's international terminal, but there are so few flights out of there that we were through in minutes (well... except me because I got selected for the full TSA experience). The incoming aircraft was about an hour late arriving from Iceland, so our departure was pushed back accordingly. Once the plane arrived, the flight crew showed up in the terminal and caused a bit of a stir, despite their uniforms being very purple they have a very retro cut and multiple passengers wanted pictures with the flight/cabin crew. They were happy to oblige. Boarding was uneventful, and were were seated towards the middle of the plane because we didn't pay for a preassigned seat.
In-flight service began shortly after takeoff (link to menu). Knowing nothing was free, we had had dinner in the terminal and had packed snacks and drinks so we'd not need anything on this flight. The seats were pleasant enough; they seemed no bigger or smaller than other transatlantic carriers. While there was no seat back entertainment system, I appreciated the power outlet between/under the seats. Lights were dimmed following the meal service. I didn't see much of the cabin crew from this point, though if someone pushed a call button they would show up in a prompt fashion. I got some sleep and read my book until we landed about a half hour late at KEF. I've kind of glossed over the flight, there really wasn't much happening on a six hour redeye in economy class. Once we got off the plane we went to passport control which was a breeze. Though not a member of the EU, Iceland is a member of the Schengen agreement, so passport control was identical to the way it is in the rest of continental Europe. You get a stamp and you're on your way!
Flight: WOW #117
Date: 27 September 2016
Origin: Reykjavik (KEF)
Destination: Baltimore-Washington (BWI)
Depart: 3:30 PM
Arrive: 5:50 PM
Aircraft: Airbus A321-200 (not a lot of mystery about the how these two flights are related...)
Aside from the fact that we almost missed the flight due to a miscalculation on our part, the return was pretty much the same as the outbound. We did try the food on this flight, though. The lamb flatbread was small, but tasty. I also got a few sodas and a bottle or two of water as we didn't have time to buy anything at the airport this time around. We were late I was assigned the 2nd to last row of the plane... actually kind of interesting since I got to watch the goings on in the rear galley. I also kept the hilarious airsickness bag which is one of my all time favorite flight souvenirs. Landed on time at BWI with no issues.
Verdict: If you can find a cheap flight on WOW, book it, but just be aware of what you're getting into. If you're not careful, you can end up paying more in fees than the price of your ticket! Travel smart, though, and you can see Iceland for bargain prices. It's a country worth seeing. WOW has a solid European network from which you can find reasonable prices to the continent if you don't mind the stopover in Iceland. Try two countries in a single trip: they let you do up to a seven-day stopover in Iceland with no extra fees. Don't be afraid to give WOW a chance, you'll be glad you did!