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.
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.
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.