Bjørn Kjos, chief executive of Norwegian Air, finally finished the book he’d been writing about himself and the airline he founded. Entitled Høyt og lavt (High and low), the book’s release on Tuesday immediately set off turbulence.
Kjos clearly has been deeply disturbed by last spring’s lengthy pilots’ strike and organized opposition to his use of lower-cost non-Norwegian crews on board the airline’s new intercontinental routes. On Tuesday he was running into more opposition after writing that he thinks his own employees tried to ruin things for the airline and its international expansion.
Kjos went so far as to accuse unionized employees of “a sort of betrayal.” He describes one episode where several employee representatives traveled to Bodø to meet state aviation authorities. Once there, they allegedly tried to persuade the authorities to prevent Norwegian from launching new long-haul routes to Bangkok and New York with foreign crews.
“To see folks consciously going along with attempts to destroy their own workplace in this way gave me a feeling of being in the middle of a story by Franz Kafka, where strange things occur all the time, but you never really grasp what it is,” Kjos wrote. “The only thing you’re left with is a total feeling of a sort of betrayal.”
He wrote that the aviation authorities, however, told what Kjos calls “the crusaders” that they didn’t view race or skin color when they evaluated who was able to fly jets over Norwegian territory and land at Norwegian airports. Kjose wrote that the demands placed on who worked in the cabin instead involved the necessary training and experience.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Kjos toned down his use of the word “betrayal” on Tuesday, when the book was released by publishing firm Aschehoug, and stressed that he appreciated various opinions.
Kjos also writes about his childhood, education and training as a fighter jet pilot. He goes into detail about how he built up Norwegian Air Shuttle, initially a small domestic carrier, into becoming one of the Europe’s largest low-fare airlines. Along the way he was involved in a “David vs Goliath” battle against established Scandinavian airline SAS, which allegedly spared little while trying to fend off competition from Kjos’ new airline.
He writes that he keenly felt Scandinavia’s so-called janteloven, which is rooted in envy and known for trying to knock over-achievers down to size. When his airline won the prize as Europe’s vest low-fare carrier two years in a row, Kjos wrote that “we were being hailed as heroes abroad, even our competitors treated us with respect.” But at home in Norway, his accomplishments weren’t recognized to nearly the same degree. “I had perhaps thought that both janteloven and the tired phrase that ‘you can’t be a prophet in your own land’ had faded over the years,” Kjos wrote.
Union leaders denied they have tried to sabotage the airline or its expansion plans. Vegard Einan of the employees’ union Parat conceded there had been a “bad working climate in the airline for many years,” but he told NRK he hoped the employees and management could work more closely together. “We want to contribute towards a better climate and more dialogue, and will take the initiative for such a process,” Einan said.