Bankrupt WOW’s Legacy: How The LCC Airline Served 17 North American Airports

No one expected three airlines to operate between Iceland and Dallas, but they did. The Texas airport was one of 17 in North America that WOW Air served, with this region crucial for the carrier – and its A321s and A330s, with the A320 used too.

WOW Air A330
WOW Air used its A330-300s to Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, and, for a limited time, to Amsterdam and Paris CDG. Photo: Nicky Boogaard via Wikimedia.

Dallas probably illustrates the rise and fall of WOW Air better than most routes. Both it and Icelandair began the route in May 2018, followed by American Airlines the following month. They had up to 14 weekly flights between them, although they targeted different demographics.

WOW Air and Icelandair mainly focused on those traveling to/from the UK and mainland Europe. For American Airlines, it was connections across the United States and protecting its European presence.

WOW Air A321
The A321 was all-important for WOW Air to North America. Photo: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia.

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The WOW era

Welcome to the WOW era. It wasn’t especially long, but the airline did push boundaries and tried new things. This wasn’t always sensible, especially adding widebody A330s to launch Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco – and Delhi.

WOW Air had nearly 3.8 million seats in 2018, OAG data reveals, up by a million in just one year, and 2.2 million over the span of two years. Expansion was very rapid, inevitably leading to poor financial performance. In contrast, the airline was profitable in 2015 and 2016, years in which growth wasn’t excessive.

North America grew to almost half of the airline’s total capacity (47%) in 2018, its peak year. It served more destinations in North America than might be expected, with all of its fleet – A320s, A321s, A330-300s – used at times. But this region was really all about the A321, with over seven in ten seats by the type.

WOW Air A320
WOW Air’s A320 were not used much to North America, although Boston, Montreal, and Pittsburgh did see the type. Photo: Marvin Mutz via Wikimedia.

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17 destinations in North America

WOW Air began North America in 2015, with Baltimore and Boston initially served. Its route map increased to seven the following year, with Los Angeles, Montreal, Newark, San Francisco, and Toronto. This was the year that its A330s made an appearance.

In 2017, its North America network increased to 10, with Chicago, Miami, and Pittsburgh all served. Those rose to 17 in 2018, with Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, New York JFK, Orlando, and St Louis added.

Wishing to get in on the action, Icelandair grew its North America map to 23 destinations in 2018, up from 15 in 2015. Now, in 2021, the airline will use its Boeing 737 MAXs to three US destinations.

WOW Air North America
WOW Air served 17 airports in the US and Canada. Image: OAG

Baltimore and Boston

As its end neared, WOW Air’s North America route map was scaled back significantly. Once more, it focused on Baltimore and Boston – the two routes it launched with. This probably indicates the relative strength of these routes.

If 2015-2019 is added up, Baltimore was WOW Air’s number-one destination in the US/Canada by total seat capacity, just ahead of Boston. If total flights are looked at, the pair is still top, followed by logical – and closer – Toronto, Newark, and Montreal.

Keflavik to/from…Number of seats Number of flights 
Los Angeles225,734656
San Francisco215,735625
New York JFK39,244184
St Louis28,988137
Dallas 23,11567

Note: data from OAG Schedules Analyzer.

How connected?

With up to 372 flights a week, July and August 2018 was WOW Air’s busiest period. As such, its Keflavik hub scaled up to match its capacity.

Originally, it had just two waves a day: arrivals from North America (04:00-05:00), feeding departures to Europe (06:00-07:00), arriving back (1310-1410), and then departing to North America (15:00-16:00).

In the week of August 13th, 2018, it had four waves a day, also showing how much more complex it had grown in fairly little time. These four waves were driven by:

  • A huge expansion of new routes
  • Increased frequencies on various existing routes
  • Big congestion at peak periods at Keflavik, so developing into off-peak time
WOW Air Keflavik hub
There were some exceptions to how its Keflavik hub operated. Longer destinations (Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco) left in departures bank three to arrive back in arrivals bank two the next day. Source: OAG.

Because of their length, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco couldn’t depart and arrive back like other, closer destinations. As a result, they remained on the ground for significant lengths of time to ensure they arrived back in the 04:00-05:00 period.

Keflavik to San Francisco, for example, originally departed at 15:05 and arrived at 17:15. It remained there overnight, returning the following day at 12:20. The service arrived back in Iceland on day three at 04:20. Following the additional waves, this then changed. It departed as before but arrived back the next day in arrivals bank two, saving many hours on the ground.

Did you fly WOW Air? What did you think of them and its Keflavik hub? Comment below!