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Beware Icelandair?

Wife and just got back from a nice trip; began in Athens (for a conference); then Zagreb, Ljubljana, Budapest, Krakow and Wroclaw (we're both 1/2 Polish), concluding in Berlin. 25 days.

This is our fifth trip to Europe in 6 years. We've always used Icelandair, always have been happy with it, and in fact I have recommended Icelandair on this forum.

However, on this trip, Icelandair contacted us on short notice with disruptive news both going and returning:
Going, the Boston to Reykjavik leg went fine; however, Reykjavik to Geneva (where we would take Aegean Air to Athens), was canceled 2 days prior to our planned departure. To replace this flight, Icelandair (after my Kafkaesque quest to speak to a CS rep) could only find us Reykjavik-Munich on one of their planes, then Munich-Geneva on Swiss Air, and all of this one day earlier than the original plan. So, we had to add one whole day to the trip for nothing but travel to accommodate Icelandair's new plan. BTW, Swiss Air was pitifully understaffed in Munich; we had a very long wait to get boarding passes from a human, since (oddly) we were blocked from printing them ourselves, even at an airport kiosk. During this time there was a real risk of missing the connection to Geneva, with the usual anxiety.

The return trip Icelandair saga (a joke, for people who use this airline :-), began innocently, with the usual pre-flight message that we could now print boarding passes. Opening these gmails, I notice that my seat number, reserved months ago, has disappeared. Wife has been reassigned to a different seat. Shortly a message appears indicating that I have been put on standby. We call Icelandair: "It is all a mistake, when you talk to an agent, ask for these seat numbers, etc." Well, OK. It is our last night in Berlin and we go to an Indian Restaurant, since we really miss that kind of food when we travel. Just after ordering, I receive a text: Our reservations from Berlin to Reykjavik have been cancelled (it turns out the plane has been downsized, and we were bumped; frequent flier members for years, who made these reservations at least 8 months ago). Our new reservations have us flying from Frankfurt rather than Berlin. I call Icelandair and arrange a Lufthansa flight all the way home, from Berlin. (It went beautifully.)

So now we are home. It was a great trip excluding Icelandair's stunning arrogance and/or incompetence. I don't know if they have a trendy new psychopathic CEO for whom only profit matters, or whether the Boeing 737 thing has harmed them, or what. But I am going to be avoiding this carrier for the foreseeable future, and am posting this FYI.

Posted by
776 posts

Sorry that happened, sounds awful. I also frequently fly Iceladair (also from Boston) and have not had problems. Hopefully it was just incredibly bad luck on your part that all those things happened on one trip (and that therefore for your sake you've used up your bad luck and will now get only good luck). The seat changing thing has happened to me on other airlines when they change the aircraft they are using. It's really annoying when you book 8 months in advance and pick the seat you want only to find out at check in that you are now in the very back row next to the toilet! I swore I would not fly Aer Lingus after that but of course by the next trip when they had the best flights/prices I did and it has not happened since. It also happened on Norwegian recently but they actually did refund my seat reservation fee. I think all the airlines are trying to squeak out the most profit and doing stuff like you describe. I'd give them another chance if the times/prices work for you, but certainly if it happens again I'd ditch them. But thanks for the warning.

Posted by
2400 posts

I don't know if they have a trendy new psychopathic CEO for whom only
profit matters, or whether the Boeing 737 thing has harmed them, or
what.

Having 14% of their fleet grounded has caused some troubles for them. But maybe the lesson is Beware Boeing?

Posted by
1890 posts

Joel, have they been able to give you any WHY re: the cancellations or changes? The Boeing thing was my first guess, and then I went back and re-read your email and see that you wondered the same thing (as a potential reason).

So sorry all that happened to you........it is frustrating to have something like that happen after careful planning on your part.

Posted by
897 posts

That sucks. Just know that I have had my seat changed numerous times by Delta, for which I have medallion status, and to my knowledge Delta does not have the Boeing issues like some of the other airlines. The problem with Iceland air is that you basically have to fly them for several routes as there are very few competitors.

Posted by
442 posts

Ouch. So sorry that happened to you! Glad you were able to make it home safe and still experience the trip, but I can only imagine how frustrating that all must have been!

From what I've read, IcelandAir has certainly been impacted by the 737 MAX issues. They only had a handful of MAX aircraft in their fleet, though, and are supposed to have leased replacements some time back to cover for the lost planes.

I've had issues losing seats for aircraft changes before. Most recently, had booked myself to London from Seattle with British Airways on a 747 because I was eager to experience the upper deck. They changed planes twice in the months between booking and the actual flight, though, and each time I had to find myself a new seat. No notification from BA, either - it was up to me to login and check on my reservation to see my seat had been changed or lost.

Something I've made it a point to do since is try and book myself in to a seat that exists on any of the possible aircraft types. For instance, an airline I'm flying might have 2 different configurations of the 777 that often get used on that route, and even sometimes a 767. So what I'll do is book a seat in that class that exists on all potential aircraft, and all versions. That seems like a whole lot of effort, but it has protected me from aircraft changes a few times. The initial booking's aircraft configuration might have rows 4-12 as business class and another configuration only has rows 4-10, with 11 and 12 being premium economy for instance. If I'm flying business on that trip, I'll make it a point to avoid rows 11 and 12 when I pick a seat so as to not risk having it disappear if they switch to different metal. In other classes it can apply as well. Row 24 might be full row in economy on one version of American's 777, but not exist at all in another version as lavatories and a galley is there instead. Or seat 26A on one aircraft might be a nice exit row window seat on one version, or a seat without any window at all on another. I'm a bit of a SeatGuru.com junkie and make it a point to check it frequently, as well as check different apps (FlightAware, FlightTracker, et al) to keep tabs on what planes frequently pop up on what routes. Then again, none of the above would help if they swap in a leased plane that doesn't match any of their usual configurations at all, but for normal circumstances it has been handy and saved me hassle!

Posted by
652 posts

Hi All,
Icelandair gave no explanation for the changes other than, in the one case, a plane had been "downsized" (but still without comment on why we, among others, were chosen to be bumped). Actually, I'd really like to hear Icelandair's rationale for cancelling a flight out of Berlin and replacing it with one originating from a city 500+ km away on a few hours' notice. Presumably that made sense to someone? :-)

And I agree that wariness about Boeing, and for that matter any US company in the current de-regulated atmosphere, is warranted. However, if it were me running an airline, I would commit to transporting no more than the number of passengers that the system could transport, whether this issue were externally-caused or not.

I appreciate the good wishes, but I'd like to stress that the Icelandair unpleasantness had virtually no impact on the overall trip, which was fascinating and memorable. Good travels to all.

1885BD, thanks for the tips. I'll save your strategy and try to do it myself.

Posted by
3625 posts

I read your report to say that Iceland Air had some operational difficulties and worked with you to try to solve them. It got you to both of your destinations. You have flown them multiple times and this two trips were your first problems with the airline.

The flight over seemed to be the biggest problem and I wouldn’t have liked having to change my plans by a day either. They were extremely accommodating on the way back, even placing you on another airline to get you where you wanted to go. You state this worked out well for you.

Having travel plans change at the last minute is extremely stressful. None of us like that out of control, anxious feeling. However, I think you may be overreacting in writing an entire airline off.

Posted by
6764 posts

These flight changes are all done by computer algorithms (not humans making individual decisions) and it looks like they had a fleet shortage so they had to scramble. I don't think any budget carrier flying long distance routes has a lot of extra capacity, so they do these kind of swaps (WOW used to do it too, and Norwegian). I don't see any evidence of "stunning arrogance" or a need to personalize this, I would be really surprised to see an arrogant Icelander customer service agent.

Stuff happens. Time to cool off a bit. If you're that angry as to warn everyone against Iceland Air, I would call them up and ask for some kind of compensation for your troubles.

Posted by
2943 posts

I find both legs of your journey troubling and frustrating, especially your return journey. It’s unconscionable that your airline would text you the evening before your flight and tell you that you are now departing from an airport hundreds of km away with no way for the OP to get to FRA. He had to spend his last night in Berlin on the phone with Icelandic getting them to fulfill their obligation. Substituting FRA for Berlin is unacceptable. I think he should send an email or letter to the airline too.

On a similar note, when flying a budget airline that doesn’t fly daily our son and his family had Norwegian airlines do a similar switch on them a few years ago. Suddenly their scheduled flight was cancelled and they were offered a flight on the next day (they would miss an onward separately booked flight to Turkey) OR take a flight 2 days before their original flight date. They picked that option and fortunately had the time and friends near London to stay with.

I’m so leery of booking flights with some of these budget airlines who don’t have partner airlines and/ or only fly a few days per week.

Posted by
4049 posts

I am so sorry for your frustrating experience. All that would certainly upset me. I have flown Icelandair a handful of times, now. They have been mostly good experiences. The Reykjavik airport is being improved, but when I've been there is was very crowded and unorganized. They seem to always have at least short delays. I've had problems with just about every airline, some worse than others. I have had a bunch of super experiences with Delta customer service and I've also had my issues with Delta. In the end, in the midwest, I don't have a bunch of options and have to evaluate each trip/itinerary to determine my best scenario. I also think that the Iceland layover is a pretty cool thing,

Posted by
7782 posts

it turns out the plane has been downsized,

The 737 is the smallest plane in the Icelandair fleet, so the lack of a 737 was not the issue.

Posted by
59 posts

Your story is a primary reason I use a concierge service for ALL my international travel and use them for domestic U.S. flights in the winter when delays and cancellations happen all too frequently. The cost for the concierge is $25 one-way international and $10 one-way for domestic. I once was flying ABQ-SFO-IST and my first non-stop to SFO cancelled at the last minute. The concierge informed me very early in the morning, re-booked me via DEN, and I did make the SFO-IST flight on Turkish. I would've been banging my head against walls if I'd had to deal with the problem myself.

Cranky Concierge is my recommended vendor and I don't know of others who offer the same service. The above prices are if you arrange with them at least a week in advance, they also have an emergency service but it costs considerably more.

Your experience, BOTH WAYS with Icelandic sounds absolutely maddening and thank you for reporting what happened.

Posted by
652 posts

DianneW,
Thanks! Cranky Concierge is going to get a very close look next time we go international.

Posted by
86 posts

Chiming in to say we had a similar experience with Iceland Air last year (pre-Boeing issues). They didn't cancel that close to our trip, but close enough that we had to scramble a bit and ended up adding 2 nights on to the beginning of our trip in a layover city. We ended up being completely rebooked on Delta, and Iceland Air was tough to deal with (I finally tweeted at them and got a response, but that's never my preferred route).

Posted by
4870 posts

So sorry this happened to you, but glad the rest of the trip went so well. I've flown Icelandair often and the only problems I've had were due to volcanic eruptions in Iceland, which understandably disrupted a lot of air travel. (Though I wondered why our flying via Iceland correlated with two separate eruptions, the last time there was no eruption so the curse has been lifted.) But I agree that these kind of last-minute switches are enough to make anyone consider alternatives and sound the alarm as you've done.

I think WOW, Icelandair's only competition at its hub, went under a few months ago -- maybe this is why they feel freer to treat customers as they treated you.

Posted by
213 posts

Joel,
Glad you look on the bright side and didn’t let this ruin your trip. With that said, I believe Iceland follows the European rules for compensating passengers for delays and such. If it were me, I would read up on Iceland Air’s Contract for Carriage and see if you are owed some $.

Posted by
652 posts

Jay, will do, thanks for the suggestion. (Go Gophers!)

Posted by
2400 posts

it turns out the plane has been downsized,

The 737 is the smallest plane in the Icelandair fleet, so the lack of
a 737 was not the issue.

Normally yes. But to help they have leased a couple of planes to help deal with the problems of having their 737s grounded, including a couple of smaller planes. Not ideal, but the situation is difficult for airlines flying the 737 Max.

Posted by
58 posts

This worries me a bit as our flight in December from Reykjavik to Frankfurt and Berlin to Reykjavik are scheduled to fly 737 Max.
Icelandair did not say that OP cancelled flights were due to 737 Max
But has anyone recently experience cancellation by Icelandair due to 737?
If you have, were they still able to get you to your destination on the same day as your original booking?

Thanks.

Posted by
3625 posts

Holly, they have not been cancelling flights over the 737 max that I know of. They have simply been substituting other aircraft. That substitution may have a bit of a ripple effect. Irregular operations can (and do) happen on any airline. I would not worry too much about your flights.