Norse Atlantic Wants to Burn Money Faster, Fly to Berlin

Norwegian

Norse Atlantic is getting ready to start service shortly from the US to Oslo, and it now appears to be in the phase of growth called “throw at the wall and see if anything sticks.” On the heels of its announced New York/JFK – London/Gatwick flight, it has put out its latest plan for service from both JFK and Los Angeles to Berlin. This seems like a bad idea.

Berlin has never been a good market from the US, and it has struggled mightily to retain any nonstop service at all. In the last 20 years, here is what has flown:

  • United (Continental, pre-merger) is the only consistent presence with 1x daily service from Newark that went until the pandemic began. It resumed this March.
  • Delta flew it from JFK 1x daily during the summer and 5x weekly in the winter until 2011. It then returned with 1x daily summer-only service from 2017-2019 but it has not brought flying back since the pandemic began.
  • Lufthansa briefly tried 4x weekly from JFK through the winter of 2017/2018 but that was its only attempt.
  • American tried it 4x weekly from Philly during the summer of 2019 but that has not returned.
  • airberlin was the big presence in the market until it failed in September 2017, serving:
    • JFK up to 1x daily during the summer from 2011
    • Miami with an irregular schedule from 2010 that peaked at 5x weekly before the airline’s end
    • Los Angeles 3x weekly summer-only during 2012 and 2013 and again in 2017 until the end
    • Chicago up to 1x daily from 2013 until the end
    • San Francisco 4x weekly during the airline’s last summer only

Since the pandemic began, only the single daily flight on United continues to exist. Norse Atlantic clearly saw this and said “oh man, so much opportunity, let’s do this, Bjorn.”

The thing is, there just isn’t that much opportunity. United sustains Berlin on the strength of its massive Newark hub along with the joint venture with Lufthansa which gives it point-of-sale opportunities on both sides. If anyone can make this work, it should be United and Lufthansa.

Delta’s massive split New York hub may allow for a return some day, but that day is not coming soon. Delta would rather fly to thinner markets like Stockholm or Copenhagen this summer than even bother trying Berlin.

You may point to airberlin as proof that there is a vacuum… one that apparently has existed for 5 years since the airline failed. But let’s remember that AIRBERLIN FAILED. Also, the airline used Dusseldorf as its primary gateway the US before it tried to build up Berlin further. The Berlin effort was based on the idea that airberlin could connect people beyond Berlin to many other destinations. Possibly even more importantly, airberlin was a member of oneworld with a partnership and codeshare with American. It’s no surprise that the highest frequency and longest lasting routes for airberlin were American hubs.

Even with all that connectivity, the booming summer of 2017 still showed Berlin to be a relatively small market in the scheme of things. Since Norse Atlantic won’t have connectivity on either side and will be flying from New York and LA, let’s zero in on those markets in particular.

Using Cirium ARC/BSP data for June – August in 2017, Berlin came in with 341 daily passengers each way. That slots in just behind Brussels and slightly ahead of Geneva. Keep in mind, this was the New York – Berlin market’s biggest year ever. Those passengers were divided up evenly with 95 on Delta, 72 on United, and 63 on airberlin. The rest were scattered via connections.

Looking deeper at airberlin, it ran 21 people a day from JFK to Budapest, 19 each to Tel Aviv and Warsaw, and 14 to Krakow. This filled the airplane but only with lower fare connections.

From LA, it was much smaller. The airberlin nonstop in summer 2017 carried 2,309 total travelers each way in the local market between June and August. The airline flew 11,483 seats. The rest were scattered with lower fare connections in markets like Paris, Copenhagen, and Milan.

Keep in mind, this was 2017 and it was summer. Norse Atlantic will be flying 1x daily from JFK starting on August 17 just as summer travel disappears. It will fly 3x weekly from Los Angeles starting August 19. That is not when you want to be starting this flight from a demand perspective.

Further, nobody is going to want to fly from Berlin at this hour…

Ok, ok, I kid. That’s clearly a typo and it will leave at 12:30pm. [ Editors Update: I read this wrong, that’s eastbound so the times are right.] The New York schedules are actually just fine, but the LA schedules vary by day in a crazy way. Eastbound flights leave either at 10:40am (yes, that early), 3:10pm, or 7:40pm. Westbound flights are either 8:50am, 1:20pm, or 5:50pm.

But more than the times, look at those prices. Sure it’s an intro fare and all that. And yes, the costs for ancillaries will boost this — a checked bag, meal, and seat are $80 more each way — but uh, remind me of the price of oil again?

Even in times where oil is cheap, this won’t be an easy sell. It’s an airline nobody knows that has no feed on either end. The only hope for a route like this is to stimulate the heck out of it with stupid low fares. Even that’s not a given since it’s just not a very high demand route. But throw in high fuel prices, and oh boy this should just burn money.

I know the rationale was always that Norse Atlantic thought Norwegian long-haul would work with those second-hand airplanes that were cheaper to acquire, but that business plan felt flimsy even when oil wasn’t soaring through the roof. Now, this just seems like a really, really terrible plan.

29 comments on “Norse Atlantic Wants to Burn Money Faster, Fly to Berlin

  1. Are you sure the flight time is a typo ? I think the departure from JFK really is at 00:30 – ie a little after midnight. Allowing for a 6 hour time difference and an 8 hour flight on JFK-BER, this gives an arrival in Berlin at 14:25
    The times you show on the website screenshot look valid to me

    1. I believe the flight in the other direction departs Berlin at 19:20 and arrives in JFK at 22:00. Well past the early afternoon peak demand time from Europe to NY, but still tolerable. I’m guessing the real problem is Norse just couldn’t get decent slot times somewhere

    2. I’m probably weird, but I think a 0030 departure for an eastbound transatlantic would suit me fine. I find it pretty hard to sleep on airplanes. If it ends up way past my bedtime by the time that dinner is over, I might be able to nod off more easily.

      Also, this would facilitate DIY connections for budget-conscious travelers.

    3. The flight times are definitely not a typo, and leaving at 12:30 (pm) and therefore arriving at 2:25 am would be way worse anyway.

    4. No, and I woke up in the middle of the night realizing that. (Brains are weird….) I’ve updated the post. I read it backwards. But still, the times are fine.

  2. Departing New York at 12:30 AM is correct; a 12:30pm departure would result in a middle of the night arrival in Berlin.

  3. Does the actual city in Germany matter, or do you posit that your logic holds regardless of the city in Germany?
    (Thinking specifically about how Condor flies into Phoenix, for example).

    1. The vast majority of business travel is to the urban areas in western Germany (FRA, CGN, DUS) so the airport served in Germany probably does matter.

      Even if Norse Atlantic isn’t targeting business travelers, they are competing with more expensive fares on the legacy carriers compared to mainly leisure destinations like Berlin.

    2. Outer Space Guy – Condor is very different in the sense that it is a German airline with a wide variety of leisure destinations that appeal to the local travelers. It also has connectivity that Norse Atlantic does not have which helps fill the airplanes. That being said, I do think Condor is playing with fire on some of these routes with the new airplanes, flat beds, etc. Still, there is at least a coherent strategy for most of these routes. (Phoenix is a hugely popular German vacation spot.)

  4. Norse Atlantic is perhaps an even stupider business model than Norwegian ever was on TATL. BER doesn’t work as you’ve correctly pointed out, other than for UA, which makes it work due to strong POS on both ends and the strength of the EWR hub. Norse Atlantic’s other routes are also frankly, a joke. OSL-US is a tiny market and there is more than enough US-London right now, a lot of it catering to leisure travel that adding LGW seems wasteful. Long haul, low cost does not work. Never has, never will.

  5. I just wonder where all the money that keeps getting poured into airlines with terrible business plans is coming from. What moron would invest good money into this silly scheme?

    Yet they keep doing it, from Norse to Northern Pacific to (seems to me) Avelo.

    If these guys have all that money to burn, why not call ME…and my company might even actually give them a return.

  6. When I saw this the other day, all I could think of was burning cash. No one ever made Berlin work. Even with the big new awful airport, it can’t work. Maybe some day, with the right equipment like the A321 NEO XLR. 10:40 AM out of LAX is stupid, you pretty much limit it only to LAX travelers, not enough time to fly in and connect. The ghosts of Norwegian’s bad choices will haunt this airline.

  7. Why Berlin is such a bad market? I’m one of the handful of business travelers who end up there regularly and I’m always blown away at how huge the city is (most populous in the EU, by a lot!). The lack of air service has always been very annoying and perplexing for me.

    1. …I know the obvious answer is lack of business travel, but that still doesn’t completely add up. There are a decent number of corporate offices, its the national capital of the largest economy in Europe, its got some tourist stuff, and its got 3.6 million people living there.

    2. In terms of geography, a TATL flight to in Berlin usually involves backtracking for many connecting opportunities for passengers connecting onwards to other European destinations, so BER flights have to depend more on O&D demand than flights to (say) Brussels or Paris.

      A leisure-targeted flight from BER might work if the airline had significant local distribution in the Berlin metro area to attract Germans onto the flight to go to destinations popular with Germans (see: Condor), but it doesn’t sound like Norse has that level of distribution or partnership.

      It may feel like old history, but for ~40 years, nearly all Western investment in Europe took place west of Berlin, as the East Germans struggled to rebuild the factories that had been bombed by the Allies during the war and looted by the Soviets immediately after it. That may have ended 30 years ago, but most modern parts of Germany that were located east of the Iron Curtain remain less developed and less wealthy than those that were west of it.

      1. Yeah – Cold War scars are a theory I’d thought about before… a majority of the metro area is formerly East Berlin so therefore would probably have much less VFR (and business) traffic to the US. Would be an interesting topic for a paper in an international business class.

    3. I have to echo your sentiments, it has long perplexed me as to why Berlin is so poorly served. It’s a big city, yet not even LH manages to serve it from the US. One would think that it would make a fine third hub for LH but no. And…it’s the national capital for cryin’ out loud (yes, I know about Bonn but that’s demoted to a “federal city”).

      All that said, Norse (of all airlines) seems extremely unlikely to break through the ice here. As Cranky points out, they have no connecting options at either end and thus will depend solely on O&D – from passengers who don’t even know that they exist.

  8. It is a sad reality that Berlin, while a unified city has not become near as wealthy of a city as the large former West German cities. Add in the bungled Berlin airport which will be paid for by airline users in that region and Berlin’s future as a major airline market are perhaps permanently damaged. There does seem to be a whole lot of markets, largely west of Berlin, that have the potential to be more viable transatlantic markets.

    Keep in mind that the UA flight is part of the LH joint venture so LH with its German point of sale strength is helping support that market. There are undoubtedly a few LH to UA connections that help feed that flight.

    The biggest threat to low cost carriers is high fuel prices and there is little reason to think they will come down anytime soon – due to geopolitical and energy policy decisions on both sides of the Atlantic that are not likely to change anytime soon. It is a mistake to think that secondary markets like EWR to Berlin will keep working when unhedged jet fuel with no refinery benefit from NYC is over $5/gallon. Longhaul low cost airlines simply cannot flourish given that fuel could quickly replace labor as the largest cost even for western airlines. Persistently high jet fuel will reduce longhaul international networks to the largest markets, many of which will increasingly become seasonal.

    Not only does Norse not have a great chance of success but a whole lot of other markets won’t work either regardless of the carrier as long as jet fuel remains sky high.

  9. Without feed on at least one end, I don’t see this working, at least not on the US side without a huge campaign to stimulate demand. Berlin has a lot to offer the tourist, but very few Americans know that, favoring Munich for leisure travel and Frankfurt/Dusseldorf for business.

    Unless there’s a lot of pent-up demand on the Berlin side for leisure travel to NYC or LA, this can’t work. And even in that case, fuel is so expensive right now that market-stimulating fares aren’t going to cover the costs.

    They could perhaps get some feed with a tie-up, but on the NYC end that’d point to EWR, not JFK – the most likely partners (Spirit and Frontier) don’t fly to JFK. JetBlue already has codeshares with Aer Lingus and Icelandair, with connections to Berlin, and seems to be edging closer to OneWorld. And I think it’s safe to assume Southwest isn’t interested.

    It’d be easier and more environmentally sound just to set fire to stacks of money and have done with it. Or give it to me.

  10. I was a big Air Berlin business class fan. They had a great product at a great price, I got OW miles, I got slippers (which I still use today) and a large milk chocolate heart upon landing. What was not to like? (This obviously says nothing about the economic viability of the business)

    I used Air Berlin frequently from JFK – DUS and flew JFK via Berlin to Rome twice (with Cranky’s help). They code-shared with Cranky’s favorite airline Alitalia (how that worked between One World and SkyTeam I can not tell you).

    I hope Norse makes it. I will try their premium product to get to Europe and connect to where I need to go on my own. Is it a bit more cumbersome? Sure, but the price might make it worth it. Hey Norse: how about a CLT flight to FRA, Paris, LGW? That would probably make as much sense as the BER flight.

  11. Cranky,
    Wasn’t TXL constrained? Now with BER open things should be better. Berlin is a huge business center.

    1. Neither TXL nor SXF were constrained enough that they couldn’t find a way to operate another couple Transatlantic flights.

    2. Berlin is a large business center, but not necessarily in industries that have heavy travel demands to the US. Biggest demand comes from finance, which all goes to Frankfurt. And unless Norse has a reacommodation plan on other carriers or several spare aircraft and crews, business travelers will be hesitant to fly on an airline with only one R/T a day.

  12. I could have sworn United flew IAD-BER with regularity pre pandemic? I even saw it mentioned in a recap of their forthcoming tatl service recently but don’t see it in flight searches.

    1. United didnt fly it pre pandemic. Lufthansa flew it in 2001 but 9/11 killed it. United was supposed to start flying IAD-BER this summer, but pulled it. American flew PHL-BER pre pandemic but did not bring it back. These two last facts should say all you need to know about the Berlin market. And “Lufthansa” really isnt going to help UA much on the Berlin side. I think it only has flights from Berlin to its two hubs Munich and Frankfurt and maybe to a few other token destinations. Not going to feed traffic to the UA flight. Berlin is a wonderful city and has a lot to offer but it just doesnt generate the traffic necessary for truly robust transatlantic flights, for many of the reasons mentioned throughout this post.

      1. I still can’t believe IAD to GVA has more demand than IAD-BER. Both are similar in that there are little to no *A connectivity options onward.

        Consider the staggering population numbers. The BER metro area is 5 million, 4th largest in Europe behind London, Paris and Madrid (per OECD metropolitan areas in 2020). The entire Canton containing Geneva is barely 500,000!

        I simply cannot believe that the 4th largest metro area in Europe cannot sustain a few more nonstop flights to the US, connectivity or not. Baffling!

  13. Not sure that Berlin even has much to offer for connections to other Star Alliance carriers; according to fromflights.com, there’s only 28 destinations served by *A carriers from there. And the list doesn’t really jump out as anything special. And the ONLY Lufthansa flights are to Munich & Frankfurt.

    Scoot to Singapore seems to be the only real long-haul flight outside of Newark from Berlin.

  14. I would imagine there’s quite a bit of pent-up leisure demand to Berlin from the US, and (as you point out) less ways to get there than ever. Berlin’s nightlife and it’s accompanying tourism were very slow to come back to life, and this will be their first full-blast summer over there. I’m guessing this is the market they’re going after.

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