FIRST IMPRESSIONS There was only one person ahead of me at the Icelandair business class (Saga) check-in at San Francisco International Airport as I arrived to check in for my 2335 flight to London via Reykjavik. My bag was checked through to London and I was given an invitation to the Air France lounge and warned to allow 10 minutes to get from the lounge to the gate. The first challenge was finding the lounge in the warren of corridors and unmarked doors beyond security. I walked past it the first time because the door was closed and marked only by a discreet plaque, and when I did get in, I was disappointed. It was 2130 and I was hoping for a light supper in the lounge, allowing maximum time to sleep on board, but there were only crackers, packaged cheese, biscuits and crisps. There were hot, cold and soft drinks and a range of wines, beer and spirits. There was one TV and a segregated area with two computers, neither of which was working. There were no newspapers or magazines.
BOARDING I didn't wait to be called to the gate, and when I got there most of the passengers had boarded.
THE SEAT The seats on this B767-300 were configured 2-2-2 across six rows, and reclined to a comfortable angle for sleeping, but lacked footrests. When I asked the attendant she said there should be a footrest and was mystified as to why my row of seats was the only row without. Despite this I slept for about four hours, wrapped in the soft blanket and with a small pillow for a headrest.
THE FLIGHT The flight time to Reykjavik was 8 hours, 30 minutes. The cabin crew offered a choice of drinks, and amenity kits in attractive navy bags. We took off on time and meals were served promptly with a choice of three white wines, three reds, a sparkling wine and champagne on offer. The crew were generous with water top-ups. Entertainment consisted of a range of audio channels and a portable Dig E player (available on flights from Orlando and San Francisco only and in economy class at a cost of $15; £8.30).
The eight movies contained some recent releases, TV series and music, but would have benefited from more sophisticated noise-cancelling headphones.
I was woken for breakfast an hour before landing and offered a choice of omelette with sausage, egg and ham or pancakes with syrup. I chose the sausage and omelette, which was lacking a sausage – just an onion patty and rubbery egg.
ARRIVAL We arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule at 1445, at the pristine Reykjavik International Airport.
LOUNGE After passing through passport control, I went to Icelandair's lounge. It was sleek and stylish with segregated seating areas and a large business centre with three large desks, all with phones, plus a fax and printer.
A separate bar and high stools had four computers with free internet access. There were two TVs showing news and a selection of international newspapers and magazines. I could easily have whiled away more than my one hour and 20-minute wait. The buffet consisted of sandwiches, crisps and snacks, and there was a large platter of delicious fresh salmon. The flight was called and I had to pass back through passport control (which, thankfully, had only one short queue) to reach the gate.
BOARDING We were still boarding at our scheduled take-off time of 1610, but were in the air just 15 minutes later.
THE FLIGHT The 24 business class seats on this 757-300 were configured in a 2-2 arrangement and all were occupied. Before take-off I had a glass of champagne and was handed an enticing menu offering a foie gras terrine appetiser and a choice from proscuitto-wrapped cod with vegetables, tandoori chicken salad or goats' cheese-stuffed Portobello mushroom, rounded off with double chocolate cake.
I chose the cod, which was delicious, and washed it down with a fresh Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. I was surprised to find that my seat not only reclined generously, but had a footrest, making it more comfortable than the seat I had just spent eight and a half hours in on the journey from San Francisco.
ARRIVAL We arrived over Heathrow in a thunderstorm and circled for 20 minutes until the captain announced, to audible groans from the cabin, that Heathrow was closed due to the storm and we had been diverted to Luton. We landed at Luton at 2055, 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival at Heathrow, and stopped some distance from the terminal.
The captain explained that with no ground crew at the airport it would be some time before we disembarked. A bus arrived an hour later to ferry us to the terminal. Baggage arrived an hour later, at 2255, to the sound of noisy applause. Coaches were arranged for transit passengers.
VERDICT Icelandair's business class was faultless on the short hop between Reykjavik and London, and despite the two-hour delay at Luton I was home just after midnight. The long-haul business class product felt more like premium economy because of the seats, but the fare reflects this. For travellers wanting to travel in an upgraded class to and from San Francisco it's a feasible option.