The Icelandic budget airline cancelled all flights on Thursday, stranding passengers around the world.
After months of financial issues, Wow Air ceased all operations on Thursday, reportedly stranding more than 1,000 passengers on both sides of the Atlantic. The Icelandic budget carrier—known for its no-frills $99 transatlantic flights—began cancelling flights earlier this week and officially issued a statement Thursday morning informing its passengers to check if other airlines would issue “rescue fares” to fly them to their destinations.
As recently as this January, Wow Air advertised its “lowest airfare ever,” with $49 flights from the United States to Europe. Last December, Wow Air launched $199 one-way fares between the United States and India. But these low fares weren’t enough to save the airline, which suffered from poor customer reviews, rising fuel costs, and a recent dip in tourism to Iceland, according to CNBC.
Here’s what we know so far—and what this means for those cheap flights to Europe.
How do I get refunded if my flight was cancelled?
Passengers who are currently stranded because Wow Air cancelled their flight will be responsible for paying for their own return fares. However, Icelandair, Wizz Air, EasyJet, Norwegian, and XL Airways are all offering reduced “rescue fares” to help stranded passengers return home, according to the Icelandic Transport Authority.
If you booked your tickets through a European travel agency, Wow Air recommends contacting your travel agent to see if the ticket costs are covered by a travel insurance policy booked on behalf of a package holiday deal. However, keep in mind that most travel insurance policies bought in the United States don’t cover airline insolvency. While Allianz does cover some airlines, like Icelandair and Ryanair, Wow Air is not one of its listed carriers.
For future Wow Air flights paid for via credit card, AirHelp, an air passenger rights company, recommends contacting your credit card company directly to see if it will issue a refund of the ticket cost for services left unrendered. But if you used a debit card to book your flight, it’s unlikely that you’ll get your money back.
What does this mean for cheap transatlantic travel?
Founded in 2011, Wow Air quickly became known for offering cheap transatlantic fares to Europe via Iceland. As Wow Air heavily undercut other airlines with $99 fares, airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic also began offering cheaper tickets for those willing to go without amenities like checked bags and preselected seats.
But now that Wow Air has shown that its business model isn’t sustainable, will airfares go back up? While those $99 fares to Iceland are likely a thing of the past, it doesn’t mean airfares to Europe will skyrocket now that Wow Air is done. In fact, according to a recent report from Hopper, flights to Europe are the cheapest they’ve been in three years due to such factors as Brexit and newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. With JetBlue expected to announce transatlantic flights to Europe at some point this year, there’s certainly no lack of competition out there to keep airfares low.
For now, Google Flights is showing fares as low as $293 from New York to Reykjavík during peak summer travel dates in July in Delta Basic Economy (no checked bags or seat selection). They drop to $285 for travel dates this fall.
Could Norwegian be next?
European budget carriers like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Wizz Air are good examples of how short-haul, low-cost flights are a viable business model within Europe (like Southwest in the United States). But profit margins get smaller when low-cost airlines get into long-haul flights.
While some say Norwegian—which regularly sells fares in the $300s for flights between the East Coast and Europe—is fine financially, other reports contradict that. For now, if you’re willing to book a Norwegian fare knowing that food, checked bags, and seat selection will cost you more, your best bet is to purchase your ticket with a credit card.