PLAY airlines: What It's Like Flying the Newest Budget Carrier to Europe

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PLAY airlines review

PLAY airlines: What It’s Like Flying the Newest Budget Carrier to Europe

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Which airlines fly to Iceland? Well, American travelers can now say hello to newcomer PLAY airlines.

That's right – ultra-low-cost carriers selling ultra-low fares to Europe are back, and we jumped on their very first flight from the U.S. to Iceland to see what PLAY is all about.

 

Introducing PLAY airlines

Months after setting its sights on the U.S., PLAY Airlines and its big red planes became the newest carrier flying transatlantic with its very first flight between the United States to Iceland on Wednesday night with service from Baltimore (BWI) to Reykjavik (KEF), with more flights to come to New York-Stewart (SWF), Boston (BOS), and Orlando (MCO).

It's a familiar business model: PLAY is the successor to WOW Air, another low-cost carrier that fizzled out in 2019.

I took the inaugural flight and the PLAY experience mirrored what we've come to expect from these budget airlines: A cheap ride between the U.S. to Europe with zero frills. But what I didn't expect after getting through the gate was a comfier-than-expected seat with ample legroom and a nice headrest.

Here's what the PLAY Airlines experience was like on its very first long-haul flight from the U.S. to Iceland earlier this week.

 

A Few Surprises

An inaugural flight is never ordinary. The Baltimore Airport and PLAY spent months drumming up excitement for this first trip across the pond with some special touches like a water cannon salute as PLAY's first plane pulled up to the gate. And it's clear PLAY made some special moves to make a good first impression.

Still, there's plenty to glean from my experience – and it all starts with the seat. PLAY's Airbus A321neo plane and its seats were comparable to any domestic economy class seat you'd find on an American, Delta, or United flight in the U.S..

But there was even more legroom than you'd get on most domestic airlines on this PLAY flight: 34 inches! For reference, 34 inches of legroom is what you'll get in most Delta Comfort Plus seats. Extra legroom at every seat on a budget carrier? That's unheard of.

PLAY airlines seats

 

But this is where PLAY's special touch for this first-ever flight may have come in. Seats on many of its other planes crossing the Atlantic may have as little as 28 inches of legroom – more in the neighborhood of what you can expect flying Spirit Airlines. Just how cramped you'll be is a mixed bag: As of publication, flight data shows multiple upcoming dates on the Baltimore to Reykjavik route on flights with 34 inches of legroom, but many others with a knee-crunching 28 inches of pitch at each seat.

Make sure you know what you're getting when you book by searching via Google Flights and using the handy Legrooms extension – and keep in mind that it could change from the time you book. The experience could be that much worse without that wiggle room.

But I got lucky with this roomy configuration. My window seat, 21F, was a perfectly fine economy seat with a little bit of recline and plenty of legroom for my 6-foot frame.

PLAY airlines seat footroom

 

The extra room made putting the tray table in place easy. There was plenty of room to operate with it down.

PLAY Airlines tray table

 

One of the most surprising parts were the headrests on this A321neo. They were the extra padded headrests with the adjustable wings, which made finding a comfortable sleeping position slightly easier.

PLAY headrests

 

Each seat included its own dedicated air vents and lights.

Airbus PLAY plane

 

What was noticeably absent from the seats was any power at all. The spots where U.S. airlines and other transatlantic carriers normally put their plug-ins were empty on this PLAY ride.

PLAY no power

 

Overall, the seat exceeded my expectations for what a budget ride to Iceland would be like. At just five-and-a-half hours, I never got too uncomfortable on the plane. Plus, the inaugural flight was only about a quarter full, which meant everyone got to stretch out once we were up in the air.

Oh, and a special shoutout to the crew on this inaugural flight who woke us up midflight … to see the Northern Lights dancing over the skies of Greeland! I can't guarantee you'll get a glimpse of the Northern Lights on your own PLAY flight, but it was a special moment.

 

All the Extras (or Lack Thereof)

PLAY airlines offers cheap one-way flights as low as $174 to cross the Atlantic. To keep fares that low, something's gotta give.

If you want to save a few bucks and book with PLAY, there are some flight expectations you will need to shed and one you'll need to accept: Everything will cost you.

For starters, there is zero free water or food service on the flight at all. Food and drink service were offered three different times during the flight, twice at the outset and once again early in the morning before landing. But everything on the menu will cost you, including water at 1 euro for a small water bottle.

PLAY Food and drink menu

 

They have a decent selection, as you can see. But anything you want will require a swipe of your Visa or Mastercard – PLAY does not currently accept American Express for its inflight purchases or booking airfare, either. The alcoholic drink menu had more options, too.

PLAY alcohol menu

 

I was traveling with my sister, and we were hoping for a nightcap on our journey, so we opted for a couple of whiskeys and a bottled water, you know, for journalism…

PLAY whiskey

The whole order cost us 19 euro, or about $20. We opted against ordering food as we arrived for the 7 p.m. flight after a big dinner. If you need a meal, I could see how eating onboard PLAY could add up quickly.

Outside of the food and beverage service, another noticeable absence on the flight was any sort of connectivity. There was no Wi-Fi, entertainment options, or any way to access messaging at all. Don't expect a screen at your seat to watch anything, either.

TV screens positioned every four or five rows lowered from the ceiling of the Airbus and broadcast the underview camera of the aircraft during the ascent and descent. Throughout the flight, these screens broadcast the rotating flight tracker slides.

PLAY Airlines inflight

 

Finally, the lavatories were about as standard as an airplane lavatory gets. No special frills here, either: Toilet, sink, soap, towels, tissues, door. Pretty basic.

PLAY lavatory

 

 

Seats and Baggage

Like any low-cost carrier, you'll have to pay separately for seats and baggage too.

PLAY is a 100% economy operation – you won't find anything like Spirit's Big Front Seat or Icelandair Saga business class onboard. There are some extra legroom seats at the front of the plane as well as in exit rows, however – and as you might expect, those will cost you more.

The prices vary from flight to flight, but you can generally expect to pay more for a seat at the front of the plane than something in the back. Prices on flights typically range from as low $5 USD for a seat at the back to about $30 for something closer to the front. Extra legroom seats will run you $30 to $40.

play seat selection fees scaled

 

You'll get the lowest prices on seats by paying during the booking process. Don't want to pay? You'll get automatically assigned a seat during check-in.

Bags will cost you, too – all you get for free flying PLAY is a personal item like a backpack that goes under your seat. Once again, the fees vary from flight to flight – and your best bet to get a better deal is by adding a bag during the check-in process.

On flights from the U.S. to Europe, a bundle with a carry-on bag and priority boarding costs $26 to $37 USD, while checking a bag (of up to 44 pounds) costs $32 to $46 USD.

play airlines baggage fees

Checking In Snafus and Solid Service

As there weren't many people on the inaugural flight Wednesday night, the check-in and boarding process with PLAY was pretty smooth in-person.

But there were some technological bumps in the road as I readied to fly with PLAY in April. Three days before the flight, I discovered that my birth date was incorrect on my reservation. My birthday, April 1, was listed as March 31. I reviewed my sister's reservation, too, which also showed her birth date listed one day earlier than what we initially entered. It was clear this wasn't a user error, so what gives?

I emailed, tweeted, and WhatsApp messaged PLAY support – I couldn't find a dedicated phone line. Within about seven minutes, they messaged me back via WhatsApp. Their responses were in Icelandic, so I had to employ Google Translate to figure out what they were saying for the first few messages, but they were able to fix both mine and my sister's birthdates for me in about 30 total minutes.

The airline said there's a system-wide error for birthdates: Apparently, the PLAY system didn't properly account for timezone changes for U.S. customers entering information on their Iceland-based network. Whoops.

PLAY Help desk BWI

 

Then, 24 hours before the flight, PLAY urged customers to check-in online to save time at the airport. But the PLAY website wouldn't allow us to check in due to “technical difficulties. We later found out were related to our TSA PreCheck Known Traveler Numbers, so we went to the check-in counter at Baltimore's big, beautiful, but sparse international check-in area to do so.

The in-person check-in was smooth. A cheerful PLAY rep worked with a large team of other PLAY agents probably there to ensure a smooth day one at BWI were able to check us in at the counter.

PLAY Airlines check-in desk

 

Sadly, PLAY had not yet set up its relationship with TSA PreCheck, so no travelers on the PLAY flight were able to use PreCheck – every customer had to take shoes off and pull laptops out for the flight.

From there, the rest of the process was easy. There were speeches from the airport's CEO and the PLAY Airlines CEO, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony. That slightly delayed the boarding process, but another small army of gate agents were able to board everyone pretty quickly.

PLAY Airlines boarding

 

On the ground in Iceland, it was business as usual. Like all arriving flights in Reykjavik, we disembarked onto the ground and were swept away to immigration by bus, giving us one last look back at the big red plane that brought us there.

PLAY red plane KEF

 

How to Book PLAY Airlines

PLAY Airlines fares are best booked at the airline's website: flyplay.com.

The site's flashy, silly (you could say playful…) design puts a sheen on its barebones fares you can find with the airline. But like any flight, the best place to start your search for a good deal is by searching with Google Flights.

BWI KEF PLAY

 

At Thrifty Traveler, we don’t accept freebies. We use points & miles or our own cash to pay for every single flight or hotel you see reviewed here – including this one.

Google Flights and its calendar tool allow you to zero in on the dates with the very lowest rates for your travels to Iceland or onward to Europe. By the end of 2022, when it completes its expansion into the United States by adding Boston (BOS), Orlando (MCO), and New York-Stewart (SWF), PLAY will be connecting the following cities through its Iceland hub.

PLAY route map

 

At FlyPlay.com, the airline asks you to put in your origin airport and desired destination on the home page, and then asks how many travelers will be with you. For our example, we'll use a similar BWI-KEF search.

Then, you select your dates of travel using the airline's flight calendar, similar to Google Flights.

PLAY flight calendar

 

After selecting the dates, you choose your flights. If you're flying to or from the U.S., there's usually only one daily option, so this part is relatively easy. Then come all the add-ons and fees we've come to expect from ultra-low-cost-carriers.

Baggage fees PLAY

 

The airline is pretty good about being up front about its fees, listing them right out in the open on this page. Every passenger gets a personal item, but carry-ons and checked bags will cost you more. Then, you move on to seat assignment. After choosing your seats on both legs of your flight, you will be sent to the checkout page where you can review your booking info and pay.

Notably, PLAY Airlines does not accept American Express cards, so make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard you can use to make the transaction.

Read more: Why You Should Always Book Flights with A Credit Card

After booking, you'll get an email confirmation with a PDF containing all of your booking information. You can manage your booking at any time at PLAY's website.

 

Bottom Line

PLAY Airlines joined the transatlantic tussle in a big way this year with a fanfare-filled inaugural flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Reykjavik (KEF) in April.

The no-frills airline does not offer inflight amenities like snacks, drinks, Wi-Fi, seatback screens, or in-seat power, which it skips in order to bring consumers cheap flights to Europe. Some technological woes made the check-in process glitchy and not having a relationship with TSA PreCheck was a small bother to travelers on the inaugural journey from the U.S. to Europe.

However, we were surprised at the comfort level of the seats on PLAY's A321neo and were pleased with PLAY's customer service through WhatsApp to address our issues in the days leading up to the flight.

 

PLAY airlines FAQs

Is PLAY airlines real?

PLAY is a legitimate, new Icelandic low-cost airline offering affordable flights between North America and Europe.

What planes does PLAY airlines use?

PLAY airlines operates a fleet of Airbus A320neo family aircraft with a hub at Keflavík International Airport in Iceland.

How many planes does PLAY have?

Currently, PLAY airlines has a fleet size of 5 aircraft under its operations: two A320neos and three A321neos.

How long has PLAY airlines been around?

PLAY airlines was founded back in July of 2019, but went under a different name before officially rebranding to PLAY airlines in November of the same year.

Which airlines fly to Iceland?

Delta, Icelandair, United, and now PLAY airlines all fly the most frequently from the U.S. to Iceland.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

14 Responses

  • Hopefully these guys can last longer than WOW did. I flew Iceland air 20 years ago, and again 10 years ago. They dropped all sorts of included items. Honestly, I travel with charging batteries, get to the airport early and eat before flying, and my wife and I will share one big checked bag if we’re more than a few days (anything less than 4 days we can get by with backpacks). I don’t need the frills. And if it means saving 30-40% on getting to where we want to be, then perfect!

  • Nice and informative review, Gunnar! On your note of the legroom; PLAY’s A321neos all came from Interjet, which in a simpler explanation, was compared to JetBlue with respect to their legroom and complimentaries, and in their current state, retain Interjet’s original seating capacity of 192. If the listed legroom on the route seems to vary from day to day, it may possibly be from the A320neo operating the flight on some days, which is a smaller aircraft and seats 174 or so in PLAY’s configuration. Starting later this year, they plan on adding around four rows of seats to their A321neos, or at least that’s what they’ve indicated in their monthly presentations, so it may be advisable to enjoy the comfort while it lasts!

  • Thanks for the informative article! We are flying with Play to Iceland in September. I always go for cheapest even if it means less amenities, and we often pack up to a weeks worth of supplies in a “personal item”, LOL! Our flights are $300 round trip vs 500-600 through another airline. For that price, I’ll take some mild inconveniences! Hopefully they have that extra leg room on our plane; my 6 foot tall husband would appreciate it.

  • You should have mentioned that you will be charged “foreign transaction fee” (typically 3%) when booking with Play. So make sure you use a credit card that waives that fee.

  • Flying to Berlin with them on June 9th SWF to REJ, then REJ to BER. With one checked bag it totaled to $750. (They charge you for the checked bag and seat selection for each leg so I had to pay for the seat and bag 4 times.) Not too happy there is no entertainment but grateful I checked.

  • Pray that you have no delays or issues or you will come face to face with the least helpful and most confusing and unhelpful communication – outright contradictory at times – of any airline in existence. Never again.

    • I had same experience, they cancelled my flight and just told me that I will be flying 4 days later. I was in the foreign city, did not plan for my accommodation, did not really have much money on me. They did not care, there is not a phone number for them and their response via Messenger was very generic and not caring. I had a feeling I was texting with robot not a human. They DID NOT CARE for leaving me in the foreign city for four extra days. NEVER AGAIN!

  • We just flew BOS-CDG via KEF. Knowing it was a barebones airline and cost half that of legacy carriers, I wasn’t expecting much.

    Four flights. The first three flights, each on Play’s former-Mexican Interjet fleet, were wonderful. I was impressed. Great legroom, clean, video screens with geolocation mapping.

    The fourth flight just plain sucked. It was on TF-PPB, a former SaudiGulf A320. We were crammed in like sardines. At 6’2” my knees rubbed the back of the seat in front of me when my butt was pressed back in the seat.

    Each flight left late, which didn’t bother me because they left enough time to transfer and held flights because so many passengers had the same transfers. On the outbound trip we arrived 2 hours later than planned but the return trip landed on time despite the delays.

    I’d fly Play to Europe every time if I knew I’d fly on one of the Interjet planes. The fourth flight was so crammed and tight, though, that another trip on Play is probably not worth the risk.

  • The app did not allow me to get check-in through the app, I tried multiple times to no avail. When I contacted them, they only told me I was able to check in once at the airport (I only had two bookbags of clothes for my week trip. Once there, a bit before an hour prior to the flight take off, I was told by another company that Play attendance left, so I was left without any help and was then told to leave the airport.
    Does anyone know who I can call to get reimbursed?

  • I am looking to fly with Play in April of 2023. Because we will be carrying our backpacks on many days, I am striving to travel with only one backpack that can go under the seat in order to ensure we have packed light enough to carry our belongings. The backpack I have is very close to the measurements defined on the website but is one inch wider. The length and the depth are fine. Does anyone who has flown on Play know if they measured their ‘under-the-seat’ luggage or are those measurements just general guidelines for what will easily fit under the seat? Thank you so much for your reply.

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