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.