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.
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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