UPDATED: Airline traffic all over Norway has been disrupted the past few days because of a combination of trouble that has frustrated passengers and reportedly reduced some SAS employees to tears. It was expected to get worse over the weekend.
Heavy summer traffic got underway as hundreds of throusands of Norwegians started taking off on summer holidays, and just as staffing was reduced at a key air traffic control center. A strike by suppliers of jet fuel to several airports was also beginning to cause additional disruption, but it was called off after the unions and employers’ organization Norsk Industri reached a settlement Friday afternoon.
“Our employees out at the airports are doing what they can to help,” Knut Morten Johansen, spokesman for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Many have interrupted their own summer holidays to help and some are working double shifts to contribute. We have heard stories about employees beginning to cry on the job.”
‘Unprofessional and provocative’
Johansen cited the fuel suppliers’ strike, fewer air traffic controllers on the job at the important Røyken control center in Southern Norway and the launch of new summer routes as the main reasons for the delays. Some passengers at Bergen’s Flesland airport experienced flight delays of as long five hours.
Among them was Elise Theodorsen, who ended up being so late for business meetings in Oslo that she had to cancel several of them. “But the worst was that we received zero information from SAS at Flesland,” Theodorsen told NRK. “We were met with hasty and audacious answers.” She called SAS’ employees’ conduct “unprofessional and provocative,” adding that “if they manage to send out information about cancelled flight departures, they should manage to send us a message with a bit more information.”
Johansen could only apologize. “When we’re hit by delays because of these factors, it’s difficult to absorb all the problems when all flights are full,” he told NRK. “That hits passengers hard, and the frustration they express is justified.”
Avinor also apologizing
Avinor, the state airports agency also in charge of the air traffic control center, was also forced to apologize for causing some of the delays. Reduced summer staffing meant that restrictions had to be imposed on 80 flights late Wednesday, which in turned created a “domino” effect on the entire flight system. Avinor also suffered some “acute illness” among staffers, “so it wasn’t possible to cover all the vacant shifts. We can only apologize that it affected the airlines and their passengers,” said Avinor’s communications chief Kristian Løska. “We normally are well-staffed to handle this, but there’s also been more traffic than planned.”
The jet fuel suppliers’ strike was also causing trouble at airports including Tromsø and Bergen. “The strike means that the aircraft are filling up with fuel at other airports,” Johansen said. “That means a lot of extra weight, and we’ve had situations where some passengers and baggage can’t also travel on aircraft carrying maximum fuel loads.”
Striking jet fuel suppliers were also threatening a blockade at the Tromsø airport after complaining of alleged strike-busting. Union leaders claimed that a manager at Flytanking AS, a fuel supplier where all employees are on strike, had been working from 5am until 2pm all week, allegedly in violation of the strike, and that Flytanking would also have two people on the job during the weekend. “We view that as strike-busting, since they’re sending in other people to do the strikers’ work,” said Lars M Johnsen of Norsk Transportarbeiderforbund.
A blockade would have halted all charter flight traffic and aircraft that hadn’t been fueled at airports not hit by the strike, but it was also called off along with the strike. The week-long labour conflict was settled when employers agreed to raise compensation for the lowest-paid workers by 2.4 percent, and extra pay for shifts outside normal working hours by 2.3 percent.