I Went on Low-cost Airline Play's First Flight From the U.S. to Iceland — Here's What It Was Like
Donning their bright red tailored suits, T-shirts, and white sneakers, flight attendants for Play, a new Icelandic airline, were ready for a historic take-off. Right along with them, I was prepared to board the first flight from the United States to Reykjavik last month — in a bright red aircraft that simply can't be missed.
Once on board, I settled into a roomy extra legroom seat and eyed the selection of Icelandic chocolate on offer (pro tip: try the milk chocolate with toffee and sea salt) before spreading out on the not-full flight and trying to get some sleep. The flight attendants were attentive and friendly, even reassuring me when we hit turbulence and checking on how long it would last.
But the real highlight came as we cruised over Greenland and a gentle announcement came over the loudspeaker, the crew pointing to the left side of the plane where the Northern Lights were visible, vividly green and dancing across the sky. Nearly everyone got up to look, taking turns in empty rows and comparing photos after the lights had started to fade.
Play first started flying in Europe last year, and launched its first flight from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Iceland last week. But Baltimore is just the beginning as Play plans to start flying out of Boston in May and New York in June before adding Orlando in October.
Like WOW Air, which the new airline is often compared to, Play will connect travelers from the U.S. to popular cities throughout Europe (think: Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, London, Madrid, and Paris). Flights will go through Reykjavik first on the airline's fleet of Airbus A320, A321neo, and A320neo aircraft. By this summer, the company will have six aircraft with plans to buy additional planes by next year.
"We already started in a difficult COVID period… [but] we have always had our sights set on today," Birgir Jónsson, the CEO of Play, told Travel + Leisure before the first flight from Baltimore last week. "There's a long tradition of aviation and communication and transport on this business model through to Europe via Iceland, going back decades. And as soon as we [opened] our tickets [to] sales last December, we saw the demand picking up."
Play is built to offer low-cost trips to Europe and back while charging for just about every add on. That's not necessarily a bad thing — in theory or in practice— just a fact.
When you book with Play, travelers pay for everything from carry-on bags with priority boarding to checked baggage, food, and drinks. But when compared to other airlines even with the add-ons, it's still often the cheapest option.
Each seat on Play's aircraft has a standard pitch of 29 to 30 inches with extra legroom seats offering 32 to 35 inches. And every seat reclines, which is not something all low-cost airlines can boast.
Like most flights, the point is to get to a wonderful destination without breaking the bank on the way there, and Iceland certainly delivers on the location part. Soaring waterfalls and moss-covered hills surround you nearly anywhere you go in Iceland, offering one breathtaking view after another.
One of the best ways to see the country is to go for a drive along Route 1 where groups of Icelandic horses, unique for their size and adorably short stature, hang out on the side of a narrow highway, just begging to be photographed. We drove past waterfall after waterfall on the southern coast, stopping to climb into the cave behind the famous Seljalandsfoss and getting soaked while we did it. We walked along the black sand of Reynisfjara beach and took in the crashing waves from atop otherworldly stacked rock formations.
Back near the city, I ordered a glass of Champagne from a swim-up bar and went for a soak in the new Sky Lagoon, which opened last year with sweeping views of the ocean and an enviable sauna, which is part of a seven-step ritual that left my skin feeling as soft as silk.
My last morning in Reykjavik, I stopped in at my favorite bakery, Brauð & Co, for some pretzel croissants and flitted between the local shops on Laugavegur, one of the main roads downtown. It was my third time visiting Iceland and I picked up a raincoat for myself and a stuffed puffin to bring home for my nephew.
And as I made my way back to the airport for my Play flight home, I planned what I wanted to do on my next trip to Iceland. Because with a flight time from the East Coast to Reykjavik as short as heading from New York to Los Angeles, a quick trip to Iceland always feels like a good idea.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.