Flying: The Norwegian Difference
By Geri Bain
Norwegian (a.k.a. Norwegian Air Shuttle) first caught my attention while looking for a one-way flight from New York to Stockholm for my daughter’s summer internship in Sweden. I wanted an open return since we planned to piggy-back on her experience with a family trip to an as-yet undetermined European destination. While most airlines charge higher than roundtrip for one-way flights, Norwegian’s fares are sold in one-way segments and are consistently among the lowest in the market.
Back then, even travel industry friends were barely aware of Norwegian, not surprising because its first flights to the U.S. were in 2013. But Norwegian’s recent announcement that it is considering taking advantage of the lower fees at less busy airports (like the one in White Plains, about 40 minutes from Manhattan) to offer one-way fares to Europe as low as $69 by 2017 has helped put it on travelers’ radar.
Curious, I decided to do some research. Despite its quiet entry into the U.S. market, Norwegian already offers more nonstop routes to Europe than any other European airline. As this posts (October 13, 2015), it flies to London, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm gateways from Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland/San Francisco and Orlando with U.S. additional gateways planned including:
- Direct service from Las Vegas to Copenhagen and Stockholm starting October 31, 2015
- Direct service from San Juan to Copenhagen, London, Oslo and Stockholm starting November 1, 2015
- Direct service from Baltimore/DC, Boston and New York/JFK to the French Caribbean starting December 3, 2015
- Direct service from Boston to Copenhagen and Oslo starting in May 2016
In fact, Norwegian is among the world’s fastest-growing airlines in terms of routes, offering 432 routes to 132 destinations in 37 countries around the world. It is Europe’s third-largest low-cost airline. Plus, SKYTRAX World Airline Awards named it “Best Low-Cost Airline in Europe” for the past three years (2013, 2014 and 2015) and in 2015 “World’s Best Long-Haul Low Cost Airline.” Part of what sets it apart are the Boeing 787 Dreamliners used on its long-haul flights and its Wi-Fi-included Boeing 737s for short haul service.
Thomas Ramdahl, Norwegian’s Chief Commercial Officer told me that thanks to the Dreamliner’s innovative design, it uses 20% less fuel than similarly sized planes. “Considering how much airlines are spending on fuel, this saving is one of the main reasons why we can keep our fares so low.” It’s also less damaging to the environment. Norwegian reports per-seat, per-kilometer emissions of about 665 grams of C02 per seat which it compares to a Toyota Prius’ emission of 95 grams per kilometer.
Another difference: Dreamliner cabin pressure is set at 6,000 feet, versus the typical 8,000 feet. “This is one of the many great features of the Dreamliner, as the (higher) oxygen level means fresher air onboard and reduces jet-lag symptoms and … headaches, which are unfortunately fairly common on long-haul flights,” he noted.
Dynamic LED mood lighting can be set to simulate diurnal rhythm and coincide with meal service, relaxation, nighttime and pre-landing. The aircraft also features larger windows and new technology that reduces turbulence, vibration and noise levels. The 787s are also faster; flight times from the U.S. to Scandinavia, for instance, are about 20 to 30 minutes shorter as compared other aircraft.
My daughter flew on Norwegian’s “LowFare+” ticket, which bundled a checked bag, assigned seat, food and drinks on board for about $56. A frequent, cost-sensitive traveler, she said she’d probably bring her own food in the future because she’d wanted to sleep and didn’t like waiting for the “edible but typical airline food” to arrive, but found her economy class seat “surprisingly comfortable” and the spacious overhead bins meant “no one had trouble stowing their carry-ons.” Economy seats have a pitch (legroom/distance between seats) of 31-32 inches and width (measured from armrest to armrest) of 17.2 inches. That’s just a tad above average, but a low-profile seat back and high ceiling maximize the feeling of personal space. An interactive seatback screen with intuitive controls lets you order and pay for drinks and snacks and provides on-demand video/audio programs including recently-released films, games and children’s programming.
For my flights, I booked Premium — a few hundred dollars upcharge each way. It’s not as indulgent as business class, but for less than half the cost, it’s a big step up from coach. Recliner seats with pitch of 46 inches (about eight inches more legroom than most carriers’ long-haul Premium Economy) made quality sleep possible. Other nice Premium extras included airport lounge access, two checked bags, meals and drinks on board and Fast Track security clearance, which allowed me to bypass a long, snaking line at JFK.
We also flew Norwegian in Europe from Stockholm to Rome, and Rome to Copenhagen. We enjoyed the free Wi-Fi, a nice plus not consistently offered by other airlines, and fares were quite low (about $68 from Rome to Copenhagen). The only hitch on our flights was a two-hour delay on our return flight to the U.S. for which we were compensated with meals and drinks, both in the airport and on board.
I’ve been calling Norwegian the “Jet Blue of Europe” for its ability to offer an impressive experience for the price. I’ll be flying Norwegian again.
www.Norwegian.com or 800-357-4159