Getting decommitted: Tales of a Norwegian cancellation at Gatwick

Maybe the work action on the London Underground this past Wednesday was a harbinger of things to come for my travels. It was relatively easy for me to work around, taking the bus 2 miles to Victoria Station and the Gatwick Express train service rather than the Central Line. But my planned flight on Norwegian from London to Berlin most definitely did not end the way I’d expected it to go. As in I never did get on a plane.

Gatwick loves its central shopping and dining area, holding crowds of passengers in the center of the terminal until just under an hour from departure. No relaxing at the gate and finding a quiet corner is a challenge. By the time I made it over to the announced gate for my flight the inbound aircraft was just arriving and boarding had commenced, with “boarded” passengers moving from one side of the waiting area to the other, crowding in to a small staging area between the counter and the entrance to the jet bridge. That was also when I noticed a few officers standing in the cab of the jet bridge as it positioned to meet the flight; something was amiss. As more and more outbound passengers crowded into the standing area the security officers appeared upstairs with their suspect. That they chose to handle the interrogation in that space, blocking our access to the aircraft, proved to be a critical aspect of our flight cancelling.

About 30 minutes after “boarding” started the waiting lounge came to life with SMS notification sounds as Norwegian sent out a delay message, pushing us back 50 minutes from our original departure time. Another 10 minutes after that, as the tension among the departing passengers increased, I heard a walkie-talkie crackle to life and mention of a crew timeout. One of the flight attendants had gone over allotted hours and we were not going anywhere anytime soon.

That’s when I suggested to everyone within ear shot and no one in particular that we would not be flying out that night. Officially the flight was not cancelled yet but at 6pm I was betting against Norwegian rustling up a spare crew, despite Gatwick being one of its operations bases. A couple other passengers tried to convince me I was wrong, that a spare flight attendant would arrive within a couple hours. That didn’t happen. Just over an hour later I received the SMS notification that my flight was canceled.

The lack of information overall from Norwegian during the delay was unfortunate. The mess that came next seems to me like it should have been avoidable. Because we had cleared into the departures lounge we would have to return through immigration. Passengers who bought duty free would have to return it. And we could only return as a group, ostensibly because we would be escorted through some priority screening process. But the woman announcing that was quiet and they tried to crowd 150ish passengers into a space meant for 30 at most. It was mild chaos. And it turns out that I was the best PA system they had, shouting the message from the ground handling agent over the crowd so that others could know what was going on.

Minor chaos as Norwegian cancelled the flight. I had to help amplify the announcements. Turns out I'm loud.
Minor chaos as Norwegian cancelled the flight. I had to help amplify the announcements. Turns out I’m loud.

They would not release us individually into the arrivals corridor. We would only be allowed through in large groups. But once through there was no effort to keep us together nor to keep us separate from the other arriving passengers or expedite our arrivals process. I’m still unclear as to why we couldn’t be let in ad hoc.

Ground handler staff was available to help with rebookings and hotels (3-4 agents for each of the two processes) but I knew that I didn’t want the rebooking Norwegian offered and that the hotel it would give me at Gatwick was useless for my needs at Heathrow. I skipped the growing lines and headed down to catch a bus over to Heathrow. A couple hours later I checked in to my pod at the Yotel in Terminal 4 and called it a night.

The main challenge for me with the cancellation is that I had an onward flight from Berlin’s Tegel airport on Thursday morning. Losing that ticket would be a somewhat expensive proposition to manage. Not catastrophic, but far from ideal. I had my choice of half a dozen flights on Wednesday evening to get me to Berlin with a comfortable buffer and chose the Norwegian option.

That's a mighty expensive way to fix my cancelled flight problem. Fortunately an Avios reward option was also available.
That’s a mighty expensive way to fix my cancelled flight problem. Fortunately an Avios reward option was also available.

Alas, when that collapsed there was only one flight on Thursday morning that could get me to Berlin in time, a 7:10a departure on British Airways that would turn around and be the first flight of my next ticket. It was selling for £526. Fortunately it was also available for 4,500 Avios + $27.50. Needless to say, I transferred some points and booked the award trip.

The good news is that Norwegian is still on the hook for my hotel, the bus and even a breakfast. And I’ve got the receipts for all of that to submit on the website.

It is less clear why the guy was detained, though that probably doesn’t matter much. I heard from various others around that he started a fight or that he exposed himself. Either way I understand that the incident required pulling him out and potentially denying him entry or returning him to Poland where the flight came from. But we were headed to Berlin, and the hour we spent waiting for that interrogation started the domino effect that led to us not getting to Berlin that evening. That was unfortunate but the mess that came after, with the ground handlers struggling to inform us of ongoing developments was even worse. I’ll withhold final judgment until my EU261 claim is paid, but in the end this was a long day at the airport and a relatively reasonable recovery, though not so much thanks to Norwegian as to Avios.

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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.


  1. Hmm… why would you be allowed to buy duty free liquor flying LGW-TXL inside the EU? Or rather why would it be an issue? You are inside the EU (till the Brexit is actually done).

    1. I didn’t wait around to find out if anyone was affected by that part of the announcments. I was focused on getting out of there.

    1. SAS is the flag carrier for Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Norwegian is an upstart that launched running domestic service in Norway and now has rapidly expanded into European and then Transatlantic services. It is built in the traditional LCC style of fees for everything but some cheap fares to start. My one-way trip was <$50 on Norwegian compared to $130-150 from BA when I bought. my ticket.

    1. I was the calmest person of the 150 displaced that night. And that helped me to get what I needed and move on rather than get caught up in the emotion of the moment. Yeah, I was annoyed, but in the end it was all good. And I was even able to help a few others along the way.

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