While reading a book about Anne Frank for a third grade assignment, my son asked if we could one day travel to see her diary and where she lived. With Europe already on the radar for a summer vacation and not wanting to miss my son’s window of interest, Amsterdam rose to the top of our travel list.
I zeroed in on Memorial Day week, hoping to avoid the very peak of tourist season, but flights were still about $1,200 per person. That’s when I found PLAY and boy am I glad I did.
The price was right and there was an opportunity to add on a few nights in Iceland. PLAY airlines hosted us for our trip and while I began our vacation with two skeptical tweens, we quickly became PLAY evangelists.
8 Things I Loved Flying PLAY Airlines
1. The Price
Let’s face it, flights make up a huge chunk of any travel budget. For us, flying a family of four to Europe was going to cost close to $5,000 and that was the lowest category of seats.
PLAY hangs its hat on being a low-cost airline. With the PLAY Basic bundle, our flights would have cost $1,500 total, but that’s without any luggage which wasn’t realistic for us. PLAY charges for pretty much everything — carry-ons, checked bags, food and drinks, even the seat you choose. After adding in all of those costs, plus cancellation protection, our total was $2,500 — still a 50 percent savings compared to traditional airlines and money we could use on lodging, food, and tours.
Booking well in advance and being more flexible with our dates could have saved us even more money. Living in the Midwest, we did need to travel to an airport PLAY served (more on that later), but we tacked on a weekend trip to see family to make it work.
2. Icelandic Treats
Flying PLAY makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a new destination as soon as you take a peek at the menu. It offers a variety of Icelandic selections and we made it our goal to try as many different items as possible. We thoroughly enjoyed the baguettes and wraps, the PLAY power meal, and especially all the sweets. We even washed them down with Icelandic soft drinks, beer, and wine.
Flight attendants heated items once we ordered them — not prior to starting service — a refreshing change from most airlines. When they were ready, the crew took extra care to offer any tips, like waiting a few minutes before mixing and digging into the PLAY power meal. I’m not sure if this actually made the food taste better or our taste buds were influenced by the added level of service, but we devoured everything we ordered.
3. Iceland Stopover
Iceland wasn’t on our itinerary until I realized every PLAY flight connects at Keflavik International Airport near Reykjavik. We decided to turn our layover into a stopover and spend 3 nights exploring the beautiful Golden Circle, South Coast, and a few of the amazingly relaxing hot springs in Iceland. We were able to experience two countries for the price of one since the stopover didn’t increase our ticket price. It was a tremendous bonus on top of our already reasonably priced flight.
Booking a stopover is currently not available online. You’ll need to call PLAY’s service team to help make the arrangements.
A word of warning: You’ll fall in love with Iceland! It’s simply gorgeous and we are already planning a return trip to drive the entire Ring Road.
4. Passport Control In Iceland
With all the planning that went into our vacation, it hadn’t crossed my mind that we’d need to go through passport control during our layover in Iceland. This turned out to be a great perk. Iceland is part of the Schengen Area, which allows travelers to move freely between certain countries. Once we landed, we were good to go, gaining an extra hour or 2 in our new destination rather than waiting in line again to get our passports checked. What a great use of our layover time!
5. Pleasant And Attentive Crew
I’ve been on many flights with good service, but there was something about PLAY’s employees that felt extra lovely. Warm and welcoming smiles came from each and every person, there was perfectly pleasant cabin service where they made a point to be on the level of seated passengers when asking and answering questions, every message over the intercom started with “Dear passengers,” and the pilot announced we were flying over Greenland so we could take a look — specifically pointing out the glaciers and western mountains below. There was a vibrant and special feel with nearly every touch-point from check-in to disembarkment. Happiness is one of PLAY’s core values and it comes through in their customer service.
6. No Frills
My sons’ first international flight came with all of the bells and whistles that basic economy offers — TVs, Wi-Fi, and what felt like constant food and drink. While it was great (maybe not the Wi-Fi), we found when those amenities aren’t offered, they’re also not necessary. Both boys read two books on vacation between plane and train rides, plus I wasn’t stressed trying to get the Wi-Fi to work since it wasn’t an option — a forced break from my work which was much appreciated. Instead, we took time to talk about the trip, what we were most excited about during the outbound flight, and on the return, our favorite experiences, meals, and where to travel next.
7. One Class
PLAY flies an Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO with three seats on each side of one main cabin. Depending on the plane, each flight can hold between 180 and 214 passengers. Personally, I love this set up. I’m not someone who enjoys having classes of seats and wondering if it’s really better on the other side of the curtain. This layout also seems to speed up the boarding process.
Once on the plane, the service was consistent throughout the cabin. There was never an issue of being left with limited food choices because our seats were near the rear. The seats themselves were comfortable and we had enough space. The pitch of the seats — the distance from one point on a seat to the same spot on the seat in front of it — is 29–30 inches for standard seats and 32–35 inches for the extra legroom seats. I was blessed with kids who can sleep pretty much anywhere, and I’m lucky enough to do that as well, but we never felt cramped and the seats laid back enough that we took a good snooze.
When you’re a low-cost airline, you need to own it and they do. Their “Pay less, Play more” slogan rings true. Having launched in 2019, they’re also taking a lead in sustainability by “tracking and reducing fuel consumption, offsetting carbon emissions, and limiting waste.” I also love the choice of red for their livery and flight attendant uniforms. Full disclosure: It’s my favorite color, but it’s a nice, vibrant look in my opinion. Their uniforms also appear to be comfortable, nothing stuffy, which also set the tone for the relaxed, yet professional, nature of the flight.
2 Things I Didn’t Love Flying PLAY Airlines
1. Size And Weight Of Every Bag Matters
With the understanding that this is important no matter which airline you fly, carefully reading PLAY’s size and weight requirements for luggage is imperative. While every airline has a box near the check-in counter that measures your carry-on bags, I’ve only been requested to use it once — when flying PLAY out of Baltimore. (Each one fit, by the way.) My biggest concern here, and the reason it’s on my “don’t-love” list, is not having a way to weigh my bags when returning home. This wasn’t an issue leaving for our trip, but after I purchased too much cheese in Gouda and didn’t have a scale at the hotel, it was a bit nerve-wracking heading to the airport and not knowing if I was going to need to rearrange a few things during check-in. Obviously, there are important reasons behind the requirements, but if you tend to overpack or over purchase on vacation, you may be paying extra at check-in.
Need To Know
PLAY’s check-in counter opened 3 hours before our flights in Baltimore and Brussels, so if you like to give yourself more time at the airport, just know you’ll be waiting at check-in. In Iceland, you’re able to use the self-service kiosks to check in and print your boarding passes and bag tags. Check-in desks and baggage drop-off open at least 2 hours prior to departure and close 1 hour prior to departure at Keflavik Airport. However, gates were not assigned until about an hour before departure.
2. Service Exclusively From The East Coast
PLAY flies from five airports in the U.S. and Canada — Washington Dulles, Baltimore, New York Stewart, Boston Logan, and Toronto Hamilton — to more than 30 European destinations. Living in the Midwest, of course I’d love for there to be a closer airport serviced by PLAY. While it was still cheaper to make our way to Baltimore and fly with them, it added a bit to the planning process. We ended up using it as an opportunity to spend Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C. with family before flying to Europe.
“PLAY operates a hub-and-spoke model, a strategic decision using Iceland’s central location between our destinations,” said PLAY CEO Birgir Jónsson. “With a stopover in Iceland, we collect passengers from across the East Coast and other European destinations in Iceland for a short, easy connection, which enables us to fill flights and keep our prices low.”
PLAY’s flight dates and times are also limited compared to other airlines. However, having one departure a day felt oddly less stressful compared to having to choose from several options.
Pro Tip: If you plan a stopover in Iceland, we rented a car and found the country to be very easy to navigate. We used Blue Car Rental, which was a quick 5-minute walk from the terminal. Lotus Car Rental also came highly recommended. No matter who you rent with, get the full coverage and always pay attention to the weather. Iceland’s weather can change very quickly, dangerously so. Here’s a list of helpful apps to navigate an amazing stay in this wonderful country.