Nor­we­gian think­ing big­ger amid cold war with Ryanair

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Evans

ONE of the in­ter­est­ing — and un­re­ported — sub­plots from the re­cent Ryanair hor­ror show is the cold war be­tween Michael O’leary’s car­rier and Nor­we­gian, Europe’s third-big­gest low-cost op­er­a­tion.

And it’s cer­tainly a re­cent phe­nom­e­non. Early last month Ryanair chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer David O’brien told this col­umn that the air­line was con­fi­dent of in­ter­lin­ing with Nor­we­gian, feed­ing short-haul pas­sen­gers to its transat­lantic ser­vices. The only is­sue in the way was get­ting their re­spec­tive IT sys­tems to link to­gether.

But that plan nose­dived in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion, af­ter O’leary an­nounced at a re­cent press con­fer­ence in Dublin over flight can­cel­la­tions that “given our con­cerns over Nor­we­gian’s fi­nan­cial abil­ity ... we are fo­cus­ing now our dis­cus­sions with Air Europa and Aer Lin­gus” for in­ter­lin­ing.

That at­tack came just days af­ter a deal was struck be­tween Easyjet and Nor­we­gian that would see the for­mer sell­ing the lat­ter’s ser­vices on one plat­form, a deal that surely ruf­fled feath­ers at Ryanair HQ.

De­spite its big mar­ket­ing cam­paigns and strong word-of-mouth here given its transat­lantic launches, Nor­we­gian does suf­fer in one re­spect — its gap­ing lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at times.

A call to Lon­don to get its side on O’leary’s at­tack brought the stan­dard press of­fice line: “As we have said be­fore, these com­ments have no root in re­al­ity. Nor­we­gian has been prof­itable for the last 10 years, with a strong liq­uid­ity, to­gether with own­ing a sub­stan­tial share of Bank Nor­we­gian which has a mar­ket value of over £1.6bn.” All a bit tame.

So it was good to see a hu­man face from the air­line on these shores, as Dominic Tucker, head of UK and Ire­land sales at Nor­we­gian Air­lines, ad­dressed a travel lead­ers con­fer­ence or­gan­ised by travel com­merce plat­form Trav­el­port.

Tucker, for­merly a Bri­tish Air­ways ex­ec­u­tive, re­vealed that the Scan­di­na­vian air­line wasn’t im­pressed by O’leary’s jibes. “Nor­we­gians are nor­mally very pas­sive peo­ple but they were up in arms,” he said. “His com­ments hadn’t got any foun­da­tion,” he said, adding that since 80pc of its book­ings are on­line, that’s cash in the bank from the get-go. Nor­we­gian top brass were ready to em­bark on a war of words with the Ir­ish air­line, but de­cided to take the line of “leave it, he’ll trip him­self up at some time”. De­spite its po­si­tion­ing as a low-cost car­rier over the At­lantic, Tucker told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent that Nor­we­gian is “pop­u­lar with SMES” and also with big­ger com­pa­nies look­ing or more bang for their trav­el­ling buck. And he put his hands up say­ing “we missed that boat” by of­fer­ing wifi for free in­stead of charg­ing for it.

He says the air­line will con­sider in­tro­duc­ing the larger Boe­ing 787 Dream­liner on its Ire­land-us routes, and could en­vis­age that same air­craft be­ing de­ployed as a direct ser­vice from Dublin to the likes of Cape Town when US de­mand is lighter. In­ter­est­ingly, in a week in which United Air­lines an­nounced it’s to cease op­er­a­tions from Shan­non to Chicago next win­ter, Tucker said “de­mand on the Shan­non to Ste­wart [in New York] route is out­strip­ping Dublin to Ste­wart pro­por­tion­ally”.

Aer Lin­gus’ de­ci­sion to com­mence flights next year from Dublin to Philadel­phia will pay div­i­dends for the busi­ness trav­eller. Apart from the ser­vice it­self, the air­line’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, Mike Rut­ter, said the in­tro­duc­tion of eight new Air­bus 321 air­craft in 2019 and 2020 will be game chang­ers for trav­ellers up front. They’re more eco­nom­i­cal, and more suited to short-haul hops (Paris, etc) as well as long haul over the At­lantic.

Busi­ness trav­ellers com­ing in from the US will be able to con­tinue on in the same class and same air­craft type to key Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions, mark­ing a big play for the busi­ness mar­ket on the long-haul side. The air­line is also work­ing on a ‘Aer Space’ prod­uct, a source told this col­umn. This will of­fer a closed-off seat be­tween pas­sen­gers up front, open­ing up space to use your lap­top. The air­line is also look­ing at bundling key busi­ness prod­ucts, such as fast-track and pri­or­ity board­ing.

Trav­el­ling pro­fes­sion­als — or their travel plan­ners — tend to be care­ful with the purse strings, and just one in five opt­ing for ‘high end, lux­ury’ ac­com­mo­da­tion when away. But that fig­ure rises for busi­ness trips car­ried out by bank­ing and finance pro­fes­sion­als (al­most one in four plump for high-end ho­tels) and even higher for man­age­ment con­sul­tants (only the best will do for 26pc for them).

Other fig­ures re­vealed in a sur­vey of pro­fes­sion­als by book­ for busi­ness shows that the top de­sires are a comfy bed and a strong wifi sig­nal (52pc each), fol­lowed by a good break­fast (38pc) and free trans­porta­tion or shut­tle ser­vice (27pc). Not sur­pris­ingly, ac­com­mo­da­tion choice is also strongly driven by lo­ca­tion, with con­ve­nient access to meet­ings (47pc) and place­ment in the city cen­tre (29pc) named as top pri­or­i­ties.

Nor­we­gian boss Bjorn Kjos and his Ryanair coun­ter­part, Michael O’leary, in hap­pier times

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