Primera Air Abruptly Shuts Down, Leaving Thousands Stranded

A Primera Air Boeing 737 lands in the Canary Islands.
A Primera Air Boeing 737 lands in the Canary Islands.
Alan Wilson/Flickr

Primera Air, the European budget airline that expanded rapidly into trans-Atlantic flights this year, announced it would cease operations on Monday night, leaving thousands of travelers stranded in airports and stuck overseas.

The news broke on Monday afternoon after an email to employees was leaked on Twitter. The Riga, Latvia–based airline later released a statement: “Kindly understand that the usual options for contacts (via email or phone) can not be offered any longer.”

In other words: If you booked with Primera Air, start looking for a new flight.

Offering astoundingly low fares, Primera jumped from shorter European routes to flights into the U.S. and Canada and claimed to serve more than a million passengers a year on a fleet of 15 planes. As late as September, the company was announcing new routes running between Frankfurt, Germany, and Madrid, Spain, and a handful of North American airports, including New York-JFK, Boston Logan, and Toronto Pearson. Both of those flights started at $173 one way. Other fares went as low as $99.

The company’s last flights were in the air on Monday when the first cancellations began. In Paris, Monday night’s flights to New York and Toronto were canceled after passengers had received boarding passes. Primera staff handed out claims forms and left. A spokesperson told Quartz, “Unfortunately, all employees of Primera Air are let go and we don’t have more information.”

It’s an extreme example of the risks of traveling on the carriers that have jumped to offer mouth-wateringly low fares between the U.S. and Europe since Norwegian Air pioneered the model. Flights on airlines Norwegian, XL Airways, Wow Air, and Primera aren’t just bare-bones experiences where you either got a meal or a screen but not both. They were also flights with little recourse when something went awry: Unlike, say, American Airlines or Air France, these upstarts have neither large fleets nor “interline agreements” that allow them to shift passengers to other flights or carriers.

That means your cheap ticket reflects something else: If your flight gets canceled, you might not get offered another one for four days. And if all the flights get canceled, well, you’d better hope that you have a faster international data plan than everyone else at the gate.