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If you’re flying to Iceland, in all likelihood you will be landing at Keflavik Airport, situated 30 miles from Reykjavik, the capital.
In 2015, 97.9% of all foreign visitors to Iceland land at Keflavik and the increase in arrivals reflects the overall rapid growth in tourism in Iceland. In the past five years the number of passengers traveling through Keflavik Airport has surged from 2.5 to 4.9 million with a further 37% growth estimated this year.
But it isn’t just the increase in passengers that makes Keflavik Airport exceptional but the fact that all flights that take off from there have overseas destinations. Apart from Air Iceland’s weekly summertime departures to the northern town of Akureyri (Iceland’s largest urban area outside of the capital region, population 18,000), no domestic connections are on offer. This means that a visitor from New York who wants to get on a domestic flight must first gather his luggage, drive to Reykjavik and check in again at the Reykjavik Airport, a process that takes no less than two hours.
One would be hard pressed to find another international airport where almost no domestic flights are available and judging from passenger statistics the sharp increase in visitors to Iceland has not transferred into the domestic flights sector. Rather, the years between 2011 and 2015 saw an 11% decrease in domestic passenger numbers, even at a time when the number of visitors shot from 540.000 to 1.3 million.
So, in spite of a substantial growth in the overall market, domestic flights are in a decline. At the same time car rentals and bus transport companies are flourishing since on this 40,000 square mile island, approximately the same size as the state of Kentucky, there are in most cases no alternative modes of transport such as railroads.
However, a change is imminent. Earlier this month, Air Iceland, an Icelandair affiliate, announced that from the end of February next year, the airline would offer up to six flights a week between Keflavik Airport and Akureyri. This improvement in service will open up the possibility of getting a domestic flight in connection to an international flight. This way a passenger traveling from New York to Akureyri could in fact be checking in to his hotel in Akureyri sooner than the passenger traveling straight to Reykjavik, since the drive from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik takes roughly the same time as the flight to Akureyri.
“The most pressing task facing the Icelandic tourism industry is to fully utilize our opportunities in rural areas. This new flight program is planned on a whole year basis and can help us meet that challenge. The aim is for these flights to connect with the majority of international flights to and from Keflavik Airport,” says Árni Gunnarsson, CEO of Air Iceland.
It is presumed that passengers of most, if not all, airlines will be able to make use of these connecting flights, not only passengers of the affiliate Icelandair. During summers, flights will be reduced to three per week, since Air Iceland directors predict a greater demand for flights during the cold winter months when roads can get blocked with snowfall.
Kristján Sigurjónsson is the editor of the Icelandic travel media Turisti.is. He also has a weekly radio coloumn on tourism on the Icelandic public radio (RUV).