WOWAir to suspend Delhi-Iceland flights from Jan 2019

Yesterday while I was browsing through WOW Air website I was in for a rude surprise. WOW Air website was not accepting any bookings to and from Delhi after Jan 20th.
Take a look at screenshots..

This sounded too odd, due to following reasons
  • WOW Air had started Delhi flights only too recently-from December 7th. Jan 2019 is bit too early to give up on this route
  • There were no official words on it- no mails to those who have tickets, no press releases etc
  • It seemed business as usual with WOW Air advertising Xmas promo with 50% off, valid for travel till end of March 2019
After offer, it is now possible to fly from Delhi to Iceland (or other destinations world wide) to and fro for as low as about INR 22000, even cheaper than 26998 they were offering earlier.

Though I had my doubts on WOW Air, various events and news gave assurance that there's nothing to worry
-They started Delhi flight on December 7 as per plan without any postponement or issues
-We say news that they got new investor (Iceland Air)
-After initially opening bookings only till March 2019, WOW Air extended it till October 2019, hinting that they are committing long term to Indian market
-In one TV interview WOW Air founder had said that Delhi is doing very well for them.

Now this faith is shaken.

I didn't want to post something immediately and spread panic. I put a question to WOW Air on their twitter and FB. I waited till today, to see if this was any temporary issue or website glitch.

Today things got more clear. Few twitter users confirmed their fear that WOW Air may suspend India flights from Jan 20th. WOW Air has responded as below

While flight schedules and networks are constantly reworked by airlines all over the world, it is odd to stop accepting booking- usually airlines continue to accept booking and once new schedule is in, affected passengers are given option to take alternate flight or refund. WOW Air suspending bookings altogether hints they don't want any head ache to collecting money and then refunding it, losing a part of it (for bank commission, staff overheads etc)

Support/Social media teams are not confirming one way or the other- they are not confirming flights are cancelled, they are not confirming they will operate. This could mean the following
1. WOW Air management doesn't want to announce cancellation of Delhi flights yet- because it was launched just a week ago, it will be a big PR issue if they admit its discontinuation so soon. Then probably want to release this news a bit later to soften the impact
2. If they have decided to operate flights till Jan 20, 2019, they don't want to miss any opportunity of making money- announcing cancellation beyond Jan 20th will reduce chances of someone booking any ticket with WOW Air ex Delhi from now till Jan 20th. So they will probably announce the bad news as late as possible.
3. May be WOW Air is still making some last ditch effort to keep the route open- like trying to get funds from investors etc. If this succeeds, which I hope it will, somehow, they might silently re-open Delhi flights.

What went wrong?
There're multiple factors. Some of them as far as I can list, as below
1. WOW Air is running out of funds. It has been known since sometime that WOW Air is having financial troubles. It was cutting routes to US, was trying various other options. But then almost every airline in the world has some sort of financial trouble, so it was too early to predict the worst.
Update: this seems to be the reason- airline has decided to trim its fleet, return most A330s (needed for Delhi route)

2. IcelandAir buyout didn't happen: Then there was news that Iceland Air will buy WOW Air- A month later we read that Iceland Air has backed out. This means WOW Air isn't getting the funds it was hoping to get and is in desperate need to cut costs and spending.

3. Delhi route is not performing as per expectation
When WOW Air announced India operation, they advertised a low fare of INR 13499 one way to any destination on that network. This was tempting enough (as low as half of what a full service airline would charge) but my guess is not enough tickets were sold. Reasons could be as below
  • Wrong timing: December-Feb is winter in most destinations WOW Air flies- Europe, Canada, US etc. So tourists don't have a motive to go there, as there won't be much to do in snowfall.
  • New Airline: Because Indians are not used to WOW Air, they were probably adopting a wait n watch strategy- to see how this airline operates, what feedback others give and then consider booking. This meant it would take a few months for word of mouth publicity to spread and more people consider WOW Air
  • No free cabin baggage: Most other LCCs like AirAsia allow one 7kg cabin bag free. WOW Air was allowing only one small personal item. How to go all the way to Canada/USA without food, baggage? If all add-ons were to be purchased, WOW Air's pricing had not much savings compared to full service airlines.
  • Visa: All destinations WOW Air flies to, Indians need Visa, which is a complicated process and expense in itself. US visa is toughest to get, Iceland visa needs colour xerox of all passport pages and so on- an additional expense of 8-12k INR plus a processing time of few weeks to few months- This is probably a deterrent to budget travelers or opportunistic travelers who fly to wherever it is cheap to whenever it is cheap.
  • Not appealing to business travelers- Most of India-US, India-Canada traffic is of businessmen, working professionals who travel on company's money- Low cost model doesn't appeal to them. WOW Air's target market is limited to leisure travelers who are eager to save every penny possible, even if it means limited services and lots of inconveniences.
Over time I have seen that WOW Air did several desperate attempt to fill up their planes- they reduced fares to just 10999, did fair bit of promotions, PR events, campaigns in India, ran a free honeymoon contest and so on. Even now on select dates it is possible to book a round trip on WOW Air network for about 25000 INR, lower than what they had originally planned (27000). Usually airlines sell first few seats for a loss or very low price to attract passengers, then gradually increase the rate for remaining seats. Not being able to sell ex-Delhi seats (at least part of them) at increased price has probably put WOW Air Delhi route under pressure and made it economically non-viable to operate.

WOW Air has not sent any email to customers who have their bookings with WOW Air for travel dates beyond Jan 21 2019. They deserve to know- because after booking a ticket, people spend more money on visa, hotel bookings and so on. If the airline is not going to operate the flight, they need to know asap, not few days before planned departure.

Also I am hoping WOW Air will promptly refund the booking money taken from current bookings between Jan 21 and October 30th and won't go bankrupt like Primea Air.

Also wondering what happens to those who are flying to Delhi on the last flight on say 19th Jan- what if they miss the connecting flight due to late arrival of incoming flight? Will WOW Air send them home on another airline or the passengers have to fend for themselves?

Personally it is a disappointing news if true. If you enter a new market, at least commit to it for 3-4 months before withdrawing. All the effort put into Delhi launch will go waste and this will impact other new destinations WOW Air may look to enter, as people will suspect airline's commitment. I have a few tickets myself with WOW air affected by this and now have to see what happens to it. I also feel guilty having repeated posted about WOW Air's offers and making others book, who now will have to wait for refund and face inconvenience and disappointment due to this sudden decision by WOW Air.

Disclaimer: This post carries interpreted news based on information available in WOW Air's website and reliable news available in public domain and not officially endorsed/confirmed by WOW Air. Please use your discretion or cross check.

So what next?
I hope I am totally wrong on this post. We can only wait and watch while WOW Air either confirms withdrawal from India market or silently resumes flights and opens booking beyond Jan 20th. Hopefully it is the later. If it is the former, is probably the first blog/website to identify and reveal this sad news.

Update: I found two news articles confirming this development: One on Business Standard and one more here The main reason said to be the decision to return all A330s, not load factor.  Chicago and Los Angeles routes are also axed.

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