Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Norwegian Air swaps plane on Oakland-Barcelona flight, cuts Stockholm

Rolls-Royce engine woes hit several Bay Area flights

If you're booked on Norwegian Air for a summer trip between Oakland and Barcelona, do not be surprised if you're greeted at the gate by another airline's jet.

Not to worry though — the odd-looking jet will get you to the correct destination. And a lucky few will get to lie flat for the ride.

Norwegian recently signed a deal with Portugal-based charter airline Hi Fly to operate some of its flights across the Atlantic this summer. Several Norwegian flights will be flown by wet-leased Hi Fly Airbus jets, including the OAK-BCN route.

According to Norwegian, the regularly scheduled Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be replaced by a Hi Fly A340-500 on four of the five scheduled weekly flights from June 1 until July 27.

"The operator of our flights is visible to customers throughout the booking process on our website and customers already booked on the affected flights have been contacted," said Anders Lindström, U.S. communications director for Norwegian.

Although it's a different jet operating the route, we're told many of the passenger amenities will be similar (or better) to what's on offer aboard the Norwegian Boeing 787.

According to Hi Fly, the jet being used on the BCN-OAK route comes equipped with 273 seats. There are 12 seats in a small business class cabin and 261 economy class seats. On the Norwegian Dreamliner it replaces, there are 32 premium seats and 259 economy seats.

What's nice here, if you are booked in Premium Class on Norwegian, is that you could get a lie-flat business class seat on the Hi Fly jet. Norwegian's premium seats recline, but they do not like flat. But with 20 fewer premium seats per flight on the Hi Fly jet, some passengers are bound to get downgraded to economy, and many are complaining about that.

Seat back monitors loaded with inflight movies and TV shows are available at every seat. We looked, but could not find an answer to whether there is in-seat power, so it's best bring your own external travel battery to keep phones charged.

"We would like to apologize as we appreciate this change may not meet passengers' expectations, so we're giving passengers the option to rebook or receive a full refund free of charge if they no longer wish to travel," Lindström said of the change to the Hi Fly A340.

Why the swap? In January, Norwegian announced it would be replacing the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines on all 21 of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Many of the jets are being pulled out of service for the work to be done — which explains why the carrier has substitute airplanes instead of cancelling scheduled services.

Serious issues have plagued the engine model, including concerns about corrosion of the turbine blades towards the back end of the engines. Rolls-Royce asked airlines to conduct lengthy inspections of the engines by next month to check for problems.

The troubles have been a black eye for the engine-maker, and Rolls-Royce has apologized to airlines for the impact to flights during the high-demand summer travel season.

"We fully recognize the unacceptable levels of disruption our customers are facing," said Chris Cholerton, the president of Rolls-Royce's Civil Aerospace division. "We are intensely focused on minimizing this and we have set our teams the challenge of doing everything we can to recover our customers' operations as swiftly as possible."

Many other airlines that operate Dreamliners powered by the same engine have had to cancel flights and delay planned services. (ANA, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are some of the carriers).

Some British Airways Boeing 787 flights between London-Heathrow, San Jose, Calif. and Los Angeles, Calif. have recently been nixed because of the Rolls-Royce engine issues. Virgin Atlantic has also replaced one of its two Boeing 787-9 frequencies to San Francisco with the carrier's older Airbus A340-600s for the month of June.

Norwegian to cut Stockholm-Oakland route

In a separate move, Norwegian announced this week it would convert the route between its Stockholm, Sweden hub and Oakland from a year-round to a summer seasonal route. Stockholm was one of Norwegian's original two destinations when it began flying to Oakland in May 2014.

The carrier announced its decision after a new aviation emissions tax went into effect in Sweden in April. The tax would bill airlines up to $48 per passenger for flights leaving the European Union and $7 for flights traveling within the E.U.

A spokesperson for the airline said wintertime flights for the route were not yet available for sale and there were no passengers to re-accommodate with the change.

The final Stockholm-Oakland flight of the year operates Oct. 26.

(Chris McGinnis & Tim Jue - San Francisco Chronicle)

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