Wow Air ceases operations, leaving passengers stranded

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Icelandic budget carrier Wow Air has ceased operations and canceled its flights, leaving passengers stranded on both sides of the Atlantic.

The airline announced the closure in a statement posted to its website on Thursday. It advised passengers to book new flights on other airlines, and said some may be eligible for compensation.

Wow Air CEO Skúli Mogensen told Icelandic state broadcaster RUV that negotiations to save the airline went on until the early morning in Iceland. (See how the story unfolded in real time here.)

“As is normal, people believed we would get the investment,” Mogensen told RUV. “We have been very transparent, but it didn’t happen.”

Mogensen said more than 1,000 passengers had been affected by the grounding of aircraft. He said he didn’t have an exact figure on the number of tickets that had been sold.

“I’m very sorry about this as these are people who have supported us,” said Mogensen. “I’m disappointed not to honor our commitments.”

Saurabh Aggarwal, who was due to fly from Toronto to Reykjavik on Wow Air, described a chaotic scene at Toronto airport.

Aggarwal said customers were given conflicting information about the flight’s status before it was canceled at 10:55 p.m. on Wednesday. He said passengers were not provided with accommodation and no refunds were issued.

“This really scared everyone, at that point we were finally given back our bags and no money as of now has been issued back to me,” Aggarwal told CNN.

It wasn’t until Thursday morning that she received an email from Wow Air informing passengers that the airline had ceased operations and all flights were canceled.

Other affected passengers also criticized Wow Air on social media over the lack of communication.

“Just found out about this news,” tweeted Jonathan Koo, who was stuck at Newark Liberty Airport after his flight was canceled. “They didn’t even notify any of us directly, had to find out from Twitter and Reddit.”

A second passenger described “pandemonium at the gate” as he waited for the same flight in Newark. Others tweeted photos of crowds as passengers tried to find out what to do.

Airlines including EasyJet, Icelandair, Wizz Air, XL Airways and Norwegian Air were offering reduced fares to stranded travelers because of the difficult circumstances, according to the Icelandic Transport Authority.

The budget airline also said that passengers who bought tickets from a European travel agent as part of a packaged tour were protected. Others with travel insurance may also be entitled to claim compensation.

Wow Air said that it may pay compensation “in accordance with European regulation on Air Passenger Rights.” If the airline declares bankruptcy, passengers can make a claim with the administrator or liquidator.

Alex Spence, a Wow Air passenger due to return to Toronto from Berlin on March 30, said she received no advance warning from the airline.

“Now I have to find a last-minute flight home that will likely be incredibly expensive,” said Spence. “Honestly the worst part is that Wow hasn’t even reached out to inform passengers like myself.”

Founded in 2011, Wow Air was known for cheap trans-Atlantic fares on routes via Iceland. It’s part of a group of Nordic airlines that drove ticket prices down thanks to no-frills service.

It’s the latest in a string of airlines to suffer problems as the aviation industry is buffeted by fierce competition and shifting business models.

Primera Air ceased operations in October 2018. In February, German airline Germania filed for bankruptcy and British airline Flybmi stopped flying.

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