Should tourists pay more than locals to fly in Norway?

Local airline Widerøe has proposed a change in its pricing strategy for Norway’s subsidized air routes. It could lead to tourists paying more for air travel. Here’s the story.

Exploring the rugged terrains of northern and rural Norway via Widerøe’s small propeller planes provides a unique vantage point on the stark landscapes that define this part of the world.

A Widerøe Airlines Dash-8 Q400 turboprop aircraft on the tarmac of Leknes Airport on the Lofoten Islands in Norway.  Photo: fivetonine / Widerøe Airlines Dash-8 Q400 turboprop aircraft on the tarmac of Leknes Airport on the Lofoten Islands in Norway.  Photo: fivetonine /
Flying in Norway with Widerøe could soon become more expensive for tourists. Photo: fivetonine /

From the isolated fjords to the Arctic tundra, the experience of flying above these vast, untouched plains can be as exciting as the destinations themselves.

However, recent developments in Norwegian air travel have sparked a debate that could change the way both tourists and locals experience these iconic journeys.

Norway’s FOT routes

Widerøe, Scandinavia’s largest regional airline, has proposed a new ticket pricing strategy that would see tourists pay more than locals for flights on key routes, known as FOT routes.

Norway’s FOT routes are government-subsidized air routes intended to maintain essential air services to the country’s more remote areas on routes that are less economically viable.

These routes are crucial to ensure that residents of rural and northern Norway have reliable access to air transport, which is often the only viable means of travel to and from these regions.

Røst Island in Lofoten.  Photo: David Nikel.Røst Island in Lofoten.  Photo: David Nikel.
The island of Røst in Lofoten is served by a FOT route. Photo: David Nikel.

The proposal comes in response to a government policy that halved maximum prices for short-haul flights, a move intended to make air travel more accessible to people living in Norway’s more remote areas.

Increased tourist demand on major routes

The concern, as outlined by Widerøe, is that lower prices have led to a surge in demand from tourists and leisure travelers on these key routes, especially during peak season.

read more: Domestic flights in Norway

This increase in tourist traffic reportedly makes it difficult for local residents, including business travelers and patients in need of medical care, to find available seats.

According to Lina Lindegaard Carlsen, communications advisor at Widerøe, “The most popular departures are now increasingly filled with holiday and leisure travelers. As a result, business and patient travel may experience difficulty obtaining tickets for these flights close to departure.”

Looking at the Spanish model

In addressing these challenges, Widerøe has looked to models used in other tourist-heavy destinations, such as Spain, where island residents get discounts on flights and ferries to and from the mainland.

Small Widerøe plane at Bodø Airport.  Photo: David Nikel.Small Widerøe plane at Bodø Airport.  Photo: David Nikel.
Small Widerøe plane at Bodø Airport. Photo: David Nikel.

Specifically, a 50% subsidy on air and sea travel from the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Ceuta and Melilla to mainland Spain is available to EU nationals and their families living on these islands.

Carlsen notes that such a model would ensure locals continue to have access to essential air services without being priced out or displaced by tourists.

The debate raises important questions about the balance between promoting tourism – an essential part of the local economy – and ensuring the accessibility of essential services for residents.

A new public tender will be launched soon

The Norwegian Ministry of Transport is considering Widerøe’s proposal, with a spokesperson indicating that future contracts for these routes will aim to “ensure the best possible service for the resources used.”

As Norway prepares for the next round of public tenders for these routes, all eyes will be on how this balance between local needs and tourist flows is achieved.

As this situation continues to develop, travelers to Norway – whether on holiday or business – will quickly find that their tickets reflect more than just the cost of travel, but also the broader socio-economic strategies designed to improve both accessibility as the attraction of one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.