Flight personnel for an Icelandic airline wear winter uniforms for play.
The operation of low-cost, long-distance airlines is challenging. The airline industry is replete with the corpses of airlines that attempted to transport large numbers of people over thousands of miles at reasonable prices. However, Icelandic airline Play is currently reaping the benefits of a successful summer schedule.
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Iceland’s strategic location between North America and Europe makes it an ideal stopover for flights between the two continents that are relatively brief. Iceland is also a destination in and of itself.
What distinguishes Play from its competitors and previous failures? Play’s chief executive officer, Birgir Jónsson, cites a hub-and-spoke model that connects North America, Iceland, and Europe.
All PLAY flights make a transit in Iceland en route to the United States or Europe in order to collect passengers between destinations. The hub-and-spoke model enables Play to offer convenient service and inexpensive fares.”
From five main East Coast markets, PLAY provides service to Iceland and over thirty European destinations, including Berlin, Paris, Venice, Warsaw, Prague, Stockholm, London, Madrid, and Lisbon.
From Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), New York Stewart International Airport (SWF), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Toronto (YHM), PLAY operates flights. With connections to European destinations, PLAY offers daily flights from BOS, BWI, IAD, and SWF to Iceland.
Play recently passed the one-year mark for operations in the United States. Later this week, the airline will disclose its Q2 results.
Passengers enter an Icelandic airline’s Airbus A320.
According to a spokesperson, PLAY’s passenger load on its East Coast routes has increased by 154% compared to the first half of 2022, to over 604,000 individuals. As of June 2023, PLAY had an occupancy rate of 82.4%. In June alone, the load factor was 87.2%, and the airline carried over 160,000 passengers.
PLAY reports an 84 percent on-time arrival rate in 2023. Meanwhile, the airline reports that it has increased its fleet size to ten aircraft, introduced twenty new destinations, and employed two hundred new employees to meet rising travel demand. According to CEO Jónsson, Play is on schedule to turn a profit in 2023.
Play operates a fleet of 10 Airbus A320 and A321 Neo aircraft out of Reykjavik, Iceland. If you are flying PLAY, you should not seek seating in Business, First Class, or Premium Economy. As a genuine low-cost carrier, Play only operates economy-class aircraft.
For a low-cost carrier, everything revolves around tariffs. Even though airfares have skyrocketed this summer, Play still offers some attractive discounts.
In September and October, a round-trip Play ticket from the New York area to Reykjavik begins at just $286. The fare is subject to certain conditions. The airport serving New York City is not JFK or Newark, but Stewart, a former military base 90 minutes by express bus from Manhattan. Norwegian Airlines previously utilized the airport, which is a preference among low-cost international start-ups.
Regarding the $286 fare, this is for Play Basic. Similar to major airlines with Basic Economy, the objective is not hidden: to convince you to upgrade. The PLAY basic fare includes airfare, taxes, and one carry-on item.
Included in the $143.20 one-way PLAY fare from New York to Iceland on September 26 are the base fare, taxes, and one personal item.
The PLAY value for the same flight is $237.50, which includes the fare, taxes, one personal item, priority boarding, a carry-on bag, a 20-kilogram (44-pound) checked bag, and middle-to-rear seat selection. The PLAY flex fare ($335.64) on this flight includes all of the above in addition to a slightly larger checked bag (23 kg), seat selection throughout the aircraft (excluding XL legroom seats), and “flight flexibility.”
From Iceland, you can travel to London or Copenhagen for as little as $127 or $155 round-trip.
CEO Jónsson states, “We carefully select the destinations we serve, flying out of smaller, more convenient airports such as New York Stewart International Airport as opposed to more densely populated ones.” Similarly, “With our no-frills approach to travel, passengers can customize their flight experience with PLAY Bundles that allow them to maximize their travel budget by choosing the necessary add-ons.”
PLAY is publicly traded as PLAY.IC on the Nasdaq First North Growth Market Iceland. According to CEO Jónsson, more than 2,000 shareholders own the corporation.
We asked CEO Jónsson, “Given COVID and rising oil prices, why were you so eager to launch a new low-cost airline when so many have failed in the past?”
In the Icelandic summer, tourists ride horses through the Kirkjufell mountain landscape and cascade. Kirjufell is the most photographed attraction in Iceland and the most aesthetically pleasing landmark.
“The pandemic presented a unique opportunity for a successful launch and growth, as Play was able to acquire brand-new Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO aircraft at a discount. Play also had access to specialists and travel experts who were able to join the company without having to be bought out by other airlines.”
Jónsson added, “Despite increases in oil prices, PLAY continued to observe an enormous pent-up demand for travel in the aftermath of the pandemic. The play was able to maintain prices low enough so that rising oil prices did not affect transatlantic travel plans, despite their impact.