Norwegian Airlines has been around for a while – quite a while, in fact.
From its humble beginnings in 1993, the carrier now serves more than 100 cities in Europe, North America and Asia. Over the last five years, Norwegian greatly increased its footprint in the US by adding flights from three New York area airports, Providence, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland and even a few resort areas in the Caribbean.
Given the super-low prices for international flights, you might be wondering what a flight on Norwegian is like. Here’s our report!
We recently took a 10 ½ hour flight from London Gatwick airport to Austin, and found it relatively comfortable, with excellent value for the price paid. There’s a lot to comment on, so we’ll split this report into two posts – the first about the “generic” product and the second about the specifics of our experience.
The good news is that Norwegian flies a relatively young fleet of Boeing 787s and 737-800’s – one of the newest sets of planes in the sky. Booking is easy – either on their own website or through a travel agent. Fares are low – much lower, in many cases, than legacy carriers we’ve relied on for years. Their “low fare” policy is front and center in their advertisements. Like many things Scandinavian, the service emphasis is more geared toward practical, austere delivery of the basics.
There is no “first” or “business” class on Norwegian. There is a premium economy section on most flights – and on the 787 that means eight rows, seven across. You won’t find any lie-flat seats in their premium economy cabin, although there is much more legroom than on competing carriers in premium economy. You can comfortably cross your legs with the minimum 42” between rows even with the seat in front of you reclined. That’s much better than the extra legroom “comfort” seats offered by Delta, American and United on their transatlantic flights.
There’s still a respectable 32” between rows in economy. The seats themselves are similar in density to what most legacy carriers are doing, with nine seats across in regular economy.
The International Baggage Allowance is one bag for economy, maximum weight 20KG (44 lbs) and one carry-on bag. Premium Economy gets two 20 KG bags, but keep in mind this is less than the 50 lb limit in the States. There is a substantial charge per kilogram for overweight bags and an absolute limit of 32 kgs. The lady checking in before us had to shell out about $100 for her overweight bags. We squeaked by with a 22 kg bag with no extra charge, but I wouldn’t push it. If you fly economy, pre-purchase your extra baggage charge online.
Shortly after takeoff, in-flight meals become available – included (along with alcoholic beverages) in premium economy and available for purchase in economy. Meals are served in clever cardboard boxes. There is no china, glass or metal cutlery, so a step below legacy service. Our experience with the “beef” entrée was that that it was much more edible than the hockey-puck filets we’ve received in business class on many international flights.
While the first meal and drink service is offered from a cart in premium economy, all drinks thereafter must be ordered through your entertainment system. All purchases in economy are through the inflight screen, where you must swipe a credit card – and flight attendants bring your requested items fairly quickly. There are no “free” inflight snacks in either class.
Speaking of inflight entertainment, this was one area where Norwegian lags behind the competition. The 9” fold out premium economy monitors took up valuable seat space in the armrests. In economy, the screens are in the seat back in front of you, and that can be problematic. While the screens were clear, the movie choice was way behind current.
Three and four year old films were on offer, along with some “classics” like Rebel Without a Cause. Definitely consider downloading your own entertainment or bring a good book – you’ll be much happier.
NUMBER ONE LOUNGE EXPERIENCE
Since free admission was included, we waited in an unexpectedly long line to enter – eating up nearly 10 minutes of the limited time we had before boarding. We were given a menu card which allowed us to order one item (at the bar, for delivery to a table we needed to select) – and we waited 20 minutes for a bacon roll that never materialized. There were a few other items on a very small buffet available, along with processed croissants and “pain-au-chocolat” that we tried, but then decided were not worth the calories. The service bar was decently stocked, but we couldn’t figure out what was free and what wasn’t. You could get a beer or a glass of wine at no charge. Two self-serve coffee makers and a beverage fountain were also available.
The nicely appointed rest room, which was definitely a step up in décor, had only dribbles of water coming out of the faucets, making it feel like a third world country.
We’d rate the Number 1 Club a “2” on a scale of 1 to10, but it would be better than sitting in the common areas. The club DID have a terrific view of the very active runways, so if that sort of things entertains you, we can boost up to a 3.
Passengers traveling economy can purchase access to the club for 35 UK Pounds per person. We’d say it’s definitely not worth it unless you have hours to kill. The Number One Lounge is also a “Priority Pass” offering, so you might also be entitled to free entry with your major credit card program.
TO THE GATE AND BOARDING
With the flight flashing “Boarding” 40 minutes before flight time, we made our way to gate 33 – a 10-15 minute hike from the main terminal area. We arrived 30 minutes before flight time just as they were making a first announcement for boarding premium economy.
The moral of this story was – don’t rush! Norwegian uses a satellite terminal with limited services, although there was adequate seating. Arriving 30 minutes before flight time is sufficient, but boarding is cut off at 10 minutes.
If you are seated in a bulkhead row, as we were, note there is very limited overhead bin space and you’ll be fighting with people in row two and behind. In this case, being one of the first to board would justify getting there a bit early.
OVERALL – for the price, you can’t beat the Norwegian premium economy experience. It’s available in either direction at one-way prices. The service is good, but not luxurious. Perhaps the best advice we can give you is bring your own entertainment, a good book, and maybe a sandwich or some snacks…and you’ll be across the pond before you know it.