New ‘Dreamliner nightmare’ in Oslo, too

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A READER RESPONDS: Joseph L Shaefer is a retired brigadier general in the US Air Force who was among hundreds of passengers involved in what he calls Norwegian Air’s latest “fiasco” over the weekend. Stuck waiting more than 30 hours in Oslo for a flight to Oakland, California (where Norwegian Air passengers were also stranded the next day), Shaefer submitted the following first-hand account of his “Dreamliner nightmare” that also has been experienced by thousands of other passengers on Norwegian Air’s new low-fare intercontinental flights since they were launched in 2013.

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This website’s article on June 3 detailed the tribulations of 254 passengers stranded in Oakland for some 70 hours, waiting in vain for Norwegian Air to tell them something truthful they could depend upon to make or amend their travel plans.

Ah, but there was a preamble to all this confusion and kerfuffle – the aircraft they finally boarded was the one that Norwegian Air baited and switched 291 Oakland-bound travelers onto at the airline’s home base in Norway. We experienced the same disregard for passenger rights and amateurism on the part of Norwegian Air, while we waited from May 30, our original departure date, to May 31, and finally to the wee hours of June 1 before finally leaving the purgatory Norwegian Air created for us in Oslo.

The promised “Dreamliner Experience” became a nightmare.

Our flight was supposed to depart at 1445 on Saturday May 30. It was initially delayed until 1520. At 1520, when queried why the flight wasn’t yet boarding, the young woman at the gate said these things happen, but we should stay put because it was “definitely” going to leave that night. An hour later, as the natives became restless, we heard the announcement that the flight would not depart – conveniently made after all other options to fly via a competitor were gone. By the time we could get back through passport control, reclaim all baggage and get to a hotel, it was 2200.

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

Norwegian Air’s first new Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally landed at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen on June 30, 2013, after delivery delays from Boeing caused by nagging technical problems with the jets. That got Norwegian’s new intercontinental routes off to a bad start and the trouble continued when the Dreamliners’ technical problems weren’t solved. Now, two years later, Norwegian continues to face trouble, albeit less frequently, with both its new long-haul aircraft and its lack of back-up solutions. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

We were assured our Boeing 787 Dreamliner would “definitely” depart the next morning at 0700. Norwegian Air had put us up at a hotel a bus ride’s distance away, so we dutifully arose at 0345 to find a message in the hotel lobby saying the flight was delayed yet again. The new departure time was unknown. We were told to sit tight. Finally the word came that we were “absolutely” going to depart at 1555 and “Unless advised otherwise, [to] please arrive at the airport according to original (0700?!) departure time.”

Until 0800, that is. That’s when Norwegian Air announced on its website that the new departure time would be 2200 because the Portuguese crew needed mandatory crew rest. Really, people, who runs Norwegian Air Operations? They can’t even figure out how crew rest enters into the nonsense they put out? Was it really a surprise to them that human beings’ needs and air safety regulations might enter into the equation? Clearly passengers, to Norwegian Air, are just so many paying head of cattle to be corralled and moved when it suits Norwegian Air, with no concern that we may have plans, jobs, clients, or family that depend upon us as we depend upon common carriers to at least be truthful with us. One group of passengers was told one thing, another couple told something else, yet a third something different. Without pooling all these disparate strains of information, we might never have gotten the real story.

We were next told we’d need to be at the airport three hours prior to departure time. As we were about to depart, the news came that we had yet another delay and our newest departure time was now 0030. Which, as children cried and parents wrung their hands, became 0045. Which became 0105 after yet another delay. We finally departed Oslo at 0120 on June 1st.

Now comes the fun part. Aboard the aircraft, three hours from Oakland, with no recourse, the captain announced that “contrary to what you have heard, we are not going to Oakland. We are going to San Francisco because the Oakland runway is closed.” This cannot have been a surprise to Norwegian Air. Airports do not arbitrarily close runways. There will always be a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) well in advance of any scheduled maintenance. Norwegian Air knew this, yet they capriciously stranded us in an alternate airport at 0300 in the morning, with no public transportation operating, many miles away from where we had booked our flight and left our car.  Either Norwegian Air did not know Oakland’s runway was closed, which would show them to be incompetent, or they knew and lied to us, an equally egregious alternative.

There were a number of young people who were traveling to the US to work for the summer. They’d never been to the US before. Can you imagine their bewilderment when, having been assured there would be a Norwegian Air representative in San Francisco to arrange transportation (there wasn’t, of course) they were simply dumped in a different location entirely to fend for themselves in a foreign tongue. It’s as if a Norwegian was told they were flying to Philadelphia and landed in Trenton instead. In the middle of the night. With no assistance.

Oh, and “the Dreamliner experience,” which includes in-flight entertainment and spacious, comfortable seating, aboard a brand-new Boeing 787? Norwegian Air instead contracted with Portuguese firm, EuroAtlantic, to fly us to Oakland, oops, San Francisco via a tired old 767. There was no in-flight entertainment, no wifi, and the seats were hard as wood, but at least the Portuguese crew showed some empathy. They also noted that most of their business comes from rescuing Norwegian Air passengers, saying simply: “This happens all the time.”

If Norwegian Air’s license to fly long-haul is not revoked, then at least, someone, please make them change their name. I was partly raised in Norway. I know Norwegians to be hard-working, candid, forthright and friendly people. What a travesty if many utlendingers’ (non-Norwegians’) only interaction with such fine people is via “Norwegian Air…”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Shaefer contended that Norwegian Air offered no compensation to passengers other than the required (and abbreviated) hotel accommodation and meal vouchers during the more than 30-hour delay. He wrote to newsinenglish.no that he planned to seek compensation and “implore” the US Department of Transportation to refuse Norwegian Air’s application for a foreign air carrier license, claiming that the “Dreamliner nightmare” is a result of Norwegian Air’s attempts to run “long-haul operations to three continents … with no reserve aircraft, no backup plan when things go wrong, no agents in place to deal with contingencies.” Norwegian Air officials, meanwhile, have apologized in Norwegian media for the 70-hour delay endured by its passengers in Oakland this week. There’s been little if any coverage of the lengthy delay in Oslo.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • Jen

    I agree with the person. The airline should change their name. Their name is misleading to represent they are a Norway state airline and its past negative news only reflect badly to Norweigans.

    • frenk

      This is a country with ‘very low standards’ in almost everything….so…being associated with Norwegian Airlines…isn’t going to make much of a difference….
      I’m sure if the Norwegian government made it easier for other airlines to operate in Norway…then ‘Norwegian Airlines’ would have to compete and improve their offering dramatically…

      • Gabrielle Bekkvang

        I so agree about standards in Norway. Food, service of any kind and quality are all crap and Norwegians don’t know any better or are just complacent. If I didn’t love my Norwegian husband so much, I would have been long gone!

  • Jim

    You would expect this from a third world airline. It’s pretty surprising to hear of this sort of unprofessional behavior from Norwegian Air, though. A Scandinavian airline no less. What gives?

    • Sergio

      “You would expect this from a third world airline.”? Excuse me! Just how much of an international traveler are you? My oh my, what a A-Hole comment! Just which third world airline have you flown?

  • Gerd

    This should not be a shock to any travelled person living in Norway. Norwegian culture is at play here. People expect less and get less, all the while thinking that Norway is better in all areas. Egon restaurant is a prime example. Just try ordering food the way you like it in Norway. It would be admitting an ugly truth about their culture to honestly question their own standards. Leaders in business tend to think concept rules all other considerations. Believing that because Norway is scandinavian it should be better shows a lack of understanding about the different national cultures. Sweden nor Denmark would nerer run an airline so foolishly, Norway, that’s another story!

    • frenk

      Agree. Norwegians need to ‘wake up’….and start demanding/expecting better…

  • Gabrielle Bekkvang

    I have taken Norwegian Air once and going and coming back the flight was delayed. I have never and will never fly Norwegian again. It is not Worth the little bit of cost saving by taking another airline. Air travel is enough of a nightmare without the bullshit Norwegian has pulled.

  • Gabrielle Bekkvang

    It seems I am the only one using my full name….interesting…

    • inquisitor

      Why is this…interesting?