In a corner of Gatwick airport is a forlorn sight. A Norwegian Dreamliner minus its engines, awaiting a new operator.
The grounded Boeing 787 is an apt metaphor for Norwegian’s low-cost long-haul ambitions, which ended in mid-January when the troubled airline announced it would revert to being a short-haul brand.
Some said Norwegian expanded too fast, and it had major technical issues with the 787s before the pandemic even hit.
In early 2018 it began replacing engines on all its 787s, as fan blades in the Rolls-Royce turbines were prone to cracking. The 787 was Norwegian’s only long-haul choice, so it had to lease expensive replacements.
Unfortunately, Norwegian was tied in to acquiring more new 787s and finished with 35, 18-20 of which were UK-based and grounded by the pandemic.
In its heyday at Gatwick, the carrier offered three flights a day to New York plus Boston, Orlando. Miami, Tampa, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, Denver, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
“It was not an experiment that went wrong,” said Norwegian. “We proved the concept was successful, but the environment was highly competitive and difficult and we had a lot against us because the Dreamliner issue made it difficult.”
The irony is that had Norwegian stuck to long-haul, it would have had an open goal at Gatwick post-pandemic, with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic vacating the airport for the foreseeable future.
British Airways, Virgin and US carriers were also undoubtedly rattled by Norwegian, with all introducing “hand baggage only” fares to compete.
BA’s cheapest economy long-haul fare now offers two pieces of hand luggage, no seat reservation and no checked baggage.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the US carriers have done the same, with Delta’s Basic Economy fare excluding prior seat selection and with no ticket flexibility or refunds. On the bulk of its international services, checked bag fees apply.