Iceland’s Play Airlines is ready to stretch the legs on its A321LR fleet. The carrier will offer service between its Keflavik hub and Orlando, Florida starting this winter. The new service will fly thrice weekly.
PLAY is strategically growing its presence in the United States, and our decision to accelerate the addition of this route is driven by increasing consumer confidence in and demand for affordable travel.– Play Airlines CEO Birgir Jónsson
The route will launch as a seasonal operation, from the end of September through April 2023. While the company’s prior route announcements (Boston, Baltimore, Stewart/New York) led with a focus on travelers heading to Europe, this time around is different.
Demand for winter travel to Florida’s tourism hub is key, as Play CEO Birgir Jónsson explains. “We anticipate this route to be popular with European passengers seeking to escape the cold winter to experience Florida’s popular parks and resorts.” Jónsson does expect some traffic the other direction as well, however, with “American travelers visiting Europe to see family for the holidays or to tour festivals and winter attractions.”
Play aims to dip in to the high demand for Disney traffic from the UK, with the release noting it will be the only airline offering a connection from London’s Stansted Airport to Orlando. The massive capacity offered non-stop by Virgin Atlantic and British Airways from Heathrow and Gatwick are unlikely to be swayed by a couple hundred seats via a connection, especially with the strong package tour deals those airlines offer. But more options is generally a good thing for travelers.
Play also hopes that the route can attract visitors to South Florida, or those looking to mix-and-match on their holiday visit. The carrier specifically mentions the Brightline rail service that plans to connect Orlando with Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. The private rail line is still under construction, with a completion target at the end of 2022. Brightline aims to carry passengers on its extended route by early in 2023.
Long flight, longer layover
At 3,534 miles, the route becomes Play’s longest by a decent margin. That creates some challenges for the operation, however.
The other US three markets all offer near-daily service. Orlando will only fly three days per week. The schedule sees the plane overnight in Orlando before returning to Iceland the following day.
That’s bad news for aircraft utilization and shows a deviation in Play’s model from the early Icelandair setup it mostly appears to be replicating. Eventually Icelandair did expand its route structure to include such overnight stops in the USA, but not until the operation was much more broadly established.
Even with the lower aircraft utilization the company sees opportunity in the market. This comes, perhaps, In large part because it has to do something with the planes. Typically the European winter season is especially soft for leisure travelers and the low cost carrier segment.
Norwegian went so far as to decamp a few planes to the French Caribbean to try to grab revenue on flights to North America for a few years rather than leaving the aircraft idle in Scandinavia. Play’s approach is not quite that extreme, but it shows that fleet utilization isn’t the only metric under consideration for route planning, especially in the off season.
And, while the flight is a long one, it doesn’t even break into the top 25 for A321LR services around the world. Moreover, the carrier remains confident that the A321LR can serve the market, even with winter headwinds, with “no concerns regarding payload performance or range.”
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