First Icelandair flight arrives at PHL

Icelandair's glacier themed airplane, Vatnajokull, named for Europe's largest glacier, will be in Philadelphia Tuesday May 30 for the city's inaugural flight to Reykjavik.

Scenic landscapes, geysers, ice caves, volcanoes, and the Northern Lights.

Philadelphia’s geographical reach just got wider.

Iceland’s first nonstop flight to Philadelphia International Airport landed about 15 minutes early at 6:56 p.m. Tuesday to cheers and a water-canon salute on the airfield. The return flight from Philadelphia to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, did not go as well.

“We have been growing a lot in recent years, and we are now up to 18 North American gateways,” said Birkir Holm Gudnason, CEO of Icelandair, who arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport from Reykjavik on Sunday evening. “We have good frequency on the East Coast. We thought Philadelphia was missing.”

Icelandair’s glacier themed airplane, Vatnajokull, named for Europe’s largest glacier, was in Philadelphia on Tuesday for the city’s inaugural flight to Reykjavik.

Gudnason and the mayor of Reykjavik, Dagur B. Eggertsson, spent two days touring Philadelphia. Mayor Kenney hosted a dinner for them Monday. The visitors, including tourism and convention officials from Iceland, joined PHL airport staff and passengers at Gates A4-A6 to welcome the inaugural flight and then boarded the plane for the return trip to Iceland.  Kenney was also aboard that flight.

Late Tuesday night, however, the flight was diverted to Boston due to a technical problem, according to Icelandair. A rubber smell was detected on the aircraft, the airline told people asking questions on social media about the diversion. Further information about the technical issue wasn’t disclosed.

Icelandair said a new flight would depart Boston at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and land in Iceland at 1:30 a.m.

The website FlightAware.com showed the plane making an unexpected turn at 10:47 p.m. By 10:54 p.m., the website reported that the flight had been diverted to Logan International Airport, where it landed about 12:30 a.m.

Late Tuesday night, Icelandair tweeted: “We’re sorry for the inconvenience, we hope we can get you back on your way as soon as possible.”

Icelandair was responding to Philadelphia Magazine reporter Victor Fiorillo, who was on the flight with Kenney and had posted on social media about the mid-air U-turn.

“Additionally, PHL Airport regrets the inconvenience to all those on board,” said Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Kenney. “We and Icelandair are committed to doing all we can to ensure future travelers have a smooth travel experience on this new route. This is obviously very out of the ordinary.”

If the land of the midnight sun beckons, the airline is offering a sale fare starting at $399 round-trip through 11:59 p.m. Thursday for travel Aug. 16 to Sept. 20 on its website.

“This is a significant day for us at the airport,” Philadelphia airport CEO Chellie Cameron said. “It’s the first new international flag carrier to begin service here since 2014,” when Qatar Airways began a daily flight to Doha.

Iceland has become a hot tourist destination, and “for Philadelphians to be able to get there nonstop is great,” Cameron said. The number of foreign travelers to Iceland has been up 25 percent to 40 percent annually in recent years.

“Tourism is growing, but from a very small number,” said Eggertsson, Reykjavik’s mayor. “So, you can still experience unspoiled nature and the vistas of the highlands. One of the competitive advantages of Reykjavik is being very close to nature. That’s why a lot of people come.”

Once in Iceland, travelers can stop over and then fly to more than 25 destinations in Europe. Passengers can stay for up to seven days at no additional cost on flights between North America and Europe. Flights are timed to arrive in Reykjavik around 5 or 6 a.m. with connections an hour later throughout Europe.

Icelandair’s 30 planes are named for volcanoes. In honor of the airline’s 80th anniversary, the 183-seat Boeing 757-200 that arrived  Tuesday is named for Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. The exterior is hand-painted to resemble the glacier. The plane’s interior has icy-blue ambient lighting and texts from old Icelandic sagas, or literature, on the seats and napkins.

The interior of Icelandair’s glacier-themed airplane, Vatnajokull, which will be in Philadelphia on Tuesday. The icy blue ambient lighting is designed to resemble the inside of a glacier.

Among the passengers on the first flight were Justin Jackson, 34, and Kristin Hunzinger, 29, of Milwaukee, who said they had been tracking the airfares to Iceland for months when they found “an incredible deal.”

The couple paid less than $100 for two to fly Frontier Airlines to PHL and then $390 round trip to Iceland.

“It’s a place that we wanted to go for years, so we jumped on it,” Jackson said. “We didn’t know that it was the first flight.”

Hunzinger said, “We just got lucky.”

The route will be seasonal to start, four days a week through Sept. 20. If ticket sales are strong, the airline said, it will consider making the service year round.

“If it’s on your bucket list, go, because the more we can support this flight, the greater chance we have of getting this service year around and seven days a week,” Cameron said.

Iceland’s oldest airline, founded in 1937, was known in the 1960s and ’70s as “the hippie airline,” said Gudnason, the CEO. “A lot of people flew us from New York to Luxembourg with a stopover in Iceland. We were a low-cost carrier at that time and had the lowest fares to Europe.”

The airline today is “more of a hybrid carrier, like JetBlue,” Gudnason said. “We’re between the low-cost and legacy carriers. We offer WiFi on board, personal in-flight entertainment systems, and we have Northern Lights in the lighting system.

“We always want to create an experience that we are not just flying from A to B,” the CEO said. “We have Icelandic food on board, and Icelandic music. We are very proud to be from Iceland, so we want you to feel, when you are onboard our aircraft, that you are already in Iceland.”

The 5½-hour route to Reykjavik will depart Philadelphia International on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:35 p.m., arriving the next morning at 6:10 a.m. The return flight will depart Keflavik International Airport at 5 p.m. on those days, arriving in Philadelphia at 7:15 p.m. the same day.