Last week, one of my favorite budget airlines, Wow Airlines, went belly up. Of course, that wasn’t the worst part… The carrier suspended operations with no warning to its tens of thousands of customers that already had upcoming paid travel. And, they left customers with no recourse or refund to secure different travel arrangements.
Hundreds of customers with immediate return flights over the next few weeks were left stranded in the airline’s dozens of destinations in North America, Asia, and Europe. Leaving some to set up GoFundMe fundraisers to purchase new flights or for accommodations in their locations until they could secure new arrangements.
At the end of the day, Wow Airlines is not the first airline to cease operations suddenly after going bankrupt and it surely isn’t even the first European airline in recent years to go belly up. Fierce competition and consolidation across the European airline industry over the last few years have forced several carriers go under — such as Airitalia, Monarch, and Primera Air that went bankrupt last October.
So, the real question travelers want to know is: In this age of budget carriers worldwide becoming insolvent and leaving customers stranded, how should customers protect themselves when an airline goes bust or bankrupt?
5 Things to Do In Case Your Airline Goes Bust
My five tips below should help you be sure to make it back home easily and without taking a financial hit:
1. Use a credit card with a stellar travel insurance benefit for trip cancellation. Citi and Chase both offer this coverage to holders of some of their premium cards.
2. Get travel insurance when booking flights. I personally get Allianz coverage whenever I buy a flight over $500. You will likely be reimbursed for your cancelled flight leg costs by your insurance. But keep in mind, they won’t cover the difference between that flight and your new fare. AND DON’T EVER BUY THE AIRLINES OWN INSURANCE COVERAGE!
3. If you have a card with amazing travel concierge service, like AMEX, call them as soon as you can to get their help arranging for new lodging or flights.
4. If you end up stranded, try to wait it out, if possible, a few days until the immediate chaos subsides. If you are patient, you’ll likely find a better rate for a new flight (check out rescue fares from other airlines), more flight options, and will avoid ridiculous rebooking lines at the airport.
5. Seek additional financial compensation from the insolvent carrier through the proper administrative channels. However, this part of the process should be done after you figure out a way home. This is not top priority and you will be waiting quite a while in almost all cases for resolution.
Being stranded by an airline is never fun. And it’s a slap in the face to be abandoned without any communication, service or recourse. My final advice is to always have a financial backup when you travel for emergencies like this or others. Remain patient, while focusing on the priorities at hand.