Norwegian Air’s tough summer has so far left it with nearly 6,000 delayed flights and 170 cancellations in July alone, according to new statistics from Flightstats, which delivers airline data globally. Angry passengers are filing complaints and demands for compensation, and getting even more frustratrated when their claims are rejected.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Tuesday that Flightstats’ statistics were collected from both Norwegian’s Scandinavian-based operations for Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS), which fly under the airline code DY, and from NAS’ Irish subsidiary Norwegian Air International, which operates under the code D8.
Norwegian operated 9,986 DY flights in July, and fully 27.7 percent of them were delayed by 45 minutes on average. The airline’s D8 flights numbered 8,742 and 35.4 percent of them were delayed by an average of 49 minutes. That put Norwegian’s Irish-based operations, which operate many of the airline’s long-haul flights to the US, near the bottom of the list of European airlines regarding punctuality. Only LOT Polish Airlines and Thomas Cook Airlines performed worse.
Around 170 flights were cancelled, causing great aggravation for stranded Norwegian passengers. State consumer advocacy officials in Norway have claimed that Norwegian Air’s delays and cancellations are systematic, based on a lack of back-up plans and conscious scheduling of ambitious flight programs without the necessary crews and aircraft to fly them.
Norwegian Air officials have vigorously denied the claims and retorted that rival airlines also suffer delays and cancellations. A Norwegian spokesman admitted, however, that the airline’s performance this summer has been unsatisfactory.
“We are of course not satisfied with either the regularity or punctuality we had in July,” Lasse Sandaker-Nielsen, communications chief for Norwegian, told DN. “Now we must sit down and examine what went wrong this summer. There have been too many long delays and cancellations.” He noted, however, that “it’s important to remember that we have more than 600 flights every day, and most of them are ontime.”
That’s little consolation for passengers who’ve been stranded in Oakland, Oslo, Malaga and other cities this summer. One US passenger recently aired his frustration in an email to newsinenglish.no, describing how his flight from New York’s JFK to London Gatwick was subject to a change of aircraft because its scheduled Boeing 787 Dreamliner “was down for maintenance and they have no spare aircraft.” He and his wife ended up being downgraded from the premium class tickets they’d purchased and put on “an overloaded Boeing 777 operated by a charter company.” Their return flight from London Gatwick to JFK was delayed by more than three hours. His claimed his demands for compensation have been denied and that he’s now contemplating a lawsuit.
Acute growing pains and heavy debt
Most tie all the delays and cancellations to Norwegian’s ambitious intercontinental expansion program that it launched in 2013 after it placed major orders for new 787s. They were plagued by technical difficulties and Norwegian, which is not a member of any airline alliance, had no reserve aircraft available. The company’s huge aircraft acquisition programs, also for new 737s and Airbus jets, have also left the airline saddled with heavy debt. The company’s longtime finance director Frode Foss abruptly quit earlier this summer.
The bad publicity around Norwegian comes amid ongoing speculation that the airline, which has seen its share price dive this year, is an acquisition target. Several published reports, including one in The Economist in July, have cited International Airlines Group (IAG) as a potential buyer along with others keen on consolidating low-fare operations. The airline now remains mostly under the control of founder Bjørn Kjos, a former fighter jet pilot who has seen his own fortunes fall, at least on paper, in line with the share price.
Norwegian, meanwhile, set a new passenger record in July despite all its problems. DN reported that 3,358,565 passengers traveled with the airline last month, the highest number ever carried by the airline in a single month and up 15 percent from July last year. Its yield (revenues per passenger per kilometer) fell, however, by 6 percent.
For our coverage of Norwegian Air over the years, click here.