When it comes to flying, it’s typically a positive experience. Sure, it sucks having to get there so long before your scheduled flight and the baggage check/security checks are annoying, but overall it’s a pretty easy experience. You can kill time waiting in the shops, drinking an overpriced margarita, or having a meal at one of the many airline restaurants. And the security checks move quickly.
The absolute worst-case scenarios involved with flying are that your flight gets delayed or your baggage gets lost. They’re minor inconveniences but what we’re getting at is that you know you’re going to make it to your destination one way or another. Even if inclement weather keeps you from landing right away or your plane is temporarily grounded, you know that you’ll get to where you going. You’re only getting left behind if YOU miss YOUR flight; the plane doesn’t just leave its passengers behind. You also don’t have to worry about being stranded in the way that cruisers are if they don’t make it back to the boat in time. There’s always another plane from the airline that can take you to where you’re going.
Unfortunately for Wow Air’s passengers, they were left stranded with no other options.
Ceasing its operations
For those unfamiliar with the company, Wow Air is an Icelandic budget carrier. Its affordability lured many passengers in; after all, flights to Iceland are incredibly expensive. On average, you’re looking of $1,000 and upwards. Wow Air offered flights to and from the same locations for a fraction of that cost, making them incredibly attractive to passengers.
Wow Air was founded in 2011 and became synonymous with affordable trans-Atlantic flights via Iceland. It’s one of many Nordic airline that were responsible for driving down ticket prices with their no-frills service. It’s also a drop in the pool as far as airlines that have suffered problems in the aviation industry. There is a lot of competition and the business models are constantly shifting, leaving the others to adapt or fall behind. Primera Air, who was similar in nature to Wow Air, just closed its doors in October of 2018. February 2019 saw German airline Germania close their doors as well after filing for bankruptcy. British airline Flybmi also grounded its planes.
Unfortunately, the company has not only ceased its operations entirely, but they’ve canceled all of their flights. This has left many stranded on both ends of the Atlantic Ocean. For those who are traveling home from Iceland, they’re stuck trying to find alternative ways of getting back. Others were stuck on the other end of the ocean trying to find a way back to their home in Iceland. And doing so of course isn’t going to be cheap.
On Thursday, the airline announced the closure of their company in a statement that they posted to their website. In the announcement, they told passengers that they needed to book new flights on different airlines. This meant a series of serious inconveniences and headaches for all of those involved. Not only do you have to find a new plane company to take you home, but you’re at the mercy of their flight times. If one isn’t leaving soon, then you’re stuck for a bit. This means either waiting it out or having to fork over more cash for another night in a hotel if the flights are that staggered.
The company did announce that some of its passengers may be eligible for compensation, but that still doesn’t excuse the inconvenience. “A warning would have been nice,” said one of the passengers, “You don’t expect to go on vacation and be stuck there because your airline company suddenly closes its doors. They could have warned us when we were booking our flights that they were ceasing their operations. Now I’m stuck trying to find a hotel to stay the night in and I had to tell my boss that I would be late coming back. The compensation only goes so far, you know?”
It’s no secret that the airline company was struggling to stay afloat. Wow Air CEO Skuli Mogensen told RUV, an Icelandic state broadcaster, that he had been dealing with negotiations to save his company. These negotiations were still going on in the early hours of Thursday in Iceland. Mogensen was confident that there was a deal to be struck and many other passengers felt just as confident.
“We really thought we would get an investment deal, it just made sense that we would get one,” Mogensen said to RUV. “We’ve been very open and transparent with our passengers since the beginning, but we didn’t get an investment.”
Despite Mogensen’s alleged transparency, many passengers argue that they didn’t know how poorly the airline company was doing. “I didn’t even know they were struggling! If I had, I certainly would have booked elsewhere,” said one of the frustrated passengers. Others echoed her sentiment, “no one told us just how bad they were off financially. When you hear that a company is looking for an investment but they’re still putting people on flights, you assume everything is okay. You don’t expect the company to shut its doors and leave you stranded somewhere.” Others asked, “if they knew there were in this much danger, why did they even let us on the planes?”
Mogensen confirmed at least 1,000 passengers were affected by his decision. The number is expected to be much, much higher though but remains undisclosed. The CEO also told the press that he didn’t have an exact number when it came to the tickets that had been sold. “I don’t know the exact numbers of figures. I know it’s upward of 1,000 passengers that have been affected, but we don’t know exactly how many,” Mogensen said.
“I am truly sorry to those who have been affected by this decision. It was never my intention to leave anyone stranded or inconvenienced. You guys have supported us and I am sorry to let you down. However, we simply cannot fly if we don’t have an investment. Thank you all for your support and understanding. I’m sorry we haven’t be able to honor our commitments,” said Mogensen.
So as of Thursday, March 28, 2019, Wow Air is no longer in business and their aircraft has been permanently grounded.
Unsurprisingly, Wow Air’s decision left many of their airports in a state of utter chaos. With the announcement made so quick and unexpectedly, people were scrambling to figure out how they were going to get back home or to their vacation destination. Panic was quick to ensue and of course tempers were at a record high.
Saurabh Aggarwal, who had intended to fly to Reykjavik from Toronto described the airport as being in a state of sheer chaos. “We were given information that was conflicting. It was really, really confusing. Before the flight was officially canceled at 10:55 p.m. Wednesday, we were told that it would be delayed by a few hours. Later, we were told that it would be on time. We were all really confused. Which one was accurate? Which one do we believe?”
In addition to the confusion and inconvenience of being stranded, Aggarwal told the press something even more shocking. “We weren’t given any sort of accommodation and we didn’t get any refunds either. Where was I supposed to go and why did I need to book a hotel on my own dime? This wasn’t my fault! And then to not refund us for the canceled flights? It’s salt in the wound.” Aggarwal’s story isn’t unique either; many passengers claim that they were also denied accommodations and refunds. “If we wanted to stay somewhere other than the airport floor or chair, we would have to pay for it ourselves. How is that right,” asked others.
“We were all really scared and frustrated. We asked several times for our baggage but we were either ignored or dismissed. You have my money and I’m stuck at the airport with no accommodation being offered to me, now you don’t know where my belongings are? We also asked numerous times what was going on and for more information but we were denied that too. It was a state of confusion and panic,” Aggarwal said to CNN. Eventually, bags were returned to their owners, but nobody was offered a refund or a hotel stay for their troubles. “Guess we’re camping out on the floor,” said one passenger.
Everyone was left in a state of confusion. No answers were provided and the passengers couldn’t figure out what was going on. How long were they stuck? Was this temporary? Did they need to find another airline? Unfortunately, they wouldn’t get any answers until Thursday morning. This meant spending the night at the airport in complete confusion. “I got an email on Thursday morning from Wow Air. The email said that they had closed their operations and that all of their flights were canceled. That was all the email said; it didn’t tell us where we would go to get our money back nor did they offer us anything for our troubles. Sure, they apologized but apologies only go so far,” Aggarwal said.
Others took to social media to rip the airline company apart for its lack of communication. “We literally just found out that the company tanked,” Jonathan Koo tweeted while he was holed up at Newark Liberty Airport, “they couldn’t even tell us directly! We had to find out what had happened from Reddit and Twitter! What kind of company does that?” Others were quick to respond to the tweet as well as share it. Their sentiments were the same; the company had definitely screwed them over.
Another passenger talked about the chaos that ensued at the gates while he was waiting in Newark for a flight out. Photos of the crowds also began to make their way around social media.
@Wendlingmike also took to Twitter to voice his frustrations with the company:
“20 minutes before we’re supposed to board and @wowairsupport completely cancels it! While we’re all trying to figure out what we’re going to do, we get an email saying the flight is still happening, it’s just been delayed until 9 pm. But all of the crew has left because the flight was canceled, so who’s going to fly the plane at 9 pm? We’re literally getting our updates from some random guy in the crowd of people and also from Twitter and Reddit. Sad that the company responsible won’t even keep us informed.”
Once the news began to spread of Wow Air’s closing, other airlines stepped up. EasyJet, Icelandair, Wizz Air, Norwegian Air, and XL Airways were just a few of the companies to offer lower rates to that those had been stranded. However, these offers came after many disgruntled passengers had already spent the night on the airport floor in a state of confusion. “It’s nice of them to step up, but it sucks that it’s come so late. It’s not the other airlines’ fault; Wow Air closed so unexpectedly. We didn’t even know what was going on for the most part! And we understand that the other companies have to make money, but I’ve already paid for a flight home. Why do I have to pay again? Even reduced these airfare costs aren’t cheap,” said one of the passengers.
As far as compensation goes, it’s up the air no pun intended. The airline CEO said that passengers who booked through European travel agents as part of a packaged tour would be protected. Those with travel insurance can also file for compensation. But what about the other passengers who were left stranded?
Wow Air said that it MIGHT pay compensation. “Compensation would be in accordance with the Air Passenger Rights that were put in place,” said Wow Air’s CEO. According to this regular, if an airline declares bankruptcy, passengers can make a claim to get reimbursed. They will have to go through the liquidator or administrator however in order to get paid.
Alex Spence, who was one of the passengers left stranded by the airline company when she was due to fly back to Toronto after a stay in Berlin, said that she wasn’t warned ahead of time from the airline. “They just sort of closed and we were left in the dark. Now I have to find a last-minute flight to take me home and that’s going to be expensive,” lamented Spence. “But the worst part? Wow hasn’t even reached out to us! We only know what’s going on thanks to social media.” Alex Spence, like many others, was forced to shell out more money for a return trip after already spending a good chunk on the initial flight that was canceled. And because she now has to stay in a hotel an extra night while she makes other accommodations, she’s spending a small fortune on something that isn’t her fault.
What are your thoughts?
We’d like to know what you would do in this situation. Would you seek alternative flights? How would you react to the news? We also want to know what you think about the passengers’ claims. Do you believe that Wow Air never reached out and they were forced to rely on sources like Twitter and Reddit for news? Do you believe that they were denied accommodation and reimbursement? Or do you believe that in a panic, people have overlooked emails like the one a passenger claims to have received from the airline company? Let us know in the comments below and make sure to research your airline company before hopping aboard!