Norwegian Air complaints pile up

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Unhappy Norwegian Air customers have lodged a record number of complaints, both with the embattled airline and the Transport Complaints Board (Transportklagenemnda). More than 200 grievances have been registered with the board alone, as Norwegian’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliners continue to cause major issues.

Norwegian Air's first new Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally landed at Oslo's main airport at Gardermoen on June 30. The airline has now begun testing them before putting them into service on Norwegian's new long-distance routes to Bangkok, New York and Fort Lauderdale. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

‘Dreamliner’ has been something of a misnomer for the trouble-plagued Boeing 787s. The Transport Complaints Tribunal has received a record number of complaints from Norwegian Air passengers after Dreamliner problems caused months of cancellations and lengthy delays. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

“We have never before seen this scope of complaints in a single case,” Judge Einar Kaspersen who chairs the tribunal told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Kaspersen said the first port of call for disgruntled customers was the airline itself, then the Tribunal reviews Norwegian’s handling of the case. “There are probably many who neglect to go further with the matter after they’ve first been rejected. Anyone can complain further.”

Most of the complaints involve problems experienced last autumn. Norwegian’s intercontinental service began last May to New York and Bangkok, but technical problems with the Dreamliners delayed their delivery. Norwegian was forced to lease old aircraft, and suffered a series of lengthy delays and flight cancellations.

Issues escalate
Norwegian’s problems didn’t end when it took delivery of its first three Dreamliners in August, September and November. Between May and September, 49 percent of its departures were delayed. The state broadcaster NRK reported Dreamliner problems cost Norwegian NOK 100 million (USD 16.2 million) in the third quarter of 2013 alone.

The airline also had enormous problems over the Christmas/New Year period, with broken air conditioning on one long haul flight, hundreds affected by long delays and passengers left stranded in New York for almost three days.

2013 was a horror year for the airline, as Norwegian also faced issues with its airline license, “social dumping” accusations over its hiring of cheaper Thai staff, a threatened pilot strike and a push to ban the carrier by US airlines.

Passengers can seek compensation of up to NOK 4,800 for delays of more than three hours on long haul flights. Norwegian told DN it has no record of the number of complaints it has received, and how many have succeeded.

“The reason why 200 complaints have ended up at the tribunal is because of delays with their flights, due to what Norwegian describes as an extraordinary event according to EU regulations,” said Lasse Sandaker-Nilsen, Norwegian’s head of information.

Should be 90% reliable
Norwegian Air CEO Bjørn Kjos said there’s no doubt the ongoing Dreamliner dramas have damaged his company’s reputation. “It is absolutely terrible,” he criticised. “There should not be any delays, and delays over Christmas is the worst timing. Airlines should get passengers safely onwards.”

Norwegian's chief executive Bjørn Kjos was all smiles and proud of his airline's new Dreamliners, until they turned into a nightmare. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Norwegian’s chief executive Bjørn Kjos has held crisis talks with Boeing representatives in Washington DC. He admitted the problems have damaged his company’s reputation, and said Norwegian is seeking compensation from Boeing. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

Boeing management traveled to Norway last September. On Monday Kjos held further crisis meetings with Boeing representatives in Washington DC, who acknowledged the Dreamliners haven’t performed as promised.

“The meetings have been very constructive,” Kjos told NRK. “They have covered some different things. This one was about flying rights here in the US, and the other was to get Boeing’s Dreamliner flying properly.”

Kjos said the discussions concerned better access to technicians and spare parts, as well as discussions over who foots the bill for the delays. He denied Norwegian’s flight schedule was too densely packed, exacerbating delay issues.

“You can’t add to the network from the starting point that the planes won’t function as they should. They are built to fly a certain number of hours in a day, and it’s up to Boeing to make sure they do that,” Kjos countered.

“The aircraft come with a guarantee which says they will be about 90 percent reliable,” Asgeir Nyseth of Norwegian Long Haul, the subsidiary which operates Norwegian’s intercontinental flights told DN. “We agreed that they haven’t been. Therefore we’re now discussing financial compensation.”

Norwegian is demanding both financial compensation and a discount on the remaining seven Dreamliners the airline has ordered. DN reported Boeing has reached undisclosed agreements with other disgruntled Dreamliner buyers, including Japanese airline ANA and Polish LOT. Norwegian has yet to receive any compensation from Boeing.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate