Busted Airlines #7: WOW Air
Theoretically, this series is about Airlines That Went Bust Since 2017.
In reality, it's about Montenegrin banana importers, Turkish truck drivers, false claims about negotiating with Somali pirates(!), Ibiza techno club collabs, the Indian Mafia, and the urgent government rescue of 110,000 sunburned Brits On Tour.
(all of this madness is stuff we stumbled across while updating our tool that tells you carry-on luggage restrictions for every airline in the world).
If there's any airline – or any wild story – we missed, let us know.
(Editor's note: this one gets weirder as it goes - stick with it.)
Most of you have heard of WOW. Remember how about eight years ago, Iceland suddenly got cool and everyone and their mother started going there?
Yes, the incredibly beautiful scenery and friendly locals played a part in that trend. But so did the scarcely believable fares that Iceland's WOW Air brought to the table.
As it turned out, those fares weren't believable because they were being paid for by massive losses.
WOW was launched by Icelandic entrepreneur Skúli Mogensen in 2012. He repeatedly stated throughout the airline's history that he wanted Iceland to become "the Dubai of the north", which, well... let's just say we're not sure how we'd feel about that if we were Reykjavik residents. In another example of Mogensen's fine taste, the airline's name was chosen to "signify his feelings toward Iceland" and also "because it reads 'MOM' when the letters are turned upside down."
Based on that foundational mindset, we weren't surprised to find that WOW was mostly a victim of its own overreach – for example, despite losing money on almost every route, it launched speculative flights to India as part of a wider plan to expand in Asia.
Also – remember the super cheap fares we mentioned? They could also (generously) be called "overreach". For example, WOW received incredible media attention for their "£99" ($114) flights "from London to New York". Conveniently not mentioned: those one-way fares were only available as part of a (much more expensive) round trip ticket. Oh, and you had to change planes in Iceland.
The end came quickly, and without surprises. On 28 March 2019, WOW Air announced that it was ceasing operations. All flights were cancelled and thousands of stranded passengers were advised to book flights with other airlines.
The loss of WOW harmed Iceland's tourism-dependent economy and caused a significant increase in unemployment; the airline previously delivered over 25% of all visitors to Iceland, and its failure caused tourist visits to drop 16% overall and 20% from the U.S..
Everything above is by far the LEAST weird stuff related to WOW.
(Editor's note: everything below this point is a good-faith representation of previously-published sources. No idea if any of it is true, and we don't claim it to be so. But... there *are* sources. So.)
In September 2019, a company named "USAerospace[sic] Associates" announced the acquisition of WOW's assets and said it would launch flights in October 2019 between Washington DC and Keflavík. However: no launch date was announced, airport officials at the claimed destinations would not confirm arrangements to use airport facilities, and no application for a new air operator's certificate had been filed.
When October rolled around, the company said it would start ticket sales in November and flights in December, but no schedules or destinations were ever announced.
In February 2020, WOW Air announced on social media that it would launch WOW Italy - part of "WOW World" - which would start passenger and cargo operations to Rome and Sicily "in the very near future". (Spoiler alert: as of late 2022, we can find no evidence they have started)
In November 2020, USAerospace chairwoman Michele Roosevelt Edwards claimed that WOW would launch flights from Keflavík and various U.S. airports in early-to-mid-2021, including domestic flights in the U.S., but airport officials contacted by media would not confirm this. Roosevelt Edwards said the airline was obtaining ten Airbus A321s, two of which had already been delivered and were being painted, but no evidence of this was provided. Despite previously claiming the venture was "fully financed", she said that WOW had yet to complete financing arrangements.
OK ok, hold up. Michele Roosevelt Edwards (aka Michele Ballarin, aka Michele Lynn Golden, aka Michele Lynn Golden-Ballarin) sounds like, as we say in New Zealand, "a loose unit".
Pray tell, what other gold does she provide?
Her career includes working as: an executive assistant for an orthodontist, an investment advisor, a real estate agent, a Republican Congressional candidate, a children's clothing seamstress, President and CEO of a body armor company (or not... see below), founder of apparently numerous counter-terrorism mercenary groups in Somalia(!), and the acquirer of WOW.
In 2020 Edwards gave a video interview in a well-known mansion. Edwards told interviewers that the mansion was her home. However, the mansion was listed for sale and its owner had not given permission to Edwards, who is a licensed real estate agent in the state of Virginia, to use the house.
After her failed run for Congress, Edwards focused on sewing childrens clothing. She stated "I was known as the Coco Chanel of the children’s industry".
Edwards was listed on the Select Armor website as the "President and CEO" of the body armor company, a "woman-owned enterprise". But in a 2010 interview, Edwards denied she was the CEO.
In 2007, she advertised her Gulf Security Group to the CIA as having the "singular objective" of fighting terrorism near the Horn of Africa. It further said Gulf Security "will enable successful mission outcome without fingerprint, footprint or flag, and provide total deniability." The CIA wrote back that the CIA was "not interested in your unsolicited proposal and does not authorize you to take any activities on its behalf."
On what she claims to be 17 occasions, Edwards (referring to herself with the Somali name "Amira", or "Princess") began negotiations with Somali pirates on board hijacked cargo ships. Her name appears in leaked diplomatic cables, with ship owners complaining to then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Edwards had "absolutely no authority" to do so. She was later deported from Somalia.
Her WOW-owning entity, USAerospace Associates, used its own letterhead to publish the Italygate theory, which alleges that an Italian hacker used a military satellite to remotely change Trump votes to Biden votes in key US states during the 2020 Presidential election.
Seriously, that's only a fraction of the wild ride that is this woman's reported life. Go read her Wikipedia page, it's as scarcely-believable as WOW's "£99" fares.
And despite all claims to the contrary, we consider WOW Air conclusively BUSTED.