Icelandic Startup PLAY Applies For US Flight Permission

On August 20th, new entrant PLAY applied to the USA’s Department of Transportation for a foreign air carrier permit and exemption authority. This comes almost exactly two months after the airline’s first flight took off. We look at what this means and where it might fly.

PLAY first A321neo
Iceland’s PLAY expects to serve the US in 2022, with Boston, New York, and Washington-area most likely. Photo: PLAY.

PLAY’s application to the US

PLAY’s application did not specify any particular routes, with the carrier seeking approval to carry passengers from Iceland and across wider Europe to any destination in the US. The wide breadth of the application is standard.

While its application says, “PLAY requests expedited processing of this application to allow it to begin the proposed services as soon as possible,” the carrier expects to launch service to the US in the summer of 2022. It had previously mentioned spring 2022, so it will be sometime around mid-2022 if all goes to plan.

PLAY in Paris
PLAY uses 192-seat, all-economy A321neos, of which it now has three, each ex-Interjet. Photo: PLAY.

The fourth Icelandic airline to the US

North America has always been part of PLAY’s network plan. And if approved, the new entrant will be the fourth Icelandic airline to fly non-stop to the US since 2004, joining Icelandair, Iceland Express (2010-2011), and WOW Air (2015-2019).

Icelandair still exists, of course, with its US network comprising 10 destinations this summer. Earlier this month, we looked at where Icelandair is using its Boeing 737 MAX and found that Keflavik-Seattle is the world’s longest non-stop 737 route.

PLAY A321NEO
This A321neo, TF-AEW, is 3.3 years old. At the time of writing, it is en route from Paris CDG to Keflavik. Photo: Colin Cooke via Flickr.

Where might PLAY serve?

PLAY’s CEO, Birgir Jónsson, has previously said that its US network is likely to comprise the (fully obvious) cities of New York, Boston, and Washington, commenting as follows. Jónsson has also said that Toronto, in neighboring Canada, is a similarly likely destination.

“You don’t have to be a genius to see that these are the major cities. I mean, it’s going to be New York, Boston, and Washington, these kinds of cities at least. Then we will see [if] we have some surprises.”

Not only are these cities clearly larger point-to-point markets to Iceland as well as to Europe generally, but they’re also among the closest to Keflavik. This means four sectors could be had per aircraft per day, combining a round-trip to both the US and across Europe within 24 hours. This will be key for aircraft productivity as well as connectivity.

PLAY Crew Arriving in London Stansted on Inaugural flight 24.06.21
PLAY serves seven destinations across Europe this summer, including London Stansted, its first route, which began in late June. The airline has said that demand for leisure destinations has been “significantly stronger than expected.” Photo: PLAY.

Likely focus chimes with WOW’s experience

PLAY’s probable US network chimes well with the core strength of defunct carrier WOW Air, which PLAY’s Jónsson acknowledged expanded far too quickly. Yet, you can tell where was stronger, route-wise, for WOW by looking at its history.

WOW began North America in 2015, with Baltimore and Boston initially served. Its route map increased to seven the following year when its A330s made an appearance. In 2017, its North America network increased to 10, while it hit 17 the following year, including St Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.

From zero to 17 destinations in the US and Canada in two years (!). Then came the cuts, with WOW again focusing on its core Baltimore and Boston markets.

Where would you like to see PLAY serve in the US? Let us know in the comments.

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