It isn’t easy being Norwegian

I’m not a big fan of financial or business news in general, which I’m sure has been a factor in terms of minimizing career earnings. Luckily, life balances this out by providing such types with a bohemian streak that finds satisfactions in simpler pleasures.

Norwegian Air Shuttle aloft

But sometimes business news can be fun. Take the incredible streak being enjoyed, so to speak, by airline Norwegian, or Norwegian Air Shuttle (NAS) to use their official name. An upstart budget airline, Norwegian has grown steadily and is doing better than its competitor SAS, which remains unwieldy thanks to the remnants of its monopolistic roots.

Norwegian has been making news headlines that make business writing look like comedy pilots. The first circus started when Norwegian celebrated the opening of a new Danish route Copenhagen-Karup by offering one crown seats, and seemed to generate good PR as the cheap tickets were snapped up.

But when time came for the first flight, the plane was eerily empty. It wasn’t a tough mystery to crack. The 118 missing passengers had bookings under bogus names including: Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Anders And (Donald Duck in Danish), and porn stars. Further investigation led Norwegian to trace over 2000 fake bookings – made by employees of a competing airline, Cimber Sterling.

This resulted in hilarity and heated publicity in the Norwegian and Danish press, the Cimber CEO made a public apology and his staff were criticized, particularly the Cimber Sterling legal chief, who alone had bought 54 tickets.

While the stunt might have backfired for Cimber, who prevented customers from enjoying cheap flights, it didn’t make the Norwegian ticket screening process look very secure. The latest comic turn in the story is that Cimber staffers who were harried by the press for their role in the silliness have now started legal proceedings against Norwegian, arguing that they were identified by the release of confidential booking information linked to their credit cards.

“This is the pinnacle of cheek. First they destroy our campaign completely, then they complain that this becomes public knowledge,” said Norwegian Communications chief Anne-Sissel Skånvik to state broadcaster NRK.

Skånvik argues that the personal details of those who made the bookings were handled confidentially, and that the passenger list in this case was actually fictitious. The case continues.

In another example of stupidity fuelled publicity, a new airline from northern Norway decided to take the name Norwegian Express, and seemed startled when challenged by NAS. Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos made the not unreasonable claim that people could mistake the company for a NAS subsidiary.

Norwegian Express put up a brave front for a few minutes, arguing that there were a few hundred companies in Norway using the term Norwegian, and that NAS would be ‘busy’ if they started suing them all.

I am always astounded when people venture into the public sphere so completely free of logic and intelligence. How many companies in Norway use the term Norwegian and are airlines, ace?

Norwegian Express seemed to be beating a hasty retreat later the same day, when they noticed that people were having trouble finding them in booking systems, which instead hooked people up with NAS.

“We aren’t willing to waste time and money on a direct fight with them. There is no point in staring a legal process that serves no one,” said NE manager Bjørn Hansen. Haven’t heard from them since, which is probably a good thing.

Today I was startled to find yet another remarkable Norwegian legal story in the business pages. Financial daily Dagens Næringsliv reports that former leader of notorious motorcycle gang Outlaws, Thore Henki Holm Hansen, is suing Norwegian and CEO Bjørn Hansen for stealing the domain name norwegianairlines.no from him in 2004.

Hard man Holm Hansen claims that he tried to negotiate the sale of the name to Kjos upon his (Holm Hansen’s) return to Norway after a seven year long prison stint in the USA. Holm Hansen established Norwegian Airlines in 1992, as an agent for Martinair and Cubana, and this is presumably why Norwegian is called NAS. Norwegian Air Shuttle did secure the rights to the disputed web domain.

Anne-Sissel Skånvik told DN that the airline was awaiting the start of any legal proceeding before making comment. She did say that no real negotiations took place in 2004. “The only thing I know is that there were some horrible financial demands made,” she told DN.

What next?

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2 responses to “It isn’t easy being Norwegian

  1. What next indeed?! Very funny post. Could have been a chapter in a Bill Bryson book (I’m a fan, so take this as praise) 😉

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