Why 'international victory' of landing WOW Air is so significant for CVG

Posted at 4:14 PM, Aug 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-23 16:44:30-04

HEBRON, Ky. -- Officials at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport didn't just settle for an encore.

Months after landing Southwest and several weeks after announcing Amazon's plans for a mega air cargo hub, officials completed a trifecta: WOW Air, the low-cost, Iceland-based airline known for its $99 fares, will add new transatlantic service.

WOW will launch May 9, 2018, with flights four days a week -- Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday -- to Keflavik International.

"I'm calling this a Triple Crown win," CVG CEO Candace McGraw said. "You had the domestic announcement with Southwest, we had Amazon, which will provide a cargo surge. We knew we needed an international victory, so I challenged the team, and they came through."

WOW aircraft. Photo from the WOW air website.

It's a feat rare enough in sports, but one that certainly hadn't seemed out of reach for CVG -- at least this year. The airport has notched several newsworthy victories, among them continued growth by carriers like Frontier. In May, it also logged its best month for local passenger traffic ever.

WOW's addition only complements growth in the domestic market.

Among the contingency lauding the latest news: Todd Schwartz, executive director of the European-American Chamber of Commerce in Greater Cincinnati. The business group represents about 200 European companies operating in the region. Tweeting at the early morning news conference Wednesday, Schwartz said he'd already received great response.

While the U.K. still represents CVG's biggest opportunity in the transatlantic market, this, Schwartz said, gives his members options.

CVG's only other transatlantic flight is Delta's nonstop service to Paris. Officials have long courted the likes of British Airways, Lufthansa and Condor, a German-based leisure flyer. But WOW fit the bill. It connects to 21 European cities from Keflavik, including Dublin, London, Berlin and Copenhagen, as well as two destinations in the Canary Islands and Tel Aviv in the Middle East.

"Our companies have been -- I won't say clamoring -- but they've been very interested in seeing additional flights to Europe," he said. "It's important for business travel, for executives moving back and forth, as well as customer visits and so forth. This is great... and reinforces the importance and vitality of Cincinnati as a destination for investment."

WOW is low-cost, so customers will pay more for amenities like seat assignments, additional luggage -- the ticket price does include one free personal item -- extra legroom and priority boarding, similar to Allegiant and Frontier.

The "WOW Biz" option is popular with the business customer, WOW CEO and founder Skuli Mogensen said via conference call. "We see a lot of repeat business traffic." But the airline is targeting "smart travelers," he added. "People who don’t want to spend money on overpriced tickets."

"That model's been very successful," he said, "and I think most passengers today are familiar with (it) and welcome that."

WOW, founded in 2011 with inaugural U.S. service in 2015, operates one of the youngest fleets in the game -- a mix of Airbus A320s, A321s and A330s. It will operate the Airbus A321 equipment, which seats 220, at CVG.

WOW's average aircraft age is just two years, which means lower operational costs, such as maintenance and fuel. That, mixed with less frequent scheduling, allows low-cost carriers such as WOW to thrive in mid-sized American markets.

WOW already serves eight U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago-O'Hare, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-Newark, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, as well as Toronto and Montreal. It's adding four more origin points in 2018, including Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit. Cleveland also landed Iceland Air this week.

"This is a global trend, affordable travel," Mogensen said. "It's not a luxury item anymore. You'll start to see more cities such as Cincinnati (in our lineup)."

That doesn't mean the Tri-State didn't make an impression. Promotional photos featuring WOW crew members were taken here in recent weeks -- flight attendants, for example, clad in the company's signature bright purple, posed in front of the Sing the Queen City sculpture at The Banks, Music Hall and Eden Park, among other spots.

"We've had people scouting the U.S. extensively," Mogensen said. "We wouldn't be selecting or flying Cincinnati unless we thought it was a destination in its own right."

Schwartz agrees.

"Remember, it's not just people flying from Cincinnati," he added. "People from Europe can now fly into our city, whether as a gateway for visits to other parts of the country, or more importantly, to stay here, and visit some of the great attractions we have.

"It certainly raises our profile in Europe," Schwartz said.