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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Tom Sweeney: US fares are down, as long as a certain volcano doesn't blow its top

Elevated view over Reykjavik, Iceland
Elevated view over Reykjavik, Iceland

THE best piece of travel news in recent months was the announcement by Icelandic low-cost carrier WOW Air that it will begin operating regular direct flights from Dublin to Reykjavik from June.

This week, the news got better. WOW has said that from October those three weekly Dublin departures will connect with onward flights to Boston and Baltimore Washington International.

Time-conscious business travellers will be put off by the two-hour stopover in Reykjavik, but for cost-conscious leisure travellers this new route to the States, from €149 each way including taxes, looks a winner.

It also opens up the prospect of extending a couple of hours in a transit lounge to a couple of days in one of the most beautifully diverse countries on Earth.

Iceland used to be a destination for the well-off who thought nothing of paying €15 for a bottle of beer, but then the banks collapsed.

However, unlike the headless chickens here who bailed out our fantasy world financial institutions, Iceland told its banks to take a hike, suffered for a while and then bounced back.

Food and drink prices are now on a par with Dublin, and the country heads or figures highly in every list of the top 10 places to visit this year.

WOW is owned outright by 46-year-old Icelandic financier and philanthropist Skuli Mogensen.

His vision for his airline – “to make travel to the United States affordable for everyone” – may sound a tad rose-tinted but self-made multi-millionaire Mogensen is no mug, and he isn’t afraid to put his money where his mouth is.

He founded WOW in 2012 and has since poured €22m of his own cash into it in his bid to become a major player in transatlantic aviation – especially to and from Dublin.

While the Ireland-US fares look like a winner for Irish customers, “affordable” always comes with a catch or two – and WOW is no different.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Passengers will pay for everything they eat and drink on board, and there’s no free baggage allowance either – each piece of hold luggage comes with a charge. So that €149 fare starts drifting towards the €200 mark.

Furthermore, WOW won’t offer US customs and immigration pre-clearance in Dublin, though that’s a minor inconvenience involving queuing on arrival rather on departure.

mayhem

All things considered unless you’re planning on travelling with a sea chest, €200 each way across the Atlantic is a good deal.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary thinks so too. While his much-touted ultra-cheap flights between Ireland and the US are some years away, he sees plenty of room in an ever-growing market for      newcomers.

“People are looking at the lowest-cost way of getting there,” he said. “All of these services have a future as long as they can offer it at a very low price.”

With Mick’s blessing, how could WOW possibly fail?

Well, em....bubbling away in the background like a pot of porridge is that pesky and unpronounceable Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallojokull, which erupted in spectacular fashion in 2010, grounding thousands of flights and causing mayhem for millions of travellers.

If it decides to spew ash into the atmosphere again come October, the mild-mannered Mr Mogensen might well blow his top too.

Tom Sweeney is an award-winning travel writer

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