Why You Should Make Reykjavik (KEF) Your Layover into Europe

I’m normally not a fan of layovers. I love to get from A to B non-stop. However, being based out of Seattle, there are only a few non-stop routes to European cities (Dublin, Paris, Frankfurt, and London to name a few). Other itineraries require a layover within the United States on the east coast in cities like New York or Philadelphia. But one airport that’s not often considered is Reykjavik (KEF). I’ve flown Icelandair through KEF to London, Paris, and Oslo; all of which I had a pleasurable connection experience. Here are some reasons why I prefer to take either Icelandair or WOW Air to a European city via Reykjavik.

I'm normally not a fan of layovers. I love to get from A to B non-stop. However, being based out of Seattle, there are only a few non-stop routes to European cities (Dublin, Paris, Frankfurt, and London to name a few). Other itineraries require a layover within the United States on the east coast in cities like New York or Philadelphia. But one airport that's not often considered is Reykjavik (KEF). I've flown Icelandair through KEF to London, Paris, and Oslo; all of which I had a pleasurable connection experience. Here are some reasons why I prefer to take either Icelandair or WOW Air to a European city via Reykjavik.

Note: My experiences are primarily based on Icelandair, but WOW Air may yield similar results

Short Connection Times

Icelandair's timetable works perfectly with Reykjavik's schedule. Icelandair flights arrive from the US in the early morning hours, and depart to the European cities in the afternoon. Flights from Europe return to KEF in the early afternoon while flights bound for the US leave in the late afternoon. If you fly Icelandair and have a layover, your connection time to meet your next flight is a little over an hour.

Gets Your Feet Moving

With that hour that you have, you get to stand up and walk around (or possibly take the airstairs to a shuttle bus). This feels really great on your legs if you're stuck in a window or middle seat with little availability to stand during the 5-7 hour flight.

Connecting Gates Are Close Together

No need to worry about running an 800m dash to make your next flight - your connecting gate is simply directly upstairs (non-Schengen to Schengen), or down the hallway (non-Schengen to non-Schengen).

It Divides Your Flight Time

I personally like to break up longer segments of flights. By flying to Reykjavik first, you endure a longer flight, stretch for an hour, and then continue onto your European destination in 1-2 hours.

Passport Control is a Breeze

If you arrive in Reykjavik first, and you connect to a country that's part of the Schengen area, your port of entry is through Reykjavik. Every time I've connected, the Passport Control line took me around 5 minutes (it can take you up to 15 minutes max on a busy day). Good luck beating that time if you land at a busier airport, such as Rome's Fiumicino Airport (FCO).

If you're heading from a Schengen country to the United States with a layover in KEF, Reykjavik is your port of exit from the Schengen Area. This beats having to land in the United States with a connection to another US city, which requires you to proceed past passport control, claim checked luggage, and then go through TSA again to connect to another flight within the United States. The KEF connection eliminates the need to go through additional screening and waiting in a [sometimes] inefficient queue.

Earning Airline Miles

If you're a frequent-flier with Alaska Airlines or JetBlue, you can earn Mileage Plan or TrueBlue miles by flying Icelandair.

Most Importantly, Taking a Stopover

Icelandair and WOW Air offer stopover deals where you can book a roundtrip flight from the US and Europe, and add a couple of days in Iceland at no additional cost. This gives you the freedom to explore another country without hassles before continuing onto Europe. I took this benefit and flew from Seattle to London with a two day stopover in Iceland.While it sounds like Reykjavik's airport is an ideal choice for European connections, there are some things to consider ahead of time so that you're not surprised.

Bag Fees and Technical Inconsistencies

Icelandair and WOW are considered low-cost carriers, and your fare will most likely be an Economy Light fare. These fares don't include a bag, so if you're wanting to pack for a week-long trip, consider only bringing bags into the cabin, or you may have to pay around $100 just to check your bag one-way. US-based airlines include a checked bag on Trans-Atlantic flights.

When I flew out of Seattle, the gate agent told me that my backpack was considered "cabin luggage" while my rollerbag (which has fit on plenty of Boeing and Airbus aircraft) had to be checked in. The gate agents told me that it was included on my ticket, so I gladly checked it. When I tried to do the same in Oslo heading back to the states, I was told I had a 0-bag allowance and that I had to pay if I wanted to check it in. I thought this was an error in their system, so I double checked with an Icelandair gate agent in Reykjavik, who confirmed that I got lucky in Seattle with a free checked bag, and that I indeed purchased an Economy Light fare.

Pro-Tip: If your ticket says "Economy Class" but your baggage allowance is 0-pieces, you're actually flying on Economy Light.

Weather May Lead to Delays

Iceland is known for having the most diverse weather in the world (and I thought Indiana had it bad). The Iceland Met office defines the weather delicately:

"Iceland enjoys a much milder climate than its name and location adjacent to the Arctic circle would imply. A branch of the Gulf Stream flows along the southern and the western coast greatly moderating the climate. However, this brings mild Atlantic air in contact with colder Arctic air resulting in a climate that is marked by frequent changes in weather and storminess."

This means that if a single leg is delayed to weather, your trip may be delayed for several hours or cancelled. Be flexible with plans because a missed-connection due to weather means that you'll be staying in Iceland for a day. (Maybe that's a good excuse to visit the Blue Lagoon though!)

Using Airstairs, Boarding a Bus, and Walking Through a Crowded Terminal 

Planes arriving from a non-Schengen area will most likely arrive at a ramp that requires you to take stairs to a shuttle to the terminal. If you have a hard time walking up or down stairs, this may pose as a challenge when deplaning. Upon arrival at the terminal it may be hard to find a seat during peak hours, as everyone crowds the connection halls. It seems like there are more people than seats sometimes... The only lounge that Reykjavik has is the Saga Lounge for those with Icelandair status (or MVP Gold and higher on Alaska), so it's hard to escape from the crowd.

Food is Expensive, and Cabin Service is Sparse 

Cabin service offers food for purchase, but it's not cheap - expect to pay $10-13 for a toasted ham sandwich and Pringles, $7 for beer, or $5 for a cup of Ramen Noodles. At least drinks are free but they're in such small cups. US-airlines typically include a meal and a snack on trans-Atlantic flights. If you decide to go hungry on the flight, and eat at Keflavik airport, expect to pay $12 for a hamburger, $5 for fries, and/or $19 for a pizza.

Verdict

Despite the downfalls, I find Reykjavik the most efficient connection time from Seattle, which allows me to break a long flight into two and take a breather, give me the opportunity to visit Iceland, and prevent me from waiting in longer customs/immigration lines in either the US and Europe. Do you have any stories to share about making a connection in KEF? I'd love to hear your experiences, and if not - I hope you give them a chance someday!

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