WOW service to LA makes surprise stop in Canada as struggling airline runs out of planes

Oliver Smith
WOW has tried to nail low-cost long-haul – but is facing an uncertain future - WOW air

It has been a rollercoaster week for WOW air, the Icelandic carrier trying to make a fist of low-cost long-haul travel. Yesterday it launched its inaugural service to Delhi, making it the first budget airline to fly from Europe to India. The route, from Reykjavik to the Indian capital, was announced in May, but didn’t take off until Thursday (the first service departed 34 minutes late, but - thanks to the wonders of schedule padding - arrived 27 minutes early).

A cause for celebration? Not really. That’s because, bizarrely, the launch of the new Delhi route has spoiled the experience for WOW passengers on the other side of the world. Furthermore, it comes against a backdrop of route cuts and financial woes. The very future of the carrier, which a year ago was being touted as a trendy and innovative game-changer, is - if you’ll pardon the pun - up in the air.

Tell me more about the Delhi route

The service from Reykjavik to Indira Gandhi International Airport currently departs three days a week, but from January this will increase to five. Britons hoping to take advantage of the “budget” service will need to fly first to Iceland. The biggest catch? It’s not very cheap.

When it launched in May, WOW claimed fares would start from as little as £149 one-way – not including checked luggage. Anyone who managed to snag a ticket at that price should consider themselves fortunate. A quick glance at the airline’s website today reveals the cheapest departure this month to be a £870 one-way fare.

Next month you’ll find “basic” fares from £216 one-way - on January 14, for example - but then the cheapest inbound flights in January cost £248. So you’re looking at £464 for a return fare, not including checked luggage – but many of the fares for January run closer to £600. Hardly an appealing option when you can fly direct from Heathrow with British Airways for a shade over £400 return.

New flights to Delhi launched this week Credit: GETTY

Why is Delhi spoiling things for other WOW passengers?

The new route uses an Airbus A330-300 – the only one in WOW’s fleet since it returned two others to their lessor in November. Previously this aircraft, registration TF-GAY (named in support of gay rights), was used on WOW’s routes to the US West Coast – initially San Francisco (a route that was discontinued, for winter at least, in November) and, until the start of the month, Los Angeles.

Since December 2, however, due to the loss of TF-GAY and a shortage of aircraft capable of flying the 4,300 miles from Iceland to California, WOW is taking passengers to LA on an A321 with an unadvertised fuel stop in the Canadian city of Edmonton - in addition to the stop in Reykjavik. The move is adding more than an hour to the scheduled journey time.

But visitors to LA are suffering as a result Credit: GETTY

What’s does the future hold for WOW?

It’s a rather unpredictable airline right now. Just weeks before it launched the groundbreaking Delhi service, it announced a raft of route cuts. Thrice weekly flights to Pittsburgh will be scrapped entirely in January; a new service to Orlando - which was supposed to run from December 18 until April - will now operate for just three weeks (until January 8) before resuming again on April 1; and that LA route is also being halted over the winter (between January 28 and April 2). It follows the closure of routes to St Louis, Cleveland and Cincinnati just months after their launch. WOW once had 15 US destinations on its books; now it has just nine. Troubled times.

Nevertheless, there are still plans to launch a brand new route to Vancouver next summer

Takeover talks with Icelandair last month failed, but WOW’s future could be secured by Indigo Partners, the parent company of US budget behemoth Frontier Airlines. Discussions are ongoing over a proposed investment.

Should I book a flight with WOW?

Given the recent route closures and takeover talks, as well as the failure of Primera and the financial difficulties faced by Norwegian (two more proponents of low-cost long-haul), travellers could be forgiven for thinking twice about booking with WOW.

Those who had bought a flight on one of WOW’s cancelled routes were offered refunds, of course. But travellers who book a flight that isn’t part of a package holiday are not covered in the event of their airline going bust. For added peace of mind, some travel insurance policies offer cover for the failure of an airline. This is often referred to as Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI). The level of this protection varies, but Travel Plus (travelplusinsurance.co.uk) – offers cover up to £2,500, not only for loss on air tickets and the extra cost of replacing flights, but also for items such as a villa deposit, which you may lose if you can’t travel because of the airline’s failure. Check with your provider if it offers SAFI cover — it may be an optional extra. Alternatively, buy a policy from a specialist insurer like protectmyholiday.com that covers the flight alone.