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Q&A: Thorsteinn Gudjonsson, general manager for Western Europe, Icelandair

Thorsteinn Gudjonsson joined Icelandair in 2015 as sales manager for Sweden. In November 2016 he was appointed as general manager for Western Europe. The airline plans to increase seat capacity by more than 10 per cent in 2017, adding frequency and new US destinations, including Philadelphia and Tampa.

What are your plans for the transatlantic market?

The basic core of our strategy is Iceland as a hub. Looking at our network, we are a medium-haul airline connecting Europe to North America and Canada.

Our flights are a maximum of up to seven hours, our fleet has been based on B757s. Next year we will have four B767s. Then from 2018 we will start to get the B737 neo Maxes in.

Looking at our two new gateways for 2017, Philadelphia and Tampa: if you take Philadelphia, for example – via the hub you have 25 gateways supporting that one destination. And, we are utilising our planes round the clock, 24/7. 

On those transatlantic business travel routes, how are you competing with the carriers who fly direct?

If you look almost all flights operating from Europe to the US, most will fly directly over Iceland. So we are not diluting the path, so to speak, even though we stop there. 

I admit that direct is direct – but still, it is a question of an hour, hour and a half. For a business traveller, frequency is the key. OK, the [other carriers] can do more frequency to the big hubs, London, Paris, New York. But look at our niche; we are going to Portland, Edmonton, Vancouver... 

And flying out of the UK regions, Icelandair has the advantage because quite a lot of the regional airports really have that many direct routes. This means you don't have to connect via Heathrow, so in these cases Icelandair is not only your fastest option, but often the most economical. 

So you're targeting the UK regions of the UK?

Yes, and you see the same happening in other areas, like in Scandinavia. That's where you can see the future for our airline.

What about competing on price and product?

A: On price, definitely we do compete. We have Saga Class [business class] Economy Comfort [premium economy] and economy. 

There is excellent entertainment onboard, and the culinary offering is excellent in Saga, which is configured 2-2. Plus good wifi, which is complimentary in Saga. When you compare the prices, the product we are offering is very good. We don't offer a flatbed in Saga Class, but if you look at our routes, it's not necessary to pay for a flatbed for a five or six-hour flight. And if you compare our Saga in price to premium economy tickets on other airlines, people are really happy with that.

Are you seeing growth in meetings & events traffic to Iceland?

Definitely. We have been working closely with Meeting Reykjavik. And we’ve always worked with our sister hotel company Icelandair Hotels, and the other hotels.  

If you look at our geographic location, you can see why we’re targeting companies with operations in Europe and North America – people can meet in the middle.

Also, from the European standpoint, it is quite convenient: for example, a company based in the UK with various branches in Scandinavia or in central Europe. You’re all landing in Keflavik airport around the same time – within an hour at most – and delegates can all take the same bus to the hotel. And the same on the way back, so you’re saving on travel days. It’s much better use of people’s time.

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