WOW Air’s aggressive expansion into the U.S. Heartland has run into turbulence.
The Icelandic budget airline, known for offering one-way fares as low as $99 from the USA to Iceland and Europe, says it will ax service to three Midwestern cities.
WOW’s flights from St. Louis will end Jan. 7 while seasonal service from Cincinnati and Cleveland will not resume next summer. The last flights from the Ohio cities will come later this month.
The pullout comes only about five months after WOW began flying from the cities. The three Midwest cities – along with Detroit – were announced by WOW as new destinations to great fanfare last summer.
Detroit will remain in WOW Air’s network, Svana Friðriksdóttir told USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog. But it seems that the three dropped Midwest cities could hint at bigger changes for WOW’s U.S. network.
When asked specifically about WOW’s service to New York JFK and Dallas/Fort Worth – destinations about where there has been speculation about WOW’s long-term prospects – Friðriksdóttir said no decision had been made about whether the airline would continue to fly there in its 2019 schedule.
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As for St. Louis, WOW said demand for the service did not meet its expectations.
“Unfortunately, it has to be said that St Louis was a disappointment for WOW Air this summer in terms of end results, with load factors not achieving the targets that were set for the route in the beginning, and compared to other markets in our network,” Friðriksdóttir said.
That appeared to come as a surprise to airport officials in St. Louis.
“We’re disappointed because the response from customers across the St. Louis region was strong, and we were told we were one of the airline’s top performing markets in the Midwest that were added last spring,” the airport said Monday in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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The loss will take away St. Louis’ only regular non-stop route to Europe. Prior to WOW’s arrival, St. Louis had been without non-stop service to Europe since 2003, when American discontinued its last London flight there as it slashed TWA’s St. Louis hub that it inherited in an acquisition of the now-defunct carrier.
In Cleveland, WOW’s decision not to resume comes just a month after it told The Cleveland Plain-Dealer that it planned to return in 2019.
More broadly, WOW’s pullout is a disappointing development for the cities losing flights.
When WOW announced its expansion into the Midwest last summer, it marked the first time that a European discount airline had targeted the U.S. Heartland so aggressively. Previously, U.S. service on other European discounters had focused mostly on big U.S. coastal cities with already-established demand for trans-Atlantic flights.
At the time the routes were revealed, WOW said it expected the smaller Midwest cities to prosper with service on single-aisle Airbus A321 jets that are smaller than widebody jets flown most-frequently on U.S.-Europe routes.
“We like the region. We think there’s opportunity there. We think it’s under-served,” WOW Air founder and CEO Skúli Mogensen said to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog at the time.
He predicted low fares – coupled with smaller jets – could lead to profits by catering to pent-up demand for cheap trans-Atlantic flights.
“With those kind of prices, we have seen in other markets that we enter that we have stimulated the market significantly,” he said.
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