You Definitely Don’t Want to Use the @Icelandair Stopover Program

I hate to dwell on the negatives of such an incredible trip to Europe, but I thought I’d offer an update about my experiences with Icelandair. In short, it would be a mistake to choose Icelandair as your means of travel to Europe and a huge mistake to use their Stopover program unless you want to risk throwing away a lot of money on travel you won’t get to experience.

As I wrote last week, Icelandair badly handled a cancellation on my return to the U.S. The morning of my return trip—a trip which was to include a 27-hour stopover in Iceland—I received notice that my flight from Amsterdam to Iceland had been canceled. The key detail is that I did not receive that notification from Icelandair. Instead, I had a Google Alert that I later confirmed on a Flight Status tracker.

I immediately contacted Icelandair through its online customer service channels to confirm the cancelation and see what their rebooking plan was. Two hours and forty minutes later, they began their response: a mess of dropped conversations, an actual rebooking on the canceled flight, and blaming me for not providing contact information which, of course, I had, not only when I booked, but when I checked into the flight the night before.

While I was waiting for customer service to respond, I called Expedia, where I had booked the ticket. The customer service agent there, hours after the flight had been canceled, had not received notice from Icelandair about the cancellation and actually confirmed it by checking the same websites I had visited. In fact, Expedia was only able to send me an official cancellation notice at 11:08, just two hours before I should have been checking in for my flight. This, despite the fact that third-party flight trackers were aware at least six hours earlier.

Eventually, I was rebooked on a KLM flight back to Seattle. While flying KLM was a real pleasure, with comfortable service and incredibly helpful staff from the baggage claim to the gate in New York, there was a catch. The flight did not include my planned stopover in Iceland.

And that’s where the practical advice not to book an Icelandair stopover comes in. While I was fortunate and only had to cancel (and pay for) relatively inexpensive lodging and a more expensive rental car, it’s easy to see how a family traveling to Iceland could easily lose thousands of dollars on lodging, tours, and cars. Iceland is a wonder to visit, but it’s an expensive wonder that needs to be booked far in advance. For someone who hasn’t had the chance to visit Iceland or who wants to experience it again for a brief visit, the stopover program looks incredibly appealing, but if you can’t count on the airline to deliver you to the island, it’s an expensive risk not worth taking.

In this case, I only incurred the expense of a canceled rental car and lodging and an extra hotel night in Seattle, but it’s easy to see how someone could spend far more, given that in peak season, even basic hotel rooms go for $200-$300/night in Iceland.

Now, you’re probably thinking that Icelandair would try to make a situation like this right. That’s what I was thinking, despite the inept customer service response Today, I received this reply, complete with a false apology, to my “expedited” customer service request:

Thank you for contacting Icelandair Customer Relations, please accept our apologies for the late reply.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to you by the schedule change of your flight in July. Please be informed that under the EB regulation 261/2004 it states that when a schedule change is made to a flight with more than 14 days in advance, the airline is not liable to pay compensation for the delay. As your schedule change was made in January 6 month advance, we must respectfully deny your request of any compensation. The same must apply to all our passengers that are affected by this delay.

Expedia was aware of this in January and should have informed you.

In regards to loss of prepaid services, we wish to advise you that as no contract was in place between Icelandair and those services, we can not be held accountable for any excess expenses incurred or financial loss due to thos services. We thus kindly advise you to contact your travel insurances regarding this matter.

The customer service agent is right about one thing. My flight did change in January, a change I accepted and was aware of. It also changed in February, a change I accepted and was aware of. Neither of those changes had any bearing on the fact that Icelandair cancelled my flight after I checked in 24 hours before the flight in July, of course, so the expedited customer service response is not only a non sequitur, but it’s a deeply dishonest response from an airline that has repeatedly failed to treat a customer with respect.

And, in the end, this is why I recommend you consider other options to visit Iceland. It’s not just that Icelandair has canceled the last two flights I’ve taken with them with almost no notice and with very poor communication, as cancellations happen. It’s not that their customer service made me wish that I had booked on a real budget airline where I would have been treated better. It’s that—given their inability to get flights where they belong, their unwillingness to accept responsibility, and their desperate effort to deflect responsibility from EU guidelines that mandate compensation for passengers—you could very well end up with an expensive trip you don’t get to experience.

Get yourself to Iceland. Just make sure that you take an airline other than Icelandair unless you want to risk incredible expense and time-consuming frustration.