Doomed scheduling behind cancellations

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Norwegian Air has been the target of more outrage among its passengers this week, especially after the reason for its wave of flight cancellations emerged: Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the airline went ahead and scheduled far more flights for the busy summer travel season than they had pilots to fly, expecting that their pilots would agree to “sell” their own holiday time for a high price and work instead. They didn’t, with the result being more cancellations and ruined trips for thousands of passengers, but now it appears some pilots are individually responding to Norwegian’s direct approach.

Norwegian Air lacks enough pilots to carry out its ambitious summer route schedule. The pilots’ union rejected a last-minute offer on Friday of quadruple pay to fly routes on their own holiday time, leaving Norwegian Air managment forced to cancel flights because of their staffing shortage. PHOTO: Norwegian Air

“This is just tragic,” exclaimed the conductor of another large group of school band members from Akershus scheduled to fly to Scotland on Monday, to play at the Edinburgh Castle this week. They were left worrying and wondering whether their flight would be among those cancelled by Norwegian Air because the airline has no pilots to fly them.

“We haven’t had any text messages yet, so we’re crossing our fingers that we’ll get to Edinburgh,” conductor Trond Nilsen told DN while they waited at Oslo’s main airport on Monday. “I can understand the frustration people are experiencing, especially children who have been looking forward for a long time to holidays and special trips like this.” He accused Norwegian Air of not conducting business in a serious manner, when it basically gambles that its scheduled flights will be able to operate.

Nilsen and his group were lucky, after Norwegian only cancelled a flight from Oslo to Haugesund on Monday plus two flights to Krakow in Poland and Copenhagen. Systemwide, however, Norwegian Air had cancelled 18 flights by late afternoon.

Landed in trouble again
DN reported Tuesday that Norwegian, which had to admit to poor crew planning last summer when it also was forced to cancel many flights, has landed in the same situation this summer. It engaged in the same practice used by many airlines that amounts to enticing pilots to give up their own holiday time to meet passengers’ travel demand during the summer holiday period. Norwegian, however, engaged itself more heavily than others and then also got hit by delayed delivery of a new Boeing 737 Max jet that can fly between Europe and North America. That meant Norwegian also had to hire in another aircraft and crew from its bases in Europe to get its passengers to the US.

That badly affected Norwegian’s European route system, forcing cancellations that by Tuesday had stranded more than a thousand passengers. Norwegian also had to admit that it couldn’t promise improvements in the weeks to come, angering not only stranded passengers but also creating anxiety among all Norwegian passengers who suddenly were uncertain whether their trips will go as planned.

DN reported that Norwegian was willing to pay as much as quadruple pay to pilots to entice them to work instead of going on scheduled holidays themselves. DN reported that the Norwegian Pilot Union, which has been in serious conflicts with Norwegian Air in the past that led to a lengthy strike two years ago, received the offer on Friday.

Lucrative offer arrived Friday
It was aimed at immediately addressing the problems Norwegian Air management suddenly realized would crop up during the weekend because of crew shortages. Norwegian, according to DN, offered to pay pilots at least NOK 18,000 (USD 2,142 at current exchange rates) to work on their day off. Five to six days of working when they otherwise would be on holiday would result in compensation of around NOK 100,000 before tax.

Pilots with high seniority were offered even more, up to NOK 24,000 (around USD 3,000) to work on their time off. First officers would get around NOK 12,000, according to DN.

Halvor Vatnar, leader of the Norwegian Pilot Union that represents Norwegian Air pilots based in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, wasn’t willing to talk in detail about the offer. “There was no meeting, only a telephone call (from Norwegian Air management),” Vatnar told DN. “I don’t want to comment on the company’s offer in the media.”

Offer rejected, some pilots accept it
DN, however, reported that the union rejected the offer immediately. Norwegian Air initially wouldn’t comment on the offer that DN gained access to either, saying only that “we are doing everything we can to operate in line with our scheduled route plan, and to take care of passengers in the best possible way.” Norwegian officials have apologized for the cancellations, while passengers have complained that they have not been “taken care of” and have instead lacked information and access to service personnel.

Passengers are protected by EU regulations that clearly set out passengers’ rights in the event of flights cancelled because of problems not caused by weather or other problems beyond management’s control. Passengers are entitled to rebookings, food, drink and lodging or cash compensation.

Norwegian Air’s pilots, meanwhile, were not given the opportunity to evaluate the airline’s offer on an individual basis. “When offers like this are made, they’re part of the collective bargaining agreement and that’s handled in an ordinary manner (by union leadership),” Vatnar told DN.

Some pilots willing to work, for double overtime pay
DN reported later on Tuesday, however, that Norwegian has since sent letters detailing their offer directly to 600 pilots both in Norway and the rest of Europe Monday evening. Many of them are not covered by the Norwegian Pilot Union’s collective bargaining agreement. Some pilots were accepting Norwegian’s offer of what amounts to double overtime pay.

“This shows that we have a corps of pilots who are willing to help get passengers to their destinations,” Bjørn Erik Barman-Jenssen in the Norwegian Air personnel subsidiary Norwegian Air Resources told DN. He wouldn’t say how many pilots agreed to work on their time off. No cancellations had been announced as of noon on Tuesday.

State broadcaster NRK reported that Vatnar of the Norwegian Pilot Union would not comment on Norwegian Air’s direct approach to the airline’s pilots. Nor would he comment in detail on the offers made in Norwegian’s letter, but he told DN that “it’s clear that the company has not planned for the summer travel season well enough.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund