Although I live in Central Florida, I grew up in the heart of the English countryside, where all of my family still lives. Having my whole family living 4,000 miles away means that I travel backwards and forwards across the Atlantic at least once a year, if not more often – and oh how I hate that journey! As I’ve mentioned before, I really don’t like to fly (read this post for more tips on dealing with fear of flying) and two of my biggest fears are flying over water, and flying at night. Unluckily for me, flying from the US to the UK is typically an overnight flight, and obviously there’s quite a lot of water involved! I spend most of those 7-hour flights watching out the window in hopes that it might get light soon, or that I might see something to indicate we’re now over land, and get absolutely no sleep! Recently, a friend (who feels the same way about flying as I do!) suggested an alternative to this long trip: a stopover in Iceland, and this month, we decided to give her suggestion a try. This past Wednesday, we flew from New York’s Newark airport to Birmingham, England, via Reykjavik, Iceland, and in two weeks we’ll be doing the return journey, this time with two days in Iceland. The trip was an absolute success, and I’ve already decided that this will be the only way we cross the Atlantic in the future! Read on to find out why!
Why we chose a stopover in Iceland
Airline options for a stopover in Iceland
When I started researching this trip, it became clear that we had two options for airlines; IcelandAir and Wow Air. Both airlines offered very reasonable prices; we are used to paying around $1,000 per person for round trip transatlantic flights between the US and the UK, and we found both of these airlines came in at about half of that price; we paid a little less than $1,000 on IcelandAir for one adult, one child, and one lap infant round trip New York to Birmingham in the middle of the summer travel season. The big difference I found between the two airlines was that Wow Air is considered more of a budget airline, and you’ll have to pay extra for checking a bag and selecting a seat in advance. The prices for Wow Air looked cheaper initially, but once all of those charges were factored in, the prices worked out to be about the same.
We had a great experience with IcelandAir, and wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. The planes were comfortable, the flight attendants were friendly, and while we were inevitably delayed leaving Newark (I swear I have never, ever left that airport on time!) we made up the time in the air and landed right on schedule.
Our flight from Newark to Reykjavik took 4 hours and 45 minutes, which seems to be about typical for that route. We left Newark at about 9.15pm, and the fact that we were flying further north than I’m used to made for an interesting flight. At this time of year, Iceland experiences very few hours of darkness, and spends most of the time in daylight. This meant that taking this flight in the summer, the sky never truly darkened; the sun was setting as we departed New York, and instead of the sky eventually going pitch black, the sun just came right back up again! It was extremely odd to fly with bright sunlight streaming in at what should have been about midnight according to my body clock, but it meant that I didn’t have to worry about flying in the dark! Obviously this wouldn’t happen if you were taking this flight in the winter, but for a summer flight, not having to fly in darkness was so perfect for me! We were also over water for less time than usual, since we flew up over Canada, Greenland, and then came in to Iceland; this made me very happy!
We had a layover of less than 2 hours in Iceland, and this made me very nervous; I was picturing myself running, Home Alone style, through the airport, carrying the baby and the stroller and all of the bags, while screeching at my 4-year old to run faster and keep up. I assumed we would have to go through immigration, and perhaps even have to collect our bags and recheck them. I was also pretty concerned about the language barrier! As we were landing in Reykjavik, I was trying to gather all of our things together and rouse two very sleepy children, in preparation for our mad dash.
In reality, there was plenty of time; we didn’t have to go through immigration or collect any bags, and everything was in English. We entered the terminal, looked for our connecting flight, found the gate, had time to get a snack and a drink, and then boarded our connecting flight with no issues. We even managed to find a bathroom! The flight from Reykjavik to England was just over 2 hours long, and we all slept the whole way; we were exhausted! We arrived in England just before lunch time, and all of our bags managed to make it as well!
If you include the layover, then the actual journey time does of course end up being longer than it would be if you flew direct but for me, being able to fly in relative daylight and over less water meant I definitely felt less jet-lag and enjoyed the flights a lot more. The kids handled the different flights and the layover like champs, and went right back to sleep on the second flight as if they hadn’t even been woken up. I will say that trying to navigate Reykjavik airport with sleepy kids was less than ideal, especially since IcelandAir wouldn’t let me have my stroller during the layover (it was checked at the gate, but checked right the way through to England) but it wasn’t a huge deal.
Spending time in Iceland
We fly back to the US in two weeks time, and this time, we’ll be spending two days in Iceland. When we booked our flights with IcelandAir, one of the options was a stopover in Iceland at no extra cost, and I figured this would be a great way to see a new country (plus who wants to have a layover in a country and not actually get to experience it?!) We’ve got a little less than 48 hours in Reykjavik, and we’ve got some amazing things planned, including a whale watching trip, and a trip to the to see the Hallgrimskirkja Church (you can now read more about our 24 hours in Reykjavik with kids in this post here!)
So what did we think of this new way for us to cross the Atlantic? We loved it! This will probably be my go-to when we look at booking trips between the US and the UK, and if we find that we love Iceland (and I can’t imagine that we won’t!) we’ll stop over there again in the future.