When an airline promises transatlantic flights – from the United States to mainland Europe – for a cost of $69.99, travelers sit up and listen. So, it’s fair to say WOW Air knows how to shake things up. The budget carrier started operating in 2011. By 2014, it had earned a reputation for impressive on time performances. The thing about WOW Air is its prices are so low, they tend to make travelers suspicious. Many are quick to write the airline off as a scam, despite the fact it has legions of loyal customers. It’s easy to find reviews online. Pricing structures are transparent. And bosses have spoken publicly about WOW’s business model. If you’re wary of WOW Air, there’s lots of easily available information. In this guide, we’ll explain why the airline might just be the future of intercontinental travel.
1. WOW’s Planes Are Hard to Miss
It’s nice to see an airline with a sense of humor, especially one that’s happy to make jokes about perceptions of its service. As one of the first to offer truly budget flights across the Atlantic, WOW Air is breaking new ground in many ways. And not just with its $177 trips between London and New York. WOW planes are bright purple, with the ‘WOW’ logo in striking white across the fuselage. They’re difficult to miss and impossible to ignore. Plus, each plane has a fun three letter name like MOM, DAD, DOG, LUV, JOY and GPA (short for grandpa).
2. Every WOW Air Plane Is an Airbus
The WOW Air fleet is made up entirely of Airbus planes, a popular choice among budget carriers. Operating an Airbus fleet means lower pilot training costs, easier maintenance and better turnaround times. In 2017, the airline flew Airbus A320, Airbus A320neo, Airbus A321, Airbus A321neo and Airbus A330-300. In 2018, it had plans to add the newly released Airbus A330-900 to an already impressive roster of planes.
3. WOW Air Is an Icelandic Airline
In what seems like a fairy tale story, WOW Air is owned by an Icelandic entrepreneur with no previous experience of the aviation industry. Businessman Skuli Mogensen founded the company after he sold a major tech venture to Nokia in 2008. In 2012, he bought and took over Iceland Express, the country’s leading low cost carrier. The merger enabled WOW Air to eventually become the most popular carrier among Icelanders. Since 2011, it has grown from 70 employees to more than 1,000. Over six years of service, passenger numbers have increased from 90,000 to 2.8 million.
4. It Is Fighting for Supremacy with IcelandAir
WOW Air is not the only major carrier operating out of Iceland, however. IcelandAir is its fiercest rival and boss Mogensen is not afraid to show it. He wants to be one of the biggest airlines in the world. To make it happen, he’s got to grow fast. This strategy comes with a lot of risks and, as we’ll see later, WOW Air’s relentless focus on expansion makes it vulnerable. In its bid to beat IcelandAir, it has started a huge expansion throughout the United States. It flies to St Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, as well as more mainstream destinations like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas.
5. WOW Air Is Causing Problems in Keflavik
Since WOW Air launched budget flights across the Atlantic, Iceland’s primary airport has been struggling to keep up. Now, Keflavik International Airport is planning an expansion to accommodate the huge numbers flying between Europe and North America. As the airport is shared by WOW Air and rival carrier IcelandAir, it is one of the busiest and fastest growing in Europe. It has a specially designed T shaped terminal to process transatlantic passengers as efficiently as possible.
6. Prices Are Low, Flight Service Is Basic
The important thing to understand about WOW Air is that it offers extremely low cost flights with a key caveat. In order to carry passengers 9-12 hours on a budget, the flight services have to be very basic. Passengers are paying for the journey, rather than the journey and food, large carry ons, digital entertainment, etc. In other words, this is bare bones flying. WOW Air doesn’t sell snacks or water on flights. It does offer full meals, with beverages, but they have to be bought. Passengers are encouraged to stock up on snacks and drinks before they get on the plane. The reality is, ‘bare bones’ is the only way to offer such low prices as part of a sustainable business model. Though, this may change in the future.
7. Passengers Should Check Prices Carefully
So, it’s not a scam by any means. WOW Air is a trusted, long running company with a lot of happy customers. Although, problems can arise when passengers misunderstand the services. If you’re thinking about flying with WOW, estimate the cost of all necessary extras before you book. This includes baggage costs, inflight meals, seat allocations and, most importantly, your flight home. Often, WOW’s lowest prices are on one way flights only. Before booking one of these deals, know how you’ll get back home and what the total cost might be. You may find that, when all the sums are done, your ‘budget’ trip is pricier than you thought.
8. WOW Tells Passengers About Cheaper Flights
It doesn’t mean WOW Air is dishonest about its prices. On the contrary, customers say they’re clear and straightforward. But don’t forget, WOW is a business. The carrier has tight profit margins and, like all airlines, uses clever marketing tricks to increase turnover. Once again, make sure to read all terms and conditions before booking. Don’t assume a particular service is included in the ticket price. Check. Ask, if necessary. WOW Air does not offer price matching. However, it will tell passengers if they can get a cheaper fare from a different carrier.
9. There Is No Inflight Entertainment
The lack of inflight entertainment, particularly on transatlantic journeys, is off putting for some travelers. Though, WOW Air is upfront about this. It reminds passengers that WOW planes have no digital media system or game screens. It means no inflight movies and, surprisingly, no WI-FI either. So, travelers are left to their own devices. It’s either your idea of aviation heaven (peace and quiet, no distractions) or holiday hell (nine hours without free internet). Certainly, for families with young children, it’s worth asking if a cheaper fare is worth the lack of facilities.
10. You Can Rent an iPad for Your Flight
WOW Air is keen to remind passengers, particularly during the booking stages, about what services to expect. As with snacks, it encourages travelers to think ahead and ‘preload’ handheld devices with movies, TV and games. If you do forget, however, you can rent a preloaded iPad for the duration of your flight. At a cost of $20, the service is perhaps best for longer journeys. Each device includes a selection of recently released movies and TV shows.
11. WOW Passengers Must Pack Light
To continue with the ‘bare bones’ theme, WOW Air is predictably strict about cabin bags and which items can be left unchecked. It limits passengers to just one piece of cabin luggage, rather than the two offered by some other airlines. Unchecked bags must weigh no more than 44lbs and be no larger than a briefcase. While it sounds stingy, lots of airlines are revising their rules on cabin bags. Over the last two years, several major carriers have introduced a ‘one bag only’ rule. In truth, WOW’s cabin policy isn’t unusually restrictive. It’s a sign of the times for frequent flyers.
12. You Can Sit In an XXL Seat
Like all other carriers, WOW Air gives passengers the opportunity to select seats for an additional fee. On these planes, however, you can do more than just pick a seat number or make sure you’re on the aisle. Seats come in standard, XL and XXL, with the difference relating to amount of legroom. Selection fees start at $30. It’s a pricey service, particularly for families and those traveling in large groups. You do get extra legroom if you pay for it, but this is the only difference. The actual seat size doesn’t change. Standard and XXL are the same seat arranged a little differently. Standard seats provide 3’’ of leg room, XL provide 33’’ and XXL provide 35’’ of space.
13. Business Class Is a Flight in a ‘Big Seat’
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is the lack of a premium cabin on WOW planes. As there’s no business or first class, there’s no special area for luxury passengers. Instead, the airline offers ‘Big Seats’ with a few accompanying perks. These Big Seats come with the largest amount of legroom on the plane (37’’). They have a greater recline, a bigger tray table and better seat pitches. It means they’re similar, in some ways, to flying business class. Unfortunately, they’re not on every WOW Air plane yet. The company is still in the process of rolling this feature out to some of its Airbus fleet.
14. You Might Get a ‘Big Seat’ Upgrade
While frequent flyers may decry the absence of a premium cabin, it’s good news for most travelers. If you don’t pay to select a seat, you may be randomly picked to sit in a Big Seat, with its extra legroom and special features. This can happen if there are Big Seats left available and you get randomly assigned to one after all paid for seats are processed. There’s no way to tell until you get on the plane. And don’t forget, only a portion of Wow’s planes offer these Big Seats.
15. Or, You Might Accidentally Lose Your Seat
Online reviews for WOW Air are generally very positive. However, a common gripe is the tendency to get seat selections mixed up. This is not a trivial matter if you’ve paid for the privilege of specific seats. Customers report friendly service and attentive staff (who are quick to address mix ups). Nevertheless, it’s stressful to be told your booked and paid for seat has accidentally been given to somebody else. It’s a recurring issue with WOW’s online selection systems. The carrier has promised to make improvements.
16. No Therapy Dogs Allowed On Board
Wow Air has a very strict policy on pets and, particularly, therapy animals. It does welcome service dogs on board, but they must come with evidentiary paperwork. Therapy dogs – if they’re not also registered as service dogs – cannot travel with this airline. In order to take a service dog on board, its owner must notify the airline at least a week before departure. It must wear a muzzle or short leash for the duration of the flight. WOW Air is stringent about enforcing this policy. Always know the rules before you travel.
17. WOW May Be the First Budget Carrier to Fly to India
WOW Air has had a turbulent year. For the low cost carrier, 2018 has been marred by uncertainty and slow moving deals. At the beginning of the year, however, things were a little rosier. The airline announced plans to fly to India. According to Mogensen, by December, WOW would be the only low cost carrier connecting India to Iceland. After a painful winter, it’s no longer clear if the plan will come to fruition. It depends on the outcome of a proposed takeover. If it were to happen, the journey would be the longest in its route network.
18. WOW Is Losing Lots of Money
In 2018, WOW’s crown began to slip. The impact of rising fuel and labor costs – coupled with a crowded market at home – has forced the airline to cut costs in key areas. According to passengers, customer service is now sorely lacking. They say lengthy delays, poor communication, frequent mix ups and difficulties getting refunds mean the carrier is no longer an appealing choice. While boss Mogensen has addressed the problems and promised to find solutions, WOW Air is losing a lot of money at the moment. The situation is so dire that the company could face bankruptcy in 2019. It does have a few options left, after accepting plans for a merger with none other than IcelandAir, its main competitor.
19. IcelandAir Will Not Be Buying WOW Air
It’s more bad news though, as IcelandAir recently pulled out of the merger. According to reports, the deal fell through because neither party could agree on purchasing conditions. Then, when all seemed lost for WOW Air, investment firm Indigo Partners stepped in and agreed to help the failing company. As it stands, WOW Air will survive into 2019. Although a deal is yet to be finalized, Indigo Partners has a reputation for growing low cost carriers. It already has a stake in both Volaris and Wizz Air. The proposed deal, if it goes through, will allow Mogensen to stay on as a primary investor. So, WOW Air may have a chance to improve, without losing its identity.
20. Get a Free Stopover While You Can
All in all, public perceptions of WOW Air are a mixed bag. The company clearly has a lot to offer, but a ‘barer than bare’ bones model doesn’t (ahem) fly with customers. They’d rather pay for a slightly pricier ticket and get the expected amenities (water, inflight entertainment, WI-FI, etc.) With that being said, passengers do love the fact stopovers in Iceland are free when flying with WOW Air. You can, for example, fly to New York but stop off in Iceland. With the right ticket, passengers have the option to stay in Iceland for a few days and hop back on a flight to the States at no extra cost.