Wow Air made it official last Friday: The carrier’s nonstop flight from Pittsburgh International Airport to Reykjavik, Iceland has stopped, at least for now.
The last flight was Jan. 11 from Pittsburgh. The carrier has not said whether it intends to return to Pittsburgh at some point in the future.
Despite the service suspension, airport officials said Wow was an important carrier in an overall push to bring additional flights to Pittsburgh, including British Airway’s announcement to start service in April.
“We’re grateful they were here. It helped to raise our profile and helped position us for additional service,” said Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis. “They served an important segment of the market for us. We hope that when it’s time for them to expand again that we can be in that expansion set.”
When Wow announced its flights to Iceland in 2016, Pittsburgh’s only transatlantic route was seasonal service to Paris. Condor Airlines followed with service to Frankfurt, Germany, which will return for a third summer in 2019. British Airways made its announcement less than two years later.
Airports have to navigate the ups and downs of a volatile travel industry, Cassotis said. Delta ended its summer service to Paris after British Airways announced in August that it would resume year-round nonstop flights between Heathrow and PIT for the first time in 20 years.
Wow’s service changes came as the airline is in the midst of ownership changes. Indigo Partners, the successful investor behind Frontier, WizzAir, Volaris and previously Spirit Airlines has announced plans to buy a stake in the Icelandic low-cost carrier.
In the fall, Wow announced that service to New York JFK, Dallas-Fort Worth, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Stockholm, Sweden would be ending. More recently, in addition to Pittsburgh, the airline’s schedule indicates that service to Orlando, Barcelona, Spain and Milan, Italy are also being suspended. It was unclear whether those were also permanent cuts.
Wow received an $800,000 incentive as part of a two-year deal to start service in June 2017 from Pittsburgh to Reykjavik.
Airport officials said Wow would be billed $565,472 for not completing the deal — $187,500 for a prorated portion of the incentive and $377,972 in landing and gate fees that would have been waived had the airline finished the contract.
Michael Boyd, President of the aviation consulting firm Boyd Group International, said Wow’s decision to pull out is not reflective of the Pittsburgh market. He said Wow’s business model didn’t seem to gain enough traction in the U.S.
“It has nothing to do with Pittsburgh,” Boyd said. “British Airways on the other hand is going to do very well. Wow is on the margins; British Airways is giving you access to the world.”
Boyd also challenged critics who said the airport shouldn’t offer incentives to carriers.
“Go ahead and don’t spend them and you’ll probably shrink the airport by half,” Boyd said. “You have to take incentive risks.”