Come PLAY in Iceland: Another new airline launches in the wake of WOW Air


A new low cost carrier is set to fly in Iceland. PLAY airlines intends to launch sales before the end of the year, connecting passengers between Keflavik and European destinations. The company expects to expand to North American destinations in Spring 2020, using Iceland as a hub to connect passengers between the two continents.

PLAY is in everything we do, with professionalism at the core. At PLAY, safety comes first, with our core principles being on-time performance, simplicity, happiness and low prices.

The company’s executive team is led by Arnar Már Magnusson and features alumni from WOW and Air Atlanta. Their pedigree brings serious international aviation experience to the operation, including a background running services in Iceland. And they’re truly local to the market. That’s a significant step up compared to WOW II and its US-based operations.

The company claims it is close to securing its operating license from Icelandic authorities. Once that is accomplished it will launch services on a pair of A321s to six European destinations. North American routes will be added a few months later, giving the company a true transatlantic position for service into the Summer 2020 peak season. By that point PLAY anticipates operating a fleet of six aircraft. The number will grow to 10 within three years. Executives indicated that the initial slot portfolio at Keflavik is secured to operate the launch routes.

Read More: WOW Air is Dead; Long Live WAB Air

The growth plans for PLAY are, compared to many airline startups, rather boring. That’s probably a good thing for investors, for the operation and for passengers booking tickets on the new carrier. Unlike WOW’s efforts to grow at an irrational speed and diversify its fleet and destination mix too quickly, the current PLAY management appears focused on a far more stable approach to the industry. While executives did indicate that the financing was a challenge and it will quickly need to generate revenues to service the debt, it does not appear that growth at any cost is part of the company’s playbook.

The transatlantic market remains highly competitive and well served by LCCs and legacy carriers. And the lines between service levels and route networks offered is blurring. Norwegian in particular continues to grow across the Atlantic, despite the 737 MAX grounding. North America is now that carrier’s largest market by revenue. Icelandair is the obvious competitive comparison for PLAY, given a similar route structure and flight operations plan. That carrier is also suffering from the 737 MAX grounding and overly exuberant expansion in 2019. But Icelandair aims for a more rational 2020 operation. That arguably leaves room at the edges for a new carrier to pick at its business, but also means it is unlikely to suffer financial troubles along the way.

With seats expected on sale later this month and a 1000 ticket giveaway planned there’s bound to be plenty of hype around the new PLAY Airlines operation for the foreseeable future. Just how that translates into profitable ticket prices and a sustainable business model remains to be seen. But the executive team is all too familiar with the WOW failures. One can hope they’ve learned lessons from that experience and intend to not repeat that mess.

More from the WOW collapse and relaunch efforts:

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.