Norwegian details long-haul strategy, including operations in Bangkok


Not many budget carriers operate long-haul routes targeted at low-yield holiday destinations. Even fewer operate crew bases thousands of miles from their home base. Norwegian sees the market a bit differently; they’re challenging both of those trends.

The carrier has deliveries pending for Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner with delivery expected in 2013. As part of the build up to those deliveries some details are starting to come out on how the company intends to use the planes. The initial routes will connect the airline’s operations in Oslo with Bangkok and New York City, both quite a bit longer than the current European coverage the carrier offers.

The plane will be configured 3-3-3 in economy class – similar to most other carriers – and 2-2-2 in business class. That there is a business class at all is somewhat surprising but for the longer flights it is not surprising that they see a market for such. They won’t be the flat beds offered by other carriers but most definitely a step up from the economy product. Paid food and beverage options will keep with the LCC approach. And there will be IFE on offer; it is not yet clear if that is a paid option or complimentary. The renderings also show power ports at the economy seats; pretty safe to assume that the premium seats will have the same.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Norwegian’s 787 operations, however, is how the company intends to staff the flights. In order to support the long-haul traffic a new crew base will be established. In Bangkok. Flight attendants interested in working for the carrier are being informed that, "Would you like to work in the cabin, you must agree also to move to Thailand." Such an approach has the obvious advantage of potentially saving a lot of money in employment costs. And that, along with the efficiency the 787 presents, might be enough to help the company thrive on the Oslo-Bangkok route, a market SAS is abandoning in 2013 after 63 years of service.

But such an approach also presents a number of challenges. For starters, there are the issues surrounding pissing off the other flight attendants who want the work to remain in Norway. Plus, what happens when a crew member has to call out? Having experienced the pain of a canceled flight recently due to a crew member getting sick while at an out-station, I’ve personally experienced that annoyance. So did roughly 600 others as the one missing flight attendant cascaded into at least three canceled flights.

Outsourcing jobs to save money is hardly a new phenomenon. The real question is whether Norwegian can operate reliably enough with such an approach. I suppose we’ll all find out starting the middle of next year.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

11 Comments

  1. I am it sure how the FA base in BKK increases the chances of one of them calling in sick and that causing flight cancellations. Am I misunderstanding something?

    1. The potential issue I see is that they will be more likely to not have spare FAs available in Oslo or NYC if the crew base is in Bangkok. It isn’t that they’ll be more likely to get sick but that they’ll be harder to substitute.

  2. @Oliver: Having a crew base at what amounts to an outstation is risky, simply because it’s unlikely that there will be adequate reserve crew to work in place of another F/A. I’m not exactly sure what Norwegian’s plans are in terms of destination and frequency, but having a shortage of crew in BKK, 5400 miles away from Oslo, is a bad situation.

  3. @Seth and @Taylor — But how would that be different from having the crew base in Oslo and an FA getting sick at the outstation BKK or NYC? One way or another you have to have a spare FA available where you don’t have the crew base or risk having to cancel the flight. How do other airlines handle this? E.g., does UA have a spare FA in SYD, or do they schedule the return trips of the FAs such that they could fly back a day earlier (legally) if needed?

    Another option (that I am making up here, not really knowing what I am talking about, but at least admitting that much): could they have Oslo-based FAs that are qualified on the 787, but only fly on those if needed, and otherwise they are used for the European routes?

    1. If your crew base is in OSL and someone gets sick in BKK or NYC you can fly the next flight and dead-head crew in to make up for it. If the crew base is in BKK and someone gets sick in NYC it will potentially take a lot longer to get a replacement into position.

      For other airlines some have flights over-staffed so they can fly missing one FA and still be legal (though often the other FAs have to agree per union rules). And some have FA bases at out-stations but, generally speaking, FAs are at hubs or where there are higher flight frequencies. But it isn’t at all common that the main FA base is at an out-station.

  4. If that photo of the 2×2 seats is their idea of long-haul business class, they are going to have to price it WAY below the competition – and even then, the best they can hope for is the leisure market. How many frequent business travelers will prefer that seat to LH or LX’s, even if those mean connecting through FRA or ZRH? What a lousy product!

    1. They know that the market is mostly leisure; they aren’t going after the folks who pay for lie-flay beds. The long-haul LCCs are providing a reasonable “premium” product over their coach product but not an option competitive with full-service carriers. And they aren’t trying to.

  5. I did apply based in JFK and got two online texts but no sign from them two weeks already. Do you know anything ?

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