Topic of the Week: Icelandair in Denver


Seems like a funny move – Icelandair will start flying from Denver to Iceland next year. Is this planning gone crazy, or is it a smart effort to capture one stop travelers to Europe from cities with limited nonstop flights?

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32 comments on “Topic of the Week: Icelandair in Denver

  1. Seems pretty obvious. Europe, unless you are flying to LHR or FRA, is a one stop flight anyway. Why not stop in KEF instead?

  2. Well, this will be Icelandair’s 7th US destination (SEA, BOS, JFK, IAD, MSP, MCO; the last three seasonal) so it’s not as if there are that many better cities to serve. California or the south is too far for the 757s that they use.
    757s also don’t have a huge capacity (~180), so you wouldn’t need that many passengers for this to work, especially at less than daily.
    My guess is that this will work well enough for them – they aren’t going to steal very many passengers from UA (or BA), but they can get enough local traffic to make it work, especially with competitive fares and low costs.

      1. They flew to SFO with their 767.
        Also, looks like UA/CO is going to start flying DEN-LHR with the CO 757s…

  3. I guess it makes sense, Denver has just two overseas destinations. My one reseration though is since only 3ish years ago UA used to have its own flights to LHR in competition with BA and discontinued those.

    I could also see Frontier as a codeshare to get more connecting traffic, from more remote Rocky Mountain West Cities, if that’s something Icelantic Air does or doesn’t fit their business model.

    Now I wonder when/if Denver will ever get non-stop service to Asia, its the largest US hub airport without, SLC already has it and is much smaller (but is a Delta hub). The few non-stop flights to overseas (their plenty to Canada and Mexico) from any of the Rocky Mountain West Airports (except for LAS) is going to become more and more of an impediment to the regions growth and connectivity for International business .

    1. +1 on the Frontier codeshare. Even if its just throwing the F9 code on the IcelandAir flight, it will help. I’m guessing this is year round so in theory people from Europe can come to Colorado’s ski resorts? I don’t know how much of a draw that is though.

      Also, its only 4 weekly, which is probably appropriate for the DEN market.

      Regarding service to Asia, if DEN gets the long-rumored ANA 787 to NRT, it would be great for United and Denver. I don’t see anything else as everyone can be funneled over YVR, SFO, etc.

      1. Any code share would be nice. A group of colleagues were just traveling to Iceland for business, funded by Uncle Sam, and the lack of any U.S.-coded flights to Iceland is a big pain, since they need to document waivers to the Fly America Act.

    2. United’s LHR service was an O&D flight. No real service beyond LHR except codeshare on BMI (LHR is a nightmare enough without having to transfer terminals). As mentioned in the original post, this is about connecting traffic. Icelandair heavily markets connections to northern Europe with a free stopover in Iceland in either direction. So if you are flying to Scandinavia or Paris, connect in LHR, or Connect in KEF and take a day at the natural hot springs?

    3. I wonder how many people are going to choose FI over LH or BA. Convenient, and a really cool country in Iceland, but it is not usually my first thought when shopping for Europe.

      DEN is far from the largest hub without Asian service. Even farther from being the largest city without Asia service. I would think CLT and PHL get those titles.

      1. Denver is certainly the busiest US airport without Asia service. Denver is the 5th busiest airport in the US (over 25 mil enplanements in 2010). The top 4 (ATL, ORD, LAX, DFW) all have multiple flights to Asia.

        1. Yeah, but Denver’s traffic comes from being a hub to a fully domestic airline, a domestic + close countries airline, and a global airline with hubs in 3 other U.S. cities that are substantially larger than Denver. So it’s not that surprising that Denver is not a major international gateway.

  4. I’ve been watching Icelandair’s ads in NYC for several years. They push the idea of taking a few days for a stopover in Iceland between the US and Europe, at no additional cost. Given the smaller size of their planes, I bet they can fill them between travelers who are going to need at least 1 stop anyway and leisure travelers who might like to spend a few extra days in a different country.

  5. While it might not drive all airline decisions there is a lot of cultural overlap between Iceland and Colorado. Specifically in the love of outdoors, hiking, and other such activities. There is a lot of demand for flights overseas and their rates will likely drive enough people to their flights to make it work, especially now that DEN’s costs have come down.

    I would also echo what SubwayNut said. Given IcelandAir’s partnership with Alaska Air and Jet Blue in those key markets gives precedent to them inking a deal with F9 to get all over the mid-west.

    All in all there is some real excitement among the people I know here in Denver over this. I know several people that are going to take advantage of the Mile High Deal to take the first flight out. I personally am looking at the deal for 8 days. I mean really, 8 days with hotel for 2 is pricing at $2700. I might swing that for a week in Iceland.

    1. This is not about people wanting to visit Iceland as a vacation, it is all about flights to: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Helsinki, London, Manchester, Oslo, Paris, Stockholm, Barcelona, Bergen, Berlin, Billund, Brussels, Gothenburg, Hamburg, Madrid, Milan, Stavanger, and Trondheim AND people in those cities wanting to visit the mountains and ranches of Colorado.

      Now, if people want to do a stop-over in Iceland, great! Make it the destination, why not. But, this is not why this flight is in place.

      1. But that is exactly what Icelandair has been encouraging through the vast majority of their marketing in NYC for years. Granted the business environment is different with there being a much larger international market between JFK and EWR. Their niche is telling leisure travelers that while they’re going all the way to Europe, why not stop and enjoy “beautiful Iceland” for a few days. One of Icelandair Group’s 3 main areas of focus is on tourism infrastructure. More tourists in Iceland means that there is more infrastructure needed. In a way, their airline business is feeding their other business.

        1. Additionally, Icelandair (similar to Air New Zealand) is heavily involved in the economic development of the country. So the government and the airlines work together and care about the citizens of Iceland (similar to the compassion fares ANZ offered during the CHC earthquake).

          Imagine if the government and airlines worked together in the US like that.

          1. Yes. Imagine. I’ve heard already that Icelandair and the Iceland equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce has already reached out to several cities in the Denver Metro area (Boulder for example) and that there is some real excitement in Denver for this.

  6. It’s just for the one-stop connection to Europe since nonstop service is limited to Europe right now. They will go for the leisure market who doesn’t travel that much so don’t care about getting miles from an alliance partnership.

    Not many locals want to rush to Iceland when they have enough of their own mountains and snow at home. And they can go to Maui if they want to see an active volcano.

    I think Icelandair allows free stopovers in Iceland on their fairs, and they do serve a number of cities in Europe but not all are daily so a little stopover in Iceland could be interesting for people since just how many people can say they have been to Iceland.

  7. I was going to post to say that Denver is a popular port of entry for European skiiers going to the (generally much better, in my experience) US ski resorts, and I wondered how it would justify a year round service. But having seen the comment on the free stopover: I’d suspect that the sort of people who might be interested in outdoor activities in the mountains in the summer would also be attracted by Iceland as a destination, so this could generate extra demand for them. I also quite like the idea of a day in a thermal pool recovering from my next ski holiday, so I might look into this!

    1. You can stop over for a week in each direction for no extra cost (except maybe taxes) even on the lowest fares. Higher fares would allow stops for longer in each direction. Good deal to get business and get people to visit Iceland who would never think of going there.

      Plus for anyone who doesn’t like to fly or be/can’t be on a plane for to long, a stop even for a day in Iceland would benefit them.

  8. One obvious question — why DEN and not Chicago? Chicago is a massive metro area, and if you’re looking for O&D traffic (which, as an airline planner, you should be) then you would think that would be an obvious selection.

  9. @Enplaned – Because you can already get to KEF from Boston, JFK and Minneapolis. Getting people from an outdoor culture in the west makes good sense. The camping and hiking in Iceland is spectacular – once people in Colorado find out about it, they’ll lap it up.

    Flights from Denver will make it more likely for me to get back out to Iceland again sooner than later. It’s way closer to me in Phoenix, and it means I don’t have to go to JFK or Boston. I’m all about it.

  10. I’d be interested to see the flight times. I would imagine ~6 hours to Iceland and then 2-3 hours to Europe. Might be rather uncomfortable in terms of sleep. However, which would you rather connect through? Keflavik or Heathrow? No contest.

    1. The flights times are usually something like this

      European arrivals into KEF around 14:30?
      Depart KEF 15:00-DEN 17:30
      Depart DEN 18:30-KEF 5:40
      European departures at 6:30?

      Connections should be perfect (somewhere around 45 min both ways)

  11. DEN is actually the first Icelandair gateway that otherwise has limited European service. So, they’ll only be up against LH and BA for European service. If you’re flying to anywhere west/north of FRA, or wish to avoid the hassle that is LHR, KEF is certainly a worthy option.

    I’ve always wondered how Icelandair could be successful in the U.S. markets they serve… but the strategy of entering markets with otherwise limited TATL service, such as DEN, actually makes sense to me.

  12. Great idea! They should advertise the time advantages of the polar route. If you need to change to your European destination, the KEF airport is a delight. You usually have an hour to stretch, use the facilities, and maybe purchase a bottle of their local “fire-water.” The switch is clean, convenient, and none of the chaos of LHR or FRA. People in both directions will benefit.

  13. This may work in cities like Denver that have limited trans Atlantic service. Maybe Icelandair should come to Phoenix, too. It’s 3614 nm to KEF, so a 757 might just make it. If this works, it might also open a door to Asia via Anchorage? Haneda is only 3011 nm from ANC, Beijing is 3442. I think those are within the range of a 757. I’m not sure about the exact range figures (I seem to remember a figure somewhere near 4000 nm) and I realize range is also affected by weather, winds, loads, etc.

  14. Iceland is an amazing place, I’ve recommended it to many people, and those with a sense of adventure made the trip and loved it. Expensive as all hell. I wish FI flew somewhere else when I went. Non-reving them out of BWI or JFK was never easy. I still think that DEN-KEF is awfully long for a 757, but then again, most of it is not ETOPS territory. Always wanted to hit Greenland, but, its not a place for standby’s or for cheap bastards like me.

  15. For those flying from Denver to Europe, I imagine that in addition to the existing non-stop flights, there is already reasonable competition in frequencies at least for 1-stop flights from Air Canada, American, Delta and US Airways, which presumably would take virtually all the premium passengers.

    Denver-Keflavik is 3,500 miles long; it’s a bit of a risk to be dependent almost entirely on leisure passengers for something this long.

  16. I flew IcelandAir several times in the early 00’s. KEF is a perfect gateway to most of the major European airports without the hassle of a layover in a crowded US or European hub. I think this is where IcelandAir has a real advantage in serving the “middle america” hubs. KEF is an easy layover by comparison for those originating at airports that don’t have direct service to multiple European cities. The “weekend in Iceland” deal they sell is for the tourists, and as someone who has done that, I highly reccommend.

    1. Another note, from my experience the same rings true for Europeans heading stateside. IcelandAir can take them into smaller cities without dealing with JFK or ATL, etc. I’ve also met many Canadians that have flown to Iceland/Europe via MSP as it’s an easier path than with the major airlines.

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