Northern murk

Iceland Express has been mentioned in dispatches before. In 2011 it had an eyecatchingly poor record of reliability (though this had improved as 2012 progressed).  And it has also been notable for its business model – it sells flights but doesn’t actually operate them itself – leasing in aircraft and crew from other airlines to operate them instead.

The holding company of Iceland Express owned a couple of real airlines, including Astraeus in the UK, but it let these go bankrupt. Until yesterday, Iceland Express flights were being flown by aircraft belonging to Czech Airlines.

Meanwhile, less than twelve months ago, some senior staff of Iceland Express left to start their own airline, WOW air. There was some speculation at the time that, in the end, the two companies would get “back together” at some point. There was even a scurrilous suggestion that WOW air would take over Iceland Express at the end of the summer season and allow Iceland Express to disappear leaving any debts unpaid.

Yesterday it was announced that WOW air has bought Iceland Express, in a deal that was “not a merger”, to quote the press release. Later on in the day Isavia (the company that runs Iceland’s airports) impounded a Czech-owned Airbus A320 because of unpaid airport fees.

What more can one say? We naturally wish Wow air every success in the future.

Iceland Express coming back to Edinburgh

Despite earlier statements to the contrary, the Icelandic media reports that Iceland Express is reintroducing flights to Edinburgh this summer, with a twice weekly service. It will also start services between Reykjavik and Prague and Vilnius.

The least punctual airline in the world?

According to this report, in an overview conducted by the Icelandic airport administration, Iceland Express was the least punctual airline serving Keflavik International Airport in 2010, with only 36% of its flights on schedule during June, July and August of last year.

Rather fewer than a dozen airlines serve the airport even at the height of summer, so the fact they were the least punctual is not terribly significant, but the 36% on-time figure is a truly dismal statistic by any measure. The fact that the airline is still in business seems miraculous, and might lead one to suppose that Iceland Express has taken the intervening period to sort things out.

But not a bit of it. The airline’s time-keeping troubles continue, with lacklustre management apparently out of its depth. Stories of delays, lost bags and lack of any communication with passengers have appeared regularly this summer. And last Friday one of their planes (all operated by UK-based but Icelandic owned Astraeus) failed a safety spot-check at Paris which led to to delays of over 24 hours.

The airline claimed that their long-suffering passengers were kept abreast of developments, but none of those interviewed by the French media seemed to have received any information whatsoever from the airline. To cap it all, not enough hotel rooms were booked for the overnight delay which meant complete strangers had to share beds.

There’s form here – Iceland Express has been  mentioned in dispatches by Inside Traveller on more than one occasion, most recently over its falling out with UK tour operator Discover the World.

Is Iceland Express the least punctual airline in the world? Well, that prize may possibly lie in sub-Saharan Africa or the wrong end of Sulawesi. But amongst airlines active in the UK market (promoting cheap fares to the USA as well as Iceland), they may be leaders of the pack. Be warned!

Volcanic ash fallout close to source

Ironically, over the last six weeks or so Iceland has got off remarkably lightly from the disruption caused by its temperamental volcano Eyjafjall. Now, however, the fallout begins to settle. Icelandair’s forward bookings are a staggering 75% DOWN on previous years and Iceland Express has delayed its new Gatwick-Akureyri service until 2011. The airline also appears to have pulled its Birmingham-Reykjavik service, due for launch 6th June.

However, for the intrepid traveller tempted to visit Ultima Thule, there is a silver lining to this dire situation: 1) Iceland remains comparatively affordable since the 2008 crash, 2) there is a conveniently accessible world-class volcano belching in the background, and 3) you’ll have the place to yourself. In other words, there’s never been a better time to visit!

By the way, there are some great pix here.

A price war in the making

Iceland’s second airline, (not so low-cost) Iceland Express has just announced plans to start flights four times a week to JFK next summer from Reykjavik.  Also just today, it has been reported that (perhaps in response to above news) Icelandair plans to boost capacity next summer by 10%. If – and it is a bit of an “if” – either or both these developments pan out, there might be some tasty deals in the offing for transaltlantic travellers departing from UK airports served by these carriers.