July 6, 2022
Iceland Calls: Onboard Play’s Inaugural New York-Reykjavik Service
Events Special

Iceland Calls: Onboard Play’s Inaugural New York-Reykjavik Service

NEW YORK – Last week, Play Airlines (OG) began service to its third U.S. destination, New York, and we were on board to take a look at what the carrier has to offer.

Play Airlines, established in 2019, is the latest iteration of the Icelandic low-cost business model, which began with Icelandic Airways and Wow Air (WW), both of which ceased operations.

The business model, in its simplest sense, operates on the basis of offering low fares to passengers with a layover in Iceland. 

Despite Wow Air’s initial popularity among customers for its low trans-Atlantic fares, the airline grew too quickly and took on wide-body aircraft at the wrong time, which led the airline to bankruptcy.

Now, OG is looking to learn from Wow Air’s mistakes and maintain sustainable growth as it breaks into the competitive market. As the airline heads into the summer, it is working to expand its network and reduce costs, especially during a period of heightened fuel prices. 

Speaking on the strong first quarter that the airline saw, Play’s CEO, Birgir Jónsson said, “PLAY has clearly gained momentum, market share, and strength very quickly. He continued, “After a challenging winter, it is good to see this positive feeling materialize in an increased load factor and a growing number of passengers month after month.”

Play Airlines CEO, Birgir Jónsson | Photo: Play Airlines

The Summer Play

This summer, OG plans to operate a fleet of six aircraft, including three Airbus A321neos, and three A320neos. 

The airline had planned to take delivery of a leased A321LR, but due to higher fuel costs, OG instead negotiated more favorable terms for a leased A320neo.

As a part of the shift in summer plans, the airline’s plans to begin flying to Orlando three times weekly were scrapped. This month, the airline will begin flights to Palma de Mallorca and Bologna, along with New York. 

According to the airline, a rise of 167% in the number of seats on sale in the second quarter will lead to an “improved utilization of aircraft and other resources”, and therefore, a reduction in unit cost.

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Flight Details

  • Flight Number: OG122
  • Flight Duration: 5:07
  • Takeoff Time: 7:24 PM
  • Landing Time: 4:31 AM
  • Aircraft Registration: TF-PLB
  • Aircraft Type: Airbus A321neo
  • Aircraft Age: 4 Years
Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Ground Experience

Stewart International Airport (SWF), located an hour and a half upstate from New York City, handles a few flights a day from Allegiant Airlines and Frontier Airlines and had been the New York airport for Norwegian Airlines before the airline shuttered its U.S. flights.

At SWF’s small terminal, a table had been set up with some cake pops, water, and Stewart Airport branded amenities had been laid out for passengers.

Although the terminal is small and lacks some of the amenities of larger airports, it is clean, well-staffed, and is absent of the stressful hustle and bustle of the major NYC airports.

At check-in, OG utilized four check-in desks, with passengers moving quickly through despite the agents still learning the ropes of the new process and procedures. 

Following check-in, I walked through the small departures area to the nearby TSA checkpoint, which was quick and much more pleasant than my experiences at other New York airports, where long lines, frazzled travelers, and rude TSA staff are rampant.

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Boarding, Taxi, and Takeoff

Boarding commenced promptly with passengers needing extra time offered priority boarding. Once on board, passengers were greeted by cabin crew in their unique, casual uniforms. 

The interior of the aircraft features 194 seats in a 3-3 configuration. For comparison, other low-cost carriers operate A321neos with far denser seating. 

Wizz Air’s (W6) A321neos, for example, are fitted with 230 seats. As a result, legroom is quite generous for all seats on OG’s aircraft, with a seat pitch of 29-30 inches.

The flight was pushed back approximately 20 minutes late due to a delay in the final load sheet being brought to the pilots. As we taxied, we passed a number of United States Air Force C130 military transport aircraft. 

We took off from runway 27 at 7:24 PM, and after a 40-second takeoff roll to some beautiful light, we were soon above the Hudson Valley. 

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Inflight Experience

As a low cost carrier, it’s no surprise that the airline didn’t have seatback entertainment screens. However, despite having the latest aircraft, the airline does not offer WiFi on any of its flights and therefore does not offer content streaming to passengers’ personal devices.

The aircraft was equipped with 20 overhead screens that displayed a cycling flight map and the latest flight information, along with a pilot’s perspective in the form of a virtual HUD (Head’s Up Display). 

Even though the aircraft was fitted with OG’s branding, the aircraft’s history operating for Interjet (4O) in Mexico seeped through, with many elements of the aircraft being in Spanish. The most noticeable was the overhead screens, which were entirely in Spanish.

The four members of the cabin crew were attentive and passed through the cabin frequently to continue their buy-on-board program. 

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Food & Drink

Around 30 minutes after takeoff, the crew came through the cabin to commence their buy-on-board meal service. 

In total, the airline offered three types of sandwiches, including a club sandwich, hot ham & cheese baguette, and falafel wrap. 

On my outbound flight, I tried the hot ham & cheese baguette sandwich, which had been heated in the oven but arrived still crispy. I paired it with a ginger ale, which came in a small can with a plastic cup and a small amount of ice. 

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Additionally, apple and blueberry porridge, YumYum Noodles, the ‘Play Power Meal’ (Icelandic Couscous Stew), ten different types of soft drinks, coffee, tea, and a number of snacks were offered. 

A seasonal summer menu featured sparkling wine, Bliss alcoholic sparkling water, boxed cocktails, pitted green olives, and fruit rolls. 

Around two hours before landing, the cabin crew came around again with their service carts to offer passengers the chance to purchase food before descent and landing.

At around 10:30 PM New York time, the crew dimmed the cabin lights fully to allow passengers to rest for the remainder of the flight.

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

The Verdict

At 4:31 AM local time, after five hours and seven minutes in the air, we touched down on Keflavik International Airport’s runway 01.

Overall, my OG experience was simple and pleasant, as it was intended to be. Although I initially dreaded the thought of having to make the trek up to Stewart Airport from Manhattan, the experience was positive in a few ways.

First, getting to the airport was made convenient with a shuttle service from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan, and it was much more accessible than any of the major New York airports. Second, the airport was quieter and more peaceful than any other New York airport and took much of the stress of traveling out of the equation. 

The inflight experience offered on OG was basic, but without the usual cutbacks seen on other low-cost carriers. Each passenger had very solid legroom, a full tray table, individual overhead vents, and a generous recline. 

In terms of the hard product, the experience was more comfortable than the economy products offered on some Airbus A321neos by legacy U.S. airlines. The airline could greatly benefit, however, by offering inflight entertainment through WiFi access, which has become common on many other low-cost carriers.

Even though I had preloaded content on my laptop, access to WiFi would have been helpful and was the one key aspect missing from my experience.

Note: Play Airlines covered the travel expenses of the writer. However, the opinions of the writer remain his own.

Featured Image: Play Airlines

Deputy Editor
Deputy Editor at Airways Magazine. Born and raised New Yorker. Get in touch: kochan@airwaysmag.com

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