NORWEGIAN CANCELS 85 PERCENT OF FLIGHTS, INCLUDING SOME SVALBARD SERVICE: Three weekly flights planned to/from Oslo starting March 25 as nearly all employees laid off

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Norwegian Air announced it is eliminating 85 percent of its flights and laying off nearly all of its employees due to the coronavirus, but it’s extremely reduced schedule will including three weekly flight between Oslo and Longyearbyen starting March 25.

The updated booking schedule was not active at the airline’s website as of 3 p.m. Monday, which currently lists three Svalbard flights a week in March and four beginning April when the now-cancelled North Pole expedition season would normally be occurring. The airline in recent years offered flights most days during the peak spring/summer tourism season.

“It is really with a heavy heart that we now have to lay off about 7,300 of our colleagues, but unfortunately we have no choice,” Norwegian CEO Jacob Schram said in a press release. “However, I would like to emphasize that this is temporary, because when the world returns to normal, my goal is of course to get our colleagues back.”

Norwegian, strugglingly significantly before the coronavirus crisis put virtually all airlines in major financial danger, has already cancelled half of its flights in recent days. The airline stated its immediate priority during the coming days is “to maintain as many scheduled flights as possible to ensure that customers return home…Norwegian will also work closely with the Norwegian authorities to set up extra flights if needed to get a few Norwegians back home.”

As of March 21, the company “will mainly fly with reduced capacity domestically in Norway and between the Nordic capitals,” although a few European and intercontinental flights will continue. The new weekly schedule effective March 25 until at least April 17 includes two daily flights between Oslo and Tromsø with stops in Ålesund, Bodø and Evenes, a potential aid to those trying to reach Svalbard since Scandinavian Airlines offers Tromsø-Longyearbyen service.