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International low-cost airline launches service in U.S. next spring, starting at BWI

Low-cost airline PLAY, which operates flights between Iceland and Europe, is launching service in the U.S. next spring from Baltimore and Boston to European destinations.

Ticket sales opened Thursday for inaugural daily flights to Europe from BWI Marshall Airport and from Boston’s Logan International Airport. Flights start April 20 from BWI to 22 destinations, including London, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Brussels and other cities, and May 11 from Boston.

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The Reykjavík, Iceland-based company is offering an introductory special of $109 for departure tickets on round-trip bookings to 11 destinations, including Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Paris and other cities. The deal is available through Dec. 24 on flights scheduled next year for May to June and August through October.

“This is a huge milestone for us to expand to the U.S.,” PLAY CEO Birgir Jonsson said in an interview.

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Starting service at Baltimore/Washington International makes sense because Icelandic airlines have long served the airport, and the area is considered a stable market, Jonsson said. Passengers will make early morning stops in Iceland before continuing on to European destinations.

Jonsson said the timing is right for the new, low-fare airline that ramped up during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not doom and gloom,” Jonsson said. “We start fresh. We have no legacy. We have no debt. We funded ourselves. ... Our whole ethos is not to try to be a huge company.”

Some recent research shows nearly two-thirds of Americans are planning their next vacations, with international trips especially popular, the airline said.

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“Personally, I think there’s massive pent-up demand for travel” as vaccination rates rise, the CEO said.

BWI began to see a rebound in passenger traffic lost during the pandemic over the summer. The day before Thanksgiving, departing passenger traffic hit 31,178, the highest number since the start of the pandemic and one that beat the previous high of 28,849 on July 16.

Other airlines that have launched inaugural or expanded service from BWI in recent years include Allegiant Air, a low-cost Nevada airline known for serving travelers from smaller cities. Allegiant began flying out of BWI in spring 2016, with six routes. And in June 2019, Spirit Airlines, another budget carrier, added six new routes at BWI.

PLAY, which will operate six aircraft by spring, said it has flown more than 87,500 passengers across Europe since it began operations in July. The company, listed on the NASDAQ growth stock exchange in Iceland, said it has a more than 96% on-time arrival rate.

Its most recent monthly report shows a load factor, or capacity measurement, of 58.3% in November, a drop from 67.7% in October, which the company attributed to a new rise in COVID-19 cases in Iceland and European markets.

“Long-term bookings remain strong but short-term bookings for seasonal weekend trips slowed down,” the company said in a Dec. 7 report. “This hesitation in the markets is due to rapid changes in travel restrictions, a rising number of COVID-19 cases across Europe, and uncertainty around vaccinations and the Omicron variant.”

PLAY said it is prepared to weather pandemic uncertainty for the foreseeable future because of flexible operations, a strong cash balance, lower-than-expected operational costs and no interest-bearing debt. It plans to expand to 15 planes by 2025 and launch additional destinations on the East Coast and in Canada.

To keep costs low, PLAY offers streamlined, no-frills service without extras such as magazines, Wi-Fi or entertainment, the company said. It hopes the low-cost model may appeal to travelers looking to keep costs down by giving up some creature comforts and traveling light.

For the price of a ticket, passengers can bring just one “personal item,” a small bag or purse. Fees apply to upgrades such as carry-on and checked luggage, in-flight meals, special bags for golf sets, skis, strollers and musical instruments, cancellation protection, and seats with extra legroom.

The airline currently has more flexible policies because of COVID-19 that allow for booking changes and cancellations. Those with a PLAY account are able to change booked flights when needed.

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