From seats to snacks, what’s it like to fly a long-haul route (London-Reykjavik-Boston) with Icelandic low-cost airline Play? Amy Rose Everett reports
Play is an Icelandic airline that’s been operating since 2019, commencing flights from Iceland to Europe in the summer of 2021. US destinations were announced in late 2021, with services starting in April 2022. All require a quick transfer in Keflavik airport (Reykjavik), Iceland.
So what’s a low cost, long-haul transatlantic flight really like? I was flying from London Stansted to Boston Logan International via Reykjavik on an A321 and A320neo.
I checked in online about 12 hours before my flight using the Play website, which I found to be very user-friendly. Online check-in opens 24 hours prior to your flight and is also done through your MyPlay account. Check-in closes one hour prior to the flight’s scheduled departure time.
I punched in my passport details and personal information, before being issued with my boarding pass. I was able to pick my seat in the first row (1E) on the right hand side of the plane for the first leg of the journey. This meant I automatically had a little more wiggle room (and the best view of Iceland’s coastline possible, flying West!). Grab a window seat if you can.
AT THE AIRPORT
I arrived at Stansted via the tube and the Stansted Express, which I find to be a fuss-free way to travel from London’s Liverpool Street. My flight was scheduled to depart at 11.35am and I arrived at 9am, leaving a nice gap before the 10.55am boarding time. My ticket included one carry-on bag and one checked 20kg bag, which I put in the hold.
Having checked in online the night before, dropping my bag off went smoothly, and there was no queue. Despite it being half term week (I flew on October 25) the airport was busy, but not terribly so. Security took around 20 minutes start to finish, passengers required to remove liquids and electronic devices from their bags. I was also asked to remove my shoes and walk through a separate body scanner, which added on a few minutes.
I perused the shops at London Stansted including Sunglass Hut, Boots, LEON and Pret A Manger. I spent about 40 minutes before I boarded the shuttle train to Gates 1-32, which has two stops (I alighted at stop two, for Gate 32). Once off the shuttle it was a few short minutes’ walk to the gate. There were toilets right by the gate, though disappointingly, no water fountains. A friendly member of Play staff informed me for next time; Stansted’s free water fountain is found by Pret A Manger, where I’d just come from.
I’d never flown long-haul on a low-cost airline before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. Upon arrival at the gate (Play close gates 15 minutes before departure) my passport and boarding pass were checked. Both planes were boarded quickly with minimal fuss. My flight was pretty empty – presumably something to do with recent volcano activity in Iceland – and I was happy to see rows of empty seats. Table trays had been strapped on to the middle seats of empty rows, affixed with a cable tie – no curling up and lying down for a cheeky snooze, here.Waiting to board my second plane in Reykjavik, I once again noticed how friendly and kind the staff were; the men dressed in brown suits with white T-shirts, the women in red cardigans or blazers and pencil skirts. At one point a stewardess announced: “We’d like to congratulate Irene on her birthday today and we hope she has the best flight!”Announcements for a few missing passengers were much more relaxed and friendly than you might hear in London. “We are missing passengers and we would hate to leave without you! Do please make your way to the gate.” The staff’s demeanour contributed to an overall feeling of calm.
FLIGHT: LONDON TO REYKJAVIK
We boarded an Airbus A321. Our pilot was particularly cheerful and informative, delivering his take-off spiel in both English and Icelandic. In terms of in-flight entertainment, that’s about as much as you can hope for. Food and drinks service is not included in the ticket price, despite the flight being transatlantic. This is no-fuss, no-frills flying – you don’t pay for what you don’t get (but at least the seats recline).
Arriving in Reykjavik, we boarded a shuttle bus for a very short ride to the terminal. Passengers were split into those with on-going travel to the US (me) and all other destinations. I scanned my Reykjavik-Boston boarding pass and walked straight through to check out the screens, which informed me I had over an hour to relax until boarding for the second leg of my journey.
Seating is pretty snug, not dissimilar to your Wizz Air’s and Easyjet’s, with no business or premium economy sections. Being a diminutive 5ft 3in, lack of legroom doesn’t bother me too much, but I can imagine these flights can get pretty uncomfortable for anyone over 6ft. There is a foldaway table stowed in your armrest, or a pull-down table with a separate drinks holder attached to the seat in front.
My transfer was in Iceland, Reykjavik, somewhat confusingly also labelled and referred to as Keflavik. I was relieved to learn that Play takes care of moving suitcases from one plane to the other.
One hour allowed plenty of time to locate the toilets, explore the Iceland-themed gift shop and grab an open sandwich at one of the handful of kiosks serving hot and cold local food, as well as the usual selection of Western snacks (the hot dog stand was popular). If your changeover falls in the middle of the night, all is incredibly quiet, and most shops will be closed. Bar the aforementioned hot dog stand (not the worst news).
A self-sevice counter offered fish and chips, fried chicken and the like, as well as interesting native snacks such as dried sea cucumber. The atmosphere was serene, toilets were clean and no space was overly crowded. I didn’t struggle for a seat or to find somewhere to prop my laptop to get on with some work while I waited for my gate to be announced.
FLIGHT: REYKJAVIK TO BOSTON
We boarded an Airbus A320neo. For this second leg of the journey I was seated in 10E; the space between Play’s rows is between 28in and 35in depending on whether you purchase a seat with extra legroom.
I enjoyed spectacular views over Iceland’s coastline as we took off. Flying over snow-capped mountains and fjords was transfixing; nothing short of incredible. This part of the journey ranges from 5.5 hours to 6 hours depending on tailwind and headwind.
There’s no wifi but I was happy to spot super useful USB charging ports in between every seat – an absolute lifesaver on disjointed journeys like this. Play’s aircrafts are equipped with the latest generation engines that ensure a peaceful, quiet cabin environment.
Fairly spacious Recaro and Geven seating was a nice surprise. I found on my second flight that I had to stow my bag a row or two away from where I was actually sitting, due to the overhead lockers being too full. Having to double back past my row to grab my bag upon landing was a little inconvenient as other passengers were eager to get off the plane as quickly as possible.
A selection of crisps, chocolate, porridge and noodle pots are available to purchase on Play flights on their own or within a selection of deals (here is a link to a sample menu). Hot and cold snacks plus drinks were served about half an hour after take off on each flight, hot food served in red cardboard boxes marked “PLAY with your food”. The Icelandic snack box features a Draumur chocolate bar and Opal sweets. The breakfast deal includes tea, coffee or hot chocolate and a croissant, chocolate muffin or pain au chocolat for €5.I tried the Meal Deal, choosing the ham and cheese baguette, which arrived piping hot 15 minutes later, with a surprisingly substantial amount of filling – though ingredients were predictably low quality. This plus a small can of Pringles and a small bottle of water cost €12. Cups of water aren’t available, so frustratingly, you’ll likely have to purchase a plastic bottle if you’ve forgotten to bring your own. Alcoholic drinks are available; coffee with Baileys is €10 and a spirit and mixer is €10. You can get two canned beers (Gull or Carlsberg) for €16. Shiro nicotine pouches are available.
PRICE You can fly with Play from London Stansted to Boston Logan from £221 return but there are lots of each-way fees for added extras such as checked baggage and extra legroom seats. There are three ticket types: Play Basic, Play Value and Play Flex.
Though a direct flight is undoubtedly less hassle (and better for the environment), every aspect of my journey with Play was as seamless as it could have been. As promised, staff were notably friendly and helpful.
Service was delivered with a warm smile at every touchpoint and though snacks and drinks were pricey (and difficult to keep resisting across two fairly long flights), those extra costs could have been avoided with some prep. This experience felt cleaner and smoother than journeys I’ve taken with other low-cost airlines operating from the UK.
Being no-frills, there is no in-flight entertainment or wifi.