It was one of the more pleasant experiences I've ever had on a budget airline. Everything was fresh, clean and new. The seats were comfortable, the flight staff professional.

There was certainly very little pampering, but none was expected. Most importantly, there were none of the headaches, cramped knees, hidden fees and countless other small indignities found on so many other low-cost carriers that shall remain nameless.

Even now my daughter looks over my shoulder as I write this and remembers fondly our journey to Europe and back on the "pretty pink and purple planes" of Iceland's Wow Air.

Indeed we did say "Wow!" -  as the company's marketing not-so-subtly promises - when we were delivered from Boston to Europe and back for under $200 a person without a single reason for a complaint. 

It was almost as if it were too good to be true. But it wasn't. Well, at least not for us.

It turns out that Wow's business model was too good to be true in the end. While my family may not have had to deal with the consequences of the unsustainable idea, the whole house of cards came down hard on a numer of other travelers this week. 

The airline, which launched in 2012, had been operating at a loss for some time and when a last ditch effort to sell itself fell through, Wow shut down and cancelled all flights without any advance notice on Thursday. 

Passengers were left stranded at airport gates and scrambling to get ahold of any information, refunds, their baggage and new flights on other airlines. 

In other words, it was the ultimate travel nightmare come true.

While Wow's collapse is a particularly high profile example, airlines shut down with surprising frequency and often little warning. Belgium's VLM closed last year as did Cobalt out of Cyprus and the UK's BMI, just to name a few. 

What to do when your airline vanishes in thin air

By the end of the day Thursday, Wow Air had ceased to exist for all practical purposes, including distributing refunds to all the paid passengers with cancelled flights. 

To get to their destination, the only real option for most passengers is to book a seat with another airline. Many are offering so-called "rescue fares" to victims of Wow's collapse.  However, these discounted fares still amount to a signicant unexpected cost for travelers and what's worse: many flights are sold out, leaving people stuck. 

One possible route of recourse is to contact the credit card company you used to purchase a cancelled ticket. They often offer trip interruption protection and may be able to help with refunds, new flights or accomodations. 

How to protect yourself in the future

You can also consider purchasing travel insurance for your next trip from the start, just make sure it's from an independent insurance company and not offered by the same airline, otherwise it will be of no use when the airline disappears.

Of course, there is one other option to have the best chance of not being stranded at the gate, and it's an old adage: Buyer beware. Some budget carriers are too good to be true, and eventually they could leave you waiting at the gate with a worthless ticket. 

Published on: Mar 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.