Luxembourg – New York – Luxembourg

1955-2010

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Many in the United States of America and in Luxembourg recall the times when Iceland’s airline Loftleidir offered daily connections between Luxembourg and destinations in the USA. The transatlantic connection has over a half-century history.

 
Loftleiðir Icelandic Airlines was founded on March 10, 1944, as a domestic carrier operating routes from Reykjavik. Its first international route was inaugurated on June 17, 1947, linking Reykjavik and Copenhagen with a Douglas DC-4/C-54 Skymaster aircraft. In August of 1948 Loftleiðir operated its first flight from Reykjavik to New York’s Idlewild Airport (currently JFK Airport). In 1952 Loftleiðir introduced regular scheduled services between New York and Europe with a stopover in Iceland. Operating older aircraft a strategic decision was made to compete based on fares rather than speed. Loftleiðir’s first flight between Luxembourg and New York took place on May 22, 1955.
 On August 1, 1973, Loftleiðir and Flugfélag Íslands merged to form Icelandair. 

 The Luxembourg-Reykjavik-USA service persisted until January 9, 1999, when Icelandair dropped Luxembourg from its network.
 
Loftleiðir first Douglas DC-4/C-54 Skymaster
The Skymaster operating the first flights would take some 23 ½ hours to complete the trip, flying the route Luxembourg-Reykjavik-Gander-New York. The first year a mere 589 passengers boarded the flights in Luxembourg.
Canadair CL-44J TF-LLG at JFK Airport ca. 1965
With the introduction of DC-8 aircraft on June 1, 1970, annual passenger volumes increased to a record 250,000 individuals. In 1979, Luxembourg accounted for 223,000 passengers of Icelandair’s annual traffic; that volume plummeted to 123,000 in 1980.
With the introduction of new destinations in the USA, traffic increased again to 249,000 passengers by 1987, only to drop again two years later to 107,000. Introducing flights from Iceland to Germany and France, by that time, Icelandair operated only one daily flight between Luxembourg and Reykjavik, as a feeder for Icelandair’s flights to US destinations out of Reykjavik. Traffic continued to drop, bottoming out at around 80,000 annual passengers by 1998, leading to the management’s decision to cancel the route in January of 1999. Over its 43 years of operation the airline carried in excess of 5 million passengers between Luxembourg and the New World.
 
 As I was working for Luxair at Luxembourg’s airport during the early seventies, we referred to Loftleidir as Hippie Express. At the time, flying Loftleidir from the USA to/from Luxembourg seemed like a rite of passage for young Americans, including future President Bill Clinton, discovering Europe between graduation and adult endeavors in life, like getting a job. For most travelers Luxembourg was not a destination, but merely an entry point to the old world to be explored by bus, train, car or hitchhiking for many weeks. For many descendants of immigrants from Luxembourg in the United States the route was a valued link with the land of their ancestors.

The last flights between Luxembourg and New York, by Boeing 757, took 9 ½ hours plus a one hour layover in Keflavik. The decision to abandon Luxembourg from its network was prompted by declining passenger volumes which can be attributed as a consequence of the Carter administration’s Airline Deregulation Act of October 24, 1978, aimed at removing government control over fares, routes and market entry from commercial aviation. Over the next decades, a ruinous competition over the coveted transatlantic routes ensued with airlines accruing billions of dollars in losses.

In October of 1998, an airline named Solid’Air announced plans to commence operations from Luxembourg to the USA and Caribbean by the end of the year using Airbus A310-300 aircraft on lease from Lufthansa. Later the startup was postponed to the spring of 1999. That endeavor never got off the ground.
 

Luxair In Flight Magazine Cover 1999 
 

In March of 1999 Luxair, Luxembourg’s airline, attempted to fill the void left by Icelandair’s withdrawal from the Luxembourg-USA market by introducing regular scheduled flights between Luxembourg and Newark. That operation ceased in October of the same year due to lackluster demand and insufficient revenues compared to the cost of the operation.
 
Next in line was the Romanian airline Tarom, inaugurating twice-a-week flights between Luxembourg and New York (JFK) on March 22, 2002. The short-lived venture was terminated on May 29, 2002. 
On June 2, 2010, Iceland’s low-fare airline Iceland Express commenced a twice-a-week (Tuesday and Thursday) service connecting Luxembourg with Reykjavik, Iceland with an onward connection to Newark. For the time being the operation is limited to the summer of 2010 (3 months).
As announced, Iceland Express ceased the Luxembourg – Reykjavik – New York operation on August 31, 2010. The experiment was not conclusive. The service will be moved to the Hahn, Germany airport.  
 

© 2010 Fausto Gardini, Jacksonville, Florida
A version of this article was first published in:
Luxembourg News of America of Skokie, Illinois No.7, Vol. 43. July 2010
 
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