Norwegian Air grounded all its domestic flights within Norway, Sweden and Denmark on Wednesday, after the Norwegian Pilot Union moved forward with plans to pull 650 of its members out of their cockpits. Flights were also cancelled between the Scandinavian capitals.
The airline estimated that around 35,000 passengers were affected in Scandinavia alone. Norwegian Air officials apologized for the inconvenience, but put the blame squarely on its unhappy pilots.
“Norwegian management has tried to find a solution with the Norwegian Pilot Union and (labour federation) Parat, to prevent even more passengers from being affected, without success,” the airline claimed in a press release issued Tuesday night. It went on to state that “despite repeated attempts to initiate constructive conversations to avoid expansion of the strike, it hasn’t been possible to start a dialogue.”
Flight attendants furloughed
Norwegian also decided to furlough all flight attendants working on flights based in Scandinavia. Many had already planned to launch a sympathy strike in support of the Norwegian pilots who are protesting cuts in their pensions, pay, benefits and insurance.
The pilots’ main demand, however, is that they be employed directly by Norwegian Air’s parent company, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and not by what they call “paper subsidiaries” that they contend were set up by the airline to minimize responsibility and make it easier to get rid of relatively highly paid flights crews.
Some flights running
Not all of Norwegian’s flights were affected by the strike. Norwegian confirmed that all routes to and from the US and Thailand, with flight numbers DY7001 to DY7999, would operate as scheduled.
Flights to and from Great Britain with flight numbers DY2400 to DY2900 would also operate, as would flights to and from Spain (DY5100 to DY5598) and flights to and from Finland (DY5599 to DY5999). Most of these flights are crewed by non-Scandinavian staff who work for lower rates of pay and benefits than their Scandinavian counterparts and are not members of the Norwegian Pilot Union.
Trade union federation sues
The conflict between Norwegian Air and its pilots deepened, meanwhile, when the union’s labour federation Parat announced it would sue Norwegian Air over its employment practices. Parat leader Hans-Erik Skjæggerud told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it will ask a Norwegian court to order the airline to employ its crews through the parent company and not through subsidiaries.
Norwegian spokesperson Anne-Sissel Skånvik responded that the pilots and Parat “want to lead and manage the company.” She called their threatened lawsuit “a little detail” compare to the “crisis” they were creating for the company.
Wednesday’s expanded strike will also likely jeopardize Norwegian Air flights on routes outside Scandinavia. “We will try to do what we can to operate our flights between other European cities and in Scandinavia to the degree possible,” Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen told NRK. “But when 650 pilots got out on strike, that will be difficult.”