Why are Norwegian airlines canceling so many flights this winter?

Thousands of people have seen their winter travel in and around Scandinavia disrupted in recent weeks as the region’s airlines have announced sweeping cuts to their routes.

First, Norse Atlantic made a major adjustment to its already small long-haul network. Low-cost airline Flyr then cut many domestic routes except for a short period around the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Norway’s domestic airline Widerøe has also announced winter cuts, with SAS and Norwegian expected to fully follow suit. So what’s going on? Airlines have given various reasons.

Lower demand means fewer transatlantic routes

Earlier this year, Norse Atlantic stepped in for Norwegian, taking over the planes and in some cases the routes of the failed low-cost business. Will things be different this time?

Early signs are not good, as the new airline announced cuts to its winter schedule by 31%. This includes the end of the Orlando-Oslo route, a reduction in service from New York to Berlin and a stop on all flights to/from Los Angeles.

While this will come as a shock to travelers who had already booked tickets, airline industry experts are not that surprised. In August 2022, the average seat load factor was just 69% on Scandinavian flights. That’s not good enough for a transatlantic model to succeed, especially without the financial boost of a business class offering.

One Mile at a Time’s Ben Schlappig said Norse faces the same problem as every previous low-cost carrier that tried transatlantic routes: “It’s very difficult to operate profitably in the winter across the Atlantic without business travel.”

Economic pressures curtailed domestic routes

Little known outside Norway, Flyr quickly made a name for itself in the country, offering low fares on domestic routes with proven demand.

After successfully launching amid the restrictions and uncertainty of the pandemic, Flyr quickly went on to launch low-cost routes to many holiday destinations favored by Scandinavians.

However, Flyr is also expecting a difficult winter season. Between November and March, Flyr will maintain leisure flights to several European destinations, but cancel all domestic flights with the exception of two high-traffic routes: Oslo-Bergen and Oslo-Trondheim.

This means regular Flyr passengers in Bodø, Evenes, Kristiansund, Stavanger and Tromsø must look for an alternative airline, although Flyr will operate limited services around Christmas and New Year on the Oslo-Bodø, Oslo-Evenes and Oslo-Tromsø.

In a press release, Flyr said demand for the winter season has fallen due to high interest rates, high inflation and very high electricity prices in Norway. Flyr CEO Tonje Wikstrøm Frislid said it was a “difficult decision” but that “demand is not at the level it should be”. The airline also pointed to “persistently high” fuel prices.

Widerøe is also making cuts despite the success

Norway’s Widerøe has set a new passenger record in September 2022, but is also expecting a tough winter due to fuel prices and increased pressure on household finances.

Despite its recent success, Widerøe has announced cuts to its own schedule over the winter. Trondheim Airport will be hardest hit, with fewer departures to Tromsø, Evenes, Kristiansand and Ålesund.

Aviation analyst Hans Jørgen Elnæs told NRK that the winter cuts “come as no surprise” to those who follow the market closely. He said that after the worst period airlines have ever had, comes “the war in Europe, the pressure on prices and the pressure on people’s private finances”.

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