Last week Icelandair tried something new: an 11-hour immersive theater production that took place on a flight from London to New York, with an on-the-ground bonus performance during a short layover in Reykjavik.
I got to ride along.
The cast was a mix of professional actors from the London theater group, Gideon Reeling, and real airline employees, including pilots, engineers, accountants, ground workers and cabin crew, who had volunteered to attend a special stage school.
The characters ranged from film stars and flight attendants from various decades to a perky party planner, a stone-faced volcanologist, a ram farmer and a pair of barefoot, beaded hippies. And the plot was built around Icelandair’s 80-year history, its can-do philosophy and themes of empowerment for women.
The show – such as it was – took place on board, as the characters mingled with passengers, telling stories about their role in what turned out to be a kooky and somewhat complicated family all headed to a party for Edda who (spoiler alert…) never appeared.
I’m finishing up a story for NBC News about the event, but here are some snaps from the flight.
Icelandair is celebrating its 80th birthday with a fun promotion.
The airline already allows a free stopover in Iceland, but a new Icelandair Stopover Pass offers some fun extra perks.
From now until March 2018 passengers can apply to their have their standard boarding pass into a Stopover Pass, which offers exclusive access to a series of entertaining performances on land and in the sky.
The performances range from a three-act play on board a flight from London to New York via Iceland (starring Icelandair crew members), tickets to a private concert, trips to Icelandic football matches, backstage passes to a music festival and more.
Go here to enter a contest to be on a flight September 8 from London to New York (via Iceland), during which that three-act play will be performed and to enter your name to snag a ticket to one of the special events taking place during the next year.
[My story about Iceland tourism first appeared on NBC News)
You’re not imagining it if it seems like everyone you know is either planning a trip to Iceland – or just got back.
The Nordic island nation – population 350,000 – has seen tourism numbers explode from under 500,000 in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2016, with more than 2.4 million tourists expected to visit this year.
Iceland’s stunning glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes, lava fields, geothermal pools and geysers have always been there, of course. But it took global news coverage of the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, cameo TV and film roles for Iceland’s scenery and some quirky tourism campaigns to really grab the world’s attention.
“At first it was crisis communications,” said Inga Hlin Palsdottir, Director of Visit Iceland and Creative Industries at Promote Iceland, “Our tourism industry was having difficult times after the 2008 recession and in 2010 things were just beginning to pick up. Then the volcano starting erupting right before the peak summer tourism season.”
Iceland’s tourism industry and the government banded together to try to save the summer season, eking out a tiny 0.1 increase that year. They continued to work together, with a focusing on raising Iceland’s profile as a year-round destination and getting tourists to venture outside of Reykjavik.
“Before Airbnb was even booming, we had locals invite tourists to their homes. Then we asked tourists to rename Iceland, because the country really doesn’t have that much ice,” said Palsdottir, “Now we have the Iceland Academy,” which is a series of short, offbeat videos on everything from “How to Eat Like an Icelander,” to the essential “How to Avoid Hot Tub Awkwardness.”
Now music fans want to see where Björk, Of Monsters of Men and Sigur Rós came from. TV and film aficionados want to see for themselves the Icelandic scenery that appears in hits such as HBO’s fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones,’ and the movie ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’
And going somewhere where there’s a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights is on the bucket list of almost every traveler.
Foreign and local tour operators have greatly expanded schedules and itineraries throughout Iceland and the inventory of hotel rooms and vacation rentals have grown.
Courtesy Promote Iceland
Helping to fuel in the influx of visitors from North America is the increase in air service to Iceland, especially by Wow Air and Icelandair, two Reykjavik-based airlines that route their flights through Iceland and offer passengers the option of an Iceland stopover for no additional airfare charge.
“Who doesn’t love a two-for-one deal?” said Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of Frommer’s guidebooks and Frommers.com, “Most travelers are jazzed by the idea of getting to see an additional destination on their way to Europe – and one that hugely popular right now.”
Icelandair, celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, has been promoting its stopover option since perhaps the early 1950s or mid-60s, said airline spokesman Michael Raucheisen, “We’ve always encouraged passengers to come experience Iceland for a few days, fall in love with it and come back for a full trip. And that model has worked well over the years.”
For passengers who don’t choose to stopover, Icelandair has two planes offering flyers a taste – or a tease – of the Iceland experience.
The carrier’s northern lights-themed plane was introduced in 2015 and earlier this month the airline launched a glacier-themed plane (named for Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier) that has images of the glacier hand-painted on the exterior and, inside, ice-blue lighting and headrests, cups, napkins, lavatory décor and even airsickness bags with a glacier motif.
Increasingly, you can get there from here. Here’s a round-up of some new airline routes that may help.
British Airways will begin its San Francisco – London service with an Airbus A380 next summer. The airline began A380 service between Los Angeles and London last September 2013 and starts A380 service to Washington DC in October.
Air New Zealand announced it is adding more flights to its North American routes. with additional service from Vancouver and Los Angeles to Auckland.
Starting in April 2015, ANZ will fly LAX-AKL three times daily through October. Starting in June 2015, ANZ will fly YVR-AKL five times a week through September.
Southwest Airlines will add service between Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and San José, Costa Rica, starting in March 2015.
And Icelandair announced new seasonal non-stop service from Portland, Oregon to Reykjavik, Iceland beginning May 20, 2015 and continuing through October 21, 2015.