A pilot strike that began at midnight at Scandinavian Airlines at midnight Friday will significant impact participation in this year’s Svalbard Skimaraton, although the race will go on as scheduled, and could severely affect shipments of fresh food to Svalbardbutikken if the walkout extends into next week, according to local officials.
The strike by pilots, who are seeking increased pay and more weekends off, affects “only” a single flight today between Oslo and Longyearbyen (an early-morning flight arrived here at 1:05 a.m. and departed for Oslo at 2:15 a.m.). But the cancelled flight was scheduled the day before the ski marathon that’s the biggest single-day event of the year and many of the passengers were participants in the event.
“This of course has great consequences for us,” said Nina Lines, general manager of Svalbard Turn, the race organizer, in an interview with Svalbardposten. “I do not have an overview of how many people this affects us now.”
About a 1,000 people have participated in the race in recent years and, while this year’s total appeared as though it would be somewhat less, the cancelled flight means potentially well over a hundred people may be here for the event.
“We will give those who have a canceled air ticket with SAS half the participation fee next year,” she told the newspaper, noting they are not legally required to provide compensation. The deadline for submitting claims is May 15 and affected participants must register for next year’s race by Nov. 1 (signups begin Sept. 1).
“We had hoped for the longest time that Longyearbyen and Svalbard would be spared (from the strike) since we did not have options like trains and buses. It’s very silly that it is like this.”
Among the affected ski marathon participants are three women interviewed by Dagbladet who, like many others, booked their tickets a year in advance for the event and found themselves at Oslo Airport desperately hoping to find an alternative way to get to Longyearbyen. They said the first available flight on Norwegian Air, the only other airline with flights to Svalbard, is Tuesday.
“We are quite sure that we will not get away,” said Marit who, like the other two women, were quoted only by their first names.
The strike will not affect supplies of fresh meat, produce and dairy products during the weekend, according to Svalbardbutikken General Manager Ronny Strømnes. The concern is if the walkout extends into next week since the store receives such shipments on Tuesday and Thursdays.
“We can try to get these goods with the mail plane, but then we have to shift the sales day,” he told Svalbardposten.