You may have seen some ridiculously low fares from the US to Europe on WOW Air, a low-cost no-frills airline, based in Iceland. WOW Air flies to Europe from a pretty wide variety of US cities. All flights to Europe are routed through Reykjavik, Iceland, but their US gateways include cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and they're adding more gateways all the time.
We recently traveled on WOW Air, on a trip to France, with a stop-over for a few days in Iceland. Our fare was good--much better than we'd have gotten on a mainstream carrier, like Delta, United or American. But there are some caveats that you should be aware of before you jump on one of those low fares.
Everything Comes at a Cost.
On WOW Air, just about everything has an additional charge. There's an added fee for checking a bag. There's an added fee for carrying on a bag. There's a charge for snacks. There's a charge for beverages, and not just for alcohol; they'll charge you for a soft drink. They'll charge you for water. Yes. That's right. If you want water on their flight, you'll have to pay for it. So, as attractive as that low fare might be, if you don't bring your own bottle of water for the flight, you're going to have to pay for it on-board.
Business Class is More Like Premium Economy.
For a couple of our legs, we purchased a Business Class fare. The fare was attractive--basically we could fly Business Class for the cost of a coach ticket on a mainstream airline. There are actually two kinds of upgrades. One is labeled "Business Class", and the other is labeled "XXL." Basically, Business Class has a separate cabin, with better seats, more recline, leg rests, and your fare includes priority boarding, a carry-on bag (but just one), and a meal with a drink. XXL is basically just a seat with extra leg room in the economy cabin--an exit row, for example. The XXL fare also included priority boarding, and the meal and drink, and a carry-on. So, the inclusions are pretty much identical between Business Class and XXL, but with Business Class, you're getting a better seat in a separate cabin.
That having been said, not all of their planes have separate cabins. So, Business Class might not even be an option on your flights--you might have to settle for XXL.
We flew all three on different legs of our flight, and here's what we thought.
The Good, The Bad and The Inconsistent.
Basic economy had legroom that was better than on basic economy on a carrier like United, American or Delta. One or two inches of seat pitch can make all the difference when you're on a long flight--especially if you're stuck in a middle row.
XXL is basically like purchasing an exit row seat on a mainstream airline, except that you get a meal. Since XXL and Business Class passengers are guaranteed a meal, they might not have anything for you to purchase if you're in basic economy. That happened to us--by the time they came by with the drink and food cart, there was no food for us.
The "meals" are basically either sandwiches, a bready margarita pizza, or a cup-o-soup. Of the offerings, the best option is the ham and cheese baguette, which they toast for you. The margarita pizza was filling, but they serve it to you in the sealed plastic bag, direct from the microwave. Not very appetizing, to be honest. Our recommendation is that you arrive having eaten, and that you bring a big bottle of water, and some snacks on board with you.
The enforcement of rules is uneven. When we boarded in Newark, there was no priority boarding call. People just boarded whenever they wanted. There was a rush at the gate. If you pay for priority boarding and you're forced to compete with passengers who didn't, it might leave a bad taste in your mouth. By the same measure, at one of our flights, departing Reykjavik, they did allow passengers with priority to board first, but the basic economy passengers were right behind the few passengers who had priority, and since we needed to take a shuttle bus to board on the tarmac, there wasn't any advantage to having priority. The passengers who got off the bus first, got to board first.
Another example of uneven enforcement is that if you check in online and have your boarding pass printed out in advance, it might be possible to board with a carry on, without actually having to pay the up-charge. On only one of my four legs, did a gate attendant check to see that I was allowed to bring on a carry-on bag.
The one thing that they were absolutely consistent about, however, was making sure that only one carry-on bag went in the overhead bin. Unless you're in an exit row or bulkhead, the flight attendants will insist that your briefcase, knapsack, or purse goes under the seat in front of you. They're pretty assertive about it, actually.
The Verdict? Know What You've Paid to Get.
Overall, we'd fly WOW Air again. Since United, American and Delta have all seriously devalued their frequent flyer programs in recent years, we don't think there's much advantage to showing loyalty to any one carrier, anymore. We're now looking for the best flight, at the lowest price, and WOW Air definitely can hit that mark, as long as you understand that you're not on a regular airline where you can get a glass of water or carrying a bag onboard without being charged for it.
The other great thing about WOW is the ability to build in an extended stopover in Iceland. It's a beautiful country, and stopping over for a few days is definitely worth it. Plus, a couple of days in Iceland, on your way to Europe can actually help mitigate the effects of jetlag. Coming back from Europe, even if you don't stop over, you can stretch your legs on your transfer, walk around a bit, and it doesn't really add all that much travel time to your trip. Not everyone will want to break up their trip that way, but it definitely has advantages.