Booking Strategy Passenger Rights

WOW Air Ceases Operations, Cancels All Flights

WOW Air ceased operations overnight and has canceled all flights, effective immediately. WOW broke the news in a very brief statement, with no details about the future of the airline or much direction for travelers affected by the cancellation.

As recently as this week, it appeared the situation at WOW had stabilized somewhat, as bondholders took action aimed at giving the airline time to find desperately needed investment. That apparently has not worked out. According to Iceland Review, “between 2,700 and 4,000 passengers are stranded in total.”

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“We have run out of time and have unfortunately not been able to secure funding for the company,” Chairman Skuli Mogensen said in a letter to employees, per Bloomberg. “I will never be able to forgive myself for not taking action sooner.”

What Travelers Can Do

The cancellation of flights leaves WOW customers stranded around the world, and WOW isn’t offering (or simply can’t offer) much in the way of assistance. WOW says “Passengers are advised to check available flights with other airlines,” and that “some airlines may offer flights at a reduced rate, so-called rescue fares, in light of the circumstances.”

WOW’s main competing carrier Icelandair announced it will provide rescue fares (read: discounted economy tickets) “[only] for passengers who have already embarked on their journey, and have a return ticket with WOW Air between 28 March and 11 April 2019. The fares are subject to availability.” Hopper also announced that it will refund all of its customers who booked a future WOW Air flight.

Per WOW’s statement, “Passengers whose ticket was paid with a credit card are advised to contact their credit card company to check whether a refund of the ticket cost will be issued.”

If you purchased travel insurance that covers bankruptcy, contact your provider immediately. Also keep in mind that insuring your airfare won’t cover additional losses, such as hotels, car rentals, or tours, so contact those providers as well if you will no longer be able to take your trip or need to reschedule.

WOW also says “passengers may be entitled to compensation from WOW Air, including in accordance with European regulation on Air Passenger Rights. In case of a bankruptcy, claims should be filed to the administrator / liquidator.”

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The Saga of WOW

The once ascendant low-cost carrier that boldly offered $99 transatlantic fares to Iceland and Europe has slowly unraveled over the past year. The first signs of trouble showed up when the carrier began cancelling US routes following an aggressive expansion. While the internal picture wasn’t clear, the move suggested financial trouble at the airline, which proved to be true.

The airline thought it had a buyer last November when its rival and fellow Icelandic carrier Icelandair agreed to purchase WOW and operate it independently. That deal collapsed, however, mere weeks after WOW announced it. This led WOW to shed nine of its 20 aircraft in late 2018, selling some for cash while generally trying to reduce costs and stay afloat.

Another investor appeared early this year and seemed ready to rescue the carrier through an acquisition. Unfortunately, that deal fell apart last week, plunging the carrier into uncertainty and leading to this week’s rash of cancelled flights.

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This week, WOW’s bondholders gave the airline a bit of breathing room by converting their bonds to an equity stake in the airline. This reprieve appeared to give WOW time to find an investor or buyer, which it needed if it hoped to continue operations. But as we learned overnight, that final push fell short.

Readers, did you ever fly with WOW? What was your impression?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the Boston travel guide.

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