Discount Carrier Wow Air Shutters, Leaving BWI Passengers Stranded

WASHINGTON (March 28, 2019)—The Wow Air counter at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, usually buzzing with travelers and employees, sat barren without a soul on Thursday, a stark symbol of the airline's sudden closure.

The low-cost carrier, based in Iceland, confirmed Thursday in a statement and on its website that it had ended operations and cancelled all previously scheduled flights, leaving travelers stranded in Maryland, three other U.S. airports it serves, and abroad.

"Wow Air has ceased operation," the statement read. "All Wow Air flights have been cancelled."

Many passengers holding tickets learned of Wow's demise only when they reached airports, according to news accounts. Customers holding Wow tickets for future trips were not contacted.

As recently as Tuesday, the carrier known for its distinctive purple Airbus jets was promoting trips while potential investors met in a last-ditch effort to save it. The carrier needed about $40 million to stay aloft, according to industry reports.

"I will never forgive myself for not taking action sooner as it's evident that WOW was an amazing airline and we were on the right track to do great things again," the airline's owner and CEO, Skúli Mogensen, wrote in a letter Thursday morning to employees, according to Iceland Monitor.

"You all deserve so much more and I am so sorry to put you in this position," Mogensen said. "I want to thank our passengers who stood by us from day one, our partners around the world and not least relevant authorities. We all tried our best until the very end."

When a Wow Air flight was first cancelled in the early morning on Monday, the carrier cited a "delay of an incoming flight" as the reason for halting the trip.

But as one cancellation grew to several and one airport spread to many, it became apparent that the reduction in flights wasn't for any operational reasons. Rather, they were the warnings of an imminent end.

Despite being trapped, flyers have been left little room for recourse, other than purchasing a second ticket with another airline.

"Passengers are advised to check available flights with other airlines," the Wow statement read. "Some airlines may offer flights at a reduced rate, so-called rescue fares, in light of the circumstances."

Rival carrier Icelandair was offering discounted economy fares for stuck passengers who had return tickets on Wow Air for travel between March 28 and April 11.

The airline's statement also outlined passengers' rights and possible paths for reimbursement. But for the many Americans stranded at airports across the world, like Lyla Rodrigues, the message came far too late to make other arrangements.

"So…my sister is stuck in BWI & my father & I are here in Iceland awaiting her and now we are hearing we might not have a flight to come home to BWI on 4/3," Rodrigues wrote on Twitter. "How have we not been directly notified as to what we are supposed to do?"

Wow Air was founded by Icelandic entrepreneur Mogensen in 2011, with its first flight taking to the skies in 2012.

The airline expanded to the United States in 2015. In 2018, Wow flew 3.5 million passengers—165,628 out of Baltimore, making up less than 1 percent of all flyers out of BWI, according to data from the airport.

Wow first showed signs of financial stress last year, when it laid off some employees and reduced its fleet from 20 to 11 aircraft.

More trouble came earlier this year, when a takeover by Icelandair—originally announced last November—was abandoned after the shareholder preconditions were unlikely to be met.

The same day, Indigo Partners, stakeholders in many low-cost carriers, stepped in to absorb the airline, but the proposal was similarly withdrawn in March.

With a tenuous financial history, the future is uncertain. But bankruptcy may be on the horizon.

"In case of a bankruptcy," the carrier's statement read, "claims should be filed to the administrator/liquidator."

The Icelandic government apparently was less surprised than the general public about the quick end to Wow Air.

Iceland's minister of tourism, Tordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir, told reporters in Reykjavik that her agency was anticipating the carrier's shutdown.

"What's happening here is what we have prepared for as very likely to happen," she was quoted as saying by the Reykjavik Grapevine. "This is of course disappointing and one especially feels for the employees of the company."

About 1,000 people worked for Wow Air.

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