This is the second in a series of posts covering my June/July 2018 trip to Iceland. You can read an overview of the trip here.
As noted in my last post, I had a hefty layover in Montreal en route to Iceland—more than three hours. Given how short the flight is, it makes sense that the flight doesn’t take off until close to midnight, arriving in Iceland around 8:30am local time. It’s an interesting comparison to the other two Montreal-Reykjavik flights—yes, there are three airlines that fly this route. The other two are WOW and Icelandair, though, and they clearly serve different markets. Air Canada pretty much brings Canadians and Americans to Iceland, from all over North America. Thus, the pre-5AM arrival times of the WOW and Icelandair flights would not be super-appealing. WOW and Icelandair are pretty limited in terms of where they are bringing passengers from – mostly just Montreal. Both serve other cities throughout North America to Iceland, and neither has any partners that provide connecting traffic in Montreal. But both use Iceland as a connecting point to send Quebecois onward to Europe, making a 5am arrival perfect to arrive at a final destination later that morning.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to Montreal’s airport. More than six years, as a matter of fact, which was also the last time I flew Air Canada- all of which was memorialized in a blog post about a long weekend trip to Brussels from New York. On that trip, I used my Priority Pass to spend my layover in what I recall to be a perfectly fine TD Lounge, operated by Servisair. Well the TD Lounge is no more, and now there is the Swissport-operated Banque National World Mastercard Lounge, which is new and just lovely. The friendly desk staff greeted me en Francais and took my Priority Pass no problem.
The lounge was one L-shaped big room. When you walked in, on the left, there was a woman guarding a velvet rope, next to a sign that said “Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages with Meal Only.” Not self-explanatory, but with context, I later realized it was the section people under 18 were allowed in, possibly due to some local law. Most of the rest of the lounge was chic seating, clustered in different formations, along with bar and stool seating with outlets for about 12, right in front of the buffet. It was crowded when I got there but started emptying out shortly after I arrived. There were plenty of seats and tons of outlets.
The buffet was quite hearty. There was pan tomate, a salad bar (including fresh baby mozzarella and hard-boiled eggs), and a delicious Thai chicken rice soup. Then there were some bagels and breads, followed by a hot buffet with butter chicken, turmeric rice, and ratatouille. Dessert seemed to rotate and I never caught it the brownies or cookies that got snapped up very quickly, but I did get a slice of banana bread. Was the food the best I’d had? Obviously not. But great for a Priority Pass lounge. Next to the buffet was a bar, with self-serve soft drinks, a coffee machine, and a bartender with a full range of wine, beer, and spirits.
There was a ton of staff constantly restocking the food and beverage area, which was nice but they were a bit loud and chatty. Around 10pm they started talking about last call, which they announced around 10:15pm. After I did my nighttime prep (each stall in the men’s room is a decent size changing room with sink and countertop), all the food was being carted away as well. I hadn’t realized the lounge closed at 11pm, but there really aren’t many flights that leave after that. My flight boarded at 11:05, and that was the last scheduled commercial departure of the night, so that’s fair. (There were a bunch of flights to Morocco and some random French cities around the same time.)
When I left the lounge about 15 minutes before boarding time, there were still a few folks left, but the rest of the airport was absolutely dead. The Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge was already closed and all but one food place was long closed. I did pick up a bottle of wine at duty-free so I could have something in Iceland at a reasonable price, and then I headed to the gate area.
The gate area was pretty crowded, with a passenger mix that seemed almost exclusively American. I saw a lot of US passports and heard absolutely no French. Boarding began right on time. Having paid $50 extra for a Preferred seat, I was in boarding zone 3- after business class, elites, and families with children under 6. Alas getting through the throng to board at that time was quite difficult.
The Boeing 737 MAX combines the worst of narrow body aircraft with the worst of new wide-body aircraft. Up front, Air Canada has a product that is fine for North American business class, but really looks more like four rows of transatlantic premium economy.
In coach, the seats just feel very narrow and thin. At the time I decided to splurge for Preferred seating, which is the first nine rows, the best available was the front of the two exit rows- with limited recline but a lot of leg room, which I figured would do. I hadn’t realized the armrest on the window side of that row is a weird half-thing, the seat isn’t aligned with the window, and a piece of the door cuts into your arm. There was a lot of leg room though!
At each seat, there was a blanket and a pillow. There was a personal IFE screen that started working upon boarding, which included a USB plug, and each row had an additional 2 A/C power and USB plugs. The screen showed that there would indeed be two services on the flight, despite the short length and hour. The TV and movie offerings were pretty good, with tons of new TV shows, including Barry, Riverdale, and Schitt’s Creek, and a lot of very new movies, plus a separate Pride channel for Pride Month!
The 737 Max has extra deep overhead bins, designed for suitcases to be turned on their side. There are diagrams in each bin. The FA told people as they were boarding. There were several more announcements. But people couldn’t figure it out. Sigh. Boarding took quite awhile longer that it should. One guy insisted it was “news to him” that he couldn’t put two of his large bags in the overhead bin. (One was a rollerboard, the other was a large rolling briefcase– definitely not a “personal item”. I think a lot of people ended up getting upgraded to preferred seating for free, as my row-mates’ boarding passes showed in Zone 5. Preferred had been pretty empty when I checked-in, but ended up completely full. My guess is on a route like this, there aren’t enough elites to fill those seats, but it is still a good utilization of the plane, as it can fly around Canada all afternoon and evening, and spends very little time on the ground in Iceland before turning back around.
The Montreal-based crew was friendly and competent. Soon after boarding, they came through with newspapers, and then we were pushed back right on time. As soon as the cabin lights were dimmed for takeoff, I set myself up for sleep. The provided blanket was actually pretty good and thick, but the pillow was your standard flimsy airplane pillow. I fell right to sleep, but shortly after woke to a very loud meal service. I skipped it but heard a choice of chicken or pasta. I was surprised how many people were eating given it was already well after midnight Montreal time. I got another 60 minutes of sleep after that, which was probably the best I could hope for, before another 30 minutes of sleep/wake/sleep before waking up for good 90 minutes out of Reykjavik as the crew began the breakfast/snack service.
I was wordlessly handed an individually wrapped piece of banana bread or cake or something. It was fine. A bit later, there was a beverage cart with coffee. I watched a few episodes of Barry, and then we were on the ground at 8:20, before a long taxi to the gate around 8:35.
It was pouring rain when we got there, and we just sat for what seemed like a long time. The Captain said we were waiting for a crew to hook up the jetbridge, and about 10 minutes later, they arrived. By 9:00am, I was passing through duty free where I got beer — do this you will not regret it — and my bag was already on the belt after my quick purchase.
There are three different bus services that run from the airport into the city. For all city center hotels, you need to change buses at a depot to get onto a smaller bus, since the larger ones aren’t allowed on the streets of Reykjavik. The prices and schedules are comparable, but Gray Line’s Airport Express had a drop-off at the Culture House downtown for the same price as to the depot itself. (Usually, there’s a surcharge for the continuing service to hotels.) That was about 2 blocks from the Canopy where I was staying my first night, so it worked well. The trip cost 2300 ISK, about $22.
I checked in with an agent right in the arrivals area, only to discover I had somehow bought my ticket in advance for the wrong day – the date my flight departed, not arrived – but the agent assured me it wasn’t a problem. The next bus left in about 20 minutes, so I checked email before walking out to the lot and boarding the bus. There was wifi on the bus which worked pretty well, though I couldn’t get the power plugs to work. The drive from Keflavik into Reykjavik itself is pretty long—about 45 minutes to the depot— and was kind of boring. It was mostly through flat lava fields, covered with rocks and purple flowers, which got old quick on a rainy day. The change from the big bus to the small bus was super easy, and there was no wait involved, and by 10:35, I was dropped off downtown.
In all, my flight from Montreal to Reykjavik wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, though I probably should still have splurged for the nonstop on Icelandair out of Dulles given the routing as a whole. One thing to note, although it should have, my transatlantic flights did not get credited to Avianca LifeMiles like they were supposed to. When I called, they said that it was an ineligible destination. I’m not sure what the issue was, because the DCA-YUL, YUL-DCA legs credited fine, and were in the same booking class. Rather than fight with Avianca, I just submitted a request for them to be credited to Aeroplan, which had the same 50% rate for my fare.
Tags: Aeroplan, Air Canada, Airplanes, Airport, Airport Express, Airports, Avianca, Boeing 737 MAX, Canada, Europe, Iceland, Keflavik, Lifemiles, Lounges, Montreal, Montreal Airport, Priority Pass, Quebec, Reykjavik