PLAY’s First Flight Was 60% Full Without Inviting Guests

The first commercial flight of any airline is an incredibly exciting event. Indeed, it’s the culmination of years of hard work, and the result of vast financial resources poured in. Of course, events like this have been made all the more interesting due to the global health crisis. Simple Flying caught up with the CEO of Iceland’s new budget airline PLAY and asked about its inaugural flight on June 24th.

PLAY Crew Arriving in London Stansted on Inaugural flight 24.06.21
The flight took passengers from Keflavik Airport to London’s Stansted. Photo: PLAY

A smooth flight

When asked about his airline’s inaugural flight during Simple Flying’s 3rd webinar, PLAY CEO Birgir Jonsson told Simple Flying that the service went “fantastically well.” Emphasizing the importance of a smooth launch, Jonsson said, “We are starting slow, making sure that the cogs in the machine are well oiled and run like clockwork- that’s our main focus.”

It was the morning of June 24th that the brand new carrier’s A321neo took off from Keflavik Airport for London’s Stansted Airport, arriving roughly two and a half hours later. Registered TF-AEW, the flight pushed back promptly at 11:30 and landed in London at 14:54 local time.

Flight OG1 PLAY
The airline’s flight from Reykjavik to London has now operated three times. Photo:

A 60% load factor

Quite reflective of pandemic travel, Jonsson reported that the first flight was just over half full in terms of passengers, highlighting that the usual VIP attendees of inaugural flights could not be invited due to COVID restrictions. The CEO himself was unable to attend due to the launch of his airline’s initial public offering (IPO).

“It’s quite interesting- the inaugural flight is usually filled with delegates and invitations but because of COVID we didn’t do that…We had close to 60% load on our first flight and they were all paying passengers. I was very proud of that.” – Birgir Jonsson, CEO, PLAY

When Simple Flying’s own Joanna Bailey confirmed with Jonsson on June 30th that he hadn’t even flown his own airline, he responded by saying, “To be honest, I’m the least important passenger. My focus is always to have a paying passenger happy.”

PLAY A321neo
The Reykjavik-based airline has also started service to Berlin and Copenhagen. Photo: PLAY

A load factor of 60% for a small Icelandic startup during a global health crisis should be considered impressive. While travel restrictions have eased significantly in the past few months, the industry isn’t fully back up on its feet just yet. Indeed, on its website, Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air reported a June 2021 load factor of 64% – not much higher than the PLAY inaugural service.

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Looking ahead

Jonsson is taking a stance of ‘cautious optimism when it comes to future load factors in the short term. “In the first weeks, we aren’t expected to have a full load of passengers – maybe 60% in July, and it will build up in the late summer and Autumn.” 

This position seems quite reasonable given the overall health situation. Of course, with abundant competition on several of its upcoming routes (from airlines like Icelandair, Vueling, SAS, Jet2), PLAY is hoping that its low-cost model will win its fair share of passengers.

Will you be flying with PLAY anytime soon? Let us know in the comments.