A pilot strike at Scandinavian Airplines ended as of Friday, a week after it started, but for thousands of people trying to travel between Svalbard and the mainland during one of the busiest times of the year the high costs and frustrations remain.
Some travellers stranded when the strike began were still trying Thursday to get on rebooked flights on competing Norwegian Air, the only other airline with service to Svalbard. Many were participants in last Saturday’s Svalbard Skimaraton, although they were comparatively lucky compared to about 150 of the 700 registered participants who didn’t make it up here for the race at all.
But Arne Strid, a Swedish skier who was part of a 36-people group forced to depart Friday instead of last Sunday because of the strike, said felt anything but lucky during the long layover.
“We are a bit like the old polar explorers,” he told Aftenposten. “We feel totally shut out. There is no way to come home right now.”
About 100 ski marathon participants were stranded in Svalbard by the strike, Svalbard Airport Manager Carl Einar Ianssen told the newspaper. Many of those who did depart did so by rushing onto a Norwegian Air flight immediately after the race, missing the evening’s banquet and awards ceremony.
Among the others stranded were 15 students from the folk high school in Hallingdal, who were supposed to depart Wednesday but instead had no idea when they’d be able to book a return flight, according to NRK. Most were simply hoping to make it back before the end of the school year on May 12 so they could say goodbye to classmates.
“Longyearbyen is a very interesting city, but it is clearly not the city I want to be stuck in,” Nicolai Heggholmen, one of the students, told the news agency. “There is limited how much you can find up here.”
SAS did make Svalbard a “priority” destination for its few still-working pilots, making a flight to and from Oslo on both Monday and Tuesday. But that was hardly enough to overcome the costs and problems many incurred because of the strike.
“We have lost traffic with the fees that passenger traffic entails, and, in addition, sales of fuel have been lost,” Ianssen told Svalbardposten.
SAS also provides, among many other things, shipments of fresh foods to Svalbardbutikken on Tuesday and Thursdays.