Expert analysis: what happens now for travellers with Wow Air

WOW AIR, the self-proclaimed “happy, low-fare, long-haul airline” from Iceland, has gone bankrupt, with its planes grounded and all flights cancelled. There’s no reason to worry that this will affect other airlines – low-cost carrier WOW has been in trouble for some time after, seemingly, expanding too fast – but it’s a mess for anyone who has bookings to travel with the airline.

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Travellers have ended up stuck in airports after the collapse of WOW Air. Image by PeopleImages/Getty Images

I have a WOW flight booked – what happens now?

Sorry, friend: you’re out of luck, and the bottom line is that WOW is bankrupt so won’t be helping you. This is going to take some time and maybe cost you some money.

You’ll need to book entirely new flights, or cancel your trip entirely. Keep an eye and ear out over the next few days to see whether other airlines, particularly hometown competitor Icelandair, offer reduced rates for WOW customers, known as “rescue fares”. This will likely involve sending proof of your booking to the new airline, and you may have to jump through some additional hoops.

If you’re in the middle of a trip on WOW, bear in mind that one-way fares can be prohibitively expensive, and it may be cheaper to book a return trip. (Technically, I can’t recommend throwing away the second half of that trip, since you agree not to do that when buying a return flight, so perhaps best to think about returning to where you are next year under more pleasant circumstances.)

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WOW Air has helped to popularise travel to Iceland. Image by LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

Can I claim a refund via my credit or make a chargeback on my debit card?

It’s very possible, especially with a credit card, although protections vary by country. As one example, in the UK the Consumer Credit Act is the kind of legislation at play on the credit side, while the Chargeback scheme is for debit cards.

Call your card issuer for details, make sure you note down what they say, ask for a supervisor if needed, and start a written log of your interactions: the name and/or staff ID number of who you spoke with, when, what they said, what the next steps are, and so on. That can come in very useful if you encounter future problems. (A note for your next booking: extra protections for credit cards are an excellent reason to book with credit rather than debit if you have the means to do so.)

You may also be able to claim back for emergency hotel accommodation and meals, but this is usually subject to a “reasonable” threshold, which is often unhelpfully vague. Don’t book a room at the Ritz and eat at Michelin-starred restaurants after your low-cost carrier goes bust is my advice, but a cheap and cheerful hotel.

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WOW Air offered stopovers in Iceland that encouraged many travellers. Image by ©Max Topchii/Shutterstock

Can I claim a refund on my travel insurance?

You do have travel insurance, right? If so, it may well cover situations like this. Generally, it’s the place of last resort after your credit/debit card, will cover a limited – amount  my relatively good insurance goes up to €3000 – and the idea is to replace what you had. No first class replacement for your ultra-low-cost flight, in other words.

Call your insurance now to notify them, make sure you have their contact details (use the log idea above), keep all your receipts (including reasonable hotels and meals – ask for their guidance here), and consider starting a written log of your interactions with the insurer: who you spoke with, when, what they said, what the next steps are, and so on. That can come in very useful if you encounter future problems.

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The Hallgrimskirkja church in the centre of Reykjavik. WOW Air helped make the city a popular stopover. Image by ©RPBaiao/Shutterstock

Am I covered under package or linked tour protections?

In many jurisdictions, including the EU, if you bought more than just a flight from WOW (or any other bankrupt airline) you may be covered under 2018’s EU Package travel and linked travel arrangements. That’s true even if, say, you clicked through from the confirmation email to add a hotel after the main booking.

For this – or with any other questions – contact your national consumer help centre, or in a pinch here Iceland’s ECC, for official advice.

John Walton is an international aviation journalist, follow him@thatjohn