When low-cost Nordic carriers Norwegian Air and WOW Air bowed from the US market (Norwegian departed willingly, WOW went bankrupt), it created a considerable gap for fans of bare-bone European carriers. But don’t despair, bargain travelers, the gap is quickly being filled.
This spring, Iceland’s Play airlines debuted in the United States, and it follows the WOW model of no-frills flights from the US to Europe, all connecting through a hub at Iceland’s Keflavik Airport. Play shares much of the same corporate DNA as its predecessor. It was founded by WOW executives Arnar Már Magnússon and Sveinn Ingi Steinþórsson.
Play CEO Birgir Jónsson (another former WOW exec) told the Globe that the initial model for WOW was successful, but when it expanded beyond short-haul flights from the East Coast, it ran into financial troubles. Play was born of a back-to-basics mentality for shorter routes.
A couple of weeks after Play launched a new daily route out of Logan, I booked a one-way flight to London. (Play goes to London Stansted Airport rather than Heathrow.) Here’s what it was like:
BOOKING: Play’s website is clean and (sometimes) easy to use. You can currently reach 21 destinations throughout Europe from Logan. After entering the destination, you’re immediately taken to a monthly fare calendar that shows prices by date. This is easier than the traditional method of searching for a specific date or date range that you’ll find on most airlines’ websites. I paid an extra $19 to choose a seat for my one-way flight to London, but a website glitch continually prevented me from actually picking a seat.
EXTRAS: There are no extras on Play. You’ll pay for everything. The only thing included is one personal item, which must fit under the seat in front of you. Ancillary charges vary by destination and time of year. I paid $19 to pick a seat and a steep $72 to check a bag for my flight. Most airlines allow a maximum weight of 50 pounds for checked bags, Play’s limit is 44 pounds, so be sure to weigh your suitcase before you go. A carry-on would have added $40 to that total. After extras and taxes, my tempting base fare of $218 to London came to $348. Once on board, you’ll pay for drinks and food.
CHECK-IN: There are no kiosks for self-check-in at the airport, so leave time to check in at the desk. I arrived early for my flight and didn’t encounter a line. The counter agent immediately apologized for the glitch that prevented me from picking a seat online. She assisted me with finding a seat, although I was slightly worried when she told me she had been on the job for two weeks and had “the attention span of a goldfish.” But otherwise, the process was smooth.
THE FLIGHT: Unfortunately, the goldfish counter agent put me in a seat that had already been assigned to someone else. I wasn’t the only one given a seat that had already been claimed. I heard this happened to others on the flight. The gentleman double-booked in my seat was adamant that he was not moving, so I waited for the flight to board before finding a new seat. Thankfully the flight was half-empty.
Once the seating kerfuffle subsided, I noticed something remarkable. I had an incredible amount of legroom. The seats on the brand new Airbus A321 had a pitch of 34-inches (the measurement between one seat back and the same spot on the next seat back.). Currently, JetBlue’s seats have a pitch of 32 inches, and Spirit has a pitch of 28 inches. The seats were a bit hard, but the leg room made me too happy to notice. Sadly, Play’s fleet is not a consistent 34 inches. The average pitch on Play is 30 inches, so getting that extra legroom is the luck of the draw.
There is no onboard entertainment or Wi-fi — again, bare bones — so prepare to bring your own or read the menu for several hours. My first impression of the young flight attendants was that they looked like members of an Icelandic pop band. Uniforms consist of T-shirts, sporty red jackets, and white sneakers. But they take their jobs seriously, and I was impressed by their friendliness.
Transfer to my flight from Iceland to England was smooth. It helps that Keflavik Airport is tiny.
THE VERDICT: Aside from the mix-up with my seat, and the problem with the website, which I was told was being addressed, the experience on Play was better than flights on the defunct WOW. By now, travelers are well-versed in paying for extras, but before you buy your ticket, make sure you understand the additional charges and then compare the fare to other airlines. If I encountered outrageous fares on other airlines, I would consider Play again, mainly if the seat pitch remained a delightful 34 inches.