WOW Air is NOT so Wow!

Feb 23rd, 2018 | By | Category: Articles

By Imelda Almqvist

Twice a year I teach in the U.S. I usually take a direct flight from London to Philadelphia. Earlier this month I needed to get myself from the East Coast to Stockholm instead and things got a lot trickier.

My husband found some affordable flights with Wow Airlines: from London to Newark (New York) with one change in Reykjavik as well as return flights to Stockholm via Reykjavik. I even joked about it: lucky me, I get to spend some time in one of my most favourite countries in the whole world! (One hour to be precise!)

On the day I arrived at Gatwick Airport three hours before the flight left,  feeling relaxed. I was looking to writing some articles on the plane (I love writing on airplanes). As a working mother I feel long distance flights are pure bliss: eight hours of being becalmed and having food and drink delivered to my seat Рroll it on! I often meet interesting people as well.

Two hours before my flight to Iceland was supposed to leave the screens announced a delay. I called WOW Customer Services. They were very reassuring: “No need to worry at all. When an incomig flight is delayed they always hold the connecting flight to New York!” I did not worry. I started another blog.

Gatwick Airport allows all passengers 90 minutes of free WiFi. I made the most of it and arrived at the Gate as soon as boarding was announced. One of the airline employees was gesticulating wildly and sending people away. I did not worry at all ¬†– I had a confirmed seat on this flight. However, when I got to the front of the queue this woman shouted at me: “What are you even doing here?! Did you not get our email? You are not flying today!” – The shock left me barely coherent: not flying?? She practically pushed me away from the Gate – go back downstairs to the information desk in the departures hall and they will help you retrieve your luggage – off you go! You are in the way of people who will be flying. You have no right to be here as a non-passenger!!

What?!!

How dare she talk like this to people who were paid-up passengers on a flight with a boarding pass ready?!!

This desk was a the general airport information desk. There was no WOW Air official there. I was told that WOW Air has no office at the airport. The people manning the desk were not overly helpful. Essentially they said three things:

– “Wait for a WOW employee to retrieve your luggage and escort you out”

– “If you book a flight today with another airline that is your choice and it absolves WOW from making other arrangements or refunding this flight”

– ” They will get you there but it looks like they cannot fly you out before Tuesday evening”

Tuesday evening?? This happened on Friday 2 February and I was supposed to be teaching a large group of people in Philadelphia at 9 a.m. on Monday morning!

After a long wait one WOW employee came, helped us retrieve our luggage and told us there was a room for us all at airport Hilton Hotel a short walk away. One man from New York City was in agony: he was flying home to look after his child as decreed in a recent courtcase. Failing to show could have long-term repercussions in terms of legal access to his son. Not to mention any repercusssions on his relationship with his son. The poor man was out of his mind with anger and anxiety.

Everyone was expected to make their own arrangments. No one had WiFi – everyone had used up their 90 minutes well before the flight. Some people had phones that didn’t work in Europe (because London was not their place or residence or end destination). It was A COMPLETE MESS!!! The airline official stood there and let everyone get on with trying to solve the problem.

We were not taken to a calm office. We were not offered a hot drink. We were not offered any assistance other than directions to the airport Hilton Hotel.

I lent my phone to the man with the court case issue for about an hour. I took it back long enough to call WOW Air Customer Service – which turned out to be a call center in India. Every person calling received a different story. I got very lucky – I got one of the supervisors and he got rebooked for the same flight the next day and even sent my husband a confirmation by email (my phone was not receiving emails at this critical time).” Mr Courtcase” was not so fortunate – he was told he could not fly until Wednesday. Eventually he bought another ticket and got to NYC in the nick of time with Norwegian.

Two ladies (general airport officials) in the departure hall were kinder and more helpful but they also told me not to trust my booking for the next day. They said: “WOW is just shoving the problem onto tomorrow’s flight and tomorrow’s crew – so be prepared to be bumped off again! The fact that you did not fly today does not mean they will prioritize you tomorrow…”

In the end I checked into the Hilton Hotel and spent another 6 hours calling them at regular intervals. “Just show up at the airport tomorrow morning – we cannot tell you if you will fly or not!” Right…

I was back at Gatwick at 7 a.m. the next day Рthree and half hours before the flight left.  I was the first person they checked in. As I boarded the flight I saw them turning other people away and directing them to the Hilton Hotel until further notice.

Miraculously I did make it to Iceland and then on to New York but the adventures continued. In Reykjavik I was pulled out of the queue for the next flight because I had been selected for “the special security check” which involved stripping off and having body swabs taken that were sent to the lab. – Body swabs??! Is that even legal?!!

I got to Newark Airport 24 hours late and made all my teaching commitments – but I had lost my settling in time (and recovering from jetlag time) and experienced a lot of stress –¬† I could feel that in my bones all week.

At the Hilton Hotel I ended up having dinner with two fellow artists (that was the good part!) I stayed in touch with one of them Рshe could not fly on the Saturday and was bumped off the same flight again  on both Sunday and Monday before finally making it to the US only on Tuesday evening.

The following Sunday afternoon I was supposed to fly home. I was packed up and ready to leave my colleague’s house in Philadelphia when a text message pinged in: ” Your WOW Air flight has been cancelled, please visit our website to make alternative arrangements!”

I could not believe it! First I could not get to the US and now I could not get home?! The only good thing was that legislation is tougher in the US – meaning that WOW Air was forced to provide a full refund if I chose to fly with another airline. Thankfully there were seats from Newark to Stockholm on Norwegian that evening. This cut out the “body swab route” via Reykjavik which I did not mind. I arrived in Stockholm only one hour later than would have got there originally. And Norwegian is a far better airline – I will fly Norwegian again any time!!

So here is the deal: WOW Air is an Icelandic airline. They use Reykjavik as their Hub. Iceland is is an island the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean meaning that it is prone to severe weather disruptions. Having a total of four flights cancelled in just one week (9 days counting from the original departure date) is insane and completely unacceptable.

As my colleague and sponsor in the US said: “booking a cheap flight is not always economical” She experienced all the stress of me possibly not getting there (meaning she would have had to cancel various courses or have a stab at teaching them herself without proper preparation –¬† it was new material even for her!) I experienced a level of stress (twice) that left me feeling giddy and disorientated for several days (as I cannot bear letting people down – I just don’t do that, ever). I lost all the free time I had built in to rest up before teaching and recover after teaching 15 hour days.

I could easily have lost income – same thing with my colleague and failing to show up would have affected my reputation as an international teacher and registration for future courses. Incidents like this can have very far-ranging implications indeed.

The  man with the court case could have lost access to his son or ended up with a highly unfavorable future custody arrangement Рdue to failure to show up at the time set by court.

A cheap flight ticket is not worth this kind of stress!!!

I hope that anyone tempted to book a WOW Air flight will read this blog and think again..

Imelda Almqvist

 

Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. Her book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in 2016.  She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit  2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. Her second book SACRED ART, A Hollow Bone for Spirit : Where Art Meets Shamanism will be published in December 2018.

www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk  (website)

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/  (blog)

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=imelda+almqvist  (Youtube channel: interviews, presentations and art videos)

http://affiliate.soundstrue.com/aff_c?offer_id=124&aff_id=2260&url_id=86  (Year of Ceremony)

 

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