Let us assume, for a moment, that airlines are occasionally ridiculous but not outright stupid. That might be a stretch, but presumably they go in to any particular course of action with something resembling a plan. So if you’re an airline short on aircraft and secure a lease for a replacement plane odds are you have a solid plan for what route(s) it will serve in your network. And, hopefully, a way to serve those routes on the substitute aircraft without making a mess of the operations for your passengers. Which makes Norwegian’s use of the Hi Fly A380 this week incredibly baffling.
It appears the airline isn't announcing the delays until the day of the flight and is still selling the original departure time, which is downright scummy. pic.twitter.com/efSYZdTgkD
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) August 6, 2018
On Friday the plane began its service on Norwegian’s behalf, plying the London Gatwick to New York JFK route. And it did so massively delayed. It turns out that JFK T1 (where Norwegian operates) is limited in the number of A380s it can handle at once, and Norwegian is at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to accessing those gates, owing to the fact that other carriers secured them first. If the flight were to operate on time it would have nowhere to park upon arrival. And so it flies several hours late, inconveniencing passengers and likely delivering massive EU261 compensation expenses. Surely that was not the plan when the lease agreement with Hi Fly was signed, right??
“We are fully aware of the situation and working on improving it as soon as possible.” – Norwegian Airlines
Some rumblings suggest that, indeed, the plan was never to operate the plane on the JFK route. So if JFK wasn’t the target destination, what was??
Assuming the carrier wants to maintain the aircraft on a single route rather than cycling it through the network some limitations must be placed on its service. Anything with a block time longer than 9.5 hours westbound starts to risk the schedule given turn times, especially with an aircraft that large. This narrows the possible destinations to JFK, Boston, Chicago, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have an A380-capable gate so that’s out. The others all do, though potentially in use at the desired time. But there’s something else different about Chicago and Orlando as options versus JFK or Boston: Crew requirements.
Flights to Boston and JFK are less than 8 hours in both directions. They can operate with just two pilots and ten flight attendants (based on the 471 seat count). Running a flight longer than 8 hours requires additional staffing to allow for crew rest to meet regulatory requirements. Norwegian typically has enough crewmembers to handle such but what if Hi Fly doesn’t??
It seems quite likely that Orlando should’ve been the target destination for Norwegian’s A380 service, at least in the month of August. There is MASSIVE demand for service from the UK to see Mickey Mouse and company. This afternoon alone Virgin Atlantic operated five(!!) 747s plus an A330 into MCO.
It's one of the busiest days of the year for our friends at @VirginAtlantic. That's right, 6⃣ VS aircraft are now in the air on the way to MCO, 5⃣ of them 747s. Here's a breakdown:
VS75 – MAN 👑
VS27 – LGW 👑
VS73 – MAN 👑
VS49 – LGW (A330)
VS15 – LGW 👑
VS161 – BFS 👑 pic.twitter.com/L8QtlGI3Qr
— Orlando International Airport (@MCO) August 6, 2018
If Norwegian were serious about filling the A380 and getting the best value out of its larger capacity then Orlando is the smart destination to choose. A single plane could fly back and forth between Orlando and Gatwick without much trouble. Except that it needs an augmented crew because of the flight times. I have no evidence at all of such, but I get a feeling that getting enough crew from Hi Fly to make that work just didn’t happen.
And so Norwegian, now sitting with the leased aircraft that needed to go somewhere in the network, chose JFK over Boston. Which doesn’t make a ton of sense given that Boston’s three A380 gates are all common use and one probably could be made available to Norwegian for this month; no other airlines operate an A380 into Logan right now. But JFK was the choice made. And it appears that will be the route of choice for the foreseeable future.
One redeeming aspect for passengers is that for many of them the flight will be free after the EU261 claim for avoidable delays goes through. That’s 600 euro due per person, assuming the flight is 3+ hours late arriving.
Header image: Hi Fly A380 in Save the Coral Reefs livery by Steve Lynes via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0