The Icelandic airline “WOW Air” took to the skies in 2011 with the promise of providing travelers a safe and cheap way to fly from Iceland to points in Europe and North America. The idea literally “took off” and the airline began expanding and adding routes to major cities like New York and London, as well as smaller cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Unfortunately, on March 28th, 2019, WOW Air ceased flying and left thousands of stranded passengers in Iceland, as well as various other cities around the world.
Passengers were notified by WOW Air that other airlines would provide “rescue fares” to help get the stranded passengers back home. The “rescue fares” are not cheap since they are last minute tickets, however, the discount code for these tickets should help to offset some of the costs of the higher fares.
A quick search on Twitter reveals some rather upset and irate passengers:
While most passengers of WOW Air will receive a refund, we are being told that this process could take up to 4 months until they are made whole again for their unused tickets.
WOW Air operated a fleet of mostly newer Airbus aircraft.
Airbus A-320 NEO -> 178 seats
Airbus A-321 -> 200-210 seats
Airbus A-321 NEO -> 200 seats
WOW Air was notably famous for the ultra cheap flights as low as $99 to fly from North America to Iceland, and flights as cheap as $150 to fly to destinations such as Paris, London, and more.
The public consensus among industry professionals is both that WOW Air expanded too fast, and added too many cities that are close together.
When WOW Air expanded in the United States to smaller mid sized cities, they launched a flight to Pittsburgh Int’l Airport. The flight to Pittsburgh was a huge success, as it attracted many types of people. Budget conscious business travelers looking for a cheap way to Europe, college students flying abroad, and just anyone looking to visit Europe or Iceland for a very cheap price.
Pittsburgh was a great market for WOW Air, as they drew passengers from not only the Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania region, but also from as far away as Columbus, Cleveland, and Detroit. Passengers from these areas were quoted as stating they chose the WOW Air flight due to the incredibly cheap fares.
After more than a year of success in the Pittsburgh market, WOW Air added additional flights to cities within this same catchment area (Cleveland and Detroit). Aside from adding a flight to Cleveland (less than 2 hours from Pittsburgh), WOW Air had additional competition, as Icelandair (the main competitor for WOW Air), announced service to Cleveland as well.
Passenger numbers from Pittsburgh to Iceland dropped, but the impact wasn’t as drastic as one would expect. After only a few short months, WOW Air dropped Cleveland as a destination, and just recently Icelandair announced they are stopping service to Cleveland as well.
It’s unfortunate that WOW Air expanded as rapidly as they did. I think that focusing on mid-sized cities with a large catchment area could have proved a massive success for WOW Air in the long run. However, just as other airlines have experienced, when you expand too fast, you get burned. Markets need some time to mature and grow, and usually don’t produce immediate results overnight.
It will be sad to see the colorful WOW aircraft disappear, but it is even more sad to think about all of the families impacted by the shuttering of this creative discount carrier.
Take care WOW employees! We hope you can take off with a new employer.