Why I will never fly WOW Air again and you shouldn’t either

TLDR; Don’t fly WOW air. Seriously don’t. If you want all of the details read on. My girlfriend and I booked a trip to Iceland using WOW Air after finding a “great” deal. The entire experience from beginning to end was a complete shit storm that ended up costing us in many ways. After all was said and done we lost out on a full day and a half of our trip, arrived totally sleep deprived and received not so much as an ounce of customer service from them throughout the whole ordeal. WOW Air is lying and deceitful and will make you feel like everything that goes poorly is your fault and you are a pest for even thinking otherwise.

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If you are on the fence, let me make it easy for you. Don’t fly WOW air.

Booking our trip to Iceland

My girlfriend and I were planning a New Years getaway to Iceland and decided to check out WOW Air after they received a ton of positive press from news outlets about the budget flights between the U.S. and Europe. Getting to Iceland from San Francisco isn’t the most straightforward, in fact WOW Air is the only airline that offers a direct flight. I’m not a huge fan of budget airlines as after all the fees are taken into consideration you usually end up paying close to the same amount for an extremely sub-par experience.

I decided to bite the bullet on a 2-person roundtrip flight for just over $1400 after all fees, extra leg room and one checked-bag (not exactly budget is it?), but is was about $500 cheaper than Iceland air with no stops on the way. It seemed like the best option for us… if only I had known what was in store.

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The departing flight from SFO

Seats…what seats?

Several hours after booking the initial flight, I decided it would be a good idea to move the departing flight to one day earlier as I had a gut-feeling that we should have an extra day of buffer before New Years Eve (we had an event booked in Reykjavik that we did NOT want to miss). Since I was within the 24hour window, I was able to easily modify my departure date with no fees. A couple clicks later I was done….

Fast-forward to the day before travel (December 28th) I went to check-in for our flight online and noticed the seats I had paid for ($60.99 USD each) and picked were nowhere to be found and we were assigned a couple of random seats instead.

Wonderful, let the fun begin.

I immediately called customer service who said that indeed I had paid for the extra legroom seats, but because I switched the departure date my seats were automatically unassigned….great, when were they going to decide to tell me that? Nothing on the flight change page mentioned or gave me any option for seats…I had incorrectly assumed the same seats were available and assigned to me (because nothing told me otherwise). He then proceeded to tell me there was nothing else he could help me with and I would have to handle it all at the airport in the morning.

December 29th — Flight #1: SFO to KEF

The morning of our scheduled flight we received text messages letting us know our flight was delayed an hour….fine, we were actually happy about that because our original arrival time in Iceland was 4am. We arrived at the airport fairly early regardless (around 9am) just to be on the safe side, our new departure was scheduled for around noon.

9:00am: We checked-in and I proceeded to try and explain the seat situation to the agent. She was very nice and apologetic about the whole thing, but basically said there was nothing she could do about our original seats. She put us in an exit row and said it was the best she could do. I tried to explain how this didn’t make sense as I had paid for very specific seats, if they were still on my confirmation then how could they have sold all of the other XXL legroom seats? She just kept nodding and saying the seats she gave me were “very good, better than the ones I had before”…

So I paid for the most expensive seat upgrade they offer ($60.99 a leg), but the normal ones were somehow better? She offered no refund or advice as to how to get one aside from the call center number.

11:00am: Our original flight departure time rolled around, by this time we were already at the gate waiting. By this time we had received a second notification telling us our flight was delayed again, by another hour and half. We were in good spirits and had no issue with waiting a bit longer (and getting to Iceland at a more reasonable time).

1:00pm: Finally we get the go-ahead to start boarding the airplane, everything seemed like it was on track now.

1:30pm: Everyone seems to be on the aircraft, but nothing much else is happening…we are just waiting for the captain to give us the standard “Welcome on-board….the weather is…. landing at….”

3:15pm: We’ve been sitting on the plane for close to 2 hours at this point. We’ve had a total of 1 update from the pilot… there is a technical issue that they are trying to fix.

4:00pm: Still no new updates, everyone is getting antsy. They have offered us ZERO food or beverage at this point. We’ve been on the plane for 3 hours. Pathetic.

4:30pm: We are finally given word that we have to get off the plane and wait near the gate for 30 mins for an update. Here is a picture of all the passengers after getting off the plane. LOTS of these people have connecting flights they have now missed, many are upset and crying because they won’t see loved ones in time for New Years.

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Lots of annoyed people here.

5:00pm: Someone mumbles over the intercom that the flight is cancelled and that if you have questions to wait in line. Lots of angry people at this point. The “customer service” booth is a single person at the moment, she is getting berated with questions.

Here are some of the takeaways that people were told:

  • You won’t be getting any food vouchers for lunch/dinner at the airport
  • There is no customer service for WOW air at the airport, she was the only agent (eventually one other extremely grumpy guy showed up).
  • If you want to retrieve your bag, you need to wait in a line, then give them your baggage claim ticket…then wait 30 minutes to an hour for someone to retrieve your bag
  • You can spend $200 on a hotel nearby…they gave a phone-number to call for the hotels. This later turned out to be a bad phone number and the person on the receiving end of the phone was very upset that people were calling about hotels.
  • You can spend $20 each for dinner / breakfast the next day (this number changed throughout the next several hours, always quoted differently).
  • You have to email all your receipts to wow@wow.is for later compensation…I’m pretty certain this is totally illegal at this point. Many folks stated that simply couldn’t afford to just throw down another $200 for a hotel room, plus transportation costs to and from the airport and meals. They were offered ZERO assistance other than the call-center number.

6:00pm: By this point I had been reading up on airline compensation laws and trying to unravel what regulation WOW air falls under for nearly 3 hours. I thought most of what they were doing seemed totally illegal, just sending people on their way with NO promise of a backup / alternative flight, zero food or even water, no hotels or transportation assistance WTF, WOW??

6:15pm: I finally reached the front of the line to request baggage retrieval. I gave them my information, she said to wait another 30–45 mins.

7:00pm: They now escorted the remaining passengers back to the main lobby to wait for bags, when we got there we found at least 50 other passengers who had requested their bags hours early, and were still waiting. They STILL haven’t offered even as much as a bottle of water at this point.

8:00pm: We were all moved down to one of the baggage claim carousels, it has been spinning for 45 minutes with not so much as a single bag coming out yet. There is a WOW Air representative (the same grumpy guy from before) who is telling everyone that if they want to be on a flight tomorrow we have to give him our seat number ….right, makes perfect sense.

He claims if we take our bag, but don’t give him our seat number that our flight the next day, that we have zero information on, will remove us automatically. He is writing the seat numbers on a single sheet of paper that he stuffs into his pocket…this is not reassuring at all. Here is a video of the agent writing down our information

The grumpiest of all the WOW air agents we encountered

8:00pm-9:00pm: Somewhere in this timeframe our bag was finally dropped off, 12 hours after we arrived at the airport (yeah so about that 30–45 min wait for bags?). We are extremely hungry and totally parched at this point, but we were still offered nothing the entire time.

We head home with the final promise of “There will be another flight tomorrow, it might be at 6am or it might be at noon, we don’t know yet”. Ok great, so we might need to be at the airport at 4am, or maybe 10am, whatever.

9:02pm: We receive a text message stating that we definitely have a flight, it will be tomorrow at 6:00am and that check-in closes at 5:00am. So basically your ass better be at the airport by 4:00am

December 30th — Flight #1 pt.2: SFO to KEF

4:15am: We arrive at the airport…again…totally zonked out from lack of sleep and food over the last 24 hours. The check-in line is HUGEEEE, everyone from the flight the day before is there to get on the new flight. There are maybe 3 agents checking us all in.

5:00am: It took us 45 mins to reach the front of the line, there are a bunch of people behind us, the check-in agents actually had the audacity to rush everyone in line telling them check-in was closing soon…

6:00am: We are sitting at the gate…at our departure time… with no aircraft in sight. The pilot and flight attendants are sitting nearby, visibly annoyed. They have given ZERO updates over the intercom and the screen still says 6:00am departure..

6:30am: OK the screen has updated to say 7:00am departure, but still nobody is boarding. There is a plane nearby making its way over.

7:00am: You guessed it, still haven’t boarded yet. Screen still says 7:00 departure.

At this point my recollection of time is somewhat faint, but we did end up boarding in the next 30 mins or so and finally taking off around 8:00 give or take.

They offered us drinks on the flight, although they made NO announcements about food, we asked the flight attendant and she said we were welcome to pick out a couple snacks free of charge. Gee, thanks.

Our seats were OK, definitely not what I would have picked out given the chance (especially considering I paid $120 for other seats that I didn’t receive).

We arrived in Iceland around midnight or later, I can’t remember the exact time, but eventually made our way to the hotel in Reykjavik.

WOW Air Conditions of Carriage (or the document they totally don’t give a shit about)

During our extended delay and eventual cancellation of the first flight, I had ample time to research the regulations around flight delays and cancellations.

I managed to find the Conditions of Carriage that WOW air abides by here https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wowair-web-files/WOWair_ConditionsCarriage.pdf

These have changed since I was looking at them, but I did manage to take a screenshot of the clause for cancellations that was live on the site at the time of this occurrence:

The cancellation regulation from WOW Air’s website

They plainly state that WOW Air offers assistance according to regulation EC 261/2004 as applicable. As mentioned above, all airlines that fall under EU regulation EC 261/2004 are required to follow several mandates (BY LAW).

Per Regulation EC 261/2004, here is all of the following that WOW air totally failed to provide us as passengers:

  • Refreshments, communication and accommodation: “When passengers become entitled to these assistances, they must be offered, free of charge”
  • Meals and refreshments in proportion to the waiting time. By my count we were due at least the following: Lunch and Dinner on December 29th, Breakfast and Lunch on December 30th.
  • Hotel accommodation and transport between the airport and the hotel, if a stay of one or more nights, or a stay additional to that intended by the passenger becomes necessary. All they told us was to pay for it yourself and send us a receipt. They also applied totally arbitrary limits on accommodation $200 in San Francisco??

Whoops, guess WOW air didn’t read this part:

  • Obligation to notify passengers: “Airlines are obliged to display a notice at their check-in counters stating: If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance.” Additionally, when an airline cancels a flight, denies a person boarding, or incurs a delay exceeding two hours to a flight, it is obliged to provide each passenger affected with a written notice setting out their rights under the regulation, and the contact details of the national body tasked with enforcing the regulation.
  • Cash Compensation: They claimed they had zero clerical abilities, could not write checks or cash out for anything.

WOW air failed to provide us with any of the above. When I asked the agent for a copy of our rights for compensation and assistance he regurgitated the $200 hotel allowance that I would have to call a (wrong) number for and trust that WOW Air would pay me back for it at some point (HAHAHA). They had zero copies of any of the text and the agent refused to write down everything he was promising us word-of-mouth.

January 6th — Flight #2: KEF to SFO

Our trip in Iceland was a bit rough at the start, but we had a fantastic time.

Next came the moment we dreaded, the flight back home on WOW Air. Although after the huge screw-up on the way there, how much worse could they really do?

My girlfriend checked-in to our flight from my phone while I drove us to the airport, she was thrown off because the seat assignment seemed…wrong. I was assigned seat 1D (the one I had specifically paid for and chosen during booking) while she was assigned 11D (definitely not the seat I paid for or picked). Here is our seat confirmation from the email:

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Seat assignments

You can clearly see the seat assignments here: Ryan: 1D, Alyssa: 1E

Side-by-side seats at the front of the plane with XXL legroom (Fancy I know). I held my breath but assured her everything would be fine once we got to the airport I would sort it out.

We got to the airport 2 hours before our departure time of 4:00pm. We were easily able to spot the WOW Air check-in area, THEY HAD A MASSIVE LINE AGAIN. There were a total of 2 agents checking in at least 100 people or more. They kept randomly calling out for people who were on a flight to one destination or another because the line was taking so long that people were likely to miss their flights. It took us an hour and half to reach the front of the line.

I quickly explained the seating situation, showed her all of my confirmation and seat assignments to prove that I had paid for and been assigned those seats. Much to my displeasure she explained that nothing could be done and Alyssa would have to sit in 11D. We argued with her that this is simply unacceptable, we are traveling together and booked seats side by side, how could they just be changed with no notice (again, lol)? She tried to get a manager for us but the manager lady only rolled her eyes and said the following “Would you prefer to have your seats or would you prefer to miss your flight”. I’m not even kidding, that was her advice to us.

Once again I’ve now paid $60.99 to pick a seat with extra legroom next to my girlfriend only to be told that I don’t have the seat I picked and there is nothing we can do about it. We demanded that they call to the gate agents to explain that they have messed up and to find a solution. They told us this is impossible, they cannot speak to the gate agents. We were given the old “here is our call-center number, please feel free to call them and ask for a refund”. Once again screwed with ZERO compensation or offer of assistance, not even a simple showing of remorse.

It also dawned on me that WOW air profited from selling the same seat upgrade twice, obviously only a single person can sit in it. This is either a serious bug in their booking software or a convenient glitch to make some extra $$$.

At this point it was already time for our flight departure (which she had assured us was delayed because of the lines) and the check-in agents are telling us we need to run to get through security, because the flight actually isn’t delayed, but waiting for us. Seriously, can I say it…WOW….

As a final fuck-you from the airline, I got all the way to security only to find that the check-in agent hadn’t printed my boarding pass out, only a receipt that looked like a boarding pass (a guy next to us earlier had the exact same issue). I ran all the way back down and told her this, she fumbled with the printer for 5 mins before handing another boarding pass to me, face down. I ran back towards security then glanced at the boarding pass….of course it wasn’t mine. One more trip back (and more sarcastic remarks from the agent) I finally had the correct boarding pass.

Just one other disclaimer, the seat I booked 1D, which is marketed as an XXL legroom seat is possibly the worst I’ve ever sat in on any airline ever. It’s crammed in between a bathroom and the most heavily trafficked part of the plane where flight attendants are constantly coming in and out of the preparation area with carts of food and other refreshments. The carts don’t fit in the tiny space between the aisle as a storage locker sticks out and blocks them, therefore every single time the flight attendants push a cart out it rams into the side of my seat. No exaggeration. The area directly in-front of and to my right was almost always filled with passengers queued up for the single restroom in the front of the plane. Half of them tripped over my feet if I had them stretched out even a small amount. I felt like an asshole for utilizing any of the legroom I had paid for…

XXL my ass

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1D is a horrendous seat

Pass-the-buck (air)

This was the theme of WOW air every step of the way on our trip. Check-in desks can’t (won’t?) speak to gate agents, gate agents have ZERO access to your reservation and WILL NOT PROVIDE ANY CUSTOMER ASSISTANCE.

Every single person that works for the airline in the airport will tell you to call the same exact Indian call-center or to email wow@wow.is

The call-center is entirely based in India and the experience is equally as horrible. My most recent call to try and receive a refund for our seat situation was met with several “Sorry our systems are down” cop-outs every time I opened the conversation with “I have an issue with my booking”.

The systems mysteriously started working when I instead opened with, “Hey I have a question about my confirmation, can you please look it up?

Every single agent we spoke to in person assured us that they have zero access to the systems they would need to provide us with refunds or additional assistance.

Other customers experiences

Here are some fun tweets I came across while looking at the WOW support account, there are literally hundreds of these types. The response is always “sorry, please email” or “sorry, please call”:

Some advice for WOW airlines

Stop pretending you are an actual company.

You cannot outsource every aspect of your business and still be an actual business. You will fail.

A real company:

  • Cares about its customers
  • Doesn’t blame them for it’s own mistakes
  • Has an actual customer service department
  • Offers real solutions

Stop breaking the law

You claim to abide with the EU Regulation 261/2004 then blatantly disregard it. You are cruising towards a class-action suit here.

Communicate To Your Passengers

I cannot fathom why this is so challenging for them. The entire time we sat waiting hours on end, nobody was telling us anything. If I’m sitting at the gate at 7:00am and the departure time says 7:00am, why is nobody updating us on the status of what’s happening??

I REALLY wanted to like you WOW airlines. A true budget airline that could get me to Europe round-trip for under $400 would be AMAZING. Instead you turned out to be a complete farce. You are lying and deceiving and end up costing people more in the long run or just cheat us out of our money entirely.

Some advice for anyone that already flew WOW airlines, had a shitty experience and is looking to get compensated.

You have rights, you are entitled to compensation. DO NOT LET WOW AIRLINES TELL YOU OTHERWISE. Here are a few resources that might help:

Closing remarks

All of the delays and issues that occurred had nothing to do with weather or external circumstances, they were entirely WOW Air’s fault.

All said and done we missed out on a full day and half of an already fairly short trip and arrived totally sleep deprived. We also had to bite the bullet on an expensive hotel room.

I have to say that the only professional interactions I had with this entire company were from some of the flight attendants themselves. They were courteous and I could tell they genuinely felt bad about what happened throughout.

If only the rest of the “company” had the same level of training as them…

As it stands now we haven’t received a dime from them, I have submitted claims per regulation 261/2004 but I’m not very hopeful about receiving a response, I mean just look at these:

2 months with no response
No pay out after waiting 9 weeks
This man was called a liar for submitting a claim

I will NEVER fly WOW airlines again. I work for a travel company and I will strongly persuade my coworkers to do the same.

The only time you should EVER fly WOW airlines is if you have ONLY carry-on luggage, you have ZERO expectation of arriving on-time, you haven’t purchased on add-ons (seats etc), you have ZERO expectation of customer service, or you are a masochist.

I’ll leave you with this WOW airlines, because you certainly had me feeling this way:

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The irony in this message is too real….

#wowairsucks #wowair #wow

Written by

DevOps Engineer at Lonely Planet, Ketogenic freak. All views and opinions are strictly my own.

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