Passengers Abandoned by Airline

June 13, 2016

in Odds & Ends Stories

Zero-service Norwegian Air Shuttle abandoned two planeloads of Europe-JFK passengers in Boston late on Sunday night (June 5) – due to weather – and told them to make their own way to New York, 200 miles away.

Parents with teenage kids flying alone, or elderly relatives, might want to think twice about entrusting their loved one’s safety to an airline whose policy when things go wrong is to simply kick them out into the night to hang around desolate railway stations/bus terminals for hours – where presumably they’ll be easy prey for muggers, perverts, and whatever other unsavory types happen to be loitering.

Norwegian also added “lost luggage” to its list of glorious successes this trip – with not one but two bags still missing 48 hours after scheduled arrival. As late as Tuesday night, their call center appeared to be in disarray – with 30 minute wait times and staff who were clearly at the end of their tether, not even bothering to take details and resorting to simply hanging up.

Management were absent, presumably hiding in their offices – with requests to escalate being refused point-blank. “There are no managers,” said one hapless call center worker. Staff were even refusing to give out phone numbers for their airline’s own desks at JFK to assist with luggage location. Call center morale appeared to have sunk to rock-bottom – with half, judging by the wait time, having given up and gone home.

The US Department of Transport (DOT) has – quite remarkably – “tentatively” granted Norwegian a Foreign Air Carrier permit, enabling it to inflict its special formula of transatlantic misery on some plum Europe-US routes; a move opposed by unions from established carriers such as Southwest, who see it as the beginning of a race to the bottom in terms of staffing and service, which Norwegian Air Shuttle CEO Bjørn Kjos seems intent on rolling out.

Sunday’s experience – as far as we were concerned – was that Norwegian jeopardized passenger’s safety by dumping them, without any help, in a city more than 200 miles from their arranged endpoint (where rides, pickups, etc. would have been waiting) – and abandoning them, basically, to fend for themselves. Norwegian appeared to have zero contingency plans in place – no hotels, no buses – and no staff on the ground to help with anything.

Senior management, 3,000+ miles away in Europe, were presumably still asleep – or eating breakfast – when the mess was unfolding. The passengers who chose not to chance it on the overnight buses/trains to NYC were left to sleep in the airport. Nothing had been arranged. Bjørn Kjos himself – and his executive team – should have been on the phone calling every hotel/bus company within 100 miles. But there was no evidence of this happening.

The DOT should foster competition but not at the expense of safety both in the air and on the ground. In this case, as well as losing luggage, Norwegian essentially abdicated its duty of care and told passengers – including teens and seniors – to bravely venture forth into a big and unfamiliar city and familiarize themselves with the midnight bus and train schedules.

If anyone from the DOT is reading this, please circulate internally – and the same from SWAPA and the other unions. DOT might want to consider reviewing Norwegian’s license on the basis of it having jeopardized its customer’s safety by dumping them in an unfamiliar city hundreds of miles from their endpoint – and rides, etc. – without help. Unions might be concerned that this represents the next step of the downward spiral in terms of staffing and customer service; I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be those few Boston ground staff (not Norwegian employees – they didn’t have any) having to deal with two planeloads of tired, frustrated, and dissatisfied victims of Norwegian’s low-cost, zero-contingency model.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

RedHead0186 June 15, 2016 at 12:40 pm

You seem to make a lot of sweeping generalizations and vague complaints. What are the details on what happened?


Front242 July 5, 2016 at 6:17 pm

– Lon-NYC flight diverted to Boston due to weather
– After the classic 'wait for instructions' and refuel, crew ran out of hours – by which time it was past midnight
– Instead of arranging buses, or even hotels, Norwegian told passengers – including seniors (with luggage) and unaccompanied teens – to simply make their own way to NYC, 200 mi away.

Specific complaints:

– No rescheduling / alternative arrangements made
– Abandoning multiple planeloads of passengers in the middle of the night, in a strange city, irrespective whether they had the means to pay their way to their destination, seemed a gross dereliction of duty


Rjj June 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm

I can give you a little leeway here because I wasn't there. But I am thinking that whatever Norwegian was proposing as far as getting people to their destination ie. JFK in this case, it was hugely inconvenient and not well managed. I will give you that much, however, I'm having trouble believing they just opened the door of the plane and said get out you're on your own. That being said I am going to now say this, there's a reason these bargain basement airlines charge a buck ninety nine for a ticket and it's not so they can give you a superior customer service experience. One cannot pay for a ticket on these bargain airlines and expect Delta Air Lines or Virgin Atlantic service. Its a trade-off I hope whoever reads this post grasps that.


Front242 July 5, 2016 at 5:36 pm

Hey Rjj – yes, they opened the door and said you're on your own. No arrangements – the call center was instructing passengers to pay for their own onward travel and save the receipts.

It was already past midnight – on a Sunday – when they were deplaned so transport options were scarce.

This'd be fine – albeit an annoyance – for us seasoned travelers but there were seniors on the flight (with luggage) and teens traveling unaccompanied. To abandon them in a strange city seemed like a dereliction of duty.

As regards it being $1.99 a ticket – it wasn't. Norwegian operate premium economy and the fare from London was in the same range as you'd expect from Virgin Premium Economy.


Mat Bann June 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

None of this makes sense, it reads like it was written by someone who is more interested in Nationalism and keep out foreign companies than someone had a bad flight.Safety issue? What safety issue? It sounds like they diverted to the nearest airport; seems pretty bloody safe to me.

So a flight gets diverted to an airport that said airline does not have a station at. Likely the flight crew hit their hours of service maxes and Logan does not have personnel at Logan because it’s not a flight airport; I’m not sure what you really expect. This could happen to any airline regardless of flag?


Front242 July 5, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Hey Mat, not sure which bit you're having difficulty with but the main issue was they got their passengers as far as Boston then said bye bye. As per my reply to Rjj above, the call center was instructing passengers to pay their own way to NYC and keep the receipts.

I've been in this situation a bunch of times before – most recently London to Sao Paulo (British Airways). We diverted to Rio due to weather – again, late at night – and during the refueling the crew ran out of hours so buses were summoned and we were all taken to a hotel downtown until the crew could operate again.

Granted, BA had personnel at Rio but the point is that Norwegian arranged nothing, instead telling customers to make their own way 200mi to NYC – after midnight, on a Sunday.

Management in Oslo (+6h Eastern) were probably still in bed while this was unfolding, so there was likely no-one on duty to take charge. This is where having regional personnel matters, rather than the shoestring / minimal cost approach – hence my comment about them perhaps not being equipped to operate transatlantic routes. It wasn't nationalism – I'm actually British.


CMR July 3, 2016 at 5:56 pm

First off, this has to be annoying and very inconvenient. Weather unfortunately results in a lot of delays and bad situations. However, I don’t see how you can really blame the airline for all of this. Norwegian Air Shuttle (never heard of them before this, so they likely don’t belong to an airline alliance) doesn’t serve Boston Logan at all, meaning they don’t have anything in terms of offices, gate agents, ticket agents, landing slot agreements or customer service in Boston. When you landed there due to weather, the reason that nothing was in place was because there is no one there to put it together. The only staff the airline has is in the US is likely in New York.
The crew likely hit their max service hours and legally can’t work any longer. Since this isn’t an airport with any Norwegian Air Shuttle presence regularly, there aren’t any backup crews, planes or even ground staff to do, well, anything. Any sort of rescheduling would have to come from New York or Norway, which I’m sure they were trying to figure out a plan for that as well but without people on the ground, it was going to take a little bit of time.
Your best bet, instead of getting all mad about the airline not having staff at an airport they don't serve, was to simply wait. Find somewhere in the terminal you could hunker down, try and get a little bit of sleep and wait for the airline to send people down presumably with either buses or a new flight crew to take you to JFK. You could also try and find a hotel room to get a bed, but you are going to have to pay for that on your own. Without any airline presence, you aren’t getting any vouchers nor would there be any arrangements between hotels and Norwegian Air Shuttle in Boston. It’s a crappy situation, but it’s the reality. Throwing a fit because this carrier doesn’t preemptively have any sort of structure at Boston is precisely the WRONG response.


Front242 July 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Hi CMR – they're Europe's 3rd largest low cost carrier after Ryanair and Easyjet and along with Air France KLM, Lufthansa are members of A4E (Airlines for Europe).

You're spot on re: the crew hitting their max hours – but Norwegian didn't arrange any alternative transport, and instead told passengers to make their own way to NYC. (again, it was after midnight on a Sunday – so transport options weren't great)

Effectively, it abandoned everyone in Boston.

Many passengers waited until the Monday morning before simply buying tickets on Delta, etc. to NYC – not cheap, and whether all these have been refunded is anyone's guess.

In short, they seemed ill equipped to deal with a weather situation that other carriers manage to deal with all the time – simply by picking up the phone to bus companies, hotels, etc. and coming up with solutions. The issue with Norwegian is that they're primarily a European carrier and this occurred at a time when their management were still asleep – hence they should either invest in some sort of response capability Stateside, or not operate routes that occasionally produce this sort of situation.


CMR July 5, 2016 at 10:49 pm

While this airline might be more established in Europe, it's got next to no foothold in America. The A4E alliance is great, if you are in Europe….but doesn't mean much in the US as it's primarily focused on travel within the European continent. What I really mean is if they are in one of the big three (Star Alliance, SkyTeam, OneWorld) then they can usually have co-member staffs help out with any issues. Norwegian Air Shuttle is not a member of any of those.

You said it yourself, the airline is ill-equipped to deal with issues in the US because they don't have the infrastructure or employees to spare to handle it. They probably maintain a few gate/ticket agents and at best a small office in New York with no reserve crews. Probably the only option they had available was to try and coordinate some sort of bus rental (which would be difficult to charter from Norway) or simply wait for the crew to get the minimum amount of rest required and fly from Boston->New York. At the very least, Norwegian is going to want that plane in New York so it can fly it's customers waiting there back to Norway.

If I were you, I'd follow up with the airline and request reimbursement for your travel to Boston. But to expect them to be able to have some sort of mobile response team in the US when they fly likely a grand total of one route in the country is much. Perhaps they should look into joining an airline alliance to expand their reach.


Front242 July 6, 2016 at 8:03 am

Norwegian had 2 JFK flights diverted to Boston that night – one from London, one from Stockholm.

What seemed lacking was any sort of effective management response. Their alliance partners Lufthansa and Air France-KLM both fly to Boston – but given the lack of leadership when things went wrong I'm wondering whether help was even requested.

Management of the situation felt woefully inadequate – as though the execs who should have been taking charge were asleep.

The point is/was: if Norwegian aspire to running a transatlantic service they should have the infrastructure in place to deal with this sort of situation – whether themselves, or in conjunction with alliance partners.

As of then, it seems they don't – something the US DOT should perhaps consider when reviewing the _tentative_ Foreign Air Carrier permit they were granted back in April.


Weyoun7 July 5, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Why is Front242 being downvoted or not upvoted at all? Defending the airline's dereliction of duty as he/she calls it is perverse. Front242 took the time to explain it all to you as well and I can't imagine any justification for a supposedly well known airline being so pathetic


Owen Aiden July 26, 2016 at 4:37 am

Oh, what about the money that people paid for the flight?


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