Iceland’s PLAY Will Never Truly Be Ultra Low Cost

Being located on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic means every single flight by PLAY will be at least three hours long. Birgir Jonsson, the airline’s CEO, said that this means it cannot bow to the traditions of ultra-low-cost airlines, but rather that it needs to keep one eye on passenger comfort.

PLAY A321neo
PLAY will always be low-cost, but with more comfort than a typical ULCC. Photo: PLAY

Low-cost, but with comfort

The highly anticipated launch of Icelandic low-cost airline PLAY is progressing at a breakneck pace. With London and Tenerife already in the network, and Berlin added today, the airline’s launch is ticking along like clockwork, focusing on slow and steady growth to meet the market demand.

With fares starting from as little as £30 ($42.60), there’s no doubt that this is a low-cost airline. However, it will never go as far as some ultra-low-cost carriers are able to in terms of cuts to service and cost, due to its base location. CEO Birgir Jonsson explained to Simple Flying yesterday,

“I’m sitting now in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I’m three and a half hours away from you. So our model can never be a true ultra-low-cost product. Our flights are always three hours plus.”

PLAY Crew Arriving in London Stansted on Inaugural flight 24.06.21
Even the closest destinations will be three hours plus. Photo: PLAY

Many ultra-low-cost airlines focus on flights of three hours or less. For PLAY, that’s the starting point of its journey times. And that, the CEO states, will need to be reflected in the passenger experience. He said,

“We will always have to have some kind of comfort. I mean, we can’t have 28” pitch seats throughout the aircraft and have towards 220 or 230 seats onboard. It’s too difficult, and the product is not good then.”

PLAY’s A321neo, TF-AEW, has just 192 economy class seats. That’s almost 40 fewer seats than Wizz has on its A321neo, and as such, every passenger has immense amounts of legroom. Compared to the 28” of pitch on Wizz Air, PLAY’s neos boast 34” of pitch at every seat, something that is usually reserved for extra legroom or even premium economy fliers.

PLAY aircraft cabin
The cabin on the A321neo offers a pitch of 34″. Photo: PLAY

Is generous legroom here to stay?

Considering the length of the flights PLAY will operate, was the low density, generous legroom cabin a conscious decision? Being brutally honest, Jonsson admitted that no, it was not, but that he hoped to retain a comfortable experience for all his passengers. He said,

“The real answer is that this is the configuration of this aircraft that we took delivery of, and it kind of suited our model. And so, this is a good way for us to start. Our passengers are extra happy; they have good legroom.”

The neo previously flew for Mexican Interjet. It arrived with that cabin configuration, and while it’s had a makeover to fit with PLAY’s branding, it was a happy accident that passengers would find so much comfort onboard. The good news for legroom lovers is that both of PLAY’s next two A321neos are also ex-Interjet planes, with the same generous config.

PLAY’s next A321neo, TF-PLA, is already in paint prior to delivery. Photo: PLAY

For now, making passengers happy is a winner for PLAY. As the CEO explained, for now, dense cabins are not a priority, although he did admit that they could be in the future,

“The load factor now, post-COVID, is such that to try to have 220 seats plus in this market is almost academic.  So, it’s not something that we’re very worried about. But I think that in the future, especially when we launch the US operation, we will be close to a product that functions in terms of that kind of load.”

PLAY’s inaugural service to London Stansted was met with a load factor of around 60%. In COVID times, that’s actually very good, and is likely to tick up as restrictions relax and more people get back to traveling. But with more neos arriving towards the end of 2021 in preparation for US service launch, we’ll have to wait and see what the cabin comforts are like on those aircraft.