Short layover in Reykjavik? How short is too short?

Short layover in Reykjavik? How short is too short?

I’m starting to see it more and more when I search for flights from North America to Europe. Connections through Reykjavík on Icelandair always seem to be the cheapest option, but it usually comes with a catch (tight connections). Is it really a catch though? How short is too short of a layover in Reykjavík?

In my experience, short layovers in Reykjavík (as little as 1 hour) are no big deal.

Even when traveling from North America to Europe (a situation in which you will need to pass through passport control upon arrival in Iceland), a one hour layover it’s perfectly OK. The lines move quick.

The reason why short layovers are ok in Reykjavik

I was really nervous the first time that I flew to Reykjavík, since I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, I quickly learned that it’s an amazing airport for making onward connections. I also learned that it’s very difficult to pronounce properly, but that’s a topic for another post…

The main advantage that the Reykjavík Airport has over others is its small size. It’s a tiny 1-terminal airport, and you won’t have to walk far to reach your connecting gate.

Also, the majority of the passengers who pass through Reykjavík are connecting to other flights. The Airport Authority understands this, and have designed the passenger experience to be as efficient as possible. I’ve been through it several times, and I can assure you that short layovers of at least an hour are no big deal at KEF.

passengers arriving at KEF
Moments after arriving in KEF after a great flight in Icelandair 767-300 economy. It was 5am, I was freezing cold, and I had no idea what to expect. Long story short: I lived to blog about it.

What is the minimum amount of time for a layover in Reykjavik?

Although you could probably do it in less time, the shortest amount of time I recommend for a layover in KEF is one hour. Remember – this is a hub airport for Icelandair, and at peak times, the airport fills up fast with connecting passengers. It gets crazy at times.

If your inbound flight is timed to arrive at one of those peak hours, you’re going to need at least an hour to get through the connection process.

Note that some passengers will need to go through passport control and customs for their onward connections. It all depends on where you’re arriving from and departing to. For example:

If you are Connecting from North America to the UK or Ireland (or vise versa):

Passengers coming from the United States or Canada and connecting to flights headed for the UK or Ireland will not need to go through passport control and customs (because you are not entering the Schengen area). In this instance, a short layover of 45 minutes is all you really need.

If you are Connecting from North America to Europe (or vise versa):

Passengers coming from the United States or Canada and connecting to flights to Europe will need to go through passport control. This will add extra time to your KEF layover, and I would advise nothing less than one hour.

As a reminder though, the passport control lines usually move quick. If an hour is all you’ve got to make your onward connection, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Most of the time.

KEF airport seating
One of the good things about a short layover at KEF is that you won’t have to spend much time in those horribly uncomfortable wood seats. Sure, they look nice, but my *** hurt for a solid week after sitting on one for just 45 minutes. I’ll bet that I still have grill marks…

A brief overview of the Reykjavik Airport terminal layout

The Reykjavík Airport is a little different than other airports. Not only is it small and compact (it consists of only one terminal), it’s also a two-level facility.

Basically, some flights will arrive and depart from the upper level, and other flights will arrive and depart from the lower level. It’s a little confusing to describe, but it’ll make perfect sense when you’re there.

  • All flights to and from North America and Europe arrive and depart from the A and C gates (level 2)
  • All flights to and from North America and the UK or Ireland depart from the D gates (level 1).
kef terminal map
The KEF terminal map may very well be both the simplest and the most complicated airport map that I’ve ever illustrated. Basically, all you really need to know is that there’s an upstairs and a downstairs.

Walking time between all terminals at KEF

Walking from one end of the Reykjavík Airport to the other can be done in less than 15 minutes. It’ll probably take 20 minutes with a more casual stride, but you could easily do it in 10 if you’re amped up on adrenaline in a mad rush to make your connecting flight.

Here’s how long it usually takes me at an average walking pace:

Terminal A (gates 11 to 16):

  • Terminal C (gates 21-29): 10 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 31-36): 6 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 15-16): 6 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 31-36): 8 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 21-29): 12 minutes

Terminal C (gates 21 to 29):

  • Terminal A (gates 11-16): 10 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 31-36): 4 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 15-16): 10 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 31-36): 8 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 21-29): 8 minutes

Terminal C (gates 31 to 36):

  • Terminal A (gates 11-16): 6 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 21-29): 4 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 15-16): 6 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 31-36): 8 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 21-29): 10 minutes

Terminal D (gates 15 to 16):

  • Terminal A (gates 11-16): 6 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 21-29): 10 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 31-36): 6 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 31-36): 6 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 21-29): 10 minutes

Terminal D (gates 31 to 36):

  • Terminal A (gates 11-16): 8 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 21-29): 8 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 31-36): 8 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 15-16): 6 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 21-29): 8 minutes

Terminal D (gates 21 to 29):

  • Terminal A (gates 11-16): 12 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 21-29): 8 minutes
  • Terminal C (gates 31-36): 10 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 15-16): 10 minutes
  • Terminal D (gates 31-36): 8 minutes
Terminal A KEF airport
Keep in mind that everyone walks at a different pace, so the times I listed above are an average estimate. Add 5 minutes to everything if you’ve got a bit of “no ***** given” in your swagger.

How long of a layover do you need in Reykjavik for a no-stress connection?

Whenever I’m toying with the idea of booking a flight with a connection in Reykjavík, I don’t look at any option that has a layover of 2 1/2 hours or less – even though I’ve already mentioned several times that 1 hour layovers are perfectly OK.

Air travel is stressful enough without having to worry about a tight layover, so I like to make things as casual as possible.

The Reykjavík Airport is a great place to hang out. There are lots of great restaurants, and depending on the time of day, it should be pretty easy to find an out-of-the-way corner to sit in quiet solitude.

KEF airport main terminal
For most travelers, a two hour layover is all that’s needed for a no-stress connection at KEF. And by the way, see what I mean about those deceptively-cool wooden seats? They’re everywhere!

Tips for making really short layovers at KEF

If you’re traveling between North America and Europe, and you’re looking to save money, you will inevitably be faced with the possibility of a really short layover in Iceland. It doesn’t have to be that stressful though. Here are a few tips to help get you through it:

  • Find out ahead of time whether or not you’re going to have to pass through passport control upon arrival at Reykjavík. Being mentally prepared for what you need to do will make things a lot less stressful once you arrive! And you’ll probably enjoy the flight into KEF a lot more.
  • Another thing you should do before your flight to Reykjavík is to check out the handy guide for connecting passengers on the Icelandair website. The visual diagrams they put together showing the process are extremely helpful. They saved my life before my Icelandair 767-300 flight to SFO a while back.
  • Although it may sound cheesy and cliché, staying positive and will do wonders for getting you through a stressful layover. KEF is a very efficient connecting airport. They know how to move passengers through it quickly, so trust the process and know that everything is going to be OK.

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