By Ezra Gollan
Trip Report: PLAY to Brussels via Reykjavik
When WOW Air, the ultra-low-cost carrier connecting passengers between the United States and Europe via Iceland went under, the future of no-frills, transatlantic travel seemed uncertain. Many believed it simply could not be done; that an airline cannot feasibly operate medium to long haul flights at rates that, depending on the season, were cheaper than a roundtrip ticket between New York and Los Angeles.
Enter PLAY, an Icelandic ultra-low-cost start-up from former WOW Air executives that is looking to do nearly exactly what WOW did but with even fewer bells and whistles and a more simplified operation. The carrier began serving the United States in the spring of 2022 with flights to Baltimore and soon following with New York Stewart and Boston.
I flew aboard PLAY’s A321neo and A320neo aircraft from Boston through to Brussels to see how it compared to other emerging low-cost carriers.
PLAY’s website is minimal in classic Scandinavian fashion. The interface is useful and does little else besides letting you book a ticket. Fortunately, PLAY is shown on the GDS. This means PLAY’s fares appear on Google Flights and other third-party flight finding services. My roundtrip ticket, before seats, came in at $578 USD. Pretty darn good for a July round trip ticket to Europe when the next cheapest option that included a stop in Dublin was nearly $1,300 USD. Mind you I also booked this fare on July 1st for a July 13th departure and I would imagine there are cheaper seats to be found on PLAY and legacy carriers. There is no premium option on PLAY unless you consider a $40 exit row seat premium.
Being that a ticket on PLAY is a ticket for a seat and a seat only, you are given a variety choices from bags bundled with priority boarding to seat selection. PLAY includes one personal item in every ticket with carry-on bags starting at around $50 USD on each leg and checked bags starting at around $70 USD though bag rates are dependent on route and time.
I was traveling with a traditional carry-on backpack packed completely full but opted to decline purchasing a carry-on plus priority boarding with the idea that I could probably get it to pass as a personal item even though I knew it wouldn’t really fit under the seat in front of me.
I was able to check in online 24 hours before my scheduled departure on PLAY’s website. The airline does not offer an app and I am unsure if an app is coming given that it is roughly a year old. Boarding passes also cannot be added to Apple Wallet which is unfortunate as it is a simple feature that makes travel that much easier. PLAY also has yet to set up a relationship with TSA’s PreCheck program.
When checking in I was given the option to add my Known Traveler Number (KTN) but the system continued to decline my KTN saying that “letters were not allowed” and a little Google search gave me my answer. A gate agent in Boston told me that the carrier is working to allow passengers with PreCheck to use it but until then you are left with the standard TSA lines and procedures.
Check-in at Boston opens two hours prior to departure. A bit late for a transatlantic flight especially in the summer but I headed straight for security anyway given that I had checked in online and was not checking a bag. PLAY operates out of Boston Logan’s terminal E, the main international terminal. It is by no means the greatest terminal in the world but it is clean and offers good seating, Wi-Fi, power outlets at most seats and a variety of restaurants including the famed Legal Sea Foods should you need your clam chowder fix before embarking on a flight across the ocean. Our flight departed out of gate E3 on the lower level.
Boarding began slightly after the scheduled 6:20 pm. Families traveling with small children and passengers with disabilities are allowed to board first. As I mentioned, there is no premium seating. Following the first two groups, an announcement was made for those with priority boarding to board. The reality was that little was done to check this. Passengers formed a long line in no real order and we headed down the jet bridge towards the A321neo that would take us to Reykjavik.
On routes from the United States to Iceland, PLAY alternates between A320 and A321neo aircraft and if you do your research on your Google Flights, you too can score a whopping 34 inches of pitch for yourself. That isn’t a typo. It’s more legroom than you would get on any legacy economy seat and even products like United’s Economy Plus and Delta’s Comfort Plus on widebody aircraft.
Mind you this is an A321neo. You can thank Mexican low-cost carrier Interjet for not taking these aircraft a few years ago. They’ve remained in their original configuration with PLAY though there are rumors that they’ll be refurbished next year with the knee-crunching 28 inches of pitch you can find on all of PLAY’s A320neo aircraft so take advantage while you can.
I was in 38A, a window seat I paid $10 USD for. Seat selections are sold on a per leg basis which makes sense given the change in aircraft type in Reykjavik. I surprisingly found myself closer to the middle of the plane instead of the back despite row 38 generally being pretty close to the rear on a narrow body. The seats are minimal but comfortable and offer decent recline and even adjustable headrests.
There are no personal entertainment screens on the seatbacks so bring your own entertainment. Larger screens flip down from overhead every 3-5 rows displaying a map along with the weather and local time in Hermosillo, Mexico City and Cancun in case on your trip to Europe you wanted to keep tabs on the temperature in Mexico. An update could probably save a few passengers every flight from wondering if they had boarded the non-existent PLAY Airlines flight to Reykjavik with a quick pit stop in Central America. The information is also displayed in Spanish.
As is to be expected, nothing is free. There is a menu offering a range of snacks and sandwiches along with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks that can be purchased when the crew rolls the cart through or by pressing the flight attendant call button at any point in the flight. Prices ranged from 3 euros for sodas and candy bars to 9 euros for sandwiches and alcoholic drinks.
We touched down in Reykjavik around 4 a.m. local time and found ourselves in a quiet and clean airport with backpackers sleeping at nearly every bench. Automated passport control was closed for EU/EEA/CH citizens but luckily the line wasn’t too long at this hour. I would imagine that during peak hours it isn’t quite as simple though in comparison to many larger airports it is quiet.
About as uneventful as it gets, our flight to Brussels contained little to get excited about. The flight was operated by an A320neo that had previously been with Interjet and then Russian carrier SmartAvia. Nearly all signage onboard was in Russian as well and a crew member said they had only operated this plane for a week.
There was the same buy-on-board menu as was on our flight from Boston. As for legroom, there is none. 28 inches of pitch definitely isn’t unbearable on a 2 or 3-hour flight but after coming off of a red eye, it feels 10 times worse than it actually is. Most passengers slept before we began our descent into a shockingly sunny Brussels.
With airfares the way that they are right now, PLAY is a very good option if you are looking to save some serious cash and are willing to suffer a bit more to get to your destination. The A321neos have great seats thanks to the interiors coming from Interjet while the A320neos are about as bare bones as it gets. I would definitely do it again for the price and the variety of destinations on offer is fantastic. Whether or not PLAY sticks remains to be seen but for the time being it is a very good low-cost option over the Atlantic.