This Is What It’s Really Like to Fly Low-Cost Airline Play to Europe

Icelandic airline Play offers fares to Europe as low as $100 one-way. AFAR’s special air correspondent recently flew the airline to find out if there’s a catch.

image of a Play airplane window with a view out onto the wing

The view on a Play flight.

Courtesy of Play

Iceland has been a waystation for budget travelers hopping the pond ever since Icelandair first burst on the scene with cheap transatlantic flights in the 1960s. While the deals are often irresistible, doubts crept in about the risks of flying to Iceland on the cheap when in 2019, Icelandic low-cost carrier Wow went bust in spite of (or perhaps because of) stunts like $49 fares from the United States to Europe.

But that’s not the end of the story. Enter Play Airlines, which launched in 2019 (after scooping up some of Wow’s assets and hiring many former Wow crew members and executives) and is the latest startup from the island nation to revive the notion that yes, you can cross the Atlantic for less than you’d pay for your first hotel night (Play’s fares can dip to as low as at $100 one-way from the U.S. to Europe during promotional periods).

Having had plenty of experience flying no-frills airlines abroad, I was eager to see what this latest incarnation had to offer. So, last spring, I traveled on Play Flight 112 from Boston Logan to Keflavík Airport, Iceland’s main international hub. Here’s what it was really like.

Checking in at Boston

There's no TSA PreCheck with Play, so make sure to get to the airport early.

There’s no TSA PreCheck with Play, so make sure to get to the airport early.

Courtesy of Play

At Boston Logan International Airport, Play flies out of Terminal E, where most international flights operate.

Unfortunately, Play doesn’t participate in the TSA PreCheck program so travelers should be prepared to spend a little extra time in security. Thankfully, in my case, the regular security lines moved swiftly and having cushioned my arrival time, I had plenty of opportunity to graze the duty-free stores and food and beverage options in Terminal E before the 6:30 p.m. boarding call.

There’s no dedicated lounge for Play passengers, but if you’ve got a Priority Pass membership (which I do), you can head up to the Air France lounge, where you can grab a bite and a glass of wine before takeoff.

At the Play boarding gate, a gaggle of cheerful crew members in scarlet uniforms ushered us onto the plane; because this was a brand-new route, the plane wasn’t full and boarding was a snap. A flight attendant spotted me struggling with my wheelie and helped me hoist it into the overhead bin.

The door closed right on time for the 7 p.m. departure, although there was a brief delay pushing back from the gate. The pilot came on frequently with updates, noting that our flight time would be a swift five hours, reassuring those traveling beyond Iceland that they would not miss their connection. Later I learned that a good number of people aboard were heading onto other destinations in Europe, including Paris, London, and Berlin.

Economy seating for all

Play's cabin interiors are simple and the seats are comfortable enough.

Play’s cabin interiors are simple and the seats are comfortable enough.

Courtesy of Play

Play flies its shorter hops around Europe on a fleet of smaller Airbus A320 jets; and its transatlantic flights are via the longer 192-passenger Airbus A321 version. For international flights, seats are configured in rows of six, three on each side of the aisle, in an open layout—it’s all one class.

The seats have gray synthetic leather upholstery and adjustable padded headrests, and the chairs felt comfier than the average ultra-low-cost carrier seating. On my flight, all the rows on the plane had a generous seat pitch of 33 to 34 inches, in contrast to 28 inches in the typical cattle class. (Not all of Play’s planes have the same legroom, and the airline plans to add 22 seats to the jet type I flew, with three different seat-pitch sizes—that extra legroom I enjoyed will cost you extra.) The rest of my space was basic: There was no power outlet, Wi-Fi service, or in-flight entertainment, and the compact tray table can make it hard to use your laptop if the person in front fully reclines.

If all you want is a more affordable flight to Europe, Play will deliver on that front.
Barbara Peterson, AFAR’s special air correspondant

The flight attendants were friendly and attentive, and soon after takeoff they came through with a cart hawking drinks and snacks. Hewing to the à la carte pricing model, everything was for sale, with prices quoted in euros.

How much does it cost to fly Play?

My flight was $345 roundtrip plus one-way fees, such as those for carry-on and priority boarding ($27); checked bag ($35), and assigned seat ($22), but prices rise with demand and during the busier seasons. Round-trip flights to Europe with Play, depending on your ultimate destination and which ancillary services you choose, range from as little as $200 round trip (during a big sale) to more than $800. There are likely to be good deals during the shoulder and slower travel periods in the fall, winter, and spring.

Onboard the flight, beverages ranged from about a buck for a bottle of spring water, to around $3 for sodas, coffee, and juices, and $9 to $10 for beer and wine. There was also a range of sandwiches for about $9 to $10, and snacks. I ordered a cup of chicken-flavored ramen noodles for $5 and some Pringles for $3. (On the daytime return flight I chose a falafel wrap, while a fellow passenger highly recommended the filling hot ham and cheese baguette.) One flight attendant urged me to try Play’s “famous” Icelandic candies, so I gladly gave in and bought a $3 licorice and chocolate bar. After these caloric infusions, I had no trouble dozing off for the few hours that remained before we landed.

Arriving at Keflavík Airport and getting to Reykjavík

Play offers convenient access to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.

Play offers convenient access to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.

Photo by Shutterstock

We arrived right on schedule just before 5 a.m., and the sun was already up (this was, after all, about a month from summer solstice). As some passengers headed off to make their tight connections, those of us staying in Iceland headed to the immigration and customs hall. In a few minutes, I was in the airport lobby, where I could get a coffee and check out the small postarrival duty-free as I awaited a bus transfer to the city. Reykjavík is about 30 miles from the airport, and with no traffic it takes about 45 minutes to get to the main bus depot downtown.

Where Play flies to/from

Play flies to Reykjavík, Iceland, daily from three East Coast gateways:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI)
  • Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • New York Stewart International Airport (SWF)

From the Icelandic capital, Play offers connecting flights to some 35 cities throughout Europe, including Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, Venice, and Warsaw.

The bottom line: Is Play worth it for the low cost?

The Play slogan

The Play slogan

Courtesy of Play

At these low airfares, there are, of course, some downsides to flying with Play. There is no customer service line to call; instead, you can message the airline via Facebook, Whatsapp, or email, which can be frustrating when there’s a problem. And there is a wide range of additional fees depending on the type of service and extras, such as inflight food and drinks.

But if all you want is a more affordable flight to Europe, Play will deliver on that front. Given the exorbitant prices we’re often charged for flying across the Atlantic, this upstart offers an attractive alternative and, as a bonus, an opportunity to explore Iceland or spend a few days there on the way to points beyond.

Barbara Peterson is Afar’s special correspondent for air, covering breaking airline news and major trends in air travel. She is author of Blue Streak: Inside JetBlue, the Upstart That Rocked an Industry and is a winner of the Lowell Thomas Award for Investigative Reporting.
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