Norwegian Air, famous for offering ultra-low fares to Europe, has long had its legitimacy challenged here in the U.S. At question is the airline’s subsidiary headquartered in Ireland, which is seen as (possibly) a way of dodging local labor standards. Despite these concerns, the Department of Transportation (DOT) approved to fly to and from the U.S.
Now, unions representing 100,000 aviation workers have asked a federal appeals court to overturn that approval. According to USA Today, the dispute focuses on language from the Open Skies agreements the U.S. negotiates with other countries, which states that “opportunities created by the agreement are not intended to undermine labor standards.”
“The administration’s decision to allow Norwegian Air International to operate in the U.S. is disappointing and undercuts key protections in place for working men and women,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.
In the approval now being challenged, Jenny Rosenberg, acting assistant secretary for international affairs, wrote, “This case is among the most novel and complex ever undertaken by the department. Regardless of our appreciation of the public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law and our bilateral obligations leave us no avenue to reject this application.”
Nowhere is it mentioned if Norwegian actually undercuts U.S. labor standards, or if this is all about whether or not it could. Back in October, the airline pledged to hire U.S. pilots, claiming it would be the first European carrier to do so. And according to Skift, “Norwegian has countered that it created the UK and Ireland-registered airlines not to flout labor or tax laws, but because Norway—not an EU member—has negotiated limited air service rights with other countries. The UK and Irish subsidiaries have access to far more destinations than the airlines based in Norway.”
It seems unlikely this latest challenge will go anywhere. None of the issues raised are new, and the DOT did spend time considering its decision.
For customers, this means Norwegian’s low fares should be sticking around. If the ruling is overturned, Norwegian can continue flying to and from the U.S. through its Norwegian subsidiary, as it currently does. The settlement being challenged simply complicates the ways in which Norwegian can expand service, and possibly its ability to continue offering those super-cheap fares. But even if the agreement goes down, Norwegian will likely look to continue growing in the U.S.