From Iceland — A Cloud Of Doubt Around WOW Air

A Cloud Of Doubt Around WOW Air

Published September 12, 2019

Sam O'Donnell
Photo by
Art Bicnick

In late July, it was announced that Oasis Aviation Group (OAG) had agreed to buy all assets in the WOW air bankruptcy estate. When the liquidators caught wind that controversial figure Michele Roosevelt Edwards (FKA Michele Ballarin) was behind OAG, they cancelled the deal. Edwards had previously announced that she intended to invest 24 billion ISK into what was left of WOW Air and revive the company.

In early August, Edwards returned to Iceland with her lawyer, Páll Ágúst Ólafsson, and public relations guru, Gunnar Steinn Pálsson, trying again to resurrect the budget airline. Something must have worked, because in early September she finalised the purchase of the assets for an undisclosed amount. She now has $85 million USD committed to the business of bringing WOW Air back to life, with the intent to make Iceland a European hub. She says she wants to capture the Icelandic experience, and to make flying fun again. For example, she has consulted with a Michelin Starred chef to prepare the in-flight menu. Without specifying a purchase price, she assured RÚV that she plans to have the company back on its feet by October. “We are debt-free and want to stay debt-free,” she told the state broadcaster.

Lofty goals

WOW 2.0’s main twin headquarters will be Washington Dulles and Keflavík international airports. Michele is reportedly hopeful that the company will start with two freight planes, and by next summer, she hopes to have between ten and twelve freight and passenger planes. “I’m not seeing more than twelve aircraft when we’re full-sail, as you Vikings would say here,” she said. She has not specified how many former employees she plans to re-hire, but she does want to bring back at least some of the pilots and flight attendants. “We’re looking for a very strong Icelandic face.”

“I do not yet have full faith in the resurrection of WOW Air.”

This is a very optimistic goal, but it might be too idealistic. Kristján Sigurjónsson, editor in chief at travel news site, has been vocal about his doubts. “I do not yet have full faith in the resurrection of WOW air,” he told Morgunblaðið, adding that the purchase of the assets alone isn’t enough to run an airline. “You would need more information on how to do this. We still do not know what airline licenses they intend to use.”

The how

Edwards remains optimistic. “Many airlines have historically challenging times. Maybe they didn’t become permanently grounded or face closure. But WOW Air is a unique brand,” she told RÚV. “It’s well-recognised.” She also said that the founder did a good job of building the WOW brand, which is an interesting thing to say, considering the fact that the WOW Air brand was widely recognised as a no-frills means of travel to and from Iceland, and a Michelin-Starred Chef is incompatible with a low-cost airline.

It is worth mentioning that in order to keep costs low, Edwards wants to focus on reducing passenger compensation. It is unclear what exactly she means by this, but it’s most likely she is referring to the EU’s compensation laws, which state that if a passenger is delayed, their bag is lost, or they are inconvenienced in a number of other ways, they would be entitled to compensation. Edwards’s company would therefore be required to have fewer delays, lose or delay fewer bags, and ensure that every customer is completely satisfied with their experience. She also plans not to ferry staff between Reykjavík and Keflavík, which WOW Air used to do at significant cost. She also said that she plans to hire a much smaller IT department. Perhaps the savings incurred by this perfect plan will generate enough profit for the American Tycoon that she will be able to keep WOW’s low-cost reputation without going bankrupt herself. Probably not, though.

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