WOW, other discount airlines, don’t

Flying these days is anything but luxurious, and the discount airlines nickel and dime you for everything. Nevertheless, sometimes the price of the ticket makes putting up with the inconveniences worth it. I don’t think that happens often, though. I recently flew the discount airline WOW (pronounced “vow”) Airlines to Iceland. This is a newish Iceland-based airline built on the same type of platform as Spirit Air, another discounter. I found the experience almost unbearable.

The concept is simple. Charge a very low ticket price and provide all services for a fee. I was able to fly for $200 round trip from Baltimore to Reykjavik! WOW used a standard Airbus plane. There was an abundance of flight attendants. The flight left and arrived on time. More than that, don’t expect much.

First, I had a ticket but getting a seat cost extra with the best seats costing more. If you add the cost of the seat, the discount may no longer be so cheap.

The flight was an overnight flight … but the lights onboard were never dimmed. A party of very noisy passengers speaking in very loud voices kept most of the plane awake the entire flight, I’m sure. Certainly, I would have enjoyed some quiet time. Dimming the lights would have sent the signal to “shut up.”

The WOW crew seems to consider the passengers as a captured audience. They continuously came down the aisles loudly hawking their duty-free merchandise, food, drinks and customs forms for entering the U.S. If you wanted water, as I did to take some pills, the cost was $8. The prices were exorbitant, although they may reflect Icelandic prices where everything seemed to cost about double what we pay in the U.S. Any passengers that managed to sleep were awakened by carts in the aisle.

No luggage is included in the ticket price other than one that fits under the seat in front of you. Each bag is checked in a sizer before boarding and tagged with an acceptable or not acceptable grade. If too large, the cost for a carry-on or checked luggage overcomes the low-ticket price.

When buying discount airfare tickets, compare prices on an apples-to-apples basis factoring in the cost of your baggage. Here’s a hint: when I fly, I use a coat that has many compartments, and I consider the pockets and compartments as supplementary luggage space. I can carry quite a bit in the coat; no one checks coats when considering how much to charge you.

You can check in online for your flight but the barcode of the WOW boarding pass wasn’t consistent with the barcode readers at Baltimore’s BWI Airport security. So, I was told to go back to the check-in desk to get another boarding pass. Fortunately, the version of the boarding pass on my cell phone did work, so I avoided having to start from “Go.”

At one point during the flight there was some turbulence leading the pilot to light the seat belt sign. But he must have forgotten to turn it off once smooth sailing returned. I got up to try it use the restroom. A flight attendant nearly attacked me, chastising me to keep my seat belt on.

After another 30 minutes, with the seat belt sign still on and me facing a bathroom emergency, I wasn’t going to let the flight attendant stop me. Nor were other passengers who were apparently having the same issue lined up in the aisle. I nearly expected the bathrooms to require deposit of coins to enter. But so far, they are still free. Free, but not well attended. The crew was too busy trying to sell stuff to stock the restroom when it ran out of towels.

Want to fly discount airlines? Don’t forget to figure in the cost of bringing your clothes, food, drink and toiletries, too, as well as the cost of your seat. If you want to fly WOW, do it soon. With service I described, it can’t last long. Happy flying.


NOTE: WOW airlines stopped operations (filing bankruptcy) on March 28, 2019.