by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, March 23, 2018
The 787 Dreamliner is said to afford its passengers more space. It boasts larger windows helping create a lighter, more pleasant cabin experience, while its new, quieter, fuel efficient engines promise a peaceful flight. It even has a special air filter system that reduces dry eyes and jet lag.
No wonder passengers booked to travel on Boeing’s newest model are pretty pumped.
So what happens when an airline switches the plane at the last minute, for one that doesn’t even have innovative fade-out window blinds?
This scenario has been playing out recently after low-cost, long-haul airline Norwegian, which boasts 27 of the “most technologically advanced aircraft in the skies today”, had to lease older aircraft on its London to New York route.
The carrier, which is understood to be replacing the engines on some of its Dreamliners, said it was swapping the 787 out for an Airbus A330 courtesy of Portuguese charter airline Hi-Fly.
Cue a few irritated passengers.
“Everybody avoid [Norwegian]. They’ll stick you on an eight-hour flight with no entertainment!” wrote Hannah Cooper on Twitter. Oh and leg room and seats are crap. Booked a Norwegian Airways [sic] flight, then it got changed to Hi-Fly.”
Another, Ellie Smith, said: “Not impressed that our outbound LGW-JFK was operated by someone called Hi-Fly. Non-existent entertainment and awful food. Not what I signed up for and has ruined your reputation as a good value airline.”Why do airlines fly other airlines' flights?
A spokesperson for Norwegian told us: “We would only hire the services of another carrier where necessary to avoid cancelling flights and causing inconvenience to our customers.”
Norwegian are by no means the only carrier to use third-party aircraft for their routes.
Codeshares are the most common instances, when one airline operates a flight on behalf of another because they have a contract together or are in the same airline alliance, such as Sky Team.
For example, Virgin Atlantic and Delta share a number of flights, running each other’s services to a number of US cities. British Airways and American, as well as Finnair and Iberia, do the same across the Atlantic, while BA joins forces with Japan Airlines for flights heading east.
The benefit to the passenger is they have more choice of routes and services when viewing one airline’s website, and connecting flights between friendly carriers are aligned for smooth onward journeys. Airlines, meanwhile, enjoy extending their reach to destinations they would not otherwise serve.
Passengers keen to know who is actually running their flight should check their booking site carefully. It will normally say along with details of date and timings, “operated by...”.
In addition to codeshares, leased aircraft might be used on a more short-term basis for operational reasons. Most noticeable is a wet lease, when one airline hires another’s liveried plane complete with crew.
Budget airlines might use wet leasing to cope with spikes in demand over the summer, without needing to purchase new aircraft. Last year, EasyJet signed a deal with Latvian carrier SmartLynx Airlines to run a number of services between April and October.
British Airways leased nine Qatar Airways A320s and their crews last year to handle its services when its own staff were striking.
For political reasons, EgyptAir’s flights to Israel are operated by Air Sinai.
Can I guarantee what aircraft I will be on?
We’re afraid not. Even if your flight is run by the original airline, the aircraft might be changed.
The A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, seems to be particularly popular with travellers, who vent their fury when it is replaced by a Boeing 747 or 777.
“Damn. Singapore Airlines swapped my A380 for a 747. Oh well, maybe the next leg,” wrote Giles White on Twitter.
“It now turns out my [British Airways] flight that was due to be an A380 has been swapped to a 747,” wrote Andy Taylor. “As much as I love them I planned my route out to get a ride on an A380.”
BA told Mr Taylor: “We can never guarantee a specific aircraft due to operational reasons. We can look at changing your booking but there would be a charge for this.”
Can I claim compensation?
Again, sadly not.
Norwegian’s spokesperson said: “The operator of our flights are visible to customers throughout the booking process on Norwegian.com.
“If customers had originally booked on to a Norwegian operated service and it changes to a wet leased aircraft, we would contact passengers in advance and offer a free rebooking or refund if they no longer wish to travel.”
Guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says airlines must tell passengers “at point of sale” who will be operating the flight. Airlines have an obligation to tell passengers who will be conducting their flight.
The CAA says passengers check the terms and conditions of their booking thoroughly before parting with their money.