Play: Iceland’s new budget airline offers transatlantic flights

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On Wednesday, a low-budget Icelandic airline named Play will debut in the United States, less than a year after launching in Europe. Its maiden flight will travel from Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport to Iceland’s Keflavik Airport, the same route another low-cost carrier took before its abrupt collapse in 2019.

In many ways, Play’s business model is similar to Wow Air’s: it flies from the United States to a constellation of destinations in Europe, connects via Iceland, and charges for all the extras, such as carry-on baggage. , seat assignments and bottled water. . However, the carrier hopes the resemblance ends there.

The United States gained three new budget airlines last year. We have flown them all.

“We were born after the collapse of Wow, from a group of people who worked for Wow and saw the mistakes that were made,” said Birgir Jonsson, chief executive of Play and former deputy chief executive of Wow. “We’re a completely different animal, although maybe the brand look and approach is similar.”

The airline, which took off last June with a flight to London Stansted, serves nearly two dozen European destinations from its Icelandic hub. It will expand its presence in the United States in the coming months – at Boston Logan on May 11; Stewart International, in New York’s Hudson Valley, on June 9; and Orlando International from Florida on October 1. The company has six Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft, which are split equally between transatlantic and intra-European routes. It will gradually increase its fleet to 10 planes next year, a dozen in 2024 and 15 in 2025. Jonsson said he will also add more points to his map along the east coast of North America, but not at the speed or extent of Wow.

“Wow was a solid company until it grew too quickly and overtook itself and started operating jumbo jets flying from Iceland to LA to India,” Jonsson said. “We started slowly and built our operation during the difficult times of covid, but our goal has always been to get the US operation started. The geographical location of Iceland is really advantageous for connecting Europe and the United States.

Think bringing carry-on luggage for a two-week trip is difficult? Only try to pack 11 pounds.

Low-cost airlines were successful on short distances (see Allegiant, Ryanair) but stumbled on more expensive transoceanic routes (see Wow, Norwegian Air). “The model never worked on transatlantic flights,” said Edward Russell, who covers the airline industry for Skift. One of the biggest challenges for airlines is attracting passengers during periods of slow travel. Empty seats can hit carriers that charge below the standard fare particularly hard. “The truth is, anyone can fill a plane in July and August,” he said, “but how does he fill planes in the winter?”

The game could bring travelers out of hibernation – or hiding – with its low fares. Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, researched nonstop flights from Washington to Iceland in early June and found that Play consistently beat other carriers: $408 versus $538 on Icelandair, for example. “Play has the cheapest flights,” he said. “Even with a fee, you’ll come out a winner.”

Keyes said the airline’s additional charges are “not outrageous,” but they can add up. A la carte prices are based on several factors, such as the number of flight segments or legs, the destination’s season (high or low) and when you purchase the extras (when booking the flight, after the transaction or at the airport).

On a BWI flight to Iceland in May, for example, a carry-on bag with priority boarding costs $33.15 and a checked bag costs $43.35 each way. Although all seats are economy class, passengers can choose the pitch or amount of space between the seatbacks. Prices range from about $5 to $41, and aisle, middle, and window seats in each row cost the same. Items on the food and drink cart range from $1 for Icelandic water to around $4 for Icelandic chocolate with caramel and sea salt to almost $10 for a vegan wrap with falafel and date chutney.

In-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi won’t cost a krone, as Play doesn’t offer that either, at least for now. Jonsson said he didn’t want to charge passengers for a substandard product and expected less glitchy service.

Keyes is cautiously optimistic about Play’s ability to avoid Wow’s fate and applauds his initiative, especially in these volatile times. “I’m glad to see them taking that risk,” he said. “It’s a benefit for cheap flight enthusiasts around the world.”

Russell, however, is more circumspect. “I would steal Play this summer,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to go away overnight – yet.”

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.

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