WOW Air’s Downward Spiral Continues: More US Routes Cut

Filed Under: WOW Air

WOW Air is an absolute basket case at this point.

In early November it was reported that Icelandair was interested in acquiring WOW Air, which frankly is much needed, given that the two airlines seem to be trying to run one another out of business. While the transatlantic model of connecting in Iceland is cool, there’s a limit to how much capacity makes sense.

The rumored WOW Air acquisition price is a mere $18 million, which probably reflects the fact that WOW Air had virtually no chance of ever independently turning a profit.

Independently WOW Air has been a disaster. First they were growing with seemingly no end in sight, and then they started cutting, cutting, cutting. It has now gotten to the point where it’s really tough to book any WOW Air flight months in advance and actually expect it will operate, given the pace at which they’re cutting routes.

Recently WOW Air announced significant cuts to their US route network, as they were canceling flights to Cincinnati, Cleveland, and St. Louis, just months after launching them. On top of that the airline has canceled flights to Dallas Fort Worth and New York JFK.

Now the airline has quietly added further US route cuts:

  • WOW Air will discontinue 3x weekly flights to Pittsburgh as of January 11, 2018
  • WOW Air was originally supposed to operate 3x weekly flights to Orlando between December 2018 and April 2019; now the airline will just operate flights from December 18, 2018, through January 8, 2019, and from April 1 through April 30, 2019
  • WOW Air will reduce frequencies to Los Angeles to once weekly in January 2019, and will discontinue the flight completely between January 28 and April 2, 2019

There are also rumors that the airline is canceling their New Delhi route altogether as of February, though the schedule doesn’t reflect that, so for the time being I view that as nothing more than a rumor.

If I’m not mistaken, at this point WOW Air’s only year-round US destinations are daily flights to Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and Newark, and 4x weekly flights to Detroit.

The airline also yesterday returned two of their A330-300 aircraft to their leasing company, so the airline only has one A330 left in their fleet (which also explains the Los Angeles reductions, since they need the A330 to operate the New Delhi route). WOW Air does have four A330-900neo aircraft on order, which are supposed to be delivered in 2019. However, I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

Bottom line

I appreciate that WOW Air tried something new and wanted to open up cheap transatlantic fares, but there needs to be a better strategy than just throwing darts and seeing what sticks.

Aside from a few markets, WOW Air didn’t actually stay in any markets long enough to build demand and brand awareness. Rather they were just looking for quick profits in markets, and that’s just something that doesn’t happen in the airline industry. On top of that, keep in mind that they couldn’t make many of these markets work in spite of receiving significant subsidies from airports.

Furthermore, with the way they’re adding and canceling flights, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable booking them anymore. Not because I’m worried they’ll go out of business (though…), but rather because I don’t want to book a flight on them only to have it canceled because they radically changed their business plan, which they’ve now done on a majority of their US routes.

A business model like WOW Air’s only works when scaled properly. Their goal is to offer service between the US and Europe, and that requires a balance of US and European destinations. With only a handful of US destinations remaining, it makes it even tougher for them to fill flights between Iceland and Europe.

  1. Good riddance from the PIT market! Makes it much easier to follow the company travel policy to Europe while sticking with a legacy carrier.

  2. Yeah, what strikes me as odd is the “in-and-out” mentality. It can take a year or more for a given route to turn a profit, but they are cancelling flights that simply haven’t been around long enough. One issue they may be struggling with is getting reverse traffic — BWI and EWR are plausibly close to major cities to attract Europeans to these flights. I’m not sure there’s enough traffic out of CLE or PIT to justify these routes without inbound demand.

  3. What was so “new” about what WOW tried? Norwegian launched long-haul service Europe to North America two years before WOW did. And Norwegian included service to secondary airports like PVD, SWF, OAK and YHM.

  4. quote : “I just wouldn’t feel comfortable booking them anymore. Not because I’m worried they’ll go out of business (though…)”

    translation to laymen terms – even after Icelandair has announced their merger of WOW (which is a very strong backstop against any shut down risk), since I’ve lost my sponsorship, I’ll just conveniently ignore the fact in the article and go ahead with fear-mongering bashing of WOW.

  5. @ henry LAX — Huh? What sponsorship? And I think the point is pretty clear. I wouldn’t feel comfortable booking WOW Air because their schedules are unreliable. Also, Icelandair’s takeover is far from a sure bet.

  6. Wow wanted to feed Delhi USA traffic. So they cancel most flights and cut LAX as they lack the aircraft. They could rebrand as “ fiasco “ or “ oops air”

  7. I don’t even understand how WOW was looking to make money on the flights to mid-western cities.

    That’s purely a leisure route and I can count on one hand the number of Icelandic people that are looking to go to St. Louis or Cleveland for a holiday.

  8. I don’t see them being able to start the Delhi route. They need the A330-900 to do that particularly with their high density confirmation that will push the A330ceo to its operating limits. Moreover, I could never see Wow being successful in the Delhi USA market even when they announced it.

    There simply isn’t scope to disrupt fares in a sustainable manner given the fare levels being offered by Middle eastern, European carriers and lately even Chinese carriers. After adding basic amenities such as baggage and meals, legacy carriers offer cheaper and more efficient connections. Why would anyone put up with the lack of comforts?

    Moreover the operating schedule of the Delhi flight does not align well with some of their US routes negating the transit proposition altogether. I somehow can’t fathom what were they thinking when they launched the route?

  9. I don’t know about other markets, but the flight to PIT was subsidized for two years by Pittsburgh’s Port Authority to the tune of $800K, and the clock started ticking in early 2016.

    I’m guessing that even with the subsidy the numbers didn’t work out, and WOW decided to end service at the end of their two year commitment. Pittsburgh has had some success throwing money at carriers for international (or even domestic!) connections, but this wasn’t one of them.

  10. @Aman

    “Why would anyone put up with the lack of comforts?”

    Have you ever seen the over crowding of some of the domestic train service in India?

  11. @Janice
    Except that it’s a different population that flies.
    Crowded Train riding is for locals getting from point A to point B at the lowest cost. They are not for those who fly.
    Unless you are from India your comment has no meaning.

  12. Lucky, what do you do with the hundreds of amenity kits you accumulate from your flights?

    I say you do a monthly amenity kit giveaway to a reader, not just to increase reader engagement and give back but also to get rid of all the kits you probably have at home.


  13. WOW was bound to go down hard. It has the worst customer service of all airlines. No one, from the customer service # that directs you to an agent in India to every single board member, cares about their customers. I saw their trouble coming a mile away! WOW is in the business of ruining family vacations.

  14. I flewtWow two years ago from reykjavik,aisle seat something like $125!,really comfotable,nice crews,punctual,bought some Icelandic gin and snacks,can’t complain about a single thing.

  15. Keeping DTW does not surprise me, considering SkyTeam has the fares to Europe from there on virtual lockdown (think high and even higher most of the year). LH doesn’t really have to compete too heavily since their flights are filled, rightly so, with auto industry traffic and people traveling to the Middle East, India, and South Asia, which is a huge market from Detroit. There are plenty of people going to Europe, I would imagine, who are more than happy to take a cheap deal over a legacy carrier. It has been a long time since this has been an option in the market.

  16. I totally agree with your analysis. Here in Israel, WOW opened the KEF-TLV route in 2017 with a lot of noise, flown journalists to Iceland, their CEO was here, media campaign etc – only to shut it down after 1 year while losing all credibility from the Israeli market. Now, promising to re-open the route in may, I do not see the locals give their trust to WOW again, and this is the scenario in many markets.

  17. I’m just wondering how they will operate the Los Angeles and New Delhi services with just one A330. Given the timetable and connection planning a Los Angeles turn around is 1.5 days, yet they are still listing a Reykjavik departure on Monday 3 December and Tuesday 4 December. Either they receive one of the new Airbus 330-900 or they will operate it with a smaller A321 and an extra fuel stop.
    As outlined above it is highly probable that there will be more adhoc timetable changes coming up.

  18. Thank you for your honest insight, but just to point this one out for clarity: @lucky

    “WOW Air will discontinue 3x weekly flights to Pittsburgh as of January 11, 2018.”

    It should be 2019?

  19. Bloomberg is reporting that Icelandair has pulled its planned takeover of Wow. Probably not agood news for Wow now.

  20. Good riddance! Filling American cities with chavs or Europe with inbred Trump voters is not something we should support.

  21. Ditto, @Joe Star. My family travelled using WOW last year and, because of the airline, we got to go someplace we could not have gone otherwise. My children saw glaciers and whales. And we saw possibility. Pittsburgh is not without culture or money. We simply lack the means to get from Point A to Point B without leaving the city for another airport (a 2, 4, or 8+ hour drive from us) or dealing with multiple layovers and transfers, most taking us way south or west of our destinations while paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars extra for the “privilege”. One way stop to another country, leading to thousands of travelers in our area experiencing something amazing? Bad business model? Perhaps. But I hope airlines continue to try and eventually get it right.

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