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Discount airline bringing ‘Wow’ prices to European destinations


Wow Air 11072016

Get ready to be wowed, Pittsburgh.

Wow Air, a discount carrier based in Iceland, will touch down at Pittsburgh International Airport on June 17, bringing with it budget fares as low as $149 one way to major European destinations like London, Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, Germany; and Dublin.

Travelers will connect through the airline’s hub at Keflavik International Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland. The new service will operate four times a week year-round. One-way fares to Iceland will start at $99.

A formal announcement is expected today.

Pittsburgh will be only the seventh U.S. destination for Wow, a rapidly growing airline that flies purple-painted jets and promises travelers “that wow feeling.” Overall, the carrier serves more than 30 destinations in Europe and North America.

The ultra low-fare airline was launched in 2011 by Skuli Mogensen, an entrepreneur with a background in technology and telecom.

“It must have been my moment of insanity,” he joked.

While the new service is not the London or Frankfurt nonstop the region covets, it is a “big one,” nonetheless, said Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International.

Wow brings credibility to the market and shows that Pittsburgh can support year-round service into Europe, she said. Ms. Cassotis ranks Wow as among the biggest of the new airlines and the more than 20 new routes the airport has won over the last two years.

“I would say it’s right at the top. I think this is as important as a nonstop to Germany or London. To have been chosen as one of the first communities in the U.S. is important,” she said.

To get Wow, the airport authority is offering the airline two years’ worth of monetary incentives as well as the usual marketing support and waiver of landing fees. Ms. Cassotis declined to divulge how much money is being paid, saying the agreement had yet to be signed.

“We believe it is an investment that will pay off,” she said.

In discussing why Wow selected Pittsburgh, Mr. Mogensen said the airline sees a lot of demand from Europe into the region. He also said interest in the service along the East Coast has been “very high.”

“Everybody loves cheap tickets,” he noted.

Wow also will bring to Pittsburgh a Southwest Airlines-like sense of whimsy. In addition to the aforementioned purple planes, Wow has employed performers as flight attendants to keep the mood in the cabin light.

“We like to say it doesn’t cost anything to smile,” Mr. Mogensen said.

Since its founding in 2011, Wow has been growing at a rapid pace. This year, it will fly 1.6 million passengers, or “guests,” as the airline likes to call them. In 2017, it estimates it will haul 3 million travelers.

Mr. Mogensen said Wow’s low fares have allowed many people to fly to Europe for the first time. But he does not see Wow as strictly a leisure airline.

“Our target passenger is a smart passenger,” one who “wants value for their money and efficiency,” he said.

As with other ultra-low fare carriers such as Allegiant and Spirit, travelers on Wow pay extra for things like checked bags, large carry-ons and seat assignments.

“We don’t like to charge anyone for things they don’t use. You only pay for what you use,” Mr. Mogensen said.

Wow, he added, is able to keep base fares low by employing newer, fuel-efficient Airbus jets with an average age of 2 to 2½ years and making good use of technology. The airline will fly 200-seat Airbus 321 planes between Pittsburgh and Iceland.

With its fares, Wow should help to create more traffic into Europe from Pittsburgh, Ms. Cassotis said. While she thinks the airline will appeal to leisure fliers, she also believes it could be a good choice for business travelers heading into certain European destinations.

At the same time, she does not see the addition of Wow hurting the airport’s efforts to recruit an airline to fly nonstop into London or Frankfurt.

The market, she said, could “very, very comfortably support” Wow year-round as well as nonstop service into those two cities.

After the authority made an initial overture to Wow, the deal to land the airline came together over a couple of months, Ms. Cassotis said. She saw it as a significant moment for the airport.

“We won. It’s not like they only looked at us. They picked us,” she said.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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