WOW air Collapse: Should You Worry About Who Is Next?

Mar 29, 2019

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The collapse of Icelandic discounter WOW air left thousands of customers scrambling for new options after the carrier abruptly ceased operations Thursday.

The quick demise of the once fast-growing no-frills carrier has left some travelers wondering if the same thing could happen to them. There’s never a guarantee, but most industry analysts say the risk is low — at least for now.

“There’s no one that comes to mind as being in particular peril of disappearing,” says Brett Snyder, author of The Cranky Flier blog and his eponymous Cranky Concierge travel service.

Major carriers — including North American giants like American, Delta, United and Air Canada — don’t elicit much concern from travelers in terms of stability. And for good reason: they’re all on solid footing. Instead, it’s smaller niche carriers and a new breed of international low-cost carriers most likely to be the subject of uncertainty.

There’s some precedent for worry.

Primera Air, another trans-Atlantic budget outfit – albeit a much smaller one – also abruptly halted operations and left its customers in the lurch last fall. In fact, a number of smaller airlines within Europe have had a tough go of things during the past two years. The 2017 shutdown of Air Berlin removed a big player from the German market, but most of the other recent airline failures in Europe have hit lesser-known operations like Flybmi, Monarch, Germania and Cobalt.

The largest discounter flying between the US and Europe is Norwegian Air, which flies more than 50 nonstop routes between the US and Europe. Norwegian has been in the news during the past year for its own financial issues, but Snyder and others don’t believe there’s reason to panic.

“Personally, I’m not too concerned,” Snyder said about Norwegian’s immediate prospects.

He noted the approaching summer travel season is typically the most profitable time of year for a leisure-oriented airline like Norwegian. That, Snyder said, would likely leave the company with a solid stream of revenue at least into the fall.

CNN aviation expert Richard Quest went even further.

“People have been talking about Norwegian going out of business forever,” Quest said in a CNN story that included his opinion of the situation. “But the reality is Norwegian wouldn’t go out of business, Norwegian would be bought if it had a problem.”

As for Snyder, he believes the biggest risk for travelers comes from smaller, less-known outfits that don’t have the same scale and scope of their major rivals.

“There are a number of small carriers in Europe whose finances we don’t know a whole lot about,” he says.

However, Snyder points out that doesn’t include intra-Europe discounters like Ryanair and EasyJet. Those carriers are well known in Europe and among regular travelers, but their brands that may be off the radar for infrequent travelers from North America.

“They’re enormous and are quite stable financially,” Snyder says.

Wizz Air, another of the large budget carriers flying within Europe, also appears solid. Instead, it’s the smaller airlines that fly niche routes that pose the biggest risk, Snyder says.

“Personally, I’m not overly concerned,” he says. For those squeamish about the risk, Snyder advises: “Buy travel insurance.”

Featured photo by Martin Schutt/picture alliance via Getty Images

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