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Norwegian Air Shuttle is a super low cost carrier that just started flying from Europe to the United States.
They entice people with incredibly low base airfares like $236 one-way from London to Los Angeles, including taxes and fees.
There are plenty of fees that get lopped on top like seat assignment and bag charges, but for peak summer travel to the U.S. the fares are legitimately low. Most fares are about twice that.
So no wonder a lot of people jumped on the fares.
But this week, their once a week flight from Los Angeles to London was cancelled because of a mechanical problem with its brand-new plane.
That meant 300 people were stranded. And they couldn’t get a new flight for two more days.
Some found places to stay with friends in the area. But many were stuck sleeping at baggage claim for two nights, with no shower.
It’s an extreme case, but no one should have to sleep on an airport floor for two nights during sunny summer weather.
Here’s what went wrong and how you can avoid it:
Since they only fly to Los Angeles once a week, there’s no inbound aircraft to help out if something goes wrong with the original plane.
The rest of their planes are busy flying other flights to other cities, so pulling one of those away suddenly would mean even more stranded passengers and an even bigger problem.
So when dealing with an upstart airline you raise the risk you’re out of luck for days at a time.
Major airlines like United, Delta, and Lufthansa have interline agreements with most other major airlines. That means if they want, they can book you on another airline to get you on your way at minimal cost to them.
They’ll tend to do that if there’s a delay that’s their fault like a broken down plane, which is the case with this flight.
But smaller low cost airlines like Norwegian, Spirit, Allegiant, and even JetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America don’t have interline agreements like the big global airlines you love to hate.
(Yes, JetBlue and Virgin America have some agreements for international itineraries, but for most purposes they don’t).
That means if something goes wrong, there’s a much bigger chance you’ll get stranded for a while.
In this case, Norwegian does fly 3x a week out of Oakland Airport near San Francisco.
Intrepid passengers could have bought their own cheap Southwest Airlines tickets up to Oakland to catch that flight, provided it wasn’t sold out.
Or Norwegian could have tried to buy some of those tickets to Oakland on its own.
That didn’t happen.
Norwegian did the right thing in offering to compensate for hotel rooms, even letting passengers book on their own and get reimbursed later.
Unfortunately it’s reported that all LAX airport area hotels were booked up during the delay, leaving passengers without friends in the area stranded.
There’s no way to verify whether that’s entirely true.
But it’s almost impossible to believe every Los Angeles area hotel was booked up those two nights.
Cabs are expensive, but LAX operates a cheap $9 bus from all airport terminals to downtown Los Angeles at all hours. There, you can find dozens of reasonably priced hotels Norwegian would have been happy to reimburse.
Granted showing up to check in to a hotel in downtown LA in the middle of the night isn’t the best option, but for many it’s better than the floor.
Their ground staff failed in not pursuing this option, or even suggesting it to passengers making arrangements on their own.
If you have travel insurance, or a credit card with Trip Delay benefits (some Chase cards like the Sapphire Preferred offer it) you can also be reimbursed for hotel costs your airline won’t pay.
Clearly the blame in this case lies with Norwegian. They failed their passengers, and with a once-weekly flight they know that a delay like this will happen.
The evidence suggests their staff at LAX was unprepared for this basic, easily forseen outcome.
But if you’re stuck with an unhelpful airline, know you have some other options. And beware before booking this kind of deal.
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