Budget Travel

A review of the $100 flight to Europe

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Image:Wikipedia

So, I was recently searching for a flight to Europe this May, and in my quest for the cheapest fair, I stumbled upon WOW Airlines, which promised to get me there for a mere $100. And indeed, they delivered. In a sense.

The reality is that as much as we might dream of packing our bags and flying from anywhere in the US to the old world without having to budget half your trip on airfare, we are not there yet. WOW can get you from the US to Europe for $100 if by the US you mean Boston or Washington, and by Europe, you mean Reykjavik, Iceland. The bad news is if you live somewhere else in the US, you’ll be booking an expensive flight to one of those cities. The good news is that WOW can also get you the mainland for just one more Benjamin ($100 bill) if you book it right. 

Either way, it is a pretty good deal. A round trip flight to Europe for $500 all together? Who can complain about that?

The answer being me apparently.

There is a lot to love about WOW, like the price, and a lot to grudgingly tolerate, like everything else. And the litany of complaints will be familiar to anyone who has ever flown a budget airline.

For instance, customer service is at a minimum and a lot of their pricing structure seems purposely designed to trick you into paying fees. For instance, the fee to check a bag is $38 and that can balloon up fast if you don’t pay it in advance. However, you are permitted one piece of carry-on luggage.

“Oh, no problem,” you think. “I’ll just put all my stuff in one bag and carry it on.”

Not so fast. Because the weight limit for the carry on is a measly 11 lbs. That sounds like a lot more than it is in practical terms, and it already doesn’t sound like much.  As I was packing, I spent a solid two hours removing and rearranging clothes and other necessities on my bathroom scale, struggling in vain to get it within the weight limit. Ultimately I ended up with a laptop, three shirts, and two pairs of pants along with some USB cords and socks. You will not be able to carry on much more. I assure you and at the counter you will be hit with a fee for every pound your bag is overweight.

Which is why you can imagine how horrified I was to learn at the airport that my scale had been wrong and even after taking out nearly everything I planned to bring, I was actually at 16 pounds.

Ultimately I had to use the tried and true method of skirting airline weight limits and put on all my clothes at once in the bathroom before check-in.

They don’t re-weigh your bags after check-in. Thus, except for a near case of heat stroke, everything worked out fine. Once I got past the gate I was able to repack everything and board. It’s a handy, if uncomfortable, workaround for the people who are too cheap to pay the $15 advance online fee for the extra weight. Of course, who knows when they might start to crack down on the practice, so everybody just be cool, ok?

But not everyone at check-in was so lucky. You will see some poor sod ahead of you in checking have to pony up $86 dollars to check a bag because they didn’t read the fine print.

Of course, the economics of cheap airfare is a cruel mistress and demand a number of measures to pick up the slack. Seats are small and tight with three to each side of the aisle and not much leg room.

And if you think you’re getting a meal on your $100 international flight, you are dreaming, though food is widely available. In fact, the flight attendants will push carts of it up and down the plane and least twice an hour to ask if you’d like to buy an $8 bag of pretzels.

Speaking of whom, the airline seems to purposely hire statuesque blonde women. Perhaps they are trying to play up the whole Nordic thing. The air hostesses on my fight strode through the aisles like Valkyries and gave the safety presentation with a look that implied that you had better pay attention because it’s been a long day and they can, and will, destroy you if you fail to put up your tray while the plane is taxiing.

And yet as we did taxi and slowly lifted into the air, I caught one of the flight attendants is a silent gaze of repose out the window. She had a look on her physically perfect face of weary, perhaps even melancholic reflection, her features bathed in the paln glow of the setting sun. It was a moment of poignant beauty you don’t often get to experience when jammed like sardines into a commercial airliner.

Airplane Taking Off

“Stuttgart Airport at dusk” by Andrei Dimofte

You might think an airline that will fly you to Paris for $450 round trip would be a fairly slapdash operation, which may have been true when WOW first started out, as early reviews are riddled with tales of missed connections and delays. Yet as they’ve found super cheap flights to be a hit with consumers, they’ve expanded and seemed to iron out some of the kinks associated with their heady early days, when it was just a crazy Icelander with a 747 and a dream to offer the lowest priced airfare possible.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for with WOW. It wasn’t the most luxurious plane ride I’ve ever taken, nor was it the worst, which is an honor that goes to a tiny American Airlines jet I got stuck in at JFK for 3 hours on the tarmac with no air conditioning. All in the middle of July. And that one cost me way more than the flight to Reykjavik. 

So I would definitely recommend WOW if you are on a budget. The cheap fare saves you money to spend elsewhere, and as long as you know what to expect there aren’t likely to be any trip-ruining surprises. 

Wyatt is a writer at 301 Digital Media. He can be reached at [email protected]