Norwegian Air resumes Svalbard flights despite strike

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Norwegian Air resumed flights between Oslo and Longyearbyen despite a week-long pilots’ strike that is grounding virtually all of the airline’s flights in Scandinavia.

Monday’s direct flight from Oslo departed at 10:30 a.m., 40 minutes later than scheduled, but arrived on-time in Longyearbyen at 12:45 p.m., according to the tracking site flightaware.com. The flight departed Svalbard Airport at 1:40 p.m., 10 minutes later than scheduled.

The airline cancelled flights to and from Longyearbyen last Wednesday and Friday, causing problems for passengers and tour operators due to a lack of available space on Scandinavian Airlines during what is the peak time of the year for airline travel to Svalbard.

“We have about 30 guests stranded,” said John-Einar Lockert, administrative director of Svalbard Adventure Group, which operates two hotels in Longyearbyen In addition, he said about about 20 to 25 guests were unable to fly to Longyearbyen on Friday.

Eskil Solber, sales director for Spitsbergen Travel, told Svalbardposten “a maximum of 10 to 15” guests were stranded in Longyearbyen due to Friday’s cancellation, but 180 incoming passengers – half of whom were likely tourists – were standed in Oslo.

Torill Meistad, a Levanger resident whose husband works as a plumber in Longyearbyen, said she found out her flight to the archipelago last Wednesday was cancelled when she arrived at the airport in Oslo.

“I came by train from Trondheim,” she said. “The wi-fi wasn’t working.”

The airline handled the situation well despite facing many stressed and angry would-be passengers, Meistad said.

“They were calm,” she said. “There were extra people coming to help. We were given chairs to sit in. The situation was fair enough.”

Meistad said she stayed with friends in Oslo and called her husband who “told me straightaway it was going to be a problem.”

“My husband he was calm so he got an SAS flight for Sunday,” she said. “People here are good because they know how to fix the options.”

Norwegian Air provides direct flights between Oslo and Longyearbyen on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Inquries to airline officials as to whether some or all of those flights will continue despite the strike were not immediately answered.

A press release issued by the airline notes about 25,000 passengers were affected by cancellations Monday.

“Almost all domestic flights in Norway and Sweden will be cancelled due to the strike, while a few domestic routes in Denmark will be operated,” the airline noted. “Most flights between the Scandinavian capitals will also be cancelled. Long-haul flights to the U.S. and Thailand will not be affected by the pilot strike. Norwegian will do everything possible to ensure that flights between other parts of Europe will operate normal.”

The strike by the Norwegian Pilot Union centers around concerns working conditions in Norway, Denmark and Sweden will deteriorate as the discount airliner pushes to trim costs. Norwegian has guaranteed the pilots’ jobs, wages and working conditions for three years, but the pilots have rejected that offer. The two sides met and participated in lengthy negotiations during the weekend, but NRK reported Monday’s negotiations continued only via e-mail and telephone.

Meista, despite missing the majority of her planned week-long stay in Svalbard, said she symphathizes with the pilots because “the working conditions are getting more and more rough.”

In addition to the impact of the cancelled flights during peak tourism season in Svalbard, the strike has some fearing the cancellation of their flights during the days surrounding the March 20 total solar eclipse, which is expected to bring a record number of people to the archipelago. But Einar said he doesn’t believe the walkout will last long enough for that to be a possibility.

“I don’t see how it can stay like this because it is a big problem for Norwegian,” he said, referring to the financial loss being incurred by the airline.

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