Trying Out WOWair From St. Louis to Reykjavik, Iceland – plus WOWair’s ‘Big Seat’
WOWair was founded in 2011 by an Icelandic business mogul. It wasn’t until 2012 that WOWair launched the airline’s first flights. Initial operations were very modest, to say the least. The newly launched low-cost carrier operated a handful of routes between Reykjavik, Iceland, and mainland Europe. With tourism in Iceland continuing to grow, WOWair was able to capture the low-cost lesuire segment of flyers in Europe. Rival Icelandair is a full-service carrier with fares to match. It wasn’t until WOWair purchased Iceland Express, another low-cost carrier, that the WOWair we see flying today came about.
After successfully expanding their network thanks to the acquisition of Iceland Express, WOWair turned to North America and further inland in Europe. The airline began offering $100-fares to Europe with a stopover at its main hub in Reykjavik. Though WOWair operates essentially the same route structure as Icelandair, it does so with newer more fuel-efficient narrow-body aircraft configured with the maximum number of seats possible. Additionally, much of WOWair’s revenue comes from ancillary fees including bag fees and seat selection. Today, WOWair is strictly an ultra-low-cost carrier charging for virtually everything.
While ultra-low-cost carriers don’t sound like the most appealing and enjoyable experience, especially on a nearly six-hour flight, I finally flew on one of WOWAir’s newer routes from St. Louis, Missouri to Reykjavik, Iceland. Though I had originally planned on taking a standard seat, I managed to secure a reasonably priced upgrade to one of the Big Seats. Here’s what passengers can expect when flying to Europe on WOWair.
The Itinerary, WOWAir St. Louis to Iceland
- Flight: WOWair WW168
- Dep City/Time: St. Louis (STL)/11:05 PM
- Arr City/Time: Reykjavik-Keflavik (KEF)/10:10 AM +1
- Aircraft: Airbus A321-200 NEO (TF-SKY)
- Seat/Class of Service: 1C / Big Seat
- Flight Time: 6:06hrs
Booking My Ticket on WOWair
Booking my ticket ended up taking much longer than I had hoped. I booked my seat just four hours out from departure. However, even for an international flight, this should not have been an issue. Unfortunately, though WOWair’s website showed both space and multiple fare options, I was unable to complete my booking through the site. I assumed this was because it was so close to departure time.
I ended up calling WOWair’s customer service and reservations line. To my surprise, the agent who assisted me in booking my ticket didn’t have an Icelandic accent but rather a very heavy Indian accent. I am usually not one to complain about non-English speakers and call centers, but this call was painful. The agent’s English was very poor. He understood very little of what I was saying and required me to spell out phonetically nearly every detail letter-by-letter. The entire phone call took the better part of 45 minutes. Though the call took longer than I had hoped, the agent was able to book me a seat on my desired flight and waived all call center reservation fees.
Check-In, WOWair St. Louis to Iceland
WOWair operates out of Terminal 2 at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport. Terminal 2 is home to just one other airline, Southwest Airlines. Southwest has quite a few late evening departures of St. Louis which meant Terminal 2 was bustling.
WOWAir has a dedicated ticket counter at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport. As is the case with many airlines operating out of smaller secondary destinations, WOWAir’s ground team is outsourced to St. Louis-based Airport Terminal Services. When I approached the ticket counter, there was only one other passenger checking in for the flight. WOWair’s ticketing counters were quiet which I initially assumed was because the flight was empty. It turned out that most of the passengers had already checked in and were waiting at the gate. Checking in excessively early is very typical of the once-a-year vacationer and those going on holiday.
Being one of the last passengers to check in actually worked out to my benefit as the ticket counter agents didn’t feel rushed, working with me to find the best possible seat. At booking, I didn’t pick a specific seat which meant I would either be randomly assigned a seat or have the option to upgrade. The agent offered me an entire row to myself towards the aft of the aircraft. In hindsight, that was probably the best option, but my boujee-side got the best of me, and I decided to inquire about an upgrade to one of WOWair’s Big Seats.
WOWair sells the Big Seats as part of their premium fare. Passengers traveling on other fares have the option to upgrade to the seats at the time of booking, before check-in, at check-in, or at the airport. At the time I booked my ticket, one of these Big Seats was a whopping $249. I assumed that if a Big Seat was still available when I showed up to the airport that it would be selling for an additional $100 or so bucks. To my surprise, an upgrade to one of these seats was just $39.99. I decided to take seat 1C over an entire row to myself.
Clarification: I will make a point to clarify that $39.99 was just for the seat and not any of the other services that come with the WOWair Premium fare. Priority boarding, bags, nor on-board food and drink was included. However, this wasn’t a significant issue as I found the on-board snacks and beverages to be reasonably priced and I had already purchased a carry-on bag.
WOWair does not participate in the TSA PreCheck program which meant I had to go through standard security for the first time in over a year. Most of the passengers for the late evening departures were already in the secured area, so there were just three or four passengers headed through security at that time.
I remarked to one of the TSA agents about how I usually have PreCheck and that I’d probably make a mistake this time around. He chuckled and assisted me through the security checkpoint. The agent also made small talk about the new WOWair service and how WOWair crew members are required to go through full-fledged airport security alongside ordinary passengers. Everyone working both at the WOWair counters and the TSA checkpoint was exceptionally friendly and professional.
Once I passed through security, I made one more stop before making my way to the gate. St. Louis-Lambert International Airport is home to two Priority Pass restaurants, one in Terminal 1 and one in Terminal 2. The restaurant in Terminal 2 is airside near the east side of the terminal near the beginning of the gates.
The Terminal 2 restaurant, The Pasta House Co is a local casual Italian restaurant chain. The food is quite good for how quick it’s served and for the price. However, I wasn’t interested in toasted ravioli or pasta. Using my $28 Priority Pass stipend, I purchased five bottles of water for the flight to Reykjavík. This is something I’ve begun to do on most long flights when I have access to a Priority Pass restaurant. Purchasing your own waters with the Priority Pass allotment allows you to grab quite a few bottles of water and not have to rely on the cabin crew throughout the flight.
Finally, I made my way to gate E29. The gate was quite crowded with a diverse crowd. I even heard a few European languages thrown around the gate. I was happy to hear these languages (mostly German and French) as it meant passengers were likely continuing to Europe which was the intention of this new international service.
Boarding Flight WW168, St. Louis to Reykjavik
Boarding began on time, and I was even allowed to go down a little before boarding commenced to take some photos of the interior of the aircraft. Unfortunately, boarding was held up the end of the jet bridge for nearly 15 minutes to allow for the flight crew to conduct safety and security checks. Boarding continued during this delay, and the line ended up snaking up the jet bridge and into the gate area. Throughout the delay, no one informed us why boarding was held up at the entrance of the aircraft until after 10 minutes passed.
Once onboard I did my best to get as many photos of the seats and the cabin as possible. Obviously, passengers were a little frustrated and impatient thanks to the delay during boarding, so I ended up taking some pretty subpar photos as to not hold up the boarding process.
I ended up reserving the last available Big Seat. The other 7 Big Seats went out full. The flight was actually 70 to 80 percent full. I was initially concerned about overhead bin space though WOWair reserves the first two to three overhead bins for passengers seated in the Big Seats.
Throughout boarding, the crew was attentive and welcoming. Passengers were greeted with a smile, and the crew seemed genuinely happy to be working the flight. One thing I had noticed was just how young the crew was. In the US and even most of Europe, flight crews are typically middle-aged. The crew on this flight couldn’t have been maybe a year or two older than myself. (I even came across one of my flight attendants on Tinder a few weeks later.) Nonetheless, they were attentive and professional throughout the entire flight.
After a lengthy boarding process, the forward door was closed, and we taxied out to the runway. After a smooth climb out of St. Louis, the aircraft leveled off, and the flight crew was quick to take to the aisles.
In-Flight, WOWair St. Louis to Iceland
The first thing I noticed about the aircraft was the great shape the interior was in for being almost a year old. Additionally, I was expecting a rather sterile and bland interior much like the interiors found on aircraft in Spirit’s fleet. To my surprise, WOWair fitted this particularly aircraft with faux wood paneling on the floor in the galley. Additionally, the cabin was draped in bright purple-pink color, featured mood-lighting, and carpet with the WOWair logo.
WOWair In-Flight Service
Since I did not book a WOW Premium fare but rather just purchased an upgraded seat, I was required to pay for all additional items onboard. The first service that was brought through the cabin were iPad rentals. For the flight to Reykjavik, the cost to rent an iPad was $29. Unbelievably steep, I figured it might be worth it given the duration of the flight and absence of in-flight Wi-Fi.
In hindsight, I wish I had asked to take a look at what movies and shows were available prior to renting the iPad. There were just seven movies on the device. There weren’t any TV shows or albums loaded on the iPads. All of the movies were at least a year old. The only film that interested me was La La Land, though I passed on watching that movie for the fourth time. Those were the newest movies available. There were some applications including a few games, but overall I was extremely disappointed in the entertainment selection.
Ten minutes after the crew passed out iPads, the drink and snack cart was brought through the aisle. There’s a menu in the seatback. However, the menu appears to remain the same throughout the year on almost every route. For the nearly six-hour flight, I found the buy-on-board to be sufficient. I ended up ordering a ham and cheese sandwich combo which came with a bottle of water and Icelandic chocolate. I also ordered two Icelandic beers. Later I requested some cup noodles and a glass of white wine. All in all, I easily spent $50 during the flight.
The photos don’t really do the sandwich justice. I know the sandwich might look pretty subpar, but it was quite tasty. The crew heats up all hot items once they’re ordered, so my sandwich was delivered piping hot.
The cup noodles were pretty flavorful as well. As for the alcohol, the beer was quite bitter though tasty, and the white wine was delightful.
WOWair Big Seats, Airbus a321neo
The seat was comfortable. If this flight had been under five hours and not a red-eye, the Big Seat would have been beyond sufficient for the flight. The Recaro designed seats feature more padding than most domestic first class seats I’ve come across. Additionally, the headrest is fully adjustable and some aircraft feature seats with leg-rests. The 2-2 configuration is quite roomy and comfortable. In addition to the soft padded leather and generous personal space, each seat featured an AC power outlet. Keep in mind some of American Airlines’ Trans-Atlantic flights don’t even feature power outlets.
I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the cabin. The Airbus a321neo was quiet during takeoff, cruise, and landing. The crew kept the cabin at a comfortable temperature and dimmed the lights in-flight to allow passengers to catch some shut-eye. Also noteworthy was the fun and funky mood-lighting that reminded me of Virgin America.
As for the bathrooms, the forward lavatory was generously sized and was kept clean. The rear lavatories were far more cramped. Though I hear more and more complaints surrounding aircraft lavatories, I still found the small lavatory to be large enough, and I’m not especially small height or widthwise.
After I had exhausted all the features of the aircraft and had filled up on junk food and booze, I decided to make an attempt to take a nap. Unfortunately, I had no luck. I went through the entire cabin looking for an empty row in which to lay down; however, all rows were fully occupied. Finally, after tossing and turning for an hour, I accepted defeat and moved on. I ended up listening to some music, organizing photos on my phone, and killing time on the World Factbook app on the WOWair iPad.
Soon the cabin crew informed us that we had begun our initial descent and that we would be on the ground in twenty minutes.
Upon landing in Reykjavik, the aircraft taxied to a remote stand (which is the norm with most Icelandic carriers). As I walked down the stairs, I was met with the brisk Icelandic wind, a much-welcomed change from the 95F weather back home.
Overall, WOWair St. Louis to Iceland
WOWair calls itself the only high-performing low-cost carrier. That’s actually a pretty great way of summing up the airline. I’ve flown on low-cost carriers before and WOWair was undoubtedly a step above other low-cost airlines, however, not entirely up to par with full-service carriers.
With such affordable fares, WOWair is a fantastic alternative to higher priced full-service flights. It’s important to note that you will be required to pay more for absolutely any aspect of the flight. Seats, carry-on bags, checked bags, food, and drinks are all going to cost you when flying WOWair. Though I know low-cost carriers have a pretty poor reputation, my experience on WOWair was excellent even by full-service carrier standards. Other than the lengthy phone call to book my flight, I can’t find anything on the ground or in-flight that stands out as especially negative. I highly recommend WOWair to both the cost-conscious traveler and even flyers accustomed to full-service airlines. WOWair has been a fantastic addition to the St. Louis region.
Would you ever fly WOWair? Were you surprised by my positive experience with the airline?