How’s this for an AvGeek irony: it’s hard to planespot from a plane. Sure, while you’re on the ground there’s tons of aircraft around. But once you’re in the sky you’re zooming by other planes so rarely — and so quickly — that it’s hard to catch any of them. But one recent flight I took was a fun exception to that rule. 

Thanks to a winter wave of employee COVID infections and a high-profile system meltdown, Jetblue had a tough past year from an operational perspective. But they rebounded from those issues, and their onboard economy product still shines strong — especially the free high-speed inflight internet (“Fly-Fi”).

Fly-Fi is a high-bandwidth satellite-powered system that’s now available across the fleet. It provides gate-to-gate connectivity so you could start using it from the moment you board. On my flight from New York to Mexico I waited to log on since there were great takeoff views to be had. 

 

PLAY currently operates flights between Iceland and Europe using new Airbus A321NEO and A320 NEO jets. Image courtesy PLAY
PLAY currently operates flights between Iceland and Europe using new Airbus A320neo and A321neo jets. Image: PLAY

There has been a surge in international low-cost carrier (LCC) offerings, and in the past few months Northern Pacific, Norse Atlantic, and PLAY have all announced plans to commence service to the United States.

PLAY will launch service between the the north New York City metro area and 22 European destinations via its Reykjavik hub in late June of this year, using a fleet of three new Airbus A321neo and one A320neo aircraft, with five more jets on order from Airbus. Tickets for the new destination went on sale Feb. 1.

PLAY was founded by two former WOW executives in 2019. You’ll remember WOW as the Icelandic LCC that launched in 2012 and ceased operations in 2019 after cash-flow issues and two failed buyout attempts. The WOW legacy has influenced PLAY’s livery and LCC character.

PLAY’s New York metro destination is New York Stewart International Airport located in Newburgh, NY, and is the airline’s third United States destination, following Boston and Baltimore.

PLAY's billboard titles and bright colors are a carry-over from WOW
PLAY’s billboard titles and bright colors are a carry-over from WOW. Image: PLAY

PLAY CEO Birgir Jónsson explained that the airline launched in 2021 and “has been on a fast growth path. Despite the turbulence of the last year in the travel industry, PLAY is an airline born in a new era of travel and is bringing a modernized approach to the airline industry.”

With flight bookings trending upward and a forecast for increased travel demand, PLAY decided to enter the U.S. market, targeting budget-minded vacationers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jónsson said that, “even amid a dynamic market and the ongoing factors from COVID-19, PLAY has created opportunity growth, serving 24 locations, as well as securing favorable lease rates for our aircraft that will enable us to keep costs low. PLAY is focused on data-driven decisions about growth to new destinations, and New York is an important market in this expansion to enable both American and European travelers to reach new, iconic destinations at affordable prices.”

PLAY is aiming its services squarely at budget-minded travelers, students, and families, relying on affordable fares, reliable flights, convenience, and flexibility to do so. They’re offering no-frills base fares and an a la carte list of add-ons that either feels like a world of options or being nickel-and-dimed, depending on your point of view regarding airline service models. PLAY hasn’t announced any intention to join airline alliances as yet.

N8733M, a Southwest MAX departs LAX in September, 2021.

N8733M, a Southwest MAX departs LAX in September, 2021

Did you hear Southwest somewhat recently enriched their A-List perks by adding a long-desired feature? You might not have. I reached out to our friends at Southwest PR and it turns out there was no big announcement or PR campaign. They just sort of rolled it out and let folks discover it on their own. This latest benefit is something I had personally been wanting for years; problem is, now that they’ve rolled it out, I’m not sure that I still want it.

What’s this mysterious new perk? Click through to see for yourself…

We thought those animals on the Frontier Airlines livery were just hanging around looking cute. Turns out they were biding their time, plotting. And now they’ve made their move.

Some cuties on on the tails of aircraft - Photo: Frontier Airlines

That otter definitely looks like the scheming type – Photo: Frontier Airlines

Frontier just announced its planned purchase of fellow ultra-low-cost-carrier Spirit Airlines. The result will be a low-cost juggernaut, ranking fifth in size among America’s airlines. One of our more prescient contributors, Steven Kimball, suggested this merger back in 2016. And from the airlines’ perspective the merger makes a lot of sense.

Obviously there’s the similarity in their approach to bare-fare pricing and bare-bones service. But also the all-Airbus narrowbody fleet, which will definitely contribute to a smoother merger and operational synergies. Both airlines operate the A320neo, and the new combined fleet will boast great fuel efficiency (cramming a ton of passengers into each plane also helps efficiency, I guess).

Image: Spirit Airlines

What’s the upshot for passengers? The airlines are trying to spin this as a positive, with Frontier loyalists getting better access to Spirit’s network in Central and South America, and Spirit-ers gaining more destinations in the western United States. The combined airline’s heft may help it better compete with the big four. At the same time, this means fewer individual airlines within the ULCC segment, which may drive up fares in that part of the market.

Also it’s no sure thing that the government will approve this plan. On one hand, the current administration has expressed a desire to keep inter-airline competition strong, and has been less friendly to mergers and partnerships. On the other hand, the administration is a little more embattled now and may not want to pick this fight. Or they may buy into the two airlines’ argument that a larger fifth player in the market is better for competition overall.

Icelandair’s livery refresh features larger titles with a revised font, and a variety of new colors on the tail – Image: Icelandair

In what Icelandair’s director of marketing Gísli S. Brynjólfsson describes as “More of a refresh, not a total change,” the airline has begun rolling out an updated livery and associated marketing collateral.

Icelandair’s current branding was last updated in 2006. “We needed to strengthen our story and the emotional part of the brand,” Brynjólfsson said. “Icelandair culture has changed a lot, it’s much more relaxed than it was before.”

For perspective, he explained that the idea was to democratize the brand, as the current white, blue, and gold livery had been seen as a bit stuffy. “We took the gold out – it came up a few times in the talks with experts and focus groups that the gold-and-blue feels a bit royal – Icelandair is not a royal airline – Iceland is very democratic with small power differences,” he said.

Icelandair’s now-former livery seen on its very first 737 MAX-8, TF-ICE, which was also the first in the fleet to receive the update

“We are so much like a normal Icelandic company – the power distance between people is very little – we’re a company of equals, so that’s something that needs to be represented in the brand,” he explained.

For those who are fans of the airline’s iconic special liveries like Hekla Aurora and Vatnajökull (the glacier livery), he was reassuring. “We’re definitely going to continue to have special liveries.” But don’t expect to see the new livery on the airline’s substantial 757 fleet.

“I doubt that we will do the refresh on the 757s – we’re doing just the MAX to begin with. The fate of time for those planes (the older 757s), combined with the cost of changing those planes, would not be reasonable.” He did say the airline’s two 767s would likely receive the makeover at some point.