Icelandair Seattle Flight

@rphumphries TweetedĀ an interesting question to me this morning:

@OneMileataTime why is there always a random Iceland Air plane parked outside the Alaska hangar at SEA?

I’ve noticed the same thing, though never put much thought into it.


After doing a few minutes of research I figured out the answer… kind of. The Icelandair flight to Seattle lands at 4:40PM, while the flight back to Reykjavik leaves at 3:30PM. So the plane literally sits on the ground in Seattle for 23 hours every day.


That seems incredibly inefficient and like horrible aircraft utilization, so I did a bit more digging to figure out why they’d leave their plane sitting in Seattle for that long.

Icelandair’s business model relies heavily on passengers looking to travel from the US to Western Europe, especially in winter, when Iceland isn’t exactly a “hot” destination. Part of the reason this works so well is because Reykjavik is an easy airport to transit (compared to London Heathrow — remember that argument?) and Iceland is more or less right on the way between the US and Western Europe, so it works for them.

But part of providing efficient connections is making sure all the flights are timed properly. For example, all flights from Reykjavik to the US depart between 4:55PM and 5:10PM, while all flights from the US to Reykjavik arrive between 6:20AM and 6:45AM. This is so that the connections are timed well between the US flights and Icelandair’s ~20 destinations in Europe. After all, one of the selling points of Icelandair’s connecting service is how short the total travel time is.

So if Icelandair pushed their flight from Reykjavik to Seattle forward by ~2.5 hours or pushed the return from Seattle to Reykjavik back by ~2.5 hours the plane could do a same day turn, though it would miss all the onward connections, which more or less eliminates the point of the service for most of the year.

Still, it’s hard to imagine they can turn a profit on a flight that requires 23 hours of ground time every day…

Filed Under: Other Airlines
  1. You need to expand you calculations a bit…. statements like 23hrs of ground time a day are a bit misleading.

    Out of every 48hrs this flight is on the ground for 33hrs and is flying for 15hrs. Still not a great utilization, but better than that 1hr of flight you seem to imply :-).

  2. not unlike in the southern cone of S.America where the flights – aa’s widebody fleet spends the day there on the ground – go overnight, and set on the ground in Santiago and elsewhere all day long, before returning back in the overnight

  3. Forget about Fifth Freedoms, they could do a HNL, OGG or KOA loop during the ground time (so long as they sold seats only as part of an international itinerary). (Similar to QF’s domestic USA service.) A low-cost option to Hawaii from Europe would be interesting.

    (I doubt the maths work for Fifth Freedom or a Hawaii connection…as it would require even more crew sitting around.)

  4. LHR vs KEF in dollars and sense:
    1) Connecting in LHR between the US and EU adds a whopping $82.50 in “UB” tax on a roundtrip ticket.
    2) Connecting in KEF adds … zero, zilch, nothing to the roundtrip ticket.

  5. So if Icelandair kept prices the same or even 5$ less, they make 75$ on each ticket profit. No fuel cost, no crew cost, no maintenance down time (after all this down time).
    Another option would be to run 2 flights to the east coast and have one of the flights go on to the west coast, but then they would lose the nonstop /1 stop traffic. The time down would be less but I doubt any more efficient overall.
    AC still sells SYD_YYZ which stops in YVR and one has to go through a whole rigamarole to get back on the same plane.

  6. According to a recent Aviation Week and Space Technology article (Sept 16, 2013 pg 41), “Icelandair has found Seattle to be one their most profitable routes”. Their aircraft will also soon be staying overnight at Denver, Orlando, and Anchorage (which I find to be a truly odd route)

  7. our execs flew iceland air biz class all the time from EWR. the biz fare to the EU was way less. as founders/owners it made tons of sense to save several thou each.

  8. now that i think about it maybe they had to trek to jfk for iceland flights. can’t remember now about my previous post if it was ewr or jfk.

  9. Actually, this works extremely well for Icelandair. As you pointed out, their aircraft have very short ground times at their home base in KEF due to the hub model they operate. The extended overnights at outstations allow them to conduct their maintenance checks at those stations instead without compromising the schedule.

  10. you’re missing another efficiency angle — the crew. 23 hours allows the same crew to rest and then work the return flight the next day 23 hours later. in terms of crew efficiency, this is much more efficient use of human resources than having crew being isolated overseas for longer periods. i think they see a gain in efficiency there.

  11. Icelandair allows you to stop in Iceland on the way to or from Europe for up to 7 days at no extra charge. Good for Aurora sightings (winter) or a few days of scenic beauty (summer).

    Also, Icelandair’s one way fares to/from Europe are reasonable (not much more than half round trip fare) – so you can combine one way on Icelandair with other direction on an AA/UA one way award.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Icelandair’s coach cabin (at least as comfortable as UA E-).

  12. @ Eric FD — Sorry, might be missing something, but what’s the difference between the crew being on the ground for 23 hours vs. 25.5 hours?

  13. well i was thinking maybe they feel this is more efficient to have a sort of specific aircraft+specific crew unity (since this time arrangement allows the same crew to work the same aircraft on outbound and inbound).

    also, is SEA a slotted airport by chance?

  14. I imagine part of it might also be crew utilisation? By doing it this way, they only need one set of crew members for the return flight, as opposed to two. It would only be worth having two sets of crew if the flight is daily, I guess?!

  15. @ Phillip — Regardless of whether the plane sat on the ground for 90 minutes or 23 hours they’ll only need one set of crew per flight. They spend one night in Seattle either way.

  16. @ lucky – Agreed. What I mean is that if it is a 23 hour layover, that same set of crew will come to Seattle and leave the next day having had a rest. If the flight left after 90 minutes, they would have needed a second set of crew as the first would need to rest – regardless of whether they have to leave them behind in a hotel or have them travel as passengers back to Iceland. This wouldn’t be an issue if the flight was daily, as there is no way around it.

  17. Oops! I’ll be quiet then! šŸ˜‰ For some reason I thought it was 4x weekly! Quite a waste of aircraft utilisation then. Two aircraft a day to cover the route almost!

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *