Flight cancellations by Oslo-based Norwegian Air left hundreds of passengers stranded both in Norway and abroad over the weekend, and disruptions may continue. The airline blamed the cancellations on a lack of pilots and some technical difficulties, and then seemed to go silent.
“We haven’t even been offered so much as a cup of coffee,” fumed Berit Skorpen, conductor for the Berlin-bound Minde School band from Bergen. She and 48 others in the band’s delegation only received a text message about the cancellation, with no other offers of food or rebookings while they waited for hours at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen and wondered what to do.
“This is completely unacceptable,” Skorpen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as she sat with the band’s members aged nine and up. They were later told the pilot for the Berlin flight had called in sick, and no others were available. They were offered bus service to Berlin, but the sheer length of that trip made the offer worthless in Skorpen’s view. They wouldn’t arrive in time for the concerts that were scheduled, and which were already facing forced cancellation.
The school band was far from alone in seeing their trip ruined just as the summer school holidays were getting started. Yet another band, Tenor from Indre Østfold, also had to drop its entire long-planned concert tour in Switzerland when their flight to Geneva was cancelled Sunday morning. NRK spoke with several other passengers who also complained that Norwegian was not helpful after cancelling their flights for reasons tied to the airline’s own management and operations.
“We have the impression that Norwegian isn’t willing to do anything for us as passengers,” Inga Andruskaite, who was heading home to Norway from Lithuania with her family when their flight was cancelled on Saturday. They were only offered a rebooking on a flight 10 days later. Other complained that Norwegian’s “service desks” were not staffed and that it was difficult to get through to the airline on the phone.
Similar serious flight disruptions also hit Norwegian Air right at the start of last summer’s holiday season, after months of labour turmoil at the airline. There were no reports that pilots or other Norwegian crew members were once again calling in sick, and they had denied any organized labour slowdown last year. Many have been frustrated, however, that Norwegian schedules many flights during the busy travel season and then fails to have personnel to operate them.
A Norwegian spokesman told NRK apologized for the cancellations and claimed the airline was doing all it could to help get passengers to their destinations, but found it difficult to arrange alternative transport.
In an email to NRK, Norwegian Air’s communications officer Daniel Kirchhoff wrote that “we do all we can to operate in line with our scheduled routes, but we cannot rule out irregularities.” Nor could he guarantee that the situation would improve during the coming weeks when thousands of people are due to travel. There were, however, no reported cancellations on Monday morning.