The Unfriendly Skies

Blocking competition


Norwegian Air desperately wants to offer inexpensive trans-Atlantic flights to U.S. customers. Unfortunately for the flying public, three of America's biggest domestic carriers—Delta, United, and American Airlines—have been doing everything in their power to prevent that from happening. An application from Norwegian to expand its operations has been held up in bureaucratic limbo for nearly a year, even though similar efforts by other companies are often approved within two or three months.

As of press time, the Department of Transportation was still refusing to either green-light the airline's application or allow it to begin flying while its documents are reviewed. This has left Norwegian's leadership frustrated—the company went out of its way to base its international subsidiary in Ireland in order to gain access to an "open-skies" agreement between the U.S. and the European Union. E.U. officials cried foul in a meeting in October, accusing Washington of breaching the treaty.

Thus far, Obama administration officials remain unmoved. They have the backing of the House of Representatives, which in June passed an amendment encouraging the executive branch to block Norwegian's expansion plans. Congress in turn has the backing of Delta, United, and American Airlines—and the army of lobbyists in those companies' employ—all of whom are loath to see a lower-cost competitor enter the overseas travel market.