With few aircraft to fly, Norwegian’s Boeing 787 Gatwick crews asked to slash hours or take unpaid leave

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This isn’t our usual sort of Head for Points story, but with loyalty news slim over the Bank Holiday weekend I thought you would find this an interesting addition.

Behind most stories we run on HFP about new airlines routes, closed routes, new hotels or major changes to loyalty programmes is some sort of human cost.  We rarely think about it, but it is there, going on in the background.

A few days ago we ran a story about major long-haul changes by Norwegian at Gatwick.  The following long-haul routes are being handed over to third-party airlines for the short term:

Gatwick to New York JFK (DI7013/14) – Evelop Airlines using an A330-300

Gatwick to Orlando – Hi-Fly using an A340-300

Gatwick to Miami – Privilege Style using a Boeing 777-200

Gatwick to Chicago – Wamos Air using an A330-200

Gatwick to Denver – Wamos Air using an A330-200

None of this is Norwegian’s fault, except at a strategic level.  It based its entire long-haul plans around the Boeing 787 – theoretically a low running cost long-haul aircraft – and the bulk of the Rolls-Royce powered Boeing 787-9 fleet is now grounded due to serious engine defects.

Wamos, Privilege Style etc are ‘wet leasing’ aircraft to Norwegian.  This means that the aircraft come with their own flight crew.  It couldn’t work any other way, since Norwegian long-haul crew are not trained to operate A330, A340 or Boeing 777 aircraft.

This means that Norwegian has a lot of Boeing 787 flight crew at Gatwick who have just drawn a very short straw.

Norwegian cabin crew asked to slash hours

Gatwick-based Boeing 787 crew were emailed last week with the following options.  Note that these are only ‘options’, and there is no guarantee that any individual crew member will receive the option they select.  They are all unpalatable to anyone with bills to pay.  I have made minor edits below for the sake of clarity.

Option 1 – Leave of absence without pay

  • Available for a period of 3 months, 6 months or 9 months only
  • Use of your benefits such as ID travel will be maintained throughout this period
  • You can work for other companies throughout this period, but not competitors of OSM Aviation and Norwegian
  • Annual leave will continue to be accrued

Option 2 – Career break

  • Available for a 12-month period only
  • No entitlement to your benefits such as ID travel throughout this period
  • You can work for other companies during your career break, including competitors of OSM Aviation and Norwegian
  • This will be considered as a resignation from your employment with a guaranteed re-entry after the 12-month period
  • You will maintain continuity of service/seniority on return

Option 3 – Month on / month off

  • You will work every second month, and be off every other month
  • You will not be able to swap shifts to work on your off month
  • You will be paid 100% salary each month you work (which is paid in the current month as normal) and all variables will be paid a month in arrears
  • All contractual benefits including vacation will be pro-rata’d and based on the period of months worked
  • Available for a 6-month period only
  • Start of month off will be June or July – this will be allocated and not optional

Option 4 – 75% temporary part-time roster

  • Available for a 6-month period only
  • Fully flexible roster
  • 16 working days / 14 days off per month
  • Your basic salary will be pro-rata to the percentage
  • All contractual benefits, including phone allowance, vacation allowance are pro-rata

Option 5 – 50% temporary part-time roster

  • Available for a 6-month period only
  • Fully flexible roster
  • 11 working days / 19 days off per month
  • Your basic salary will be pro-rata to the percentage
  • All contractual benefits, including phone allowance, vacation allowance are pro-rata

Norwegian cabin crew asked to slash hours

Crew are only allowed to select one option – it is not clear what happens if a crew member does not select an option or that option is refused.

For clarity, Norwegian had little choice here.  The airline is struggling financially and it has a few hundred UK cabin crew with no aircraft for them to fly until the end of 2019.   The Boeing 787 engine saga has a real human cost.

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Comments

  1. Prins Polo says:

    Do any of these wetleased planes have J product (so that people who have booked Norwegian’s Premium product would be better off)?

    • Doug M says:

      Good to see you focused on the human cost.

      • Shoestring says:

        Harsh 🙂

        I guess countries with employment laws as employer-friendly as the UK will see a disproportionate amount of ’employee pain’ than countries where employee rights are protected much more strongly (virtually every other European country!)

      • AndyL says:

        Agreed – more stories with this angle would be welcome and quite revealing to many readers, I imagine.

      • +1

        • Steve Shaw says:

          A lot of this will depend on how the pilots contracts are drawn up. If they are via an agency then they have little choice, if they are employed directly by the company then the choices should be put to all pilots and the Gatwick pilots should also have an option to move to another base.

          • Lady London says:

            The 12 months leave ‘option’ should not involve a break in service this has wider consequences for the individual down the line. It should be amended to 1 day less than 1 year and continuity of service should be specifically confirmed.

          • Lady London says:

            Agency staff have the Agency Workers Directive that keeps them in many respects same as permanent. If they are subcontracted/via a ‘project’ delivery company (been told Google in London is doing this for big numbers of workers ) or via umbrella/Ltd etc, then not protected.

  2. Phil says:

    After particularly shabby service from Norwegian last September I’m hardly likely to fly with them again. It’s a case of buy cheap by twice.

    Whilst I am sympathetic to the staff, this is possibly the tye beginning of the end of a struggling airline. IMHO the sooner it’s put out it it’s misery the better.

    • Shoestring says:

      or not buy twice

    • TGLoyalty says:

      And if they didn’t do that all of these staff may have been out of work full stop as their employer was no longer a going concern.

      • Andy says:

        Yeh but it’s generally the staff ‘at the bottom of the tree’ who are expected to make the sacrifices

        • Alan says:

          They are usually the easiest to replace and the cheapest to get rid of.

          Whilst UK employment law may be more employer friendly than the rest fo the EU it is way more employee friendly than US employment law.

          • Lady London says:

            That’s very true but IMO US employers have behaved relatively decently and beyond things like their ‘at will’ contracts, at least for professional staff when letting them go. Someone told me recently that’s only because they want to avoid higher potential of being sued.

        • Lady London says:

          And those bottom level staff are probably gone already. Pilots are a harder item to replace. That’s the only reason this is being proposed.

    • Michael says:

      Except that Norwegian being a thing has probably driven down the cost of your BA/Virgin/Delta/United seat to New York too.

  3. Bonglim says:

    Are rolls Royce not paying compensation for the whole affair.
    Not to underestimate Norwegians problems, if they are fully compensated for the costs incurred should they not be able to continue paying staff.

    I think (someone please correct me) that they took a quicker but cheaper settlement from RR to sure up their balance sheet because they were struggling for other reasons. If that is the case then perhaps the company deserve slightly less compassion and the staff deserve to be more angry.

    • Doug M says:

      Very interesting if this is true. I suppose they’d argue that did help to keep the staff on any terms.

    • Shoestring says:

      RR won’t be full consequential losses, no.

    • Steve Shaw says:

      Norwegian took a quick settlement from Rolls Royce, however what they also seem to have done is to not learn from how Primera went bust waiting for their A321LRs, and that is to sell and lease back some of their aircraft and therefore forfeiting any further compensation being dished out.

      • Looking at the recent Rolls statement, compensation seems to be around $35m per aircraft. No idea what Virgin paid to lease the airberlin planes but the refurbishment alone was £10m IIRC.

        • ChrisC says:

          There is a report on v-flyer that all the VS 787s are now back in operation.

          I also read, though can’t remember where, that VS got a good deal on their 4 year leases on the A332s

    • Anna says:

      This is what I was thinking, how can people effectively be losing their jobs because of an equipment fault caused by a completely different company?

      • ChrisC says:

        Unfortunately it happens all the time.

        A fire at a factory owned by company A that makes parts used by company B means B can’t make its products so they have to get rid of staff and so on down the line. There is only so much you can do to ameliorate situations like this. Short time working / unpaid holiday can be a quick solution in the short term but not in the long term.

  4. Halo says:

    Contrast their situation with the situation of Elizabeth Line train drivers who are employed even though the line won’t open until 2020, if then. It shows the different between working for a commercial company and a state owned enterprise.

    • Halo says:

      /difference

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Unsustainable for any enterprise really but I suppose state owned services have different challenges.

      Normal circumstances If you have zero income for far longer than anticipated and huge outgoings eventually everyone will be unemployed.

    • Sinclair says:

      Crossrail drivers are employed by MTR which is a commercial company, albeit one owned by Hong Kong.

      • Charlieface says:

        …which I believe is being paid subsidies to run the line as well as compensation for the delay.

    • There is also a full complement of maintenance ataff etc sitting around on full pay somewhere, I think.

      • Lady London says:

        I’ve been told by a member of a major London Transport train maintenance depot that a lot of their days are ” make work” days or not enough to do for them anyway.

        Legacy of anything that was owned by taxpayers or ratepayers is hard to shift. Even worse in Europe.

      • Doug M says:

        This must be repeated in Berlin with the trains to BBI. I understand the trains have to run to ventilate the tunnels despite the airport not opening anytime soon.

    • RussellH says:

      Do not take stories from the press at face value – some have political axes to grind!
      Most of the drivers /are/ driving trains – including some from Heathrow to Paddington. Also Liverpool Street Shenfield etc.
      Others are employed on training runs on new rolling stock, as well as testing the new rolling stock.

    • Thomas Howard says:

      Crossrail drivers are employed by MTR Corporation (Crossrail) Ltd, they’re being paid because they’re in a trade union and pulling the sort of trick Norwegian are here would likely result in London wide strikes.

  5. Mark says:

    Surely Boeing / RR will be picking up a large BILL

  6. Alex W says:

    The Trent 1000 problems have cost Rolls Royce over £1 billion, this is having a knock-on effect on jobs across the defence industry as well.

    • Shoestring says:

      But £1b is chickenfeed compared to the actual losses the airlines are suffering

      • Shoestring says:

        ‘The Trent 1000 issue forced the airline to wet lease alternative capacity, which Kjos said has proved “very damaging” to the business. “You get [expletive] aircraft, but you did not hear me say that,” he asserted. On-time performance dropped dramatically and led to NOK1 billion ($120 million) in costs for compensating passengers under EU passenger rights rules. “This is NOK1 billion more than what we expect to get back in compensation payments from Rolls,” Kjos said.’

        • Steve Shaw says:

          I am not sure what Kjos is referring to in this statement; on time performance is a business issue, despatch reliability is a technical issue.

  7. Feel for the cabin crew, who probably won’t be that well paid anyway. Some of the options effectively mean encouraging them to get new jobs and not coming back. Sadly, they will be easily replaceable.

    How would a month on/month off work if there are no planes to fly?

  8. James says:

    If this isn’t a forced move then these options are pretty standard across the industry for fliying crew. In my personal experience a lot of cabin crew will take the opportunity whenever it is offered to reduce their contractual hours in one way or another. Being able to do so for a short period will suit both sides where crew are keen. (I don’t have experience of the other side of the door so can’t comment on how pilots might see this)

    Some will not be able to do this of course and I hope that Norwegian are offering this voluntarily for those that want it to protect those who can’t afford to take less hours. Whilst it is obviously worrying for all those involved that this has had to happen, it isn’t necessarily a totally bad move.

  9. 787 with two major issues, both contained as opposed to fully solved and resolved. 737 with at least one major issue. Story here is best avoid routes/airlines operating these aircraft. Companies that are stupid enough to buy them should accept the cost and Boeing/RR should compensate realistically for losses incurred. Should not be the staff paying. Meantime, I have proactively avoided 787 and 737 and will continue to do so. Risks seem small but if easily avoided why not, both have been grounded for extensive periods, problems have been contained, not solved, what more reason do airlines and passengers need to avoid them?

    • Julian says:

      Only 737 Max operated flights need to be avoided.

      Avoiding all 737 operated flights is unnecessary (plus also extremely difficult to do given how common a short haul plane type they are) given that the problems are restricted solely to the very small number of 737 Max aircraft that were previously in service but that are now grounded for an indefinite period of time.

      Presumably the long term costs to Boeing in terms of their future order book are potentially massive. Although is there any way Airbus could make use of Bombardier’s up for sale aircraft productions facilities and associated skilled staff in Northern Ireland to help scale up aircraft production capacity in the long run?

      • Julian says:

        P.S. Answering my own question I guess Airbus won’t be interested as long as BREXIT remains likely to happen in any fashion other than one that involves a permanent Customs Union.

  10. Alex says:

    One of more interesting articles recently this is.

  11. Isaac Bermejo says:

    Well, painful as it is, at least the crew are not simply made redundant and get fired. Kudos to the HR department for thinking about it and planning these 5 options.

    Other companies would have just applied the lineal solution: 50% less production -> 50% less people to “take care”. And kick in the *ss. (Or move to another base in a distant country, yes, you know the drill)

    • Bagoly says:

      I agree.
      The airline had to cut costs somehow, or go bust and everyone loses their jobs.
      Providing multiple options means that various staff will come up with various imaginative approaches, and some will find different futures without say 50% of them suddenly facing “I can’t pay next month’s rent”.

      Apart from being a good corporate citizen, it’s also sensible even from a self-interest point of view:
      Assuming that they do carry on, with the 787s working in the future they will need to then ramp up staff, and having current staff back will save training costs and be less hassle.
      Giving people options, even if somewhat unpalatable ones, annoys them much less than if something is forced on them.

      • David says:

        Although – let’s not rule out DY going bust and everyone losing their jobs anyway…

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