For anyone that knows me, rarely am I ever in the position to unequivocally say that something is really, unequivocally horrible.
ENTER: my experience with Norwegian Air Shuttle.
Given its name, I mistakenly thought Norwegian Air Shuttle was a government-owned national airline (it is not). To me, government-owned, flagship airlines showcase the very best of their country, and usually have world-class service like Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. Obviously, there are also government airlines of less-affluent, third party countries like Uzbekistan Airways and Sudan Airways, but Norway is one of the world’s most developed countries and ranks #1 as per the United Nations’ Human Development Index. I therefore assumed my first time taking this airline would be a special treat.
I’m a huge fan of airlines doing the right thing.
I’m sure everyone has had their fair share of bad experiences with airlines, but I’ve never felt I’ve ever had to actually sue an airline and write an entire blog post about it.
Background – REWIND to 2014
One of my best friends and fellow Indiana University Phi Kappa Psi fraternity pledge brother, Greg Ciesielski was scheduled to get married on Saturday October 4, 2014 to Carolina Brochado.
Here is a group photo of our pledge class the day we become brothers of the fraternity on October 12, 2002 (I’m next to Greg in the front row).
Greg and Carolina met as MBA students at Columbia University. They were getting married in Grasse, France, and I was honored when Greg asked me to be one of his groomsmen. But it gets better. Our very own death-defying Sunny Parikh (another one of our fraternity brothers, and who also escaped death and destruction when our NYC apartment burned down in the fire in 2008) was also asked to be one of Greg’s groomsmen.
Greg, Sunny and I were all fraternity brothers together at Indiana University, we all moved to NYC together and all worked in investment banking, we were roommates together, and have traveled the world together. Check us out in this picture in 2010 when we visited Israel, Jordan, and Turkey.
We have each other’s backs no matter what. Now one of us was getting married, so Grasse, France here we come!
NOW – FAST FORWARD to October 2014
Like responsible adults, we planned our trip way in advance to fly out on Thursday October 2nd 2014. Since the wedding was on Saturday, October 4, we ensured that we would have enough time to travel and get situated before the ceremony and services.
We were good groomsmen and planned for plenty of time to get to the wedding while balancing our very busy work schedules in New York City.
Sunny and I decided to take a flight from JFK Airport in New York City to Nice, France on the evening of Thursday October 2, 2014, as Greg and Carolina were getting married in Grasse, France on afternoon of Saturday, October 4th). Grasse is about 40km from Nice.
Looking at flight options on Google Flights (the world’s most complete database of flights), we noticed Norwegian Air Shuttle had a significantly lower price than all the other airline competitors, so we decided to book the flight and save some money. All we had was a short layover at Gatwick Airport in London. Easy, right?
On the evening of Thursday October 2nd, Sunny and I arrived three hours early to our Norwegian Air Shuttle flight at JFK Airport. As we approached the gate, we saw a big line as other passengers told us that the flight from JFK to Gatwick Airport would be delayed at least 4 hours.
To say the least, this was weird. What airline today does not email, call, text, or somehow notify their customers in advance of such delays, especially when it is already well known to the airline employees, terminal customers, and the airline’s communications representatives on ground. Norwegian Air Shuttle had our cell phone numbers and our email addresses, and unlike my experiences at other airlines, they didn’t notify us of the delay. Sunny and I also live in NYC, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as for us as others that don’t live here.
We told the gate agent that we had a connecting flight from London to Nice that we would miss due to the four hour delay. We searched on our phones and saw there was a later flight taking place the next day that would still get us to Nice, France in time, but no one from Norwegian Air Shuttle could help make the booking for us.
Normally, an airline has staff at the gate that can help arrange and reschedule flights. This was not the case at Norwegian Air Shuttle. After not understanding why the representatives could not help us make other arrangements, we found out that they were not able to do anything to help us at the desk as no one at the entire airport of JFK actually worked for Norwegian Air Shuttle!
They were all third party contractors hired by the airline to work the gate and they had no access to any to the Norwegian Air Shuttle database or booking systems. Instead, they literally gave us a small white sheet of paper with a phone number on it and instructed us to give it a call. This was absurd, never have I ever not been able to deal with an issue with an airline at the airport with actual employees of the airline. I actually felt for the first time in NYC that I was dealing with a third world country by not actually taking responsibility or rectifying a situation.
So, with no other choice, we called that number. Since no other passenger that night was notified about the delay, everyone on our flight came to the airport, and we all had to call that number from that piece of paper – while included hundreds of stranded passengers. After a few minutes of speaking with this representative, I realized, that just like the representative at JFK Airport, he was also unable to help us. We then realized that this person didn’t work for Norwegian Air Shuttle either!
I then started asking him questions of who he was, and it turns out at he was someone who was based in Lithuania and was hired by Norwegian Air Shuttle to be a third party representative who had no access to the Norwegian Air Shuttle database or booking system. He further told me he doesn’t even have a computer or access to the internet. How does a person from JFK Airport in NYC get directed to a third party person that doesn’t have any access to a computer or the internet! He was literally in a room by himself with a phone in Lithuania. At this point I was actually dealing with a Third World country.
After a couple hours of frustration and this situation going nowhere, the gate agents told us to just get on delayed flight to Gatwick Airport and immediately after landing we will be greeted by actual Norwegian Air Shuttle agents who actually worked for Norwegian Air Shuttle who would be able to actually help book that other flight option for us immediately after getting there. I was skeptical, but figured since Norwegian Air Shuttle is a European-based company, it made sense that they should have actual employees at European airports at Gatwick Airport in London who could actually help us.
At this point it was three (3am!) in the morning and Sunny and I could have just gone to our apartments in NYC to actually get rest and come back to JFK first thing in the morning to figure it out fresh. But, the gate agents promised us in London there would be actual Norwegian Air Shuttle there to greet us and help us. They confirmed this to us.
So, believing them, we waited until 4am in the morning and then finally flew to Gatwick.
The Horrible Continues in London
We got to the Gatwick Airport on Friday, early afternoon. We immediately went on the hunt for Norwegian Air Shuttle agents who could help us make the flight to Nice. We already missed our connecting flight and lost a day. We were supposed to be in the wedding the next day.
Guess what, once we found the Norwegian Air Shuttle counter at Gatwick Airport, we discovered that no one there worked for Norwegian Air Shuttle either! They were all third party contractors and no one had access to their booking systems or could make any decisions for us. They also gave us the same sheet of white paper to call the people in Lithuania! At that point I felt bad for those poor people in Lithuania, I’m sure they get yelled at every day by stranded, Norwegian Air Shuttle passengers from foreign countries, all whom I’m sure make more money than them and have more opportunities in life, but instead they have to just absorb all the negativity that this airline causes.
To make matters worse, Norwegian Air Shuttle didn’t have any other available flights from Gatwick Airport to Nice, France that would get us to the wedding on time. The best available option they could give us would get us to Nice was on Sunday, October 5, and we would have completely missed the wedding). At this point, Sunny and I were in major stress as we realized there was a real chance we could actually miss the wedding, even though our original flight plan gave us at 3 days to get from New York City to Nice, France.
Having no other alternative, Sunny and I purchased the next-available flight from Gatwick Airport to Nice which was on EasyJet, a totally different airline. The flight would take place the next day on Saturday, October 4th, the day of the wedding. We had to pay for this out-of-pocket (thus eliminating any savings from booking originally on this “low-cost” Norwegian Air Shuttle).
Here was our EasyJet flight confirmation receipt.
We were still not in the clear yet, because even if the flight arrived according to schedule, Sunny and I would still arrive to the wedding after it already started. And as groomsmen, we were supposed to be standing right there by Greg’s side every step of the way! We didn’t want to let our friend and brother down. It was so frustrating because we did everything right, and felt so powerless at the grip of Norwegian Air Shuttle irresponsibility and failure to communicate.
For the second night in a row, we had to sleep in commute to France. On Thursday, October 2, it was at JFK Airport in NYC, and on Friday October 3rd, it was at Gatwick Airport in London. We took the EasyJet flight to Nice, France the following morning, arriving to Nice on Saturday, October 4, 2014.
DESPITE our horrible, 3-day journey from New York City to Nice, Sunny and I finally arrived at the wedding (even though we missed the first half of it).
Here is a photo of Greg with Sunny, me, and the the other groomsmen including Dennis Trafny, Adam Higgins, Dustin Pittman, Carolina’s father and Greg’s father.
We all had a great time at the wedding, even though we all got chased by a big dinosaur.
But, all fun and games aside, when we came back to NYC, it was payback time.
We had to stand up to injustice. Plus, if we didn’t stand up for ourselves, then who would? And if we did stand up for ourselves, we could set a precedent in defense of others as well. I personally believe there are tens of thousands of other people who have had the same situation with Norwegian Air Shuttle like us.
The first thing we did was research our options online. I quickly found that in the European Union, there’s actually a law that provides financial compensation for passengers traveling on flights that are delayed. It’s a law that’s put in place to protect passengers from airlines.
I found a service called Flight Delayed that will actually do all the work for you to file your claim and sue the airline. All you have to do is submit your information online and you don’t pay any fees unless you win.
It literally took us three days just to get us from New York City to Nice, France, and I knew we had an easy case, as our flight was clearly delayed, and Norwegian Air Shuttle caused more and more trouble each step of the way for us. We even had to pay out-of-pocket for an extra flight so we wouldn’t be delayed a fourth day. According to EU law, we should receive financial compensation, and it was an ethical and moral that they would at least to the law (and especially on top of that we had to spend even more money with extra hotels and flights)!
The Payback Begins
In November 2014, we completed the first step in the process, which was to provide Flight Delayed background information about our case as well as provide them evidence of booking the flight. So, I basically provided them all the information you just read about and also had to submit evidence that we actually paid for the flights.
Here is our Norwegian Air Shuttle e-receipt after booking and paying for our flights.
After submitting all this information, we received an email from Flight Delayed saying our claim was processed. This was back in November 2014.
After a couple weeks, we received an email from Flight Delayed saying our claim was validated. This meant Flight Delayed believed we had a valid legal claim against Norwegian Air Shuttle. The next step would be for Flight Delayed to write a letter to Norwegian Air Shuttle.
Two weeks after submitting the letter to Norwegian Air Shuttle, Flight Delayed asked me if we heard back from Norwegian Air Shuttle. Obviously, we didn’t.
After six weeks passed without a response, Flight Delayed informed us that they would consider taking further action.
Considering that we haven’t received a response yet that would take the next step in the claim process: lodging a complaint with the enforcement authority, the Civil Aviation Authority (“CAA”) in the U.K. Flight Delayed informed me that the CAA would be responsible for evaluating our claim and reaching a verdict.
Then, a few months later, in May 2015, after six months of filing our claim, we were informed by the CAA that Norwegian Air Shuttle claimed that they claimed that they never received payment for the flight, and that the CAA has closed our file!
How could it be that our credit card was charged, we received an e-receipt for the flight, issued boarding passes, and took the flight if we didn’t pay for the flight. It seemed to me that Norwegian Air Shuttle found a loop-hole as the CAA wasn’t able to validate their claim.
It was at this point that I knew not only a Third World country, but also a company that is willing to deceive anyone, including its passengers and now government authorities. This is the main reason why I am now sharing ever detail of this story.
I then call Stephanie Edge from the CAA in the U.K. and informed her of all of Norwegian Air Shuttle deceptions. She tried to investigate but informed me that the CAA has no legal power and is unable to assist. I thought it was odd to have a government agency having no legal power, and I’m still unclear as to what the CAA’s role is. I also thought it was odd for Norwegian to blatantly lie to the CAA and mislead them, but it seemed that the CAA couldn’t do anything about it.
So, with the CAA not having any power to do anything and with Norwegian lying to them, I go back to Flight Delayed and push them to finally take this matter to court.
Three months later, in October 2015, Flight Delayed stated that Norwegian Air Shuttle was now in default of the payment as they have not responded to our claim. They would be mail a letter to Norwegian Air Shuttle informing them of having to pay the compensation due to us.
Then, in April 2016, after eight more months with a response from Norwegian Air Shuttle, and after pushing Flight Delayed to continue the legal battle, they informed us that they would finally take the matter to French court.
As you see below, Flight Delayed requested more information from us to file the legal claim.
A couple months later, in June 2016, we finally heard back from Norwegian Air Shuttle, and they claimed to the CAA that the case was closed.
I was shocked. This case was certainly not settled with the CAA and Norwegian Air Shuttle already lied to them about the case a year before. Norwegian Air Shuttle was clearly playing a game with Flight Delayed, the CAA, and us, their passengers.
All we wanted was to receive our legal claim and send a message to them that they should not do this to the tens of thousands of other passengers like us who I’m sure have been in this situation with Norwegian Air Shuttle. It’s a simple matter of law and they are responsible for the compensation, it’s as simple as that and they are delaying making the payment.
I then get notification from Flight Delayed in October 2016 that the case will finally go to court! It’s been over two years now since we took those flights.
Then, a couple months later, on December 5, 2016, Flight Delayed notified me that we won! We had been awarded €1,705.68 in total, and Flight Delayed would be compensated 25% of the total claim amount.
It took over two years of fighting Norwegian Air Shuttle through the European Union, the Civil Aviation Authority of the U.K., and the French court, but we persevered.
If it wasn’t for the lack of customer service and lack of empathy of the part of Norwegian Air Shuttle, we would have never pursued such a long battle against the company, and surely wouldn’t have taken the time to share all the details of this story. I hope Norwegian Air Shuttle changes its behavior.
The Norwegian people are the happiest in the world, and many of our most awesome WindowsWear interns are from Norway.
According to a recent report by Reuters, Norwegian Air Shuttle is now expanding its network of flights to the United States starting in June 2017 after receiving approval to operate more routes across the Atlantic, with limited number of one-way tickets offered at $65, with the next pricing tier starting at $99 (by comparison, a one-way ticket from New York to Dublin in mid-June on other airlines ranges from about $655 to $2,755 on the Expedia travel website).
If your flight is on time and you have no connections, then it would be a great deal. If your flight is not on time and you have connections, you might want to further consider the decision.