Low-cost Icelandic carrier Play expands to New York, marking third US destination

Feb 3, 2022

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Just over a month after announcing its first service to the U.S., Icelandic low-cost carrier Play is back with an expansion.

The airline announced this week it will fly to New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Newburgh, NY from London Stanstead Airport (STN) beginning in June, marking its third U.S. destination, alongside Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). This gives travellers another option for crossing the Atlantic and visiting New York City. The no-frills carrier is banking on some travellers being OK with extra commute time in exchange for cheaper flights and a less cumbersome customs process upon landing.

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To mark the launch, Play rolled out introductory fares for one-way flights for as low as £139 from Stansted to New York. It is also offering reduced fares to 10 of its destinations for departures in September and October: Iceland Keflavik (KEF), London Stansted (STN), Dublin (DUB), Paris (CDG), Berlin (BER), Copenhage, (CPH), Brussels (BRU), Stuttgart, Germany (STR) Trondheim, Norway (TRD) and Gothenburg, Sweden (GOT). Fares are available on Play’s website. Please also note that flights must be booked between 1-7 February 2022, for travel between September and October 2022.

Play began service in 2021 with flights between Keflavik Airport (KEF) near the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik to London’s Stansted Airport (STN), quickly expanding to around 20 destinations. The airline is built around a business model similar to that of now-defunct Wow Air, which also offered cheap travel between the U.S. and Europe by way of Keflavik. Several of Wow’s former management team sit at the helm of Play.

Service from New York Stewart to Keflavik will begin on 9 June, the airline said. The routes to NY will operate four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, with a 95-minute stopover at Reykjavik (Keflavik Airport) before moving on to New York Stewart. Baltimore flights start on 20 April, while Boston service begins on 11 May.

Keep in mind the discounted fare will only apply to outbound flights, meaning you would pay full price for the return leg. Still, Play’s low-cost model means those fares start from relatively low base levels. The introductory fares are on sale until midnight, eastern time, on 7 Feb.

“Passengers have convenient transportation options to reach the airport, in addition to short wait times in the security line and low costs for parking their cars,” Play CEO Birgir Jónsson said in a press release. “The low fares and flexibility that passengers experience at Stewart International Airport are exactly what passengers seek when they book their travel with Play.”

The flexibility mentioned above has to do with the fact that the airport sees significantly less traffic than Kennedy Airport (JFK) or Newark Liberty Airport (EWR), both of which see a large number of international travellers. Play believes customers will have a much easier and more convenient time clearing customs at the smaller airport, thus making for a less troublesome airport experience.

Stewart International Airport is located in Newburgh, NY, which is about 60 miles north of New York City. Given the area’s infamous traffic snarls, it often takes two hours to get to the city from the airport. There are several commuter rail and bus links to Manhattan, however. Play will be the first international airline at the airport since September 2019, when low-cost carrier Norwegian Air suspended flights from the airport to Dublin.

Related: 9 reasons you should visit Iceland this summer

While the airport can be a long commute from New York City, its lower operating costs compared to New York-JFK Airport (JFK) and New York-Newark (EWR) has long held an appeal for low-cost international airlines trying to find cost-effective ways to access the New York market.

Norwegian began flying several European routes from Stewart in the summer of 2017, flying narrow-body aircraft, primarily the Boeing 737 Max, to cities such as Edinburgh (EDI) and Belfast (BFS) in the U.K., Shannon Airport (SNN) in Ireland, and Bergen, Norway (BGO). The airline’s service to the airport peaked in December 2018, when it flew 242 flights to and from the airport, according to data from Cirium.

Norwegian suspended flights to Stewart on 8 April 2019 as the Boeing 737 Max was grounded worldwide following the second of two fatal crashes. The airline resumed flights to Dublin in September of that year, using 737-800 aircraft, but ceased operations at Stewart the following month. Norwegian has since refocused its operations on short-haul European travel, following the collapse of international demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and maintains the airport, recently completed a £27.3 million project to build a new international arrivals hall and U.S. Customs inspection area.

Play operates a fleet of Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft. TPG had a chance to fly the airline between Keflavik and London earlier this year, and found it to be a great experience by low-cost carrier standards.

It remains unclear how Play expects to succeed using the Wow business model. The latter airline collapsed in 2019, during the peak of pre-pandemic travel demand. Economically sustainable low-cost transatlantic travel has long eluded the world’s airlines, and numerous competitors operate low-cost flights throughout Europe. Hungary-based Wizz Air, for instance, already flies to about 10 destinations from Keflavik.

Related: 7 reasons flying Iceland’s newest airline was a great experience

Still, Play will introduce the low-cost service between Europe and the U.S. at a time when international travel dynamics are emerging changed from the COVID-19 pandemic. Time will tell whether that presents an opportunity for a low-cost carrier like Play, or whether the model will continue to be unsustainable on flights across the Atlantic.

Featured photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy

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