Norwegian Air pushes back on work condition criticism

Norwegian Airlines is pushing back on criticism of its work conditions in an escalating battle over whether it should be allowed to fly to the U.S. 

Unions for pilots and flight attendants that work for U.S.-based airlines have vocally opposed an attempt by Norwegian Air to gain access to airports that are covered under the U.S. and European Union’s “Open Skies” agreement. 

The Scandinavian company is attempting to register its airplanes in Ireland, which is a member of the EU. The request is pending now before the Department of Transportation (DOT).

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Norwegian Air has promised to offer transatlantic flights for as low as $150 each way if its effort is approved, but unions have said the airline keeps its fare low by cutting safety corners.

A group of 60 Norwegian Air employees who are veterans of other U.S.-based airlines said in a letter released by the airline that the complaints were being overstated.

“Most of us have experience working for other major airlines,” the employees wrote. “We have found Norwegian’s training program, compensation and benefits package to be of the highest quality and market competitive.

“Our work environment is positive, cooperative and energetic,” the letter continued. “My fellow U.S. cabin crew and I could not e more pleased to have joined the Norwegian family and share in bringing its vision for creating innovative new point-to-point transatlantic service options for the traveling public.”

The push back from the airline follows intense criticism of its effort to register its planes in Ireland to qualify for the Open Skies program.

The Washington, D.C.-based Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has accused Norwegian Airlines of trying to circumvent U.S. and European Union labor laws.

“If NAI is allowed to choose where it does business based on an advantageous legal or regulatory environment, the company will wield an enormous unfair economic advantage over U.S. and EU airlines, making it more difficult for airlines and their employees to compete for long-haul international passengers’ business,” ALPA President Lee Moak said in a statement when Norwegian’s bid was first announced.

“The result threatens the EU and U.S. airline industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports, as well as their contribution and to the economy,” Moak continued.

A group of 38 senators later wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging him to reject Norwegian’s application, raising similar concerns as the pilots’ union.

One of the signatories of the Norwegian Air employees’ letter told The Hill on Tuesday that the response to the airline’s attempt to expand to America is similar to opposition that has been faced by domestic low cost air carriers like Southwest Airlines.

“I’m sure Herb Kelleher went through the same thing at Southwest, and all the people that adored their careers at Southwest went through the same thing when Southwest was no longer just flying in Texas,” Norwegian flight attendant Bill Hennessey said.

Hennessey accused the unions for pilots and flights of flight attendants of being untrue about Norwegian’s business practices.

“I’m a former union president with the Association of Flight Attendants with the [American Airlines] council,” he said. “When a union leader, you’re charged with a responsibility to speak truthful statements. When I read Capt. Moak’s statements from ALPA about substandard training, substandard wages, it’s just not true. To be perfectly honest, I took offense to it because as a fellow union leader I expected more from a union leader to reach out and seek out truthful statements as opposed to just making accusations without any background whatsoever.”