FOR four decades, Iceland has been a place where many an...

salmagundi

April 09, 1993

FOR four decades, Iceland has been a place where many an American backpacker and budget traveler headed for Europe has spent a couple of hours in transit. That's because Icelandair, that Arctic island nation's carrier, is the closest to a Greyhound bus line in the skies, offering reliable albeit somewhat Spartan service at rock-bottom prices.

A friend of ours decided to relive some of his youth and took an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik and beyond recently. Instead of a propeller flight that seemed to take forever, strong tailwinds blew him in a spanking new jet from the night of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport to the morning dusk of Iceland in 4 1/2 hours!

Keflavik, Iceland's main airport, must be one of the most peculiar hub's in today's airline industry. It was carved out of volcanic rock to serve a U.S. air base as well as civilian needs. A descent to one of its runways offers a traveler magnificent views of snow-covered lava mountains and valleys.

Iceland itself is such a small country that its total population is just over 250,000! The island was settled by Nordic explorers in the 9th century and Icelanders still speak the language of the Vikings. Among other quaint customs is the lack of family names. Every one is simply known by their first name and patronymic. Thus Gudrun Petursdottir is a woman named Gudrun whose father was Petur.

Along with New York and Orlando, Fla., BWI is one of Icelandair's American gateway cities. But the airline will soon add Fort Lauderdale to its destinations, hoping to whisk sun-starved Northern Europeans to Florida sunshine. (Icelandair's passengers seemed to be either young or senior citizens; hardly any middle-aged people were among our friend's fellow tourists).

In this age of airline consolidation, Icelandair has also announced a broad commercial and traffic cooperation agreement with SAS. That will turn Copenhagen into Icelandair's major European hub.

It will be interesting to see what that will do to Luxembourg, which has been the jumping-off point in the past for many Americans using the airline for their European excursions.

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