Blood in the Water in Rome: With Alitalia on the Brink of Failure, Norwegian Air Introduces Super Cheap Flights

While claiming that the decision isn’t driven by a floundering Alitalia, Norwegian announced Rome as a Boeing 787 base today.

No doubt Alitalia’s bankruptcy filing a month ago makes Rome even more appealing, but the carrier was bleeding even before that. Their costs are high and their operations inefficient. And their ability to expand across the Atlantic in an advantageous way is, they say, hamstrung by a revenue-sharing joint venture agreement with Air France and Delta that’s a legacy from when Air France was a major investor in the airline.

Since the Italian flag carrier is making a mess of transatlantic service from its home market, Norwegian believes it’s ripe for new cheap service.

  • Newark – Rome launches November 9 (four times weekly, increasing to six in February)
  • Los Angeles – Rome November 11 (two times weekly, moving to three in February)
  • Oakland – Rome in February (twice weekly) using Boeing 787s.

Announced pricing from Newark starts at $189 one-way and $229 from the West Coast. On other routes this year they’ve offered fares as low as $65 one-way. They’re like the 1986 Saturday Night Live commercial for the Adobe, a Mexican import that’s the first car to break the $200 barrier. It was made of clay.

Norwegian already has a short haul Boeing 737 base in Rome which launched last year. And they’re launching transatlantic service from Barcelona next week, which prompted British Airways’ launch of low cost carrier-within-a-carrier LEVEL from Barcelona in June as well.

The airline will operate 56 transatlantic routes, including the new services from Rome, by year-end – two-thirds more than it flew in 2016, FlightGlobal schedules show.

In addition to the new Rome services, Norwegian will in November start new seasonal flights from Fort Lauderdale and Providence to Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French Caribbean. It will operate twice-weekly flights between Fort Lauderdale and Martinique, and between Providence and both Guadeloupe and Martinique, and thrice-weekly flights between Fort Lauderdale and Guadeloupe with 737-800s.

Copyright william87 / 123RF Stock Photo

I’ve argued that it’s not the big Middle East carriers US airlines need to worry about competing against — it’s low cost airlines like Norwegian and Ryanair.

Major US airlines hate competition, and they’ll advance any disingenuous argument necessary to stop it, for instance they smear Norwegian’s safety procedures without coming out and explicitly making the claim. Norwegian flies brand new Boeing 787s and 737s — and is Boeing’s largest customer for ‘GoldCare’ outsourcing maintenance, engineering, and parts to the US aircraft manufacturer. (HT: tommy777)

Meanwhile United is facing an FAA fine for operating a Boeing 787 “that was not in ‘airworthy’ condition.”

According to the FAA, United mechanics replaced a Boeing 787’s fuel pump pressure gauge on June 9, 2014, but did not inspect the work until 19 days later, on June 28, 2014.

During that time, the plane made 23 domestic and international passenger flights — including two that allegedly took place after the FAA notified United of the lapse, the agency alleges.

Norwegian is a big part of why we’re seeing deeper discount transatlantic fares than ever before – like $252 roundtrip. Norwegian’s expansion is good news for consumers.

And often their non-US websites sell US flights even cheaper (just use Google Translate and a credit card that doesn’t add foreign transaction fees).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. AZ is on the brink. Absent the Italian government injecting billions more into them, they are going to be gone in just a few months. There cash flow has to be especially now that with thier collapse looming they are probably getting relatively little in the way of bookings for this fall and winter.

    Someone is going to need to fill the gap they leave. This seems like a good move from Norwegian to get ready to fill the vacuum.

  2. I don’t think the US airlines are particularly concerned about competing against Norwegian long-term. Unlike the Middle Eastern airlines that have access to unlimited billion-dollar subsidies, Norwegian will actually have to have a profitable business model. Right now, that doesn’t look terribly likely. So the damage Norwegian can inflict is short-term, until they run out of money.

  3. @iahphx – that’s 100% false, which is why the US airlines fought so hard against Norwegian being allowed to fly to the US and why the DOT delayed so long in issuing authority (that they had no right to deny) for one of Norwegian’s subsidiaries to operate.

    If you really believe that US airlines only want some sort of fairness, as opposed to using arguments cloaked in fairness for their own gain, why did the major carriers sue to prevent Southwest from launching in the first place? And sue Legend Airlines out of business?

  4. Norwegian prices are not that great — hot food and one bag add $200, hot food and two bags add $300, a blanket adds $10, advance seat assignments … you get the idea.

    And they’re a tight 17.2″ seats, apparently very hard.

    If these flights are successful, United is absolutely right — people are getting the on-board experience they are willing to pay for (which is not much at all, so terrible experience).

  5. Too bad Legend Airlines didn’t get a fair chance to compete.

    I’m all for more competition in the U.S. domestic & international market.

  6. Yes but…
    The proposed flight times get you to Rome 18 hours later. I sure the layover is Oslo is delightful, but it doesn’t work on my schedule.

  7. Chris- They are talking about direct flights to Rome. Not connections. There already are connecting flights through Oslo and Copenhagen

  8. Recently flew London (Gatwick)-Boston on-way in Norwegian’s premium cabin for about $675, which was far better than I could get for premium economy on other airlines at fairly short notice.. At 46″ pitch it certainly doesn’t compare with other airlines’ business class, but certainly beats the general 38″ pitch you get for premium economy on British Airways, Air France, etc. Service and systems were fine, with the caveats that check-in (at least for that route) was not possible online and they were quite strict about the 15 kg carry-on bag limit. On balance, I’d certainly consider flying them again, especially for a route (about seven hours) that was kind of the equivalent of flying cross-country in the USA westbound.

  9. @Gary Leff — Um, given your repeated anti-US airline screeds, you probably shouldn’t be labeling opposing views as “100% false.”

    As most observers would agree, the US airlines went after Norwegian because Norwegian was trying to use several dubious legal loopholes (largely related to flags of convenience and labor costs) to begin their service. I don’t know about you, but if I’m running a business, I’m not looking for more competition — especially competition that is trying to use legal loopholes to gain an economic advantage. If you were running a US airline, or a leader of a US airline labor union, what would you have done?

    I’m not sure what Southwest has to do with this, but the airlines that opposed their start-up — in which Southwest exploited a legal loophole to keep Love Field open after it was supposed to be shuttered — acted reasonably, too. Again, these are completely normal and reasonable commercial actions. Just because Southwest might have had better lawyers didn’t make its opponents “evil.”

    Norwegian’s business plan and finances seem like a train wreck. You might want to look into them before you hold them up as a shiny beacon of light and hope.

  10. @iahphx you clearly and consistently favor using the government to gain commercial advantage by entrenched US airlines. you call norwegian’s business plan ‘dubious’ but despite all the lobbying the DOT approved it and in its statement doing so made clear there was absolutely no grounds on which they could do anything else. it was 100% legal, yet the US majors dragged out the process for years. that absolutely undermines your claim that “the US airlines are[n’t] particularly concerned about competing against Norwegian” which was the point of my comment.

    as far as my “anti-US airline screeds” I am more a defender of US airlines against consumer regulation than probably any other commentator. at the same time i am a reasonably objective reviewer of their products, good and bad. i believe that US airlines ought to be able to offer whatever products they wish, more or less, and that it’s also important to educate consumers about the differences in products being offered in order to make informed decisions.

    or are you referencing here my strongly fact- and reality-based analysis of the weak lobbying case that delta, american, and united have made seeking government protection from their much smaller and less profitable rivals in the UAE and Qatar (but not Saudia which is larger than Etihad)? a position which the previous administration, after an extensive regulatory comment period, agreed with?

  11. I’ll second Steve: LGW-BOS in DY Premium is an unbeatable value (and even the BOS-LGW red-eye arguably would be too – moving to a lie flat on BA is pointless since the FAs give passengers at most 3 hours of quiet time). And the prices for one way are usually closer to $500, which incidentally makes it very easy to justify with management when your company wants its employees to fly economy even long haul. Finally, anything that lets me escape the madhouse at Heathrow is a plus.

    @Jake: your numbers are way off. Moving from LowFare to LowFare+ (which includes seats, meals, and one piece of luggage) is 500 NOK ($60).

  12. @Gary Leff — Of the dozens of foreign airlines that fly to the USA, I can think of only 4 that have had significant opposition from US carriers or the US labor movement: Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Norwegian. Any US airline executive who didn’t oppose these carriers would have — and should have –been fired. The Middle East airlines subsidized activity is clearly in violation of international aviation norms, and Norwegian’s claim to be an EU airline is, at best, dubious (it would be like AA opening a sham Irish subsidiary and becoming an EU airline). I know you don’t like these laws, because you think everyone should be allowed to fly everywhere, but they are laws that are very much on the books.

    I can understand your self-interest with regard to the Middle East airlines, as you obviously benefit personally from your free luxury trips on those carriers. Your affinity for Norwegian is harder to grasp because it’s pretty obvious that, were they to succeed, we would see the “Spirit-ization” of transatlantic travel. I don’t think that would be good for the US airlines, but I also don’t think it would be good for passengers either. There’s already plenty of transatlantic competition, and conditions are already pretty basic in the economy cabin. I’d personally like to continue to take my normal-sized carry-on on board, get a free seat assignment, and get some food and drink for the 8-hour flights. Fortunately, Norwegian’s business plan is being so poorly executed that not only will they fail, but other ULLC’s may be dissuaded from trying to emulate them.

  13. Alitalia’s obituary has been written many times and it is still flying. It is amazing how such an inefficient airline is still alive in 2017. Years ago I did not want to buy an Alitalia ticket 3 months out because I had doubts it will be around.

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