Do You Agree With Airline Lobbyists and a Big Pilots Union: Should Low Fare Carrier Norwegian Be Shut Out of the US Market?

DeltaPoints points me to the largest US pilots’ union attempt to gather signatures in opposition to Norwegian Air Shuttle operating to the United States.

Here’s their headline argument:

A decision to oppose Norwegian Air Shuttle’s application to fly in and out of the United States should be a no brainer for the White House. U.S. jobs and the future of the U.S. aviation industry are at stake. U.S. pilots, and the millions of American air travelers whose lives are in their hands, are watching this closely. They are expecting a decision that chooses U.S. carriers and pilots over sketchy foreign competitors.

Notice they make an insinuation about safety — air travelers whose lives are in their hands “are watching this closely” but ALPA doesn’t actually say that Norwegian is any less safe. Norwegian is called ‘sketchy’ but the only substantive issue identified is that U.S. jobs “are at stake” — even though Norwegian can only add jobs in the US directly, the ‘risk’ would be if they outcompete airlines by offering consumers lower prices and thus those airlines shrink.

ALPA’s objection is that Norwegian operates at lower cost than airlines with union pilots.

A Norwegian company called Norwegian Air International (NAI), which plans to have its principal operations in Oslo, Norway, is trying to register to operate as an Irish airline. NAI does not plan to operate flights from Ireland. Its pilots are contracted through a Singapore employment company. NAI does not operate in Singapore.

If that sounds odd, that’s because it is. NAI is scheming to fly into the United States and avoid regulatory oversight and labor accountability so it can lower costs to a point at which U.S. air carriers will be unable to compete, ensuring the company profits at the expense of American jobs.

If it succeeds, NAI’s business practices pose a serious threat to tens of thousands of U.S. airline jobs– and to our recovering economy as a whole. It doesn’t feel right, and it just isn’t fair to hardworking Americans who play by the rules.

(Emphasis mine.)

And yet it’s not clear what ‘doesn’t feel right’ or is odd.

Safety concerns are a ruse, Irish-registered airlines have to comply with safety regulations (think Aer Lingus) both of Ireland of the countries they fly to (U.S.).

Norwegian’s structure isn’t even uncommon in transportation, it’s very similar to how cruise ships operate.

Many US companies — like Apple, Facebook, General Electric, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks, Microsoft, Oracle aand Pfizer — use Irish corporate structures to minimize taxes.

And airlines frequently fly between two countries other than the their home country; that’s called 5th Freedom rights. For example, just off the top of my head —

  • Lufthansa flies Bangkok – Saigon and Baku – Ashgabat
  • Air Madagascar flies Bangkok – Guangzhou
  • KLM flies Singapore – Bali
  • KLM and Kuwaiti fly Jakarta – Kuala Lumpur
  • Kuwaiti flies London – New York.
  • Sri Lankan, Emirates, Kenya Airways, Royal Jordanian all fly Bangkok – Hong Kong.
  • Qatar flies Phnom Penh – Saigon
  • LAN, Emirates, and China Airlines fly Auckland – Sydney.
  • Korean, British Airways, China Eastern, and Emirates all fly Colombo, Sri Lanka – Male.

If Qatar Airways and its labor practices don’t preclude US flying, then its not clear why Norwegian should raise issues. Except that Norwegian tends to offer really low fares.

Indeed, Norwegian doesn’t receive government subsidies like many Middle Eastern carriers do (which sometime leads to complaints about unfair competition). And they pay wages similar to Finnair, which oddly doesn’t generate the same protests.

The pilots union and the airlines have teamed up (how often does that happen?) to fight Norwegian. I won’t give either the satisfaction of my signature.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Is there a web-site where one can actually support Norwegian in their plan to fly to US. The prices to fly between US and homeland Europe are finally becoming affordable with the help of Norwegian for those who don’t have a ton of miles or know the Fuel Dumping techniques. So, this is the last resort. Don’t kill it. It’s enough that ITA and Google flights hides it anyway, making it less competitive with US and more expensive EU airlines, so NO, No SUPPORT for this BILL! I support Norwegian, because first of all they ARE VERY SAFE and MOST IMPORTANTLY – AFFORDABLE! Maybe instead of pressing them down US Airlines need to match Norwegian Prices, rather than inflate flights to EU? And believe me, Norwegian isn’t always cheaper, since they charge for a suit-case extra payment, and as far as I know most American travel with heavy-weight luggages. So, I really don’t understand all these crying and tears! Instead, I think they are the BEST EXAMPLE of the finally IDEAL AIRLINE, that doesn’t rely on Tax-payers subsidies, still files for Bankruptcy and than as a last resort merges with another airline. AA you know where my finger points! Better Embrace a Better Business Model, rather than Accuse and Blame everyone of your own deficiencies and faults!

  2. It is just another example of businesses trying to use BS scare tactics to prevent them from having to actually compete with another business and their price line. It’s easier to try and prevent the other business from being allowed in the market then to compete with them for our business being either price or comfort or both

  3. Screw the U.S. airlines, they’re ripping us off every chance they get and hate competition

  4. Oh, and forgot to mention that Norwegian actually uses Boeing Dreamliner (I think it’s an American made air-plane, isn’t it?)) made just few months ago or so, so that’s more than enough to show that they support American Labor Force, contrary to what this proposal states! Airbuses are cheaper initially and cheaper in operational and maintenance costs, so the fact that Norwegian had already purchases American made airplanes and is willing to suck up costs associated with using them gives Norwegian a credit! Otherwise, the airlines will start returning them for uselessness, then it would hurt American Labor really bad!

  5. Can we get Norwegian permission to fly NYC-LAX?, WAS to SFO? I’m sick of the near-monopoly the big 4 have here and their poor service and outrageous prices and fees.

  6. This is just union scourge at its best, bosses scared they’ll lose their power without really any interest in employees whatsoever. Safety concerns are laughable considering DY has one of the newest most reliable fleets out there all NA airlines can only envy (not to mention it just made the biggest planes order in EU aviation history)

    Also to point out, many US airlines have those 5th freedom right flights especially in Asia, I mean NRT is (almost) UA’s hub with flights to CTS, ICN, HIJ, OKA, TPE, HKG, SGN, BKK, SIN, CGK. Although I’m not sure these or those you mentioned really count as many, if not all, are just results of technical stops

  7. With all attempts by airlines to screw main street customers, I say BRING NORWEGIAN to here, and force airlines to lower their overpriced fares to Europe. I am still baffling at the fact that Europe cost more than a great deal to SE asia destinations, despite that it’s twice farther than Europe!

  8. Norwegian Air Shuttle was a hotly-debated topic back in October when the Air Line Pilots Association, International opposed the launching of service between Gatwick Airport south of London and three destinations located in the United States as of July of 2014 using Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” aircraft:

    http://www.flyertalk.com/the-gate/blog/25374-norwegian-air-shuttle-announcement-of-new-flights-a-threat-to-commercial-aviation-in-the-united-states.html

  9. I agree with the others. What’s the best way to support Norwegian against these protectionists? More likely they’ll create jobs, if they make flying more affordable so that more people do it.

  10. Gary since when do you care about low air fare?
    Now this AA-US merger should get screwed! Good for them!
    Really good news for me! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  11. indeed, I want to be able to cast my vote to INVITE them to come participate. screw these unionist.

  12. I am eager to see Norwegian operate in the US, and hope they start flying out of IAD or preferably BWI. That being said, I think the low fares advertised are a bit of a stretch. Those fares aren’t offered all the time and the service is bare bones. You definitely get what you pay for and convenience is not a part of what Norwegian offers.

  13. With all due respect to ALPA, most of Norweigan’s pilots are European legacy carrier veterans who have taken lucrative early retirement packages or whose employers went bust. The same guy who was a BALPA member at BMI a few years ago has not become any less qualified because he now flies under a Singapore contract.

    I’ve got a few friends who fly for Norweigan and while they aren’t the biggest fans of the so-called Bangkok base and the commuting involved, they rarely have a bad thing to say about their employment terms.

  14. Send Buddy Dyer, Orlando Mayor, a letter telling him you support his position…

    “The Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Association (SWAPA) is joining numerous pilot groups across the United States along with Airlines for America to battle against Norwegian Air International’s application to the Department of Transportation that would provide them the ability to circumvent labor laws of their home country.

    SWAPA’s opposition is contradicted by Mayor Buddy Dyer, The Orlando International Airport, Orange County and the Orlando tourism office who have all chosen to support the Norwegian Air International (NAI) application. SWAPA has written to all four to rethink their position and not oppose the many Central Florida-based Southwest Airlines pilots.”

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/top-snocross-racers-wear-breg-braces-to-stay-on-the-track-2013-02-28?reflink=MW_news_stmp

  15. If the airline lobby and pilot union’s interest align enough to agree to oppose something, you know it must be good for the rest of us.

  16. Screw the US flag carriers – they’ve been screwing us long enough and now that “and then there were four” – better faster your seat belts cause Bette Davis advised “it’s going to be a bumpy night (ride)”. Contact the pilots unions on te phones and emails and tell them to stuff it. http://www.norwegian.com/us is paying their FAs starting at $21.00 hourly plus benefits. Does any other airline start their FAs anywhere close to that? US based airlines employees dont grt pad anywhere close to $21.00 an hour!

    Does any other airline utilize the 787 (other than UA) – oh that’s right, they’re too cheap and short sighted to invest in state of the art aircraft. Sorry, but I’d rather fly on an airline with CLEAN, NEW AMERICAN MADE aircraft vs old rattly rust buckets (Delta, US, AA, Southwest) even if these airlines do use 10-15 year old Airbus equipment. Jobs losses? oh, im guessing those opposed aren’t sufficiently educated to realize HOW MANY US jobs have been lost to Airbus since so many US flag carriers are integrating more foreign made aircraft into their fleets. Worried about twin turbines over water??? What about DL using 20+ year old 757’s over the water?

    Call, email, write and then repeat the process to all the entities that infer safety and/or labor concerns. What’s the old saying: vote early and vote often! Let the word go out.

  17. Not to rehash, but to show your support for Norwegian – just call, email, write – whatever – to those on the transportation committee in DC.

  18. I would be worried too. I’m seeing prices as low as $2160 round trip from LAX to CPH in what appears to be a pretty decent premium seat on a 787. It’s certainly doesn’t look to be a lie-flat product, but west coast to Europe in a plane that reduces jet lag, and in a big seat, for prices under what some of the US airlines charge for coach. Heck, it’s barely double what BA charges in fuel charges just for the privilege of redeeming their avios.

    I don’t know how Norwegian can accomplish this. I am sure there is some labor cost savings, but maybe, is it possible, they have also found some efficiencies? I dunno. If they have to resort to insinuation that Ireland is some shady, questionable country, it’s hard to take their arguments seriously.

  19. Thanks Gary for deleting my post. Maybe instead you could leave a link or two so for readers who want to show support of Norwegian can do so. Contact ALPA @ http://www.alpa.org/AboutALPA/tabid/1740/Default.aspx

    And tell them to take a hike with their slanderous inferences against Norwegian Air. And contact those n the S transportation committees in DC and the White House too since that’s where ALPA is linking those who fall for their slanderous,inaccurate crap. And why did you delete the post of mine which highlighted how they are supporting US jobs and the salaries paid, et cetera. THAT was a disservice to those who follow you.

  20. I’m all for more competition and free trade.
    Why shouldn’t we be able to book the lowest fare?
    That’s like saying you can’t shop at WalMart unless they raise their prices to match those of Safeway.

  21. There is an irony here. I’m with others here that agree we should let competition run it’s course. And from a consumer point of view this is really good for us consumers. However, from – a very narrow – point of view of the “frequent-flier-mileage-junkie-upgrade-addict” it would probably make things hard for our “special” community of FF, will it not?
    I mean, low low prices that will cause the legacy airlines to cut back not only in jobs, but also in perks. And the devaluations to mileage programmes will deepen, no?

  22. In the end, it all boils down to that fifth freedom idea: If U.S. Airlines can fly nearly wherever they choose, then so can the world’s other airlines. Need more examples? Look at the intra-Asian schedules flown by United and Delta. That’s just a place to begin. If U.S. carriers were worries, they too could setup Irish branches and try to complete. They won’t because …

  23. Given Delta’s recent devaluation of their Skypesos program, I would support Norwegian flying direct flights from Atlanta to Europe.

  24. 100% disagree. Attempts by any “american” business to eliminate competition through legal and not competitive means is bad for the long term health and progress of our nation.

    This “race to the bottom” which Pilots like to cite has been instituted by the Pilots union themselves. Whenever one group seeks to place themselves above all others absent the ability to actually “earn” another’s business, you have a resulting degradation of the performance of the aforementioned business.

    This relates to the NSA corruption issue as well. Another absolutely and completely “un-American” movement that seeks power through surreptitious spying and not accomplishment.

    This is not only bad, it’s un-American, and American pilots need to be shown the door so a new crop can take their seat.

  25. I do not agree. in the shipping industry there is what is called a flag of convenience, I do not see anybody protesting the cruise industry.

  26. Is there a website where we can show our support for NIA? If so, would someone please post its link?

  27. @Gary- please accept my sincere apologies. Evidently an ALPA gremlin member jacked my tablet and made it appear that my posts were deleted. Again, my apologies and thank you for your efforts, research and insights. Best Wishes.

  28. @Gary – forgot to mention: great point about Qatar Airways. On a similar theme is the fact that the cruise industry uses only VERY low paid non-US personnel (on a contract basis) in practically every capacity on board practically every cruise ship afloat. Yet there’s no consumer callout for boycotting or denying access to US ports by Carnival and the other cruise lines. Regarding Norwegian Air staff working in the US: they only hire US citizens.

    @Dude26 – Norwegian is relatively minuscule in scope serving an equally minuscule number of city pairs – hardly anything to put any kind of real bite into any FF members mileage account, unless the FF members are making at least bimonthly FLL-OSL flights. And the legacy carriers already only pay about $9-$12 hourly with little benefits as it is combined with increased automation, so they can’t get much more skeletal as far as staff is concerned.

    A last item: when the shoe is/was on the other foot there wasn’t so much as a whisper when AA in essence put Cayman Airways out of business by increasing their GCM arrival and departure flights (ex Eastern) to three, sometimes four daily, head-to-head with Cayman. American Airlines literally slammed the doors shut on them. What’s good for the goose obviously is not good for the gander.

  29. NAI should definitely be banned from fifth freedom rights. I for one don’t want poorly trained minimal hour pilots flying my family around the country. Everyone that things saving $50 per ticket is worth risking their familly’s life should re-evaluate their priorities.

    I’m guessing that most of the people here ranting and raving about the extra money it costs to fly US carriers are also in favor of high minimum wage rates, employee benefit packages that are through the roof and all inclusive health care provided by US companies. Do you think that comes free? Businesses have to make money and if they are going to employ US citizens, they have to pay us a LOT of money because that is our demand: good pay, good benefits.

    Sure, NAI would hire a couple of thousand people across the country. If this was allowed the number of people who evenually would loose their jobs is an order of magnitude greater than that. Check out what happened to the US merchant marine fleet – the same thing is happening here. Guess what the founder of NAI started as? A merchant marine lawyer – think he’s not got that same hostile takeover in mind?

    Support NAI if you want to continue to cripple the US working class; it might save you $100 on every plane ticket. Just keep telling yourself it was worth it when your neighbor loses his job and your kid gets hurt when one of their poorly trained pilots lands short of the runway in SFO like AirAsia.

  30. @Poorly-Informed Aviation should the US forbid the following airlines flying to the US? Qatar, Etihad, PIA, Kuwait, Thai, Aeromexico, LAN, Avianca…?

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