We’ve known since last week that low-cost airline Norwegian planned to use several wetlease operators for flights to Orlando, Miami, Denver and Chicago from its Gatwick base over the busy Summer period. What we didn’t know at the time, however, was how this could impact Norwegian’s long-haul cabin crew. Those details have now been leaked and, unfortunately, it’s not good news.
Ongoing problems with Norwegian’s fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners mean that the airline will need to ground the aircraft for longer than originally planned. This is actually a new development since last year’s well-documented problems that had been resolved – although the issue still remains with the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.
Obviously, airlines like Norwegian optimise their schedules as much as possible – they simply don’t have spare aircraft sitting on the ground and any unexpected grounding is going to have a big knock-on effect. With the problems not likely to be resolved until October, Norwegian has brought in wetlease operators to keep its schedule on track.
A wetlease operator provides everything that an airline needs – including cabin crew and pilots – so the implications for Norwegian’s serving cabin crew seem pretty obvious. Especially when you consider that Gatwick is Norwegian’s largest and most successful long-haul base.
We had already heard that Norwegian’s cabin crew at Gatwick faced significant disruption to their rosters – some were simply wiped overnight because of the 787 Dreamliner issues. But that disruption could now stretch on for months.
In a recently leaked memo, the airline told crew that there was a “significant surplus” of cabin crew which could last until autumn or even winter. The airline has already suspended recruitment although it seems that simply won’t be enough.
Norwegian is now offering cabin crew a variety of options to take unpaid leave for between 3-6 months. There is also an option to work one month and have the next month off. Some crew are also being tempted with a 12-month career break.
During this time, crew will be able to work for another employer, although Norwegian says they are banned from working for a competitor airline.
From Norwegian’s description of the current situation as “challenging”, we very much get the impression that Norwegian is hoping enough crew will take up this offer so that the airline doesn’t have to resort to more drastic action.
Last year, Norwegian made a loss of $169 million and in the first quarter of this year, the airline recorded a loss of $170 million. Norwegian has embarked on a massive cost-cutting programme but problems with the Boeing 737 MAX and Boeing 787 Dreamliner are causing a whole set of new problems.
A spokesperson for Norwegian declined to comment on the specific cabin crew and wetlease issues but told us in a statement:
“Due to well-documented issues with a specific Rolls Royce Trent engine type, like all affected carriers, we have taken the decision to hire additional aircraft to avoid cancelling flights during the busy summer period.”
“We continue to be in close dialogue with the engine manufacturer to ensure that a minimum number of hired aircraft are required and that customers face as little disruption as possible.”