Travelers from Baltimore and Boston now have a new option to Europe. Iceland’s PLAY intends to launch both markets in Spring 2022, connecting the US to Europe via its hub at Keflavik.
We’re proud to expand PLAY service to the United States with service in Boston and Baltimore, offering both American and European travelers a new way to reach iconic destinations. With our reliable and affordable flights, travelers can enjoy their destination rather than overspending on the flight to get there. – PLAY CEO Birgir Jónsson
Service at Baltimore launches on 20 April 2022, with Boston following on 11 May. Travelers can connect through to nearly a dozen destinations across Europe on the carrier. Introductory fares start at just $109 for the US-originating segment.
The total cost for a traveler could quickly increase, however. PLAY operates a fully unbundled fare model (i.e. Ultra Low Cost Carrier) where everything other than transportation from A to B costs extra. Even a carry-on bag larger than a personal item comes with a charge, currently $26-37, depending on the route within Europe.
PLAY expects to continue that approach in the new markets, even with the longer, overnight flights adding to the network. CEO Birgir Jónsson suggests to PaxEx.Aero that the “streamlined service” allowing passengers to select which options they need works well for the company and for consumers.
At least there’s power, or eventually there will be
Streamlined, no-frills, basic. However one chooses to describe the on-board product, the company’s position is clear: If you want something on board, bring it yourself. Jónsson doubled down on the lack of in-flight entertainment or connectivity on board. He believes focusing on “no-frills service to maintain the low costs that will make our flights affordable” delivers the winning play.
He did, however, disclose that in-seat power is on the horizon. While not available on PLAY flights today, the company plans to add that in the future.
A lopsided route map
The current PLAY route map, with 20+ destinations in Europe and just two in the USA certainly appears lopsided for a business built on connecting travelers across the Atlantic. For now, however, Jónsson is not worried.
He suggests that PLAY “already captured the local market of tourists going abroad from Iceland to the South of Europe” as well as other local traffic that can support the growing network. Indeed, the hub-and-spoke approach is critical to the company’s business model. Jónsson sees most of the markets maturing to profitability with connecting flow, not solely on local traffic.
He also notes that the fleet growth plan comes at a very deliberate pace over the next five years. “Our expansion is carefully calculated in terms of the destinations, density, and the frequency in which we’ll operate.” As the fleet grows, so too will destinations available in the US market. But he expects a “a measured approach that will maintain our ability to be flexible, and affordable.”
Many of PLAY’s executives are veterans of the WOW experiment. That provided plenty of learning experiences for what works, and what does not, in growing a new transatlantic airline.
Jónsson describes the current approach as “measured and strategic with data-driven results.” He also sees a nimble approach to the market as key to scaling up effectively while still keeping the base fare prices as low as possible.
“In the past, other airlines have sought to grow too quickly or operated with debt. With nearly 5,000 investors on board who are investing in the future of air travel, PLAY’s decision-making process is disciplined.”
Jónsson also believes the market of 2022 does not match that of the before times:
COVID-19 has made the market more dynamic and presented new challenges; however, it has also presented PLAY with unique opportunities, such as an eager labor market in Iceland, and low interest rates. In addition, booking times have shortened to just 30 to 50 days in advance of a flight. These shifts in the dynamic of the travel industry have benefitted the company so far.
Among the benefits realized, PLAY is paying far less for its aircraft leases than its initial business plan called for. Combining that with limited competition in the point-to-point LCC market, and at least 2022 should deliver strong opportunities for carrier as it grows into a true hub-and-spoke operation.