WOW makes a play for the fast-growing Indian market

Less than six years since its inaugural flight - and little over three years since its first service to North America - Icelandic low-cost carrier WOW air is spreading its wings further with the launch of a route to India.

The airline, which was founded in 2011 by entrepreneur Skúli Mogensen, plans to operate Reykjavik Keflavik – Delhi from 5 December 2018 with an Airbus A330neo aircraft. It will initially operate three-weekly, according to GDS schedule listing published by Airlineroute, rising to five-weekly from 7 January 2019.

Mogensen said: “We are passionate about continuing our mission of enabling everybody to fly by making international travel accessible and affordable for all, and look forward to expanding our global service to provide travellers with the opportunity to see many parts of the globe, whether for business or pleasure.”

The service to Indira Gandhi International Airport will be available from Newark Liberty, Boston Logan, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago O'Hare, Pittsburgh International, Detroit Metropolitan, San Francisco International, Los Angeles International and St Louis Lambert.

In an interview to announce the launch, Mogensen said he hoped the five-weekly service would soon rise to daily. He added that WOW was looking to launch additional routes to India with the aim of turning Reykjavik into a hub for Asia-North America traffic.

WOW's transatlantic strategy

WOW has grown rapidly in recent years by pursuing a transatlantic connecting strategy, similar to that of Icelandair, stimulating demand with its low-cost seats.

According to data from OAG Schedules Analyser, the carrier almost doubled seat capacity in 2017, increasing it by 96.2 percent to 2.98 million seats. The figures show the airline is set to grow by a further 21.8 percent this year 3.63 million, boosted by frequency increases and new route launches.

WOW's seat capacity growth:

Among its top ten destinations from Reykjavik by capacity during the first half of 2018, six are in North America and four in Europe. Of the ten, WOW competes with Icelandair on nine of them and has a dominant position by capacity on four (Baltimore Washington, Toronto, San Francisco and Dublin). It also is the only operator on Reykjavik - Los Angeles.

Competition on WOW's top ten destinations by capacity from Reykjavik in H1 2018:

During the first half of 2018, figures from OAG show that WOW’s network remains skewed towards Western Europe, which accounted for 75.2 percent of seat capacity.

North America was second with 23.7 percent at 401,805 seats. However, the airline has added almost 114,000 seats to its North American network in H1 2017, compared with the first six months of 2017.

Five new Reykjavik - North America routes have been launched this year to Cincinnati Northern Kentucky, Cleveland Hopkins, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit Metropolitan and St Louis Lambert.

In addition WOW launched Reykjavik - Tel Aviv in September 2017, marking its first route outside Europe and North America. Although the Middle East accounts for just 1 percent of overall capacity during the first-half of 2018, the service to Israel signalled the LCC’s ambition to expand its network east.

WOW seats by region during H1 2018:

Why India?

WOW’s expansion to Asia with its route to Delhi signifies a desire to muscle in on one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. India is set to surpass the UK as the fifth largest aviation market by 2025 and by 2036 will have 478 million passengers per year, up from 141 million in 2016.

Air India and United currently operate non-stop services from Delhi to the US, with Air India flying to New York JFK, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare and San Francisco International and United to Newark Liberty.

Middle Eastern carriers Emirates and Etihad have also being successful in using their hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to tempt Indians west, helped by lower fares than Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways. Figures from Sabre show Emirates’ Delhi - New York JFK via Dubai ranked third in terms of Delhi-US passenger numbers in 2017.

Top five Delhi-US routes in 2017 by O&D demand:

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Potential secondary cities in India on WOW’s agenda

WOW chief executive Skúli Mogensen has stated that the service won’t be the airline’s last to India, with more destinations under consideration. So where next?

Hyderabad could be an option. The airport is served by Emirates, Etihad and British Airways, but not KLM and Lufthansa which ended services in 2009 and 2011 respectively. According to O&D figures from Sabre, Hyderabad’s three largest US markets in 2017 are all served by WOW: New York, San Francisco and Chicago.

Bangalore’s position at the heart of India’s technology industry could also make it an attractive option. O&D demand between Bangalore and San Francisco grew by 4 percent in 2017, Sabre figures show, to 135,201 passengers. Infosys, an Indian multinational headquartered in Bangalore, is also set to create 3,000 technology jobs in Indianapolis.

Keflavik crunch to limit growth?

A record 8.76 million passengers passed through Keflavik Airport in 2017 and the figure is expected to reach the ten million mark this year. The total increase from 2016 and 2017 was two million passengers, or 28 percent. For the past few years, passengers could be split approximately evenly between arriving passengers, departing passengers and transfer passengers.

In 2017, the number of transfer passengers increased proportionally more than those who enter the country. Transfer passengers were just over three million, departing passengers 2.82 million and arriving passengers were 2.89 million.

Capacity constraints at the main Icelandic gateway could therefore limit WOW’s growth in the coming years. However, airport operator Isavia is renovating the existing infrastructure and making capacity investments in order to deal with the substantial passenger growth. In addition, Mogensen has hinted that WOW could look at opening its first hub outside Iceland.


The route to Delhi may give WOW first mover advantage over other European carriers limited by bilateral rights. Although brand awareness could be an issue in India, the balance of traffic may be tipped towards US point of sale, with the visiting friends and relatives market a factor.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.