If Your Airline Ceases Operations Before Your Flight, Here’s What Your Rights Are As A Passenger

WOW Air; Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images; Reuters/Twitter

After issuing long and mysterious delays, WOW AIR finally let their passengers know in a statement on their website early Thursday morning that the flights they were waiting for would be cancelled — forever. Why? According to a statement on WOW AIR's website titled "End of Operation of WOW AIR," the airline "ceased operation," and "all WOW AIR flights have been cancelled." The news was sudden, meaning thousands of WOW travelers around the world have been left stranded at airports, wondering what a passenger is supposed to do if their airline ceases operation before their flight.

For some travelers familiar with budget airlines, the news from WOW AIR sounded incredibly similar to the situation the now-defunct Danish airline Primera Air found itself in only six months ago. In Oct. 2018, Primera Air suddenly announced it was ceasing operations after 14 years of service in a statement reading, "On behalf of Primera Air team, we would like to thank you for your loyalty. On this sad day we are saying goodbye to all of you." Passengers around the world were left stranded, but thankfully, multiple airlines including Delta, United, and British Airways stepped in to offer stranded passengers discounted fares to get them to their destinations.

However, for most travelers, the situation is deeply confusing: it's not like passengers are made aware of what their rights are in the event that the airline they have tickets scheduled with suddenly shutters. And it's a rare occurrence, so why would anyone look into it? That said, with the introduction of multiple budget airlines in the travel industry, it's becoming an increasingly important bit of information to know.

In the case of the WOW AIR shutdown, hundreds of stranded travelers are taking to Twitter to question what they should do:

Bustle reached out to AirNSquare, a company that specializes in helping travelers get compensated for delays, cancelled flights, and other in-transit mishaps, about what travelers who are stranded due to a shuttered airline. As for the WOW AIR situation, a representative from AirNSquare comments that passengers should immediately get in touch with another airline that has flights departing from the same airport, cut their losses, and book a new flight just to get out.

If you're wondering which airline you should be getting in touch with, IcelandAir is raising their hand to let stranded travelers know they're here to help. On Thursday, amidst the chaos, IcelandAir issued a statement on their website reading: "Are you stranded with a WOW air ticket? We are offering stranded WOW air passengers discounted Economy fares from selected destinations," so that should be one of the calls you make if you're currently stuck, flightless.

As for what to do later, AirNSquare continues, you can attempt to claim a refund from the original airline that shuttered — but realistically, it is highly unlikely to lead to anything, considering the reason the airline shut down is bankruptcy.

"Normally these proceedings take years to sort out, and when the dust settles, it normally leaves individual travelers with little to nothing in refund," a representative from AirNSquare explains, noting that back in 2017, AirBerlin and Monarch Airlines both went under — and the insolvency proceedings are still being sorted now in 2019.

All of these depressing truths aside, AirNSquare adds that passengers could be covered through insurance. If passengers purchase flight insurance when buying their ticket, they should be covered — just check the terms of the insurance package before purchasing. And depending on what credit card passengers buy their tickets on, they might be covered there, too. If you're not sure, reach out to your bank to find out if you're covered, ASAP.

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TL;DR? If there was ever a climate to purchase travel insurance, it's this one. Before booking your next flight, check to make sure you're putting it on a credit card that has travel insurance, or purchase the add-on insurance at check out. Though you'd think there would be warning signs or updates, the reality of an airline going bankrupt is that when the money runs out, the plug gets pulled. No matter how many people are on standby, no matter how many flights are booked — a defunct airline doesn't have to follow any rules when it comes to letting their travelers know. What's more, if they don't have the money to refund you, you just might not get refunded.