Iceland’s budget airline, Wow Air, said Wednesday it will begin serving St. Louis next spring, offering a low-cost way to get to its island home country and from there to Europe.
Area leaders hailed the announcement as a key step forward for the region and St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which lost regular direct transatlantic service in 2003 when American Airlines ended flights to London.
“St. Louis and the entire region benefit for leisure and business connections and St. Louis becomes a bigger destination for international tourists,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said.
St. Louis is among four Midwest cities getting the new service, an expansion giving the budget carrier 12 U.S. destinations. The other cities with new service are Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit.
Wow’s new routes will begin on May 17. Tickets went on sale Wednesday.
From St. Louis, Wow is offering a $99 flight to Keflavik International Airport outside the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik and $149 connecting flights to Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris.
To help sign up Wow, St. Louis area governmental agencies offered $800,000 in incentives to help market the new route plus a waiver of landing fees for 18 months that could amount to $392,000.
Sheila Sweeney, who heads the city-county St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, said at an airport news conference Wednesday that $600,000 in incentives will come from the St. Louis County Port Authority and $200,000 from Lambert.
Wow made a two-year commitment and will fly out of Lambert’s Terminal 2, which hosts the airport’s dominant carrier, Southwest Airlines.
Sweeney and Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said they hope the Wow flights will spur other airlines to begin international service here.
Hamm-Niebruegge said surveys indicate that about 300 travelers to Europe already use Lambert each day and “we believe that this will drive additional traffic.”
Wow Air’s announcement came just a few weeks after Lambert lost out to Nashville, Tenn., on landing a new British Airways connection to London.
However, Sweeney said, local officials are still talking with that airline about future expansion.
As for the Wow connection to Europe through Iceland, Sweeney said affordability of flights is a key attraction. “For businesses, that’s a huge reason,” she said.
As an ultra-discount airline, Wow manages to keep ticket costs low by charging for all sorts of extras. Expect to pay more for large carry-on luggage, for extra leg room and food.
Prices vary depending on the date of the flight, destination and whether it includes a return trip.
A round-trip ticket from St. Louis to Paris next May, for example, cost $499.98 for “basic” service that includes the ticket and one personal item. For $690.50, the same flight would also include a carry-on bag and a checked bag.
A business ticket, for $891.84, would offer cancellation protection, an in-flight meal, extra legroom and priority boarding, in addition to a carry-on bag and a checked bag. The flight would include a layover in Iceland for a little over an hour.
“We only charge what you use,” Wow founder and CEO Skúli Mogensen told the Post-Dispatch in a telephone interview. Mogensen started the airline in 2011 after working in technology and the telecom industry.
In addition to lower prices, his airline’s philosophy is to offer better communication with travelers in a fun environment. The company’s name and signature color on its fleet, bright purple, are intended to make the airline stand out.
“We wanted to make flying fun again,” Mogensen said. “I do believe the airline industry can be improved significantly.”
The airline has had three consecutive years of profitability and is growing destinations faster than the company originally anticipated, he said. Wow’s fleet of 17 aircraft includes Airbus A320, Airbus A321 and Airbus A330 models, and the company began service in North America in 2015.
Wow will begin here with four flights a week each way, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. That could increase based on demand, Mogensen said. “St. Louis, we think it’s underserved,” Mogensen said.
Some Wow passengers opt to spend a day or more in Iceland before traveling elsewhere in Europe, he added.
A majority of Wow passengers are leisure travelers but the airline has grown a following among business people. “As we establish ourselves, we’re seeing more and more small and midsize businesses” fly on Wow, Mogensen said.
Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the regional Convention and Visitors Commission, called the Wow announcement “incredible news for our tourism industry” because it will be easier for travelers from Europe to get here.
She added that it shows that “great things happen when people work together.” Hamm-Niebruegge said the $600,000 in incentives from the county port authority was a key. Lambert is owned and operated by the city.
Referring to the port authority contribution, County Executive Steve Stenger called it “a smart investment.”