The ultimate human automaton service experience – Norwegian Intercontinental


I’ve been travelling again. To US and back.  Since my company doesn’t  like me to travel with the airlines I prefer because of their reliability and service, such as SAS, BA or Lufthansa (“too expensive”) I had the option of chosing between some American companies (United/Delta) or some low cost airlines, such as Norwegian.

Since I’ve experienced the “services” of US based airlines many times before, where both the cabin crew and ground staff are strictly following a process written in stone, strictly forbidden to make any decisions of their own, probably even strictly forbidden to think on their own,  with no flexibility what so ever in terms of service and customer care, so I opted out from them, despite them having a direct flight to NY.  Instead, I decided to fly Norwegian, eventhough that meant that I’d be forced to a transfer in Oslo.

The reason for going with Norwegian was that during the summer, my wife and I did a mediterranean cruise, and that cruise included air transportation to Barcelona, the departure harbor, with Norwegian, and we were both very positively surprised by Norwegian, brand new planes, and great (Scandinavian) staff, both on ground and in the cabin.  Staff that not only had attended a “charm training” with fakey smiles, but staff with human personality and behavior that did really do their best to care for the customer,  willing and able to make decisions on their own to optimize individual customer experience.

Furthermore, I was keen on experiencing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, used by Norwegian on their transatlantic flights.

So, my first leg, from Stockholm to Oslo, was as expected: brand new Boeing 737, friendly and professional Scandinavian staff, great service, despite the fact that you have to pay for everything onboard, even a glass of water. But I was prepared for that, and frankly, I don’t mind paying for food and beverage onboard, as long as I can get what I want.

Fast fwd the tape to the flight from Oslo to NY: I was on a late afternoon flight from Oslo, and decided that I’ll have dinner onboard the flight, instead of eating at the airport. That was a mistake:  when the Thai based cabin crew (hired by Norwegian not primarily for their friendly smiles, but for their low cost) started serving dinner, they passed me, without even asking if I wanted a meal. I managed to get hold of the Thai stewardess, explaining that I wanted “the chicken”, at which she said, still with a very friendly but mechanical smile: “Sir, I can’t see that you have ordered a meal”.

No, I had missed that, i.e. that on Norwegian’s transatlantic flights, you have to preorder your meals.  OK, not a big problem, I can understand that a low cost airline does not want to stock more meals than they are actually going to sell, so I asked the stewardess to give me a beer and some snacks, such as chips or nuts.

“Sir, I’m very sorry, but we can’t sell you anything, until our snack bar (operated with the infront screen) opens, when it does, you can order drinks and snacks”.   Ok, so when does the snack bar open ? Turns out that it took almost 4 hours of waiting before the snack bar opened, until I was able to get anything to drink or eat – they couldn’t even sell me a bottle of water before the automated snack bar opened, 4 (!) hours into the flight….!

I was simply flabbergasted by the inability or unwillingness of the steward to step even an inch outside of the Norwegian process description – clearly, she did not have the authority to step even a millimetre outside of the corporate prescribed process, she was unable to serve me a beer, coke or a bag of chips,or even a bottle of water,  despite me being willing to pay a lot for any of those items, and despite the fact that she had all the goods I wanted to purchase in front of her.

I’ve never before experienced such a “human automaton” behavior in this type of business, where one would expect that providing good customer service would be a key competitive advantage.  It was exactly like being served by a machine, a robot,  where the algorithm doesn’t allow for any variation, and where “human touch” and personality has been replaced by a faky artificiallly programmed smile that does not move any further than the lips.

So, that was my first and last Norwegian transatlantic flight. I will still use Norwegian for European travel, but I will not travel with their “outsourced” intercontinental operations – I prefer to deal with real humans, exhibiting personality, despite any potential human flaws, asop to mechanistically smiling human automatons, without the trust and authority to make any decisions themselves.

Edit 131030 – An article in today’s DN on how Norwegian exploits their Thai cabin staff, with salaries that are 5-10 times lower than for Scandinavian staff.


About swdevperestroika

High tech industry veteran, avid hacker reluctantly transformed to mgmt consultant.
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