Norwegian Air: The Worst Thing to Come Out of Europe Since the Black Plague

So to kick off our European travel experience, it’s worth going through our planned itinerary first.  We found a flight on Norwegian Air one way to Copenhagen from Oakland with a layover in Stockholm for about $520 per person.  Summer in Europe, like the US, is peak travel season so this is very cheap indeed.  I’ve flown a variety of airlines, both cheap and otherwise, so I knew to be wary but nothing could have prepared me for this mess…  It was great timing because it would leave Oakland at 7:30pm and arrive in Copenhagen at 6pm, which would leave us 3 hours time to get out of the airport and downtown to watch the World Cup final in Copenhagen

July 12, 5:30pm

Arrive at Oakland airport.  Go to check in and find that my bag is 11 kg — 1 kg too heavy to be considered a carry on.  Now the reason I was carrying this on in the first place was that Norwegian nickles and dimes you for every little thing you do…  And by that, I mean not only is there no free meal on the 9+ hour flight, there’s also not a single allowed free checked bag.  So here they charge me about $50 to check my bag and that $520 ticket is now $570 after this expense.  I get that the overhead bins only are rated up to 34 kg (75lbs) which typically holds 3 bags, but I’ve never had a problem with this thing before.  I later noticed that their scale wasn’t tared and showed 0.4kg when nothing was on it but didn’t throw a fit.  Looking back, maybe I should have…  But the small print does say 10kg bags max, so maybe my fault.  Who knows.

July 12, 7:10pm

Norwegian starts boarding families with small children.

July 12, 7:30pm

Flight is supposed to have left by now.  For some reason, it’s taken them 20 minutes and they still haven’t even finished boarding families with small children.  Kem and I both wonder why it takes 20 minutes to load less than 40 passengers and begin to get concerned about how long it’ll take to board everybody.

July 12, 7:50pm

Families with small children are fully boarded just in time for Norwegian’s automated text service to text me that the new time for departure is 8:30pm.

July 12, 8:00pm

The gate agent informs us all that the plane is delayed until 8:20pm.  Not sure why it took 10 minutes for the gate agent to tell us what their service texted us nor why he has announced 10 minutes earlier than the text did.  Agent tells us it’s something to do with the radar tests and they think they know how to fix it.

July 12, 8:25pm

Norwegian’s automated text service texts me to inform me that plane is delayed until 9:30pm.  Families with small children are offloaded from the plane.  I feel bad for them because they had to get on the plane and left their seats, which are now fully taken.  Now these families with small children are forced to sit on the ground.  About 20 minutes after the text, the gate agent lets us know that maintenance is going on as they think it’s something wrong with the radar cables, which “should be a quick fix” and leave us out in “less than an hour.”

July 12, 9:45pm

Norwegian’s automated text service texts me to inform me that plane is being delayed for overnight repairs.  The new time is July 13 at 9:30am.

July 12, 10pm

Norwegian’s gate agent announces that plane is being delayed for overnight repairs.  The new time is July 13 at 9:30am.  “Show up back at the ticket counter at 7am” the gate agent suggests.  Now here is where the real crapshoot starts.  Before we can do any of this, we apparently have to:

  • Return our boarding passes to the gate agent
  • For those that need hotel accommodations, get a voucher
  • Get our checked bags from the bag carousel, which they will offload from the plane

Let’s go through each of these, in order…

Returning boarding passes

First, why we have to do this at all is beyond me.  Are they going to give our same boarding passes back to us the next day?  Is there some other reason they need them back?  I can’t figure it out, but at this point I’m so angry I don’t really care.  In order to give them back, the gate agent asks us to just walk up and return them to him.  Of course, this is a madhouse as there’s no order whatsoever as everybody goes to return their boarding passes at the same time.  5 minutes into this madness, the gate agent then makes a correction and says that, actually, if you want a hotel accommodation, you shouldn’t give your pass back to him yet but instead should wait to the side.  I’m sure the people that had already given him their passes but also wanted a hotel were quite happy about this change.

Getting hotel accommodations

Given I live in San Francisco and the flight was leaving out of Oakland, I did seriously consider getting a hotel from them, as it’s usually a 45 minute / $100 taxi each way.  But one look at the line for the people waiting for a hotel told me that would be a bad idea and the taxi was cheaper and would take less time than getting through that line.  I’m glad I went with this decision, as I spoke with somebody the next day that did wait through this line and they said they started “halfway through the line” and it was 2:30am before they got their hotel.  There were other passengers behind them.

11:45pm: getting our checked bags back

Yes, we didn’t receive our bags until 11:45pm — almost 2 hours after the gate agent announced the flight was delayed to the next day.

July 12, 11:15pm

I call customer service to let them know of our flight situation, knowing that we’d be missing our connection to Copenhagen.  At this point, all hopes of watching the World Cup final there are completely gone.  It takes almost 30 minutes for anybody at Norwegian’s customer service to pick up, but otherwise, the experience was fine.

July 13, 12:30am-5:30am

Get home from taxi ride and go to sleep.  Kem and I both decided that we should get to the airport early the next day because everybody showing up at 7am trying to get their tickets all at the same time sounds like a recipe for disaster, so we leave SF in a taxi at 5:30am to get there early.  $100 taxi each way leads the overall cost to $670 each.

July 13, 6:15am

Arrive at the airport.  Show up at the same counter we had received our tickets at the previous day, but today it says “Hawaiian Airlines.”  We decide that we should go scour the airport for a Norwegian employee to ask what’s going on, but alas, after half an hour of searching, we couldn’t find a single one.  Other passengers had the idea to show up early and they all look just as confused as we do.  I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ve been pushed into some very real-life version of The Game.  Eventually, we find another Norwegian ticket counter and decide to hang out there until a Norwegian employee shows up.

July 13, 7:20am

Norwegian’s automated text service texts me to inform me that plane is being delayed an additional 2 hours.  The new departure time is 11:30am.  Kem calls our hotel to let them know that we we’ll be delayed by a day due to this mess.  There’s another $150 lost.

July 13, 7:45am

First Norwegian that we’ve seen employee shows up and goes to the ticket counter.  Shortly joined by a second.  They spend over half an hour there organizing the lines, chatting to each other, and changing the flight number.

July 13, 8:45am

They print us new boarding cards, so now I’m doubly confused as to why we had to give our boarding cards last night.  Kem and I think longingly of our intoxicant of choice and both decide we should get a Bloody Mary at the airport bar to avert yelling and people.

July 13, 11:30am

Flight is supposed to have left by now.  They start boarding passengers now.

July 13, 12:30pm

Flight departs Oakland to Stockholm.  17 hours late.

July 14, 6:00am (Stockholm time)

We arrive in Stockholm and wait by the baggage carousel for our bags, somewhat uncertain as to whether they’ll show up here or be put on a flight to Copenhagen.  At this point, because our flight was so delayed again, we’ve now missed the connection which we were rebooked on.  We decide to wait and see if they come off with the rest of the bags of the flight.  When they don’t, I decide we need to talk to a Norwegian employee to ascertain two pieces of information:

  • What our bags are doing and where they may be/be going to and when
  • What flight we can be booked on next to Copenhagen, as we’ve missed our connection once again

I call up Norwegian customer service for this information.  I give my reference number and explain the situation to one employee.  He transfers me to somebody else.  The next customer service rep asks for my reference number again and asks what my situation is.  She transfers me to somebody else.  The next customer service rep asks for my reference number again and asks what my situation is.  He transfers me to somebody else.  All this time, being bounced around I’m paying international rates on my phone.  Finally, an employee (“Dessi”) finally books me on another flight.  Unfortunately, everything is booked full until 5:15pm, which means we’re spending the next 11 hours in the Stockholm airport.  We begin to wonder about how long a train would be from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

Unfortunately, Dessi is not able to tell me where our bags would be or if they’d be going to Copenhagen without us or not.  Fortunately, while I’m bleeding money through my cellphone rates, Kem finds our bags spinning around on their own carousel.  One of the metal zippers on mine has been broken and one of the handles shredded in transit.

July 14, 6:15pm

Arrive in Copenhagen, over 24 hours after when we were supposed to show up and an additional $400 down the drain.  And we missed the World Cup final.

August 5, 5:16pm

I apply for a refund on my flight, which should be granted under Regulation 261/2004.  For those unfamiliar, this is a regulation that is out there to help ensure that passengers aren’t subject to this type of behavior without having to pay for it.  It provides cash rewards for long delays, which are treated as though they were cancelled.  In our case, because we were delayed >4 hours, we should be entitled to up to 600 euros in compensation.

August 6, 6:47am

Norwegian says they will not refund under Regulation 261/2004.  No reason is given.  Instead, they state

We are not able to prepare detailed reports of each case to our passenger and, unfortunately, cannot send the requested documentation. If you do decide to take this case to a National Enforcement Body then we must send this documentation to them.

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