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Budget airline Wow Air collapses and cancels all flights, stranding passengers

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Wow

Photo via Flickr / Nicky Boogaard

Icelandic low-cost airline Wow Air today announced that it has ceased operations and all flights have been canceled. In a travel alert, the airline is advising that passengers who have a scheduled flight with the airline seek “rescue fares” from other airlines, or request a refund through their credit card companies or travel insurance, if it was purchased.

“We’re just kind of like cockroaches or garbage in their eyes,” stranded passenger Bjorn Kjartansson at Boston Logan airport told a local CBS News affiliate. Kjartansson said he was booked on a Wow Air flight home to Iceland when he received multiple delay notifications before the flight (and airline) was canceled. Passengers at other airports were simply told to leave and come back later.

Barrai Omuireagain says he and his family were supposed to fly from Detroit to Dublin when the airline also delayed their flight multiple times before canceling altogether. At the airport, he says, the airline offered pizzas and a free hotel stay to the impacted travelers, but did not tell them news about the airline’s shutdown until they all received the travel alert from Wow Air in their emails.

Omuireagain also tweeted at fellow budget airline Aer Lingus for help, but the airline said it was unable to accommodate.

Icelandair, a larger airline also based in the country, is currently offering reduced fares for those who were affected by the shutdown. According to local news site Iceland Review, an estimated 2,700 to 4,000 passengers have been stranded, and Icelandair is working with those who are stuck in Iceland to bring them home. Another estimated 1,100 Wow Air employees lost their jobs after the announcement, reports Iceland Review.

Customers who aren’t traveling are also impacted, noting that their Wow Air vouchers have been rendered useless. Anna Becerra said she booked her flight nine months ago, but Wow Air canceled the flight in January and credited her a voucher. Most credit card companies may refund or charge back purchases, but the case is generally limited to transactions made within the past 120 days.

Wow Air’s collapse follows a series of other sudden budget airline shutdowns in recent months. This past October, Denmark-based Primera Air abruptly ceased operations and announced plans to file for bankruptcy after experiencing delays in plane deliveries. Last month, British airline Flybmi also shut down without notice, citing inflated fuel costs and uncertainty over how it would operate in the aftermath of Brexit.

Icelandair had previously expressed interest in acquiring Wow Air last fall, but scrapped plans after failing to make agreements at their shareholder meetings. Many budget airlines have been looking for potential acquisitions to help them out of their financial slumps. After Primera closed down last year, some have speculated that Norwegian Air may be next. In January, Norwegian released a poor earnings report for 2018, which noted that it operated at a loss of 3.8 billion krona (approximately $438 million USD) and needed to raise $350 million. It also began selling planes to make up for the losses.

If Norwegian Air goes down, it would heavily impact passengers worldwide. Last year, it carried a record 37 million passengers; 1.6 million of those were on transatlantic routes which made Norwegian the most popular non-US airline for travels between Europe and the Americas, beating out British Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, and Air France.

Update March 28th, 2019 1:39 PM ET: This article has been updated to include passenger reactions to the shutdown.