Airline Weekly

Wow Air Reboot Play Plans U.S. Start Next Summer

Icelandic budget startup Play Airlines plans to make its debut in the U.S. next summer, three years after predecessor Wow Air closed its doors.

Play plans to begin flights to destinations on the U.S. East Coast from Iceland with onward connections to Europe in summer of 2022 — a period that for airlines begins on March 27, 2022 — according to its application for a U.S. foreign air carrier permit on August 20. If it receives timely approvals, flights would begin nearly a year after Play launched in June and three years after it was formed by a number of former Wow executives as a “restoration” of the defunct budget carrier.

U.S. service is key to Play’s success. The carrier began flights to Europe in June but, in part due to the small size of Iceland’s market, needs to offer flights to North America to generate high volumes of flow traffic over its Reykjavík hub to make its ultra low-cost business model work. Its business is dependent on operating mostly full flights where more than 90 percent of seats are occupied.

A potential Play route map highlighting its Reykjavík hub from a June investor presentation. (Play Airlines)

In July, its first full month of service, Play carried 9,899 passengers and filled just 42 percent of its seats, airline data show. Play’s business plan assumes that it will fill 72 percent of seats on flights this year.

The need to fill planes — even during the slow winter months across the North Atlantic — was the downfall of Wow. The airline closed its doors in March 2019 after the winter season drained its cash reserves. Play is led by a who’s who of former Wow leaders, including CEO Birgir Jónsson, who was deputy CEO of Wow, and Chief Operations Officer Arnar Már Magnússon, who was vice president of operations at Wow.

As for its planned U.S. service, Play only said it planned to serve cities on the “east coast” in its application. Based on Wow’s former service, that could include Baltimore/Washington, Boston or Newark — all destinations that are within the range of Play’s Airbus A321neo jets. Play Chief Network Officer Daníel Snæbjörnsson was vice president of network planning at Wow.

Wherever it flies next summer, the carrier will face fierce competition. Most of the big transatlantic carriers, including Air France, American Airlines, Lufthansa and United Airlines, all plan robust schedules next year when they expect a significant rebound in traffic. JetBlue Airways debuted its long awaited London flights earlier in August, and plans to expand service next year. And next year, Lufthansa’s new long-haul budget subsidiary Eurowings Discover and Norwegian Air long-haul reboot Norse Atlantic Airways both hope to make their U.S. debuts.

Play is confident in its prospects. In an investor presentation in June, the airline outlined an ambitious growth plan and forecast only one year of losses: 2021. It anticipates an at least $4 million profit next year and growing that to roughly $43 million by the middle of the decade.

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