They flew us there, they flew us back, but Icelandair is far more than a shuttle service to the world's most unique island, which lured us in as the choice destination for our 2014 travel issue. Iceland's premiere airline reflects a lot of the signature aspects of the land itself: It's quirky, it's determined to merge art with nature, and it's defined by a very specific sense of escapism. Appropriately (and quite deliberately), the airline serves as your introduction to a place of beautiful juxtaposition--where volcanoes share a wilderness with glaciers--and its extra-mile amenities are designed to be, if not as unforgettable as Iceland, unforgettable nonetheless.
From the moment we put up our tray tables (on seatbacks that feature fun and translated Icelandic words) to the moment we stepped out into the strikingly clear air beyond Keflavik International Airport, we kept tabs on our favorite Icelandair highlights. Here's what we loved most:
HAF, a Reykjavik-based design house co-run by Hafsteinn Juliusson and Karitas Sveinsdottir, has built its aesthetic philosophy around drawing inspiration from nature (one of their more conceptual items is jewelry with live, embedded moss). It's also built an entire line of in-flight products for Icelandair, including hot food containers, coffee cups, and sick bags, all of it crafted with the goal of jump-starting passengers' relationship with the nature in Iceland. Some packages are still in the prototype stage, but most, like the hot food boxes (named after lava), are ready to jazz up your red-eye flight.
Icelandair takes its in-flight music very seriously, which hardly means your ears will be subject to nothing but stuffy, adult-contemporary tracks. On the contrary, the airline has collaborated with hip and revered Icelandic DJ Margeir Ingolfsson, who's parlayed his 20-plus years of experience spinning in Reykjavik clubs into curating the ultimate tune selection for passengers. Margeir has culled tracks from more than 40 albums to create a rotating series of playlists, which feature native and international acts like Gus Gus and Gaga, Jonsi and Yonce.
Furthermore, Icelandair continues to release its "Hot Spring" CD series, which supports local music by promoting the songs of Icelandic artists. The 2014 installment, Kerid, is a bit of a misnomer (the title isn't a hot spring; it's a volcanic crater lake), but the album boasts songs from the likes of Ylja, Starwalker, and Asgeir Trausti (trust us, it's worth a listen).
A volcano may not be what you want to think about while you're flying at 30,000 feet, but, true to the offbeat, dark humor so inherent in Icelandic culture, Icelandair has opted to name its fleet of Boeing 757 jets after mountains that spew molten lava into the sky. On board and online, you can find fun facts about the planes and the active and extinct landmarks that inspired their monikers, such as when each volcano last erupted. For example, Hekla, Iceland's most famous volcano, hasn't blown its top since 2000; Katla, a volcano beneath a South Iceland glacier, last erupted way back in 1918; and Eyjafjallajokull, a volcanic South Iceland ice cap, last saw an eruption as recently as April 2010. Just how cheeky is Icelandair's home country? Put it this way: "Eyjafjallajokull" translates to "Good luck!"
The #MyStopover Campaign
Icelandair has been soaring the skies since 1937, but it wasn't until the 1960s that the airline started encouraging passengers to take advantage of a stopover in Iceland, a midpoint in the Atlantic for more than a dozen destinations in Canada and the U.S., and more than two dozen destinations in Europe. If they can squeeze in the time during their transcontinental flights, adventurous passengers can spend up to a week in Iceland without spending an additional cent on airfare. Recently, the airline upped its stopover game via social media, employing efforts like the #MyStopover campaign, wherein people can nominate travelers who they think deserve a personalized, expertly-guided stopover experience.
This fall, Icelandair took things one leap further, partnering with Uber to offer "surprise stopovers" to unsuspecting Uber passengers. A few lucky folks in Boston, for example, were handed the chance to accept free trips to Europe, enjoy stopovers in Iceland, and even invite a guest to join them (in a single day, Icelandair gifted 22 round-trip tickets to their Uber SUV riders). We couldn't help but think the partnership was a perfect fit for the brand, considering it's all about speeding forward and serving up surprises--eclectic, explosive, and otherwise.