Two fast-growing budget carriers that serve the U.S. from Europe, Norwegian and WOW Air, both recently announced cancellations of several transatlantic routes.
First, Norwegian: The airline announced it will discontinue seasonal service to Edinburgh and Belfast from Providence, RI and Newburgh, NY. The move comes about 18 months after those routes were announced along with others that the airline still serves. Norwegian announced similar routes from Hartford, CT, at the same time, but canceled those routes after just nine months.
WOW is also canceling newer routes. The airline will discontinue service from St. Louis as of January 7, 2018, and will not offer its seasonal service from Cleveland and Cincinnati next summer. Those route cancellations come only five months after service began; although WOW also launched flights from Detroit at the same time, which are safe for now.
The Route of the Problem?
So, what’s going on here? There are a few themes you might have noticed. Most obvious is the fact that these cities and routes were all new additions to both airlines’ transatlantic routes. In each case, it appears the airline took a five to six month trial period of the routes’ performances to decide there wasn’t enough demand.
And in each case, this was an attempt by either airline to move into an underserved markets and try to gin up untapped demand. For example, St. Louis has not had any nonstop service to Europe since 2003, despite being a fairly large metropolitan area without any other large cities near it. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Providence, and certainly Newburgh are not considered “major” destinations, and so don’t have many, if any, nonstop options to Europe either.
Basically, the airlines saw potential in these transatlantic routes, decided to give them a shot, and didn’t get the kind of response they wanted. Back when WOW announced the new routes, WOW founder Skuli Mogensen told USA TODAY “We like the region. We think there’s opportunity there. We think it’s under-served.” He predicted his airline’s low prices would “stimulate the market significantly.”
As for Norwegian, it’s worth noting the airline isn’t pulling out of Providence and Newburgh entirely. The airline is maintaining year-round service from Providence to Dublin, Ireland, as well as seasonal Providence-Ireland service to Cork and Shannon. The airline will also fly from Newburgh to Dublin and Shannon, and to Bergen, Norway.
In fact, Norwegian blames the cancellation of its Edinburgh on Scottish airport taxes as much as anything else. The Scottish government was expected to reduce taxes at Edinburgh airport but ultimately chose not to, and that decision made the routes unsustainable for the carrier.
Still, this all points to the difficulty of operating consistent nonstop service from secondary U.S. cities to destinations in Europe. And these cancellations emerged around the same time Primera Air abruptly shuttered and filed for bankruptcy.
No matter how enticing the opportunity looks to the airlines, it seems there’s a thin line between success and stalling out. And of course, travelers are caught, not quite in the lurch, but certainly in the middle.