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Play: The New Budget Airline of Iceland

Play: The New Budget Airline of Iceland

Subject: Same chocolate in the new wrapper or something better?

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Play: The New Budget Airline of Iceland
Budget air travel in Iceland has a new name in the form of a snazzy, soon-to-be-launched brand. Known as Play, the new company has a direct relation to the once-famous and now-defunct WOW air. A press conference held by the new company’s leadership was used as the occasion to reveal the new ‘Play’ branding and its distinct red theme. The event also included the new ultra-budget airline brand’s representatives revealing some details regarding operations.

How Did Play Originate? - The Story of the Revamped Wow Air Brand
WOW Air was a brand synonymous with ultra-budget air travel from Iceland to many prominent international locations. But the airline company ran into a phase or severe financial hardship that ended with it stopping operations completely from March 28, 2019. The sudden shutdown of this famous Keflavik-based airline company created a significant void in the Icelandic budget air travel space. This event was also marked by the sudden cancellation of scheduled flights, leaving thousands of passengers stranded and creating a chaotic situation. Many factors were pointed out for the untimely demise of Wow Air, including the company’s aggressive growth stance.

The collapse of WOW Air was followed by a series of events that led to the eventual formation of PLAY. Two groups were formed, due to the differences regarding the vision of the company’s future.

- The first group consisted of investors led by Michele Ballarin, an American businesswoman, purchased WOW Air assets. Its initial objective became relaunching the brand under the same name, but with an improved set of facilities for passengers. Some of the features of this airline would be meals cooked by 3-star Michelin-rated chefs, biometric data-based flight boarding and a passenger lounge. However, the latest developments suggest that the relaunched WOW is set to be launched as a cargo airline, at least initially.

- The second group, comprising mainly of ex-WOW Air executives, had the plan to launch a separate airline company (which is now PLAY). This group refrained from purchasing assets of the WOW Air brand, choosing to go down the investor route instead. This new airline would have a new brand identity but an operational model quite similar to its predecessor.

PLAY Airlines Now and What Lies Ahead
Arnar Már Magnusson, former Vice President of Operations at WOW Air, is set to resurrect a section of Wow Air as ‘Play’. The founders of the airline even named it as WAB or We Are Back humorously, before the name was real name was unveiled. Magnusson is the CEO of Play, leading a team of experienced aviation industry professionals. As per the details of a recent press conference, Magnusson expects to start the new airline’s operations from next year. Initially, it will operate from Keflavik Airport with two Airbus A321 aircraft and cover a total of six destinations across Europe. Plans beyond that might involve Play connecting to popular North American destinations. The yet-to-be-launched brand has a target of reaching the 10-aircraft mark in 3 years’ time.

Play is yet to receive the all-important operating certificate that any airline company needs to start operations. But, it has already gained funding of £40 million, a considerable part of which is from overseas investors. Avianta Capital, an Ireland-based investment fund is supposed to lead the funding, in effect, consolidating its position as 75% owner of PLAY. Avianta is owned by Aislinn Whittley-Ryan, the daughter of Ryanair’s part-owner, Michael Kell Ryan. The remainder of the company would be owned by a firm named Neon, which is headed by WOW’s erstwhile head of flight operations. 

The PLAY airline brand already has a website where interested passengers can start booking tickets from November. It is also distributing 1,000 free tickets to mark its launch. Too many details are not available regarding the airline right now. But Magnusson has revealed that Play is hiring pilots, flight crew, customer service staff, marketing executives and programmers, and across many other job roles.

What To Expect from PLAY’s Launch
The ultra-budget airline category is a sector of huge competition globally, with many brands trying to offer the best value, performance, and reliability to customers. Locals and tourists alike appreciate the reduced expenses of flying while having comfortable and hassle-free experiences. PLAY, which is yet to start operations, can become a major player in the Icelandic aviation space. The story would be different if WOW Air was still in operation or came back as a direct competitor. PLAY can establish itself as a leading service provider in a few years, but how well it can do remains to be seen.

PLAY is being led by some of the top former professionals of WOW Air. So it is safe to consider that passengers can expect at least a certain standard of service from the brand. Although it is starting with two aircraft, the airline's vision for growth seems to be quite ambitious. The founders, however, must ascertain that decisions are taken practically, to avoid a catastrophic event like the WOW Air shut down earlier in the year. Still, not much can be said regarding what is in the pipeline as the company has not revealed a lot. Since the domestic aviation industry is not significant in Iceland, a lot depends on how airline companies can expand internationally.

From the passenger standpoint, the emergence of this brand can spell good news. They will be able to enjoy the perks of low-cost flying once again. Tourists from Europe and North America can expect to travel to Iceland via this airline in the next few years. Depending on the type of business it does, PLAY might even think of expanding to other continents. 

The website of the airline states that its fundamental principles include economical prices, customer happiness, timely performance and simplicity, along with a safety-first stance. PLAY’s branding is bold and its founders are optimistic about what lies ahead. However, success cannot be taken for granted in today’s dynamic global markets. The brand can have a considerable impact on the Icelandic aviation space.

Author: (Abhi Chauhan)
Date: 07/11/2019


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