After months of failed rescue efforts, it's finally official: Icelandic budget airline WOW air is dead.
The airline announced early Thursday that it had ended operations immediately and canceled all remaining flights. The airline's abrupt – though not unexpected – closure leaves thousands of passengers stranded worldwide.
WOW air kept it short and to the point in its announcement: “WOW AIR has ceased operation. All WOW AIR flights have been canceled.”
What Happened to WOW?
It ends a months-long “Will it fail?” saga for the once mighty budget airline that stormed onto the scene with dirt-cheap fares to Europe and chic branding. Once heralded as one of the better budget airlines ferrying passengers to Europe and back, it sank into a tailspin.
Here's what happened: WOW air grew too fast, setting up flights between more than a dozen U.S. cities to Reykjavik (KEF) and beyond into Europe. By last fall, it was clear WOW was running on fumes. Icelandair backed away from not just one, but two potential takeover bids from the airline. So did Indigo Partners, a hedge fund with a knack for making budget airlines profitable.
By the winter, WOW was forced to cancel the bulk of its U.S. routes and return nearly half of its aircraft. It also played around with passengers booked on those flights, asking them to take a gift card rather than a refund. And it waited several weeks to inform some of those passengers about their canceled flights.
After a string of high fuel prices, times got tough for budget airlines. And WOW air isn't the first to pay the price.
Primera Air collapsed overnight, among other budget airlines that have folded in recent months. Even the mighty Norwegian Air, perhaps the best-known and most stable low-cost carrier flying across the Atlantic Ocean, is struggling.
And WOW air was clearly desperate. Here at Thrifty Traveler, we haven't published any of their dirt-cheap fares for many months amid their financial turmoil. As late as Wednesday, WOW was advertising fares as low as $99 each way to Europe. Despite a last-ditch plan to get investors on board before Thursday's closure, it was clear that the airline would never actually make those flights.
What Travelers with WOW Bookings Should Do
At this point, the only North American destinations with WOW flights to Reykjavik (KEF) and beyond include: Detroit (DTW), Newark (EWR), Baltimore (BWI), Boston (BOS), Toronto (YYZ), and Montreal (YUL).
WOW has set up a page with recommendations for passengers booked on flights that will never take off. For starters, request a chargeback from the credit card company you used to book the flight. You should have little issue with getting a bank to refund the charge for a service that was never fulfilled.
But then there's the matter of passengers stranded around the globe. WOW air had more than two dozen flights scheduled just on Thursday that won't take off.
The airline itself recommends asking for so-called “rescue fares” if you need to get home in a hurry. These are discounted fares that airlines offer when an airline cancels flights en masse or goes kaput. WOW air says it will publish information on these potential options shortly.
Icelandair immediately stepped up, offering discounted fares for passengers who have already taken the first half of a round-trip journey and were due to return between March 28 and April 11.
If you purchased trip insurance or paid for the flight with a card with great trip coverage like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, you'll likely get help covering any unforeseen expenses due to the cancellations.
The writing has been on the wall for months, but this is still sad. WOW air was a once-mighty force in the airline world. But more importantly, its low fares to Europe helped drive down costs on airlines big and small.
Its collapse doesn't help any travelers, whether they were booked on WOW itself or not.