Disruptive long haul economy carrier, Norwegian Air, have overtaken British Airways as the biggest non-US carrier to transport passengers on transatlantic routes. Passengers on Norwegian New York flights outnumbered those on British Airways by around 40,000.
According to reports, Norwegian passengers numbers on New York area routes have topped 1.67m in the 12 months to the end of July 2018. Over the same period, British Airways transported 1.63m.
These figures come from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They include flights in and out of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA).
A spokesperson for Norwegian had this to say:
“Fares have been too high for too long as transatlantic routes have been long dominated by carriers with outdated legacies running on fumes. Norwegian will continue to spread its wings to the Big Apple with a third-daily service between London and New York JFK from 28 October.”
For many years now, BA has been the biggest non-US carrier on routes from the UK and Europe to the New York area. The rapid expansion of low cost carrier Norwegian has been largely down to their ultra-low fares, offering seats from the UK to the US for less than £200.
Is it surprising that Norwegian beats British Airways?
BA are not having the best of years. Following a number of complaints about woeful customer service, an IT glitch caused numerous flight delays and ticket cancellations. Earlier in the year, they were named as the most inefficient transatlantic carrier; Norwegian were named as the best.
As a result, the airline has been voted (alongside beleaguered carrier Ryanair) as ‘the worst airline in the UK’ by consumer group Which?
However, it’s also important to remember that BA do cater to a slightly different audience than Norwegian. Most BA flights operate on a two or even three tier system, with business and first class on many transatlantic routes.
Even their economy is more spacious and comfortable, with wider, less packed in seating. This means less passengers per plane, which can make it hard to compete with a ‘pack-em-in’ carrier like Norwegian.
What do Norwegian passenger numbers mean for the industry?
The overtaking of British Airways by Norwegian shows a shift in consumer demand, and one which the wider industry had better listen to.
However, with rising fuel prices and the forthcoming complications of Brexit, you have to wonder whether these carriers are really sustainable. All too many airlines have folded as a result of selling under-priced tickets, so we hope the head honchos at Norwegian are doing their sums well.
For Norwegian, their rapid growth has put them high on investors lists for a takeover. British Airways parent group, IAG, earlier this year expressed an interest in buying the no-frills carrier.
However, Norwegian turned them down not once, but twice.
Despite this, IAG remain keen on Norwegian, and today’s revelation that Norwegian beats British Airways is only going to pique their interest even more. IAG currently own a 4.6% stake in Norwegian but have indicated that they will sell their shares if no deal can be agreed.
IAG boss Willie Walsh said: “If that conversation doesn’t go anywhere, and it’s clearly not going anywhere at the moment, we are not going to hold on to those shares.”