Category Archives: Play

PLAY opens up Bologna service

PLAY (Play Airlines) opened a new route connecting its Keflavik hub with Bologna, Italy on June 7.

The inaugural flight was operated with Airbus A320neo TF-PPA.

Marco Finelli reporting from Italy.

PLAY aircraft photo gallery:

 

A new PLAYer in town – Jay Selman experiences the inaugural Boston flight to Iceland

by Jay Selman, Travelling Editor.

Over the years, Iceland has been associated with low-cost airlines. 60 years ago, Iceland-based Loftleidir connected the United States to Europe via Reykjavik and it can probably be said that it was a favorite among the backpacking crowd. In fact, Loftleidir was the last scheduled airline to operate propeller driven aircraft across the Atlantic. No one really cared that it was slow and cramped, with over 200 people squeezing into a Canadair CL–44J. It was cheap. Fast-forward some 50 years, and the rebranded airline, Icelandair, still offers lower prices via Reykjavik than most legacy transatlantic airlines.

"400 Jet Prop", "Leifur Eiriksson", delivered May 28, 1964

Above Copyright Photo: Loftleidir Icelandic Airlines (1st) Canadair CL-44D4-8 TF-LLF (msn 35) (Bruce Drum Collection). Image: 957552.

In 2013, a group of investors breathed life into a new low cost, low fare Icelandic airline, which they named WOW. WOW kicked off with a bang, determined to set the world on fire. The airline rapidly expanded and, at its peak, operated a fleet of 20 airplanes; 3 A320s, 14 A321s, and a trio of A330-300s. The niche carrier far outgrew its niche, and in March 2019, WOW was gone.

The dream, however, was not. While WOW ultimately failed, the concept remained alive and well. Birgir Jónsson, CEO of PLAY (above), explains to World Airline News, “PLAY was formed in 2021 and has since then grown steadily. PLAY flew more than 100,000 passengers across Europe between June 2021 and January 2022, with an on-time arrival rate over 90%. PLAY was founded to make travel more affordable and accessible and that means allowing customers to decide what they need for their trip.”

“The comparison of PLAY to WOW is understandable,” he continues, “but there are key differences. While WOW was a successful company initially, it suffered when it deviated from its business model to expand its global reach by serving destinations such as India, Israel, and the West Coast of the United States. Meanwhile, PLAY is focused on its vision and the efficiency of being small, flexible, and nimble. At PLAY, we are sticking to narrow-body Airbus Neos. That helps to keep things very standardized and uncomplicated. The Neos and A321LRs to come will give us as much range and as many seats as we need for several years to come.”

Jónsson has extensive experience in international management and operations. He was Ossur‘s Regional Director in Asia, based in Hong Kong, CEO of Iceland Express and later Deputy CEO of WOW air. He lived and worked in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, where he was CEO of Infopress Group, one of the largest printing companies in Eastern Europe. Birgir was the CEO of Iceland Post and has also been involved in many projects in the field of restructuring and transformation across a diverse range of industries.

Jónsson adds, “PLAY seeks to enable passengers to see the world, but not without considering its environmental impact. PLAY is being developed with sustainability initiatives and benchmarks in place to track and reduce fuel consumption, offset carbon emissions, and limit waste. PLAY offers affordable fares with a simple and streamlined approach to service, enabling travelers to pay less and ‘play more’, hence our name.”

While a fair percentage of PLAY’s passengers are connecting through Reykjavík (Keflavik) to other destinations, tthe carrier is also actively selling Iceland as a destination. Jónsson says, “We are looking at offering through fares that will include a stopover in Iceland for a couple of days.   We recognize that Iceland is not the first country that people think of when they think of transatlantic travel. Instead, it is a country that is supposed to be skipped over on their way to and from Europe. We would like to change that perception. Indeed, more Americans are discovering Iceland. PLAY’s efforts are directed toward continuing that trend.” To that point, I have to add as a personal note that I can’t remember an international airport that was as easy and FAST to get in and out of as Keflavik. Entering the country, I was through customs and immigration within about 15 minutes. It took even less time to go through security and passport control on departure.

While in Reykjavik, the PR folks at PLAY organized a couple of excursions to show off some of the highlights of the island. My personal favorite was “Fly Over Iceland.” Picture an IMAX with moving seats, a little water spray, and even some other sensory enhancements, and you get something of an idea of this spectacle. It is a total immersion experience.

To be fair, PLAY Is a low-cost, no-frills airline. Jónsson explains, “Rather than spending on travel extras, PLAY passengers can instead spend their budget on the meaningful experiences, dining, and excursions that make a trip memorable — or even add a stop to another destination along the way. PLAY offers travelers affordable fares, reliable flights, convenience, and flexibility. PLAY’s pay-for-what-you-need model keeps flight fares affordable, allowing travelers to customize their flight experience with the upgrades they need such as a carry-on, checked bag, special bags for items such as golf sets or strollers, in-flight meals, seats with extra legroom, cancellation protection, and more.”

The company offers fares as low as $340 round-trip between Boston and Reykjavík. “Better” seats will cost you more. You will pay for a checked bag, and you will pay for a roll aboard-sized carry-on bag. Sandwiches will cost you $9.50, or $12.50 if you want to add a soft drinks and chocolate bar. A beer will cost you $9.50 and even coffee is $3 a cup. Road warriors beware. The A321s have no Wi-Fi, and not even power ports. Jónsson says, “PLAY has not received much pushback on Wi-Fi and power outlets on board. Wi-Fi and power ports are not features the airline will pursue anytime soon, with the focus being to provide lower prices than competitors.”

On the plus side, leg room was surprisingly roomy. PLAY’s A321s hold 192 passengers; its A320s are configured for 175 seats with slightly less generous seat pitch. However, Jónsson says, “Seat densification on PLAY’s A321 fleet is a key step in making the flights more environmentally friendly and keeping costs low. During the winter season, PLAY’s existing A321s will be modified from the current seat count of 192 seats to 214 seats, which will both lower the unit cost for the A321 fleet by 7%. Post rollout, PLAY A321s will have 214 seats and A320s will have 174-180 seats, and PLAY will offer three different seat pitches.”

At this point, either aircraft can be flown with a crew of four flight attendants, helping to keep things standardized. This also allows for a greater degree of flexibility. In theory, aircraft could be switched to meet the load requirements in a specific market on a specific day. Once the A321s are reconfigured, they will require five flight attendants. The crew of flight attendants that I observed on both of my flights were all young, enthusiastic, and exceptionally pleasant. And since they are all veterans of WOW, they all were very well trained and knowledgeable about the airline. Great PR!

I enjoyed a nice chat with the flight crew on the flight back to Boston. Not surprisingly, all pilots and flight attendants so far have come from WOW. And why not? As the captain told me, “We had a well-trained and enthusiastic workforce at WOW. As PLAY ramped up, it made sense to hire people who required minimal training. Naturally, we were all sad to see the demise of WOW, and we are grateful for the opportunity to again enjoy using our skills. We enjoy a family-like atmosphere here, where there is no real hierarchy to speak of. As an example, I speak with the COO on a regular basis. Not necessarily to discuss business, but to exchange pleasantries. That is a wonderful environment in which to work.” By the way, since all of the company’s routes are under eight hours flying time, all flights operate with two pilots.

The flight attendants with whom I spoke echoed that sentiment. One of them told me, “We fill out a report after every flight. What went right, and what went wrong. Those reports go directly to the appropriate department head where every one is read and acted upon. In fact, there have been a couple of times when I have seen change as soon as the next day, based on my report. When you feel like people are listening to you, it gives you a feeling of empowerment and that in turn makes you more engaged in your job. It is a win-win situation.” Jónsson adds, “In a recent employee engagement survey that was conducted in September by Gallup, PLAY employees report high job satisfaction, which helps us stand out in the market, maintain labor security, and attract applicants.”

According to Jónsson, “The goal is to focus on PLAY as a low-cost carrier between the U.S. and Europe. PLAY has been on a fast growth path since flights began in 2021, reaching 22 European destinations. These unique destinations were selected strategically to appeal to travelers seeking affordable travel to top tourist locations including London, Paris, and Dublin, as well as the hidden gems such as Bologna, Trondheim, Gothenburg, and more. With flight bookings strong and a forecast for increased travel demand, PLAY entered the U.S. market to offer its reliable, low-cost flights to U.S. passengers, as well as to connect Europeans to key North American destinations.”

PLAY began selling tickets for flights from Boston, Baltimore, and New York airports in 2021, and flights began rolling out this spring. The airline has plans to continue growing its team and scaling operations to serve new North American destinations over the next few years.

Birgir Jónsson tells World Airline News, “Years ago, the suggestion to launch an airline during a pandemic would have been crazy. But for PLAY, the pandemic has been a rare opportunity for a successful launch. In 2021, PLAY was listed on the NASDAQ North Market in Iceland. With the proper funding, PLAY was able to tap into the travel surge last spring and summer, which is an anticipation again this year. The company has set out on a long-term strategy to create a strong company, making investments in corporate culture, sustainability, and key elements that will keep PLAY’s costs low.”

He continues, “The pandemic has been an opportunity for PLAY to grow. PLAY was able to secure Airbus A321neo and A320neo aircraft. We also had access to specialists and travel experts who were available to join the company without having to buy them out of positions at other airlines. With a dynamic market and the ongoing factors from COVID-19, PLAY is focused on data-driven decisions about growth to new destinations, maintaining profitability, and maintaining the flexibility and affordability of its service.”

He continues, “While flights from the U.S. stop in Keflavik before reaching a final destination, PLAY passengers are eligible to book free long layovers in Reykjavik. Travelers can visit two unique destinations in the same trip. This feature isn’t available yet in the booking engine, so passengers can contact a PLAY agent who can set it up for them.”

Before flight operations began in the United States, PLAY operated a fleet of two A320neo and three A321neo aircraft. As PLAY has begun operations in the United States, the carrier is an A321neo. PLAY plans to add four new A320neo and a pair of A321neo aircraft in winter 2022, bringing the fleet to a total of 10 aircraft in service from spring 2023.

The A320 family is by its Type Design Certificate ETOPS capable as long as it is properly maintained, and the sufficient equipment is installed. That may vary between areas of operation, e.g., for overwater operations, life rafts and oceanic survival equipment may be required, other equipment may for example be cargo fire suppression systems. PLAY has already applied for ETOPS approval as some of its aircraft fulfill all the requirements, approval is pending in the coming weeks or months.

PLAY’s first transatlantic route was out of Baltimore on April 20. Boston followed on May 11. Service from Stewart Field in Newburgh, New York begins on June 9 and Orlando should be added in September. By mid-summer of 2022, the airline expects to have approximately 300 employees. As an interesting side note, PLAY recently advertised for new crew members, both cabin crew and flight crew for spring 2022. The company received approximately 5000 applications. 

PLAY is not seeking to join any airline alliances at this stage; however, the company is actively engaging in Virtual Interline initiatives with other low cost and full-service carriers which can complement its network and take its customers to the exciting new destinations beyond its own routes.

PLAY is a profitable airline, with its recent traffic report displaying a 72% load factor in April and an increase in passengers of over 50%. PLAY carried 36,669 passengers in April, which is a 54% increase from the previous month when passengers were 23,677. The load factor in April was 72.4% compared to 66.9% in March. The airline intends to see an exponential increase as the U.S. inaugural flights take off.

Jónsson concludes, “Our growth is in-line with the five-year framework strategy PLAY presented at the launch of the listing on the NASDAQ North Market in Iceland in April 2020. With a dynamic market and the ongoing factors from COVID-19, PLAY is focused on data-driven decisions about growth to new destinations, maintaining profitability, and maintaining the flexibility and affordability of its service.” World Airline News will be keeping a close eye on the progress of PLAY. We wish the company success.

All photos above by Jay Selman.

PLAY aircraft photo gallery:

Videos:

PLAY starts operating in the United States from Iceland

PLAY today began service in the U.S. with its first takeoff from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).

Departing at 7 p.m. ET, the inaugural flight will bring passengers to Iceland, where they can enjoy the country’s first day of summer or board a connecting flight to one of PLAY’s other 22 European destinations.

On April 20, PLAY CEO Birgir Jónsson will arrive at BWI on the airline’s first transatlantic flight into the U.S. He will be joined by local officials for a ceremony and a gate party in the airport, welcoming travelers from the first flight and celebrating PLAY’s first departure out of the U.S.

Play to fly to Liverpool and Geneva

PLAY Airlines Airbus A321-251N WL TF-PLA (msn 7939) SZG (Gunter Mayer). Image: 957149.

PLAY has added two new destinations to its schedule for winter 2022 and 2023 with flights to Liverpool in England and Geneva in Switzerland.

PLAY will operate flights two times a week, on Mondays and Fridays, to and from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, starting in November 2022 until mid-April 2023.

Geneva is PLAY’s new ski destination in 2023. PLAY will operate flights to and from Geneva Airport two times a week from February 1 to March 23.

PLAY´s decision to operate from John Lennon Airport will open up a new route between Liverpool and the United States of America. PLAY will operate four destinations in the U.S. next winter, Washington, New York, Boston and Orlando.

In other news, PLAY is coming to Baltimore/Washington (BWI Marshall Airport) on April 20.

Route Map:

Top Copyright Photo: PLAY Airlines Airbus A321-251N WL TF-PLA (msn 7939) SZG (Gunter Mayer). Image: 957149.

Play aircraft slide show:

Play aircraft photo gallery:

PLAY is coming to Orlando

PLAY has announced its acceleration into the U.S. market with new winter routes connecting Orlando International Airport and Berlin, Dublin, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, London, and Paris via Iceland. Despite launching during the pandemic, PLAY has managed to grow quickly, and Florida is an important foothold for PLAY as a global tourist destination.

PLAY will start the Keflavik – Orlando route on September 30, 2022.

PLAY issued this announcement:

PLAY airlines has launched its ticket sales to Orlando, Florida in the U.S. PLAY´s first flight to Orlando will be September 30. PLAY will operate flights to Orlando International Airport three times a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from Orlando International Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Orlando will be PLAY´s fourth destination in the U.S. The other three destinations are Boston, Baltimore/Washington DC and New York, all starting in Spring/Summer 2022.

PLAY will be adding Airbus A321neo Long Range (LR) aircraft to its fleet, making it possible to operate flights to Orlando. PLAY uses the standard model of the Airbus A321neo, but the Airbus A321neo LR is the same aircraft with more fuel capacity and, therefore, capable of flying further than PLAY’s existing Airbus A321s.

PLAY reports growing load factor and strong U.S. ticket sales

PLAY made this announcement:

PLAY carried 13,488 passengers in January with a load factor of 55.7% an increase from 53.2% in December. A surge in COVID-19 cases in the past months caused hesitation amongst passengers to book their travel, and PLAY adjusted its schedule and reduced capacity in January to reflect this. However, we are seeing very strong booking trends for the coming months, and it is obvious that consumers’ confidence has started to return as the effects of COVID-19 dissipates.

People’s attitude towards the pandemic is clearly changing and many are prepared to travel again. As an indication of strong booking trends in January, the daily booking numbers were approximately three times higher than in December. This uptick in bookings for spring and summer travel makes us optimistic and the outlook for 2022 is bright. Nevertheless, we are prepared to weather the uncertainty associated with the pandemic with flexible operations, a solid financial position, and a strong cash balance.

88.5% of PLAY’s flights in January arrived on schedule despite very challenging winter operations.

New aircraft brings PLAY’s fleet to six in 2022

PLAY has signed a Letter of Intent for one A321neo aircraft. The aircraft is scheduled to arrive in April in time for PLAY‘s services to North America in spring 2022.

PLAY has now secured the first ten aircraft in the fleet, five A321neos and five A320neos. PLAY has not changed its fleet plan as laid out in the company’s business plan and will operate six aircraft this summer increasing to ten in spring 2023.

New low-cost route between Europe and New York

On February 1, PLAY launched ticket sales to New York. PLAY´s first flight to New York will be on June 9, and flights will be operated daily. PLAY will fly to New York Stewart International Airport and will be the first airline to operate international flights from the airport for a number of years. This will be a major benefit for the millions of people living in the area and the local tourism industry. This is PLAY´s third destination in the United States as flights to Baltimore/Washington, D.C. will begin in April, and to Boston in May.

The cost of operating at New York Stewart Airport is significantly lower than other airports in New York, making it possible for PLAY to offer the lowest fares between New York and Europe. Because of less traffic at the airport, PLAY´s aircraft will spend less time in holding patterns and taxiing on the ground, saving fuel, operating expenses, and reducing carbon emissions. This aligns well with PLAY´s strategy of offering the lowest prices and comfortable and relaxed services in an environmentally-friendly manner. The reception after the launch was very good, and we immediately saw a healthy flow of bookings coming from the U.S., Europe and Iceland.

“January is traditionally a challenging month in aviation and even more so in pandemic times. We are therefore quite pleased to see our load factor growing from December as in a normal year this would not be the case. It’s also very encouraging to see that our new destinations and network expansion are receiving a very positive commercial reception in our focus markets. In spring, we will increase our capacity significantly with the addition of new aircraft, new European destinations, and of course the launch of our hub-and-spoke transatlantic service. Looking at the many positive developments in our business environment, the declining disruption of COVID-19, and the rapidly growing demand, I am confident that we are increasing our capacity and expanding our network at precisely the right point in time,” says Birgir Jónsson, CEO.

PLAY is coming to Stewart International Airport to serve the New York area

PLAY announced today:

PLAY has launched ticket sales to New York in the United States. PLAY´s first flight to the New York area will be on June 9 and PLAY will operate daily flights.

PLAY will fly to New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) (above and below) and will be the only airline to operate international flights from the airport. This will be a major benefit for the millions of people living in the area surrounding the airport and the local tourism industry.

This is PLAY´s third destination in the United States as flights to Baltimore/Washington will begin in April and service to Boston will commence in May.

This is an important expansion to PLAY´s market area as transatlantic flights will be a major factor in its business model. These three US destinations will open up new routes to Iceland, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Brussels, Trondheim, and Gothenburg in Europe in the spring.

Convenient Low-Cost Airport

The cost of operating at New York Stewart Airport is significantly lower than other airports in New York, making it possible for PLAY to offer the lowest fares between New York and Europe. Because of less air traffic at the airport, PLAY´s aircraft will spend less time taxiing on the ground and in holding patterns, saving fuel, operating expenses and emission. This aligns well with PLAY´s strategy of offering the lowest prices, comfortable and relaxed service in an environmentally-friendly manner.

New York Stewart Airport is an approx. a 75-minute drive from Times Square in Manhattan. While New York Stewart is visibly further away from Manhattan on a map than JFK Airport and Newark Airport, the time it will take passengers to get from these airports to Manhattan is nearly the same. New York Stewart is a small airport with shorter lines and waiting times at security, customs and baggage claim. Exiting the airport takes about 30 minutes or less, and transport to the city is easy and accessible. Buses are the cheapest option to get to Manhattan from New York Stewart, and they are timed with arrivals/departures of PLAY’s flights.

The total time from landing at New York Stewart Airport until arrival in Manhattan can take up to 2 hours, while a similar journey can take up to 2 or 3 hours through JFK and Newark since waiting times are much longer at those airports.

Growing population in Hudson Valley

Hudson Valley has seen a surge in population in the past few years and tops the charts in growing areas of New York. PLAY´s international flights from New York Stewart Airport will greatly improve services in the area, and residents of Hudson Valley won’t have to go far to get low-cost transatlantic flights.

The area around New York Stewart Airport has a lot to offer. Woodbury Commons, one of the largest outdoor outlets in the world, is a 25-minute drive from the airport . It has 220 stores and many of the same brands one would expect to find at Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Last year, the world’s largest Legoland opened in the area, only 25 minutes from the airport.

PLAY will operate flights to 25 destinations in the US and Europe in 2022. PLAY will have six new Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft in operation by summer . The Airbus A320 family suits PLAY´s operations particularly well because of its fuel efficiency, which translates into lower carbon emissions. Also, the Airbus A320 family has the size and range flexibility to reach small and large markets close by and far away.

In other news, PLAY added flights to Salzburg on January 22 for the ski season.

PLAY flew more than 100,000 passengers in its first 6 months

During PLAY‘s first six months in operation, the airline flew 101,053 passengers on more than 1,000 flights. Considering the challenging environment with the pandemic and the performance of other start-up airlines in Europe and North America, we consider the 53.2% load factor for the year very satisfactory.

In 2021, over 48% of our passengers were traveling from Iceland. We are delighted with the reception that PLAY has received in Iceland as the numbers show that there was a significant need for a low-cost alternative in the market.

Our flights to the U.S., which we recently launched ticket sales for and will start operating in Spring 2022, will strengthen PLAY’s foundation even more as we open up the U.S. – Iceland market to low-cost travel and facilitate connections for passengers that want to take advantage of low-cost travel between the U.S. and Europe.

In 2022, PLAY will serve 24 destinations in Europe and North America.

17,749 Passengers in December

In December, PLAY carried 17,749 passengers and the load factor was 53.2%, compared to 58.3% in November. A surge in COVID-19 cases, lockdowns, and stricter travel restrictions in most destinations served by PLAY caused hesitation amongst passengers to book their travel, especially last-minute Christmas and shopping trips in December which we would have seen in a non-pandemic year. PLAY is well prepared to weather the uncertainty associated with the pandemic with a solid financial position, and a strong cash balance.

On a very positive note, we have seen that consumer confidence has begun to return. We see strong future bookings building a clear trend as could be expected in a typical non-pandemic year. Our passengers are again booking trips with short notice with the confidence offered by PLAY‘s flexibility policy as well as booking their holidays next summer. This is an indicator that people are ready to travel again despite the current rise in the number of infections in Iceland and abroad.

Great Reception after U.S. Launch

On December 16, PLAY launched ticket sales for flights to and from Boston and Washington, D.C. in the United States. Flights to Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) will begin on April 20, 2022, and flights to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) will begin on May 11, 2022. The launch was a significant milestone for PLAY and it opened a new chapter in PLAY’s expansion. The reception after the launch was very good and it received a lot of attention in all our markets. Immediately we saw a healthy flow of bookings coming from Europe, U.S., and Iceland, which is extremely positive considering that operations are months away, not starting until April/May.

“As we close a very eventful first year of operations, we are very encouraged and full of energy for the coming year. The business environment for all airlines has been challenging but we have been able to increase our market share and get PLAY into a very favorable market position to be able to enjoy the coming market growth, especially as we expand into the transatlantic market in the spring. We have been operating in a relatively small and defined market during our first six months and to be able to gain the trust of more than 100,000 people in a very challenging business environment should not be taken for granted and is a major achievement. We are very pleased to see that our strategy of offering the most competitive prices in the market and having a digital-first marketing and sales strategy is working brilliantly as we are seeing healthy bookings in our entry into the transatlantic market. We have already built a foundation of a truly great team of people within PLAY, a team that is very ambitious and professional with a very strong drive to succeed. 2021 was a year of many major milestones and victories for PLAY and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the PLAY team to meet new challenges and continue our success story in the coming year,” says Birgir Jónsson, CEO.

PLAY announces its first routes to the United States

PLAY has announced its first routes to the United States which will permit service to Europe via Keflavik:

PLAY, a low-cost airline operating flights between Iceland and Europe, announced today service in the United States, with the first flights to Europe taking off in spring 2022.

Starting today, travelers can book tickets from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) to 22 European destinations including London, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Brussels, Stavanger, Trondheim, Gothenburg, and more.

Flight service from Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) will begin on April 20, 2022, and service from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) will begin on May 11, 2022.

Transportation costs and associated fees represents 54% of spending on trips to international destinations for American passengers. PLAY offers a streamlined, no-frills service without costly features such as magazines, Wi-Fi, and entertainment, allowing travelers to pay less and “play more.” Rather than spending on travel extras, PLAY passengers can instead allocate their budget on the meaningful experiences, dining, and excursions that make a trip memorable — or even add a stop to another destination along the way.

To date, PLAY has flown more than 87,500 passengers across Europe with an on-time arrival rate over 96%.