Far and away, I love budget airlines, carriers like Ryan Air or Frontier that offer supercheap base fares, but require paying extra on an a la carte basis, from picking your seat to carry-on bags to even asking for a cup of water. After paying for all these “extras”, that low base fare can add up to cost about the same as a normal carrier. While budget airlines are not for everyone (I’m looking at you, Overpackers Anonymous), they are perfect for low-maintenance travelers, backpackers, or someone taking a quick weekend getaway (I usually fall into one, if not all, of the aforementioned categories).
So when WOW Air, Iceland’s budget carrier, started offering eye-poppingly low rates (we’re flying round trip to India with WOW for $400!) to European cities, like Reykjavik, Dublin, Paris, and Amsterdam, at my home airport, I was over-the-moon excited. But one question lurked in my mind- would an Icelandic budget airline cater to vegan travelers?
As with everything else on WOW, you will have to pay extra for any food served during your flight (unless you spring for “Premium” tickets). You have a couple of options while eating aboard a WOW flight.
You can preorder a meal, either while initially buying your ticket through WOW’s website or up to 48 hours before your flight through the “My Bookings” link. WOW offers only one vegan meal, crispy falafel on a bed of quinoa, chickpeas, and beets. Honestly, WOW chose wisely for its lone vegan meal- not only does everyone love falafel, but the dish itself is really protein-dense and thus, surprisingly filling for the meal’s size. With fresh-tasting ingredients and served piping hot, it was, much to my surprise, definitely one of the best airline meals I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, pre-ordering a meal is not available for flights departing from Chicago, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Detroit and St. Louis, so if this is your home airport, you’re going to have to find another food option for your trip.
If you can’t or forgot to pre-order a meal, you can buy food aboard from WOW’s in-flight menu. Most items are reasonably priced (especially considering how expensive Iceland is), with a fairly broad variety of vegan options, ranging from healthy to full-on vacation-mode. These options include (at the time I’m writing this):
Batchelor’s Cup of Soup (Tomato)
Chia Squeeze (little pouches full of a fruit and veggies based sauce with chia seeds mixed in)
Moma Porridge, with flavors like cranberry raisin and golden syrup (this is sort of like if oatmeal and grits had a baby; perfect for a light but filling breakfast)
SuperBar (an ADDICTIVE protein bar with a chocolate and berries base, packing a 9 grams of protein punch!)
Nut mixes (for example, roasted almonds, goji berries and pumpkin seeds)
Some, but not all, of the options are clearly labeled as vegan on the in-flight menu (which is why researching the menu ahead of time is always helpful!). If you’re trying to figure out whether something is vegan in-flight, you may be in luck- I’ve thus far taken four WOW flights and have yet to meet a flight attendant that wasn’t polite, patient, and kind. When I’ve asked to look at certain snacks to check the ingredient list prior to purchasing, the flight attendants were always happy to do so. Beware, however- lots of the ingredient lists are only in Icelandic!
Alternatively, if olives and Oreos aren’t your jam, your final option is bringing your own food aboard. Nowadays, most airports have at least a couple awesome vegan options that you can buy in anticipation of your long flight. For our upcoming trip to India, I’m planning on stashing a couple Uncrustable sandwiches and Cool Mint Chocolate Clif Bars to keep us sated on the long flight.
WOW offers the usual line-ups of soft drinks, tea, water, coffee, and juice (note that juice is only offered in the juicebox format, so get ready to bring it back, kindergarten style).
I am HIGHLY enthusiastic about the prospect of unlimited free alcohol on most international flights; I’ve especially loved flying non-domestic carriers, like All Nippon Airways or LOT Polish Airlines, as I get to try a different types of fun, non-American beer. While WOW does offer a couple of Icelandic beers (including the lowbrow lager, Gull, and Úlfrún Nr.34, a yummy session IPA), you will, in fact, have to pay for each and every drink (alcoholic or not) that you imbibe. Therefore, I’d recommend bringing along a full refillable water bottle so you don’t have to waste money (or plastic bottles) buying bottled water; instead, save your money to try fun drinks in flight, like BJÖRK & BIRKIR, distilled alcoholic Icelandic birch and birch sap (surprisingly awesome in coffee!).
So many of my friends have asked about my experience on WOW, with stories running rampant of awful customer service and uncomfortable flights. So let me set the record straight (with respect to my experience only, of course):
The seats are wider and more comfortable than any domestic carrier I’ve ever flown on. I do wish the seats reclined a bit more, but that’s a universal complaint with the way all airplanes are designed.
If you know what to expect on the flight and you come prepared, the experience will be smooth sailing. Case in point- beyond the a la carte food situation, WOW has no in-flight entertainment (other than some pretty pricey iPads preloaded with movies). Nowadays, though, with digital content so widely available, from downloadable Netflix shows and eBooks to serial podcasts, I have never found myself resenting WOW for not providing more.
I have been consistently floored by its customer service. Out of our four WOW flights, our plane was delayed by a couple of hours only once. I was SO nervous about missing our connecting flight, but the WOW staff made sure everyone on our flight was comfortable and confident that the airline was coordinating to ensure that no passengers missed their connecting flight. As I mentioned before, the flight attendants have all been friendly, attentive, and accommodating. All that being said, if you have some sort of issue necessitating speaking with a WOW customer service rep, I would definitely recommend calling their customer service phone number in lieu of emailing them. When I emailed WOW to clarify whether I could order a meal for my connecting flight departing from Reykjavik to Dublin, I didn’t get a response for weeks and when I finally received one, the representative told me they “weren’t sure” (I’m honestly still not sure of the answer to this question). However, when I called with a rather complex issue regarding our trip to India (e.g. moving our flight from a St. Louis departure to a Chicago one), it was favorably resolved, in a completely painless manner, in less than a half an hour.
It’s clear that WOW is trying to attract millennial customers, from the retro chic flight attendant uniforms to the incredibly cheeky and Instagram-worthy branding located on every facet of the plane (even on the sickness bags!). While this certainly isn’t a reason to book an international flight, it does add a bit of charm that isn’t present on a lot of budget airlines (for example, I once took a Frontier flight where the bathroom was literally labeled with a SHARPIE MARKER! Can’t get more budget than that). Count this millennial on board (literally).
Bottom line- I’ve had a consistently great experience with WOW and am looking forward to our flight to India. That being said, I generally prioritize saving money rather than a bunch of extra bells and whistles, and in a weird way, appreciate some of the pared down offerings- for example, the fact that a passenger is only allowed a complementary personal item has ensured that I pack super light for our trips (which is conducive to Justin’s and my on-the-go travel style).
If you’re a luxury traveler, packing for a long trip or traveling with kids, or simply prefer the usual perks that come with international flights (is anyone else a fan of marathoning trashy movies you’d typically never watch while sipping on some free red wine?), WOW might not be the best airline for you. More falafel and distilled birch sap for me!
Have you flown WOW or another budget airline? What was your experience like? I’m always on the lookout for cheap fares, so let me know in the comments below!