Fresh Doubt Cast On October WOW Air Relaunch

Since it was reported that Wow Air’s assets were sold to a US investor, the industry has been abuzz with news of the airline being relaunched. Michele Ballarin, leading the company US Aerospace Associates, has publicly proclaimed her ambition to begin operations between Iceland and Washington by the end of this month. However, a Simple Flying investigation suggests these plans could be nothing more than big purple pie in the sky.

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Wow may not relaunch after all. Photo: WOW Air

No flights scheduled with WOW

Despite assertions by Michele Ballarin and her US Aerospace Associates company that the airline would begin scheduled service by the end of this month, Washington Dulles Airport begs to differ. When Simple Flying reached out to the airport to discuss the matter, we were told,

“While the team at Washington Dulles International Airport held an initial meeting in August with Ms. Ballarin and her associates regarding the process for establishing air service at the airport, there are currently no flights scheduled with WOW Airlines out of Dulles International and no new air service to announce”

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No plans are in place with Washington Dulles. Photo: WOW Air

If this is true, there are a couple of explanations that could be passable. Firstly, perhaps Ballarin has gotten confused over which airport her new Wow will fly to. Washington also has Ronald Regan National (DCA) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), so perhaps this is a simple case of mistaken identity. However, as MWAA operates both IAD and DCA, that only leaves BWI as a possible contender.

MWAA also reminded Simple Flying that DCA is a slot-controlled regional airport with geographic perimeter rules and no transatlantic flights. So there’s that thought out of the window.

A second and frankly more plausible explanation would be that there are, in fact, no plans whatsoever to get Wow 2 off the ground by the end of this month. Perhaps Ballarin is simply over-optimistic, unrealistic or even simply delusional in terms of what she’s been telling the press.

Simple Flying has approached both MWAA and Isavia for Keflavik Airport for further information and will update when we hear back.

Not the first time

If it does turn out that no firm plans are in place to fly to IAD, it wouldn’t be the first time Mrs Ballarin has exaggerated her position. In an extensive interview with Morgunbladid in July, the businesswoman indicated that WOW Air would become the first European airline to be headquartered at Dulles Airport in Washington. She went on to describe her meeting with the authorities at the airport, saying that they are “incredibly excited” for the Wow relaunch.

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Dulles had said no such thing. Photo; MWAA

However, Icelandic publication Turisti contacted Dulles directly. What they found did not tie up at all.

In their reporting, Turisti says that the aviation authorities in Washington are not familiar with Mrs Ballarin or the company US Aerospace Associates. Although they note that airlines regularly make contact to discuss new routes and express interest in launching services, they have had no such contact from either Aerospace Associates or Wow Air at all.

Turisti also throws doubt on some of the published plans of Ballarin and her team, suggesting that perhaps she needs a reality check. Among the issues are her assertation that economy passengers make the most money for an airline, which is clearly not true, and her plans to open a bespoke Wow Air lounge at Washington Dulles, which would be ridiculous for one or two flights per day to just one destination.

A blow for Iceland

While a daydreaming businessperson in any other situation might be mildly annoying, perhaps even amusing, the Icelandic community certainly does not see this as a laughing matter. Just this week, it has been reported by the Iceland Review that three to four hundred former Wow staff are still unemployed, many of whom were cabin crew for the airline. Floating the idea of a forthcoming launch of a new airline is nothing short of cruel if there turns out, in fact, to be no such plan in place.

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Three to four hundred cabin crew are still unemployed. Photo: Hildur Hilmarsdóttir/Simple Flying

Added to this, the losses to Icelandic tourism numbers is still painful for businesses and communities in the country. In 2015, tourism made up a third of Iceland’s economy. Although it had slowed a little by the time Wow collapsed, the loss of cheap flights accelerated the drop in visitor numbers. At the same time as Wow disappeared, the grounding of the 737 MAX impacted Icelandair’s operations, causing an overall loss of 27.5% of available seats, according to CN Traveler.

If Ballarin does turn out to be nothing more than a dreamer, her empty promises are going to be hard for Iceland to stomach. Perhaps we’ll all be surprised and will see Wow take off again by the end of this month, but it’s not looking good right now.