Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

The consensus is that flying has become boring. But fly on small planes offering a web of scheduled services up the Norwegian coast to discover a very different take on civil aviation. Travel by plane can still be immensely enjoyable. We review flying with Widerøe, a small airline based north of the Arctic Circle at Bodø in Norway.

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The small plane banks to the left affording a marvellous view of the snowy fells just below. Is that portside wing-tip not just a shade too close to the rocks and ice below?

“Have faith,” whispers the man in the seat behind. “The pilot has done this a hundred times before.”

He is of course right. The mountain soon recedes and we gaze down into Skitnskarddal, a deep valley on the south side of the mountainous island of Kvaløy. Then all the land and sea of the North, all the fjords and fjells, are lost in a swirl of mist — though only briefly, for very soon we touch down on the runway at Tromsø Airport.

We bid farewell to the man who reassured us on the approach into Tromsø. He is connecting onto the lunchtime SAS flight to Svalbard in the High Arctic. As our plane refuels, we sit on the aircraft and watch a couple of other green-andwhite Widerøe planes taxi in and park at stands on either side of us.

Within 20 minutes, all three aircraft are taking to the skies, bound for remote communities in the Norwegian Arctic. The ritual of Widerøe aircraft meeting, swapping passengers, and then going their separate ways is repeated dozens of times daily at airports across Norway.

This is very different from the typical hub-and-spoke operation favoured by many conventional airlines. For Widerøe’s Flyveselskap AS — the official name of the carrier since its foundation in 1934 — is anything but a conventional airline.

Serving the community

“Hele Norge, hele tiden,” says Kari, the cabin attendant on our 20-minute flight from Tromsø over to Sørkjosen. “All of Norway, all of the time.” The airline’s motto reveals that Widerøe is first and foremost a Norwegian operation, although the airline does operate year-round services to four airports outside Norway (Aberdeen, Copenhagen, Göteborg and Newcastle-upon-Tyne).

“We certainly do serve all of Norway,” explains Kari, “but our heart is in the north. Here in Arctic Norway we operate multi-hop flights which are akin to a rural bus service in more densely settled parts of Europe. We are a lifeline for many of the 21 Norwegian communities north of the Arctic Circle which we serve.”

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About the authors

hidden europe

and manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

This article was published in hidden europe 45.