When Wow Air launched in 2012, travelers said “wow” to the budget carrier’s $99 one-way fares to Europe. Now, passengers are uttering the same exclamation, but for an even more surprising reason.
On Thursday morning, the Icelandic airline announced that it is ceasing operations. The bankrupt company grounded its fleet immediately, stranding thousands of people at Keflavik Airport, its hub in Iceland, and in cities around Europe and North America. The airline has not made alternate arrangements for passengers, leaving them with the messy and stressful job of finding a flight home or to their final destination.
“Imagine you are on Metro and it just stops at Dupont Circle and you need to get to Metro Center,” said Madhu Unnikrishnan, editor of Skift Airline Weekly.
Of course, it’s easier to move from two points on the ground than finding a new flight that covers long distances and bodies of water. To help stranded passengers, many airlines have stepped in with rescue fares.
The Lufthansa Group, which includes Swiss, Lufthansa and Austrian airlines, is offering 25 percent off the ticket price if you depart by April 30 and complete your trip by June 30. Proof of a Wow ticket is required. Icelandair, which services many of the same routes as Wow, will offer reduced return fares between March 28 and April 11: $60 to or from Europe, $100 to or from North America and $160 between Europe and North America via Iceland. (Taxes not included.)
“Every empty seat on Icelandair has become a lot more coveted,” said Ben Mutzabaugh, senior aviation editor at the Points Guy. “Availability could become a real issue.”
Aer Lingus is offering rescue fares through April 11. For example, a one-way fare from Paris to Reagan National Airport costs about $246; the London-to-Washington rescue rate is about $208, including taxes. To qualify, passengers must have a reservation on Wow within the next 11 days and must reserve the Aer Lingus flight by phone.
Norwegian Air, for its part, is discounting economy fares by 25 percent from March 29 to April 8. Virgin Atlantic also tweeted its assistance to passengers stuck in the United States, Britain or Canada. To take advantage of its reduced fares, you must book by April 6 and complete travel by April 30.
Despite the recent debacle, Tracy Stewart, content editor at Airfarewatchdog.com, directs travelers to low-cost carriers, “which tend to have lower one-way fares than what you may find with legacy carriers.”
If you need to fly out of a different city in the United States, Megabus is offering free transportation to more than 100 destinations. You must show proof of your canceled flight departing March 28 through 31.
To secure a reservation, work every possible portal. Call, tweet and leave a Facebook message with the various airlines. If you are at the airport, speak to a ticketing agent. You can also buy a walk-up fare, but brace yourself for a high figure — possibly upward of $1,000. If you have some flexibility, Mutzabaugh suggests hunkering down in the destination until the first wave of the crisis clears.
“If you have the time and the money and don’t hate where you are, stay for a few days,” he said. “It will increase your flight options.”
Travelers holding a reservation for summer or fall travel should start shopping around for a replacement flight as soon as possible. Fortunately, the fares should still be in the affordable range.
“They are still far enough out to find a reasonable fare,” he said. “It might not be $99 though.”
Wow is not offering refunds to incapacitated passengers. On its website, the carrier explains that customers could receive compensation “in accordance with European regulation on Air Passenger Rights.” It instructs passengers to file their claims with the administrator or liquidator.
For a straighter path to compensation, check your travel insurance policy — assuming you bought one, of course. If the trip interruption coverage includes financial default, you could recoup the additional travel expenses, including flights that are higher than your original fare, meals, accommodations and local transportation fees related to the delay or disruption.
“Financial Default coverage provides reimbursement for unused prepaid and nonrefundable trip payments and deposits if a trip is canceled or interrupted due to the travel supplier’s complete suspension of operations due to financial circumstances,” explained Jenna Hummer, a spokesperson with SquareMouth, which compares travel insurance policies, “whether bankruptcy is filed.”
Hummer reminds policyholders that financial default comes with a few restrictions, such as you must have bought the policy within 10 to 21 days of your initial trip deposit and coverage is not available for the first 10 to 14 days after the purchase of the policy.
As a second course of action, contact your credit card issuer. Arielle O’Shea, personal finance expert with the firm NerdWallet, said that many travel credit cards include travel insurance that covers the scenario of an airline going belly-up. Two examples: Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cards.
“Submit your claim as quickly as possible, within 20 to 60 days and with supporting documentation,” she said. “It’s not a quick process to get reimbursed.”
You can also dispute the charges within 60 days of receiving the statement containing the expenses. Your defense: Wow failed to deliver the goods and services it had promised.
Even if you have exceeded the time limit, O’Shea recommends contacting your credit card company and hoping for a sympathetic agent.
Travelers who need to rebook might experience the Wow burn for a while. For comfort, choose a solvent legacy carrier, such as American or United airlines, or research the financial stability of your other options. Unnikrishnan flagged Jet Airways, Alitalia and Norwegian Air as struggling, but added for Norwegian: “It’s not on a death watch.”
Stewart is even more optimistic.
“Despite Norwegian’s financial woes, it appears to be stable,” he said. “For now, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a flight on Norwegian.”
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