Norway’s low-fare and newly intercontinental airline Norwegian Air may have set a new dubious record with the 70-hour delay of one of its long-haul flights this week. Meanwhile, the airline still hasn’t received permission from US authorities to keep running and expanding its trans-Atlantic routes, and has sent them another appeal.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday morning that 254 Norwegian Air passengers, stranded since Sunday at the airport it uses in Oakland, California, were finally airborne. They got stuck when Norwegian ran into more technical trouble with one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, which was supposed to carry them to Oslo. The jet couldn’t be used or quickly repaired and their flight was cancelled.
Norwegian has little back-up available when problems occur, since it has no fleet of stand-by aircraft at the airports it uses nor is it a member of any airline alliance that can help get passengers to their destinations. The airline must instead charter in replacement aircraft, which can take time, and in this case, the replacement aircraft turned out to have trouble, too.
“First the flight was delayed several times,” frustrated passenger Paal-Gunnar Mathisen told NRK on the phone from Oakland on Tuesday. On Monday, after Sunday’s flight was cancelled, Mathisen said passengers were told Norwegian had obtained a replacement aircraft that would depart Tuesday morning at 9am local time.
At 8:30am, passengers were told that flight had to be cancelled, too, after technical trouble was discovered on it as well. By that time, Norwegian’s flight crew also had to be replaced, and Mathisen claimed passengers were “in a mutiny mood.” He said there were no offers of rebooking on other airlines.
“We can well understand that our passengers are angry,” Charlotte Holmbergh Jacobsson of Norwegian told NRK, admitting it was “unacceptable” that they had to wait so long (nearly three full days) until the airline came up with a solution. It arrived in the form of yet another replacement aircraft that passengers could finally board late Tuesday afternoon (after midnight Oslo time) but not bound directly to Oslo. The flight was carrying them to Reykjavik, where they were to be met by Norwegian aircraft that would then carry them on to Oslo, arriving Wednesday afternoon, 70 hours behind schedule.
New plea for US approval
Newspaper Aftenposten, meanwhile, reported on Wednesday that Norwegian chief executive Bjørn Kjos has now sent a letter to US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx asking once again for a decision on the airline’s traffic rights to US destinations. Norwegian has been waiting 15 months for the license to continue and expand its US flights, pending approval from US authorities.
Its trans-Atlantic service, however, has been the the target of strong protests from both rival airlines and labour unions. They contend Norwegian’s trans-Atlantic flights violate the so-called “Open Skies” agreement between the EU and the US because the airline uses low-cost Asian cabin crews and thus has an unfair competitive advantage.
Kjos wrote to Foxx, however, that Norwegian planned to establish a third US base, either in Los Angeles or Oakland, and would add so many new flights that it would demand additional hiring of US pilots and cabin crews. Kjos claimed Norwegian Air could contribute towards meeting US President Barack Obama’s goal of creating thousands of new jobs in the tourism industry, and that US crews hired would be eligible for permanent jobs at Norwegian after a probationary employment period of two to three years.
Kjos also wrote that his airline would be introducing new Boeing 737 MAX jets that would allow Norwegian to establish more routes between Europe and the US’ east coast.
“The delays from the US Department of Transportation in giving us permission is clearly being done for political reasons, and because opponents have lobbied to stop a competitor like Norwegian,” Norwegian’s communications director Anne-Sissel Skånvik told Aftenposten. “We unfortunately must repeat the realities here time and time again.”