How Iceland’s PLAY Is Cautiously Filling The Gap Left By WOW

What a week it has been for Iceland’s startup, PLAY. It received its air operator’s certificate on May 16th, and today, two days later, it put on sale its first seven routes from Keflavik. Alicante is unserved, while Stansted effectively is too. PLAY fills the gap left by the loss of WOW and others, although the startup is sensibly very cautious.

How Iceland’s PLAY Is Cautiously Filling The Gap Left By WOW
PLAY will see no head-to-head competition to Alicante. Likewise London Stansted except for two round-trips later in the year by Jet2. Image: PLAY.

While most of PLAY’s initial routes launch in July, London Stansted begins on June 24th, followed by Tenerife South five days later. London is helped by Iceland being on England’s green list.

  1. Alicante: twice-weekly
  2. Barcelona: twice-weekly
  3. Berlin: four-weekly
  4. Copenhagen: initially twice-weekly and then doubling
  5. London Stansted: initially twice-weekly and then doubling
  6. Paris CDG: four-weekly
  7. Tenerife South: twice-weekly

PLAY, which has $50 million in funding and plans an initial public offering (IPO) for further growth, would not exist had WOW not ended. Indeed, WOW served all the routes from Keflavik that PLAY has put on sale. Despite this and some staffing crossovers, the two carriers are much more separate than many would realize.

How Iceland’s PLAY Is Cautiously Filling The Gap Left By WOW
WOW served all the destinations that PLAY has announced in either 2018 and/or 2019. Photo: Airbus.

All but one route is already served

Six of PLAY’s initial seven routes are or will be served by other airlines this year. Only Alicante will have no head-to-head competition. Despite this competition, their capacity totals ‘just’ 598,000 seats this year, analyzing schedules data provided by airlines to OAG, down by almost 740,000 versus pre-pandemic 2019. The loss of WOW is key to this.

  1. Alicante: no head-to-head competition
  2. Barcelona: Icelandair (once-weekly) and Vueling (up to four-weekly)
  3. Berlin: Icelandair (up to nine-weekly)
  4. Copenhagen: Icelandair (up to 28-weekly) and SAS (up to nine-weekly)
  5. London Stansted: Jet2 (just two round-trips in October/November)
  6. Paris CDG: Icelandair (up to 14-weekly)
  7. Tenerife: Icelandair (twice-weekly)

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How Iceland’s PLAY Is Cautiously Filling The Gap Left By WOW
With PLAY beginning Tenerife and additional flights by others, this market is up fourfold over 2019. Image: PLAY

Stansted is virtually unserved

Stansted is one of four London airports served from Keflavik this year, down from five in 2019 from the loss of BA CityFlyer from London City. Stansted, which was last served in March 2019 by easyJet, is back this year with PLAY. It’ll be the only carrier on the route until October, and even then Jet2’s two round-trips barely count.

The peak for Stansted came in 2018 when three carriers – easyJet, Primera, and WOW – all served it with a combined 88,414 passengers, the UK CAA shows. It is virtually a ready-made unserved market.

Meanwhile, Alicante, like Tenerife, is for point-to-point vacation reasons from Iceland. It is normally served – and has been for many, many years – because it is a classic destination for Icelanders. Indeed, two airlines operated it non-stop in pre-pandemic 2019. It, too, is effectively ready-made.

How Iceland’s PLAY Is Cautiously Filling The Gap Left By WOW
When combined, these seven routes had 1.35 million two-way seats from Keflavik in 2019. They had over one-fifth (22%) of Keflavik’s European capacity. The large rise and subsequent decline was from the entrance and end of WOW. Note: as Berlin now has only one airport, Tegel and Schönefeld have been included for previous years. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer

Just two flights down from 2019 level

Looking at a week in mid-August, the seven routes will have a combined 86 weekly departures across PLAY and all competing carriers, as the table below indicates. This is down by just two flights versus the same week in 2019. With seven departures, Barcelona is unchanged, while Stansted is up – and Tenerife has increased nearly fourfold.

Keflavik to...Departures in a mid-August week in 2018And in 2019And in 2021
Alicante832
Barcelona1177
Berlin1696
Copenhagen434538
London Stansted704
Paris CDG262118
Tenerife South4311

It’s a somewhat different picture compared to 2018, though, when WOW was in full swing and airlines had responded to the threat it posed with more flights. Then, these seven routes had 115 departures, meaning they’re down by one-quarter over the peak.

Will you fly PLAY? If so, what route would you choose? Let us know in the comments!

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