Airline goes bust, stranding passengers in US and Europe


Reykjavik, Iceland (CBS News) — Icelandic budget airline WOW Air ceased operations on Thursday, stranding passengers across two continents. In a statement on its website the airline, which had earlier suspended all its flights, told passengers there would be no further flights and advised them to check flights with other airlines for ways to reach their destinations.

WOW grounded at least six planes in North America that were set to leave late Wednesday from Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Detroit, New York and Baltimore. In Europe, Reykjavik-bound planes from seven cities – Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt and Copenhagen – did not take off Thursday morning.

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CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave said thousands of passengers would be stuck on Thursday looking for a back home, or a way to get where they were going. He said the best option for stranded passengers was to try and get help through their credit card companies, if they booked their tickets that way.

Van Cleave noted that other airlines sometimes offer “rescue fares” for passengers stranded in such circumstances, and Icelandair announced later in the day that some discounted tickets were available to stranded WOW passengers. If tickets were booked as part of a vacation package deal, the company that offered the package will often help passengers continue their travel.

The airline, founded by entrepreneur Skuli Mogensen, began operations in 2012 and specialized in ultra-cheap flights between North America and Europe, with flights to airports in cities including Washington, D.C, New York, Paris, London and its Reykjavik hub.

Its bankruptcy comes after six months of turbulent negotiations to sell the low-cost carrier, first to its main rival and flag-ship carrier Icelandair and later to Indigo Partners, an American company operating the airline Wizz.

“I will never forgive myself for not acting sooner,” Mogensen said in a letter to employees Thursday. “WOW was clearly an incredible airline and we were on the path to do amazing things again.”

Tourism is Iceland’s largest industry and WOW’s disappearance is set to have an effect on this summer’s high season.

In its early years the airline expanded fast to 37 destinations and reported up to 60 percent annual growth in passenger numbers. Its revenue per passenger, however, has not kept up and fell by about 20 percent in 2017, according to the last earnings report.