WOW AIR flight in Frankfurt | Photo by Tobias Arhelger
WOW AIR flight in Frankfurt | Photo by Tobias Arhelger

Oh, wow. WOW AIR is coming back

by Amanda Palumbo
Stripes Europe

If you’re familiar with WOW AIR, you likely cringed at that headline. The fuchsia planes travelers grew to hate will be hitting runways again next month. Iceland based now-bankrupt WOW AIR is relaunching under new ownership, in a new country and new goals.

Launched in 2011, WOW AIR was the Ryanair of transatlantic travel, offering ridiculously low fares while charging a la carte for things like carry-on baggage, seat choice and entertainment. But WOW was plagued with problems from the start. It received consistently low ratings from AirHelp, a German-based passenger rights advocate company for delays, service quality and how quickly claims under the European Union’s passenger bill of rights were paid out. The latter helped lead to the company’s eventual downfall. When the airline finally went under, it owed passengers more than 100 million euros in claims. After a failed merger with rival Icelandair, WOW abruptly shut down in March. It left thousands, including many military families, stranded throughout the globe. Those customers, along with customers who had pending claims against WOW, will likely never see their money returned.

American based USAerospace Associates has acquired WOW’s assets (but not their debts) with $85 million in investments. They’ll keep the company’s logo and bright fuchsia planes but it will be based at Washington Dulles International Airport with Reykjavik’s airport as its European base and hire mostly Icelandic staff. Next month, WOW will fly two planes back and forth between Dulles and Iceland with plans to expand to four flights in the summer and nearly a dozen flights long term with added destinations.

USAerospace Associates’ chief executive Michele Ballarin says they want to offer new amenities like airport lounges and fancy in-flight meals created by famous chefs. That’s nice and all but travelers would much rather hear they will get them from point A to point B relatively on time and not go bankrupt in the process. They won’t remember the reheated Creamy Shrimp Risotto with Mascarpone they ate on board or the bag of pretzels they munched on in what I assume will be a lounge done in a bright fuchsia color scheme, but the extra 1,500 euros they had to pay just to get to their destinations when WOW abruptly shut down.

If it seems I’m a little biased and bitter about WOW AIR, you are absolutely right. A year-and-a-half before they went under, I flew WOW and was not wowed. Due to extremely poor and non-existent boarding procedures that delayed us just enough time for an impending snowstorm to hit, I was left stranded in Iceland with a mass of equally irritable customers.

Thanks to EU’s passenger bill of rights I was put up in a hostel near the airport where the environment was anything but comfortable.  I ended up missing my connecting United flight from Chicago to Kansas City, missing a day of work and purchasing a very expensive last-minute ticket from Chicago to KC. When I filed a claim with WOW, they simply told me the connecting flight wasn’t their problem and they did eventually get me to my destination. I swore I would never set foot on another gaudy purple plane again.

It will be interesting to see if WOW AIR truly takes off with passengers again. This seasoned traveler would warn you to give the airline a year or two to see if it’s truly turning around. Check its on-time performance scores and customer service complaints before you book to see if the new ownership is taking the same route the now-penniless one did. Also, buy travel insurance.

 

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