Cabin crew at low-cost long-haul airline Norwegian may well be smiling a lot less after the carrier introduced a ban on in-flight rest for flights under nine hours. The decision has been pretty much universally derided by the airline’s serving cabin crew and appears to have been introduced as part of Norwegian’s massive cost-cutting programme that it introduced in a bid to stem big losses.
The ban was introduced in the last couple of weeks and affects all Norwegian cabin crew who work on the airline’s fleet of long-haul Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Previously, cabin crew were allowed to make use of a dedicated crew rest facility during assigned break periods.
On the B787, the crew rest compartment is normally found towards the aft of the plane and comes equipped with private bunks where crew and can get some much needed rest on long-haul flights. In the past, Norwegian has provided sheets, pillows and bedding on all Dreamliner-operated services so that cabin crew can make use of these facilities.
But citing a cost-cutting initiative, Norwegian has told crew that it will no longer supply this bedding on flights under nine hours. Crew have been banned from bringing their own sheets or pillows and in the interests of health and safety, crew have also been prohibited from using the crew rest facilities without bedding present.
Unlike some other operators of the 787 Dreamliner, the Oslo-based low-cost carrier opted not to install so-called ‘high comfort’ crew rest seats which can be separated from the passenger cabin with curtains.
Norwegian is at pains to point out that crew will still be given ample time for ‘nutrition’ breaks and that it is perfectly legal for them to operate a flight under nine hours without in-flight rest. In fact, in an internal memo that we’ve seen, the airline points out that short-haul cabin crew regularly work 10-hour duty days without access to similar facilities.
The law on how much and what type of in-flight rest crew should be provided can vary massively from country to country and is often determined more by the contracts that flight attendants have won from their employer. However, in the European Union, there are very specific rules that have been created by the European Air Safety Agency (EASA).
The rules can be quite complicated but generally speaking, crew bunks are the best type of crew rest facility – what are known as ‘Class 1’ rest facilities – and are designed to be used to extend the maximum duty time that a flight attendant can legally work.
For example, using a series of tables that apply to all European airlines, we can easily work out that if a long-haul flight departs between 6am and 1.29pm, a flight attendant can legally work for 13-hours. But by providing 3.25hrs of in-flight rest, an airline could extend that legal duty period up to 17.30hrs.
The use of in-flight rest to extend legal limits obviously comes in really handy if the flight would be longer than 13-hours or if there was a significant delay.
It’s worth pointing out that the legal duty period isn’t just the flight time – it also includes the briefing, security checks, passenger boarding and any ground delays. So you can imagine that Norwegian might be cutting this close to the wire – a small delay might end up with cabin crew not having the necessary bedding to actually get the rest they are legally entitled to.
Again, I can’t stress enough that this is perfectly legal and Norwegian is by no means the only airline that operates with these kind of rules. Having said that, this is will be really tough pill for crew to swallow, especially considering they’ve been able to make use of these crew rest facilities for so long.
It sure looks like this decision could alienate crew and damage morale. Remember, that Gatwick-based cabin crew only recently were asked to cut their hours in order to help the airline out because it has had to ground several Dreamliners owing to ongoing engine issues.
Last year, Norwegian lost $169 million and has blamed, in part, the grounding of its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners because of issues with the Rolls-Royce engines. Those issues have rolled over to this year and the airline is also battling the grounding of its Boeing 737 MAX fleet.
As part of a major cost-cutting programme, Norwegian has already removed facial tissues from onboard lavatories and opted to stop issuing hats to female cabin crew.