Update: Unfortunately WOW filed bankruptcy March 28th, 2019, ending the flight between Keflavik airport and Cleveland, Ohio. However Aer Lingus now flies direct from Cleveland to Dublin, Ireland with 70+ European destinations available from Dublin
It’s been since 2009 that Cleveland had a transatlantic flight. Signs weren’t positive that we’d see another any time soon, especially after the de-hubbing of Hopkins Airport by United Airlines. But after nearly 10 years, in 2017, Hopkins was awarded with not one, but two airlines deciding to serve Cleveland with a transatlantic flight. Iceland Air initially made their announcement, then shortly after WOW Air announced, they too, will serve Cleveland with European flights through Reykjavik, Iceland. WOW, despite making the announcement after Iceland Air, launched service first. Iceland Air will launch later this month (May 2018).
First – WOW is a low budget carrier. Yes, the planes fly just fine – in fact their fleet is relatively new. However, like Spirit Air, and Frontier, when you purchase a seat you’re getting just that – a seat. Food, beverages, and luggage will all cost you extra. Don’t worry, use of the bathrooms is included in the cost of your flight. I’m going to be honest. I fly budget carriers quite often throughout Europe. I pack light and purchase food & drinks in the airport. To me, the only difference between your legacy carriers and budget carriers are the types of people flying on them.
Cleveland to Reykjavik Flight Cost
I was able to purchase my round trip flight from London Stansted to Cleveland Hopkins for a little under $500. If you play with the dates, you’ll be able to find much more affordable flights – $300-400 – to London on WOW Air, but I wanted to be on the inaugural flight. Bragging rights, I guess?
I did not purchase any luggage allowance despite being in Cleveland for a week. Before moving to London, I left behind plenty of clothes, even after making numerous donations to Goodwill. My style might be a few years out of date, but just call me a hipster.
If you do opt to purchase a luggage allowance, carry on baggage starts at $44.99 and checked bags at $64.99. The later you book the baggage in the process, the more expensive it becomes. You can see all of WOW’s optional charges on their site.
The Flight: Cleveland to Reykjavik
The total scheduled trip time from London Stansted to Cleveland was 11 hours 10 minutes, with 9 hour 40 minutes of flying time and a 90 minute layover. We ended up landing in Cleveland about 30 minutes early. This makes it a little quicker than most other London to Cleveland flights available. At best you can get a similar length trip through JFK, but risk missing the flight from JFK to Cleveland if customs is busy. Flights with layovers in Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago or Toronto will run you 13-14 hours.
My flight to Keflavik Airport was uneventful. However, remember when I said there’s a difference between the type of people flying on budget airlines? Somehow the plane turned into what I’d describe as a playpen. I would’ve preferred to read my book (Lost and Founder … what I was able to read, was very enjoyable), but between constantly being bumped into because people apparently can’t sit down for a few hours, and then the noise, it was near impossible. One such guy decided he was going to pace the aisle while reading what appeared to be legal paperwork. This meant anytime someone else was coming down the aisle, it’d be a tight squeeze.
The layover at Keflavik is an easy one. It’s not a large airport, so walking between gates is a breeze. Signage was in English, not that it matters – nearly all the staff also spoke flawless English with almost no accent.
I always like to do a fly by of the departing gate, as a bit of assurance that, well, I guess I’m at the right airport and the plane hasn’t left me behind already. In celebration of the inaugural flight, WOW Air had cake and refreshments. Many from other flights were curious what was going on. Apparently the new Cleveland flight wasn’t big news to everyone at the airport.
After confirming the flight hadn’t left me behind, I decided to browse the airport. There is a large duty free store, well stocked with Icelandic liquor and other Icelandic treats. I purchased an obnoxiously large bottle of Reyka Vodka ($39) for friends back home to enjoy when we get together. I also decided to pick up a few small, personal bottles of Icelandic gin as well.
There’s a food court type restaurant that had several different types of sandwiches and refreshments. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to explore these as shortly after purchasing my Icelandic treats, I was paged over the intercom notifying me I had been “randomly selected” for enhanced security. This lead to me being escorted up to the 2nd floor of the Keflavik Airport and taken into a side room. Good news: it did not involve the removal of my pants. Instead it was a few questions, and a wipe down test for “bomb making residue”, as another agent went through my bag. I warned it was primarily vodka and chocolate from Ukraine, that was picked up on a previous trip. A few minutes later she confirmed that yes, it was mostly vodka and chocolate that I was carrying and I was free to go.
While the enhanced security process was relatively easy, for someone who considers on time to be 10 minutes early, it was a bit stressful. I was walking up to the gate as they were calling last call for boarding. Regarding enhanced security, it seems to happen to me every time flying to the USA, though in past experiences I was stopped at Heathrow, where the checking is done right at the gate, and not in a separate room. Despite being an American, I find the USA the hardest country to travel to. I’ve never been questioned when landing in any other country – in fact, the UK has completely automated my entry, allowing me to use the e-Passport gates.
During the flight I ended up getting hungry. While the temptation to turn the plane into a party, devouring the chocolate and downing the Vodka, I decided to order a Ham & Cheese baguette. I had a bottle of water with me, so no drink purchased. The Ham & Cheese baguette was just under $10. My neighbor in my row ordered a margarita pizza for $9.49, which looked less than appetizing. She wasn’t very social, so I didn’t ask to try it. Maybe it was delicious.
I overheard others ordering drinks and they were $3.29 for soft drinks, and $5.59 for mojitos. Even with the seat & food, my total cost is at roughly $510, so I’m still well below the cost of a legacy airline, which would have run $900-1200. The baguette was … filling. I can’t give it much more credit than that. The ham was rather tasteless. The bread … was bread. The cheese was the star of the show, with a nice creamy texture and pleasant taste. Really, I didn’t expect much – any food, even if it’s fresh, and expertly prepared, isn’t going to be the best at a high altitude.
The WOW Air flight attendants were enjoyable, cracking several jokes throughout the security presentation and offer of duty free. They were active throughout the cabin, and quick to help those who turned their assistance necessary light on.
Now, I realize earlier I said, I know when traveling on a budget airline, you’re getting just a seat. However I do have one complaint: the flight from Stansted to Keflavik had on board power. The longer flight, from Keflavik to Hopkins did not have on-board power. There’s no free on board entertainment or WiFi. Instead they rent iPads preloaded with entertainment. I had my laptop and Kindle, so all was okay.
While there was another person sat in my row of 6, that was it – 2 of 6 seats filled. It was like that throughout the rest of plane. I’ve had similar transatlantic flights like this; once on Delta, out of JFK nonetheless, I swear our flight was nearly 80% empty. I suspect there is a ramp up period for a new flight, and I’m sure the city is guaranteeing a certain amount of seats sold per flight, but WOW is a business and there are many underserved routes between the USA and Europe.
I did perhaps one of the most obnoxious things I’ve ever done on a flight. Strangely, despite most others attempting to sleep on the flight, they didn’t close their window shades. Usually the captain will make an announcement to close the window shades and dim the cabin lights. It didn’t happen. Am I the only one that needs it to be dark to sleep? Naturally I assumed everyone else just didn’t know they could close the shades, and not that they were intentionally left open. So I closed them for everyone. You guys can thank me for all the uninterrupted sleep you got! With my charity work done, I too slept.
Landing in Cleveland
Finally, customs and (re)entry at Cleveland. Something I’ve never done, always landing elsewhere in the United States first. First, the flight lands at 11:30pm, meaning the airport is nearly empty already. I don’t have global entry so I did need to fill out a landing card – these basically say what flight I came in on, where I’m staying in the USA, and if I’m carrying any fruits/meat or cash above $10,000. You can blame Wolf of Wall Street for that last stipulation.
Unfortunately the customs situation was one of the worst I’ve experienced. There were 3 customs agents for the flight crew and the roughly 80 passengers on the plane. They were being extremely thorough – and a bit too friendly. It’s midnight. I want to be in an Uber on my way home, not talking about life in Europe. Please just let me go.
The next step is where things become completely illogical. After passing through customs, you need to go through airport security … TO LEAVE THE AIRPORT. Yes, removal of the belt, shoes – everything. Which meant my Icelandic Vodka was confiscated for being over 3.4 ounces. TSA I think was even a bit thrown off, with one agent asking if he really needs to take it. Apparently if it’s in a duty free tamper proof bag, it is allowed through. Mine was not, because why would it need to be? I was not the only one with this issue, as there was a 30 minute wait at security due to the number of bags set aside for further searching required.
All in all, it makes the trip from Europe to Cleveland quite a bit easier. The other passengers seemed to be primarily expats, a few students, some British and Icelanders. I hope that Clevelanders embrace the flight, and explore Europe. As well, I hope those coming to Cleveland find the people welcoming and sights worth seeing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not anymore. Sadly the flight from Cleveland to Reykjavik was cancelled by WOW Airlines on March 28th, 2019. The flight offered by Icelandair was cancelled shortly after.
A direct flight from Cleveland to Reykjavik is typically 6-7 hours. With a layover, you may need to expect that the total trip will take 10-11 hours.
Unfortunately no airlines offer a direct flight from Cleveland to Reykjavik at this time. Hopefully this will change in the near future. For now, most airlines do offer a flight with a single layover.