Norwegian Air Simplifies Transatlantic Travel from Oakland

An airline brings an everyman’s approach, and comparable ticket prices, to European flights.


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An interesting thing happened after Norwegian Air Shuttle announced that it would offer low-cost transatlantic flights to and from a handful of U.S. cities, including Oakland. The dominant air carriers on the route—Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines—ganged up against the upstart European carrier, complaining to the U.S. Department of Transportation that it was bypassing labor laws to offer cut-rate fares.

“Obviously, they hate the low prices,” said Bjorn Kjos, Norwegian CEO, about his company’s critics. “It’s only fares for the rich, not affordable fares.”

Kjos, who visited Oakland and San Francisco a few weeks after Norwegian launched nonstop service from Oakland to Oslo and Stockholm, discussed Norwegian’s strategy in a recent interview. “Our slogan is affordable fares for everyone, not only the rich. So that’s why they don’t like us.”

Norwegian does cross the Atlantic with much lower prices for consumers. For instance, round-trip Norwegian flights from Oakland to Oslo and Stockholm were $813 and $675 respectively for travel during the first week in August. Meanwhile, the cheapest flights from Oakland to London, Paris, or Berlin for the same dates were $1,845, $1,810, and $1,995, with San Francisco only marginally cheaper, according to Travelocity. And with direct connections to dozens of cities across Europe, that makes Norwegian the most affordable option for flying to much of Europe, and not just Scandanavia.

How does Norwegian do it? Kjos, who insists that his company’s pilots and crew members earn wages comparable to those of their American counterparts, said it’s easy: Fly new airplanes and keep costs down by running a lean, efficient organization. Norwegian prefers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a streamlined ultra-efficient aircraft Kjos likened to “flying an iPad.” Plus, he said, Norwegian succeeds by operating on a fairly big scale with few people.

So far, so good in Oakland, Kjos said. On the local horizon in 2015 is direct service to London and Barcelona, with expansion plans across Asia, in other European cities, and perhaps other U.S. cities. Traveling to Europe from Oakland has never been easier.

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