Tried & Tested

Flight review: Norse Atlantic Airways B787-9 Premium

15 Aug 2022 by Tom Otley
Norse B787-9 Premium-cabin_3

Background

This was the inaugural flight of Norse from London Gatwick to New York JFK on August 12, 2022.

The route is served by a B787-9 which has 338 seats configured in two classes with 282 economy passengers and 56 premium economy.

To read more about Norse, see this piece

Norse Atlantic outlines plans for seven US routes from Gatwick

The exteriors have been repainted in a new ‘longship livery’ with each aircraft named after a national park – Redwood, Seqouia and Yellowstone for instance. For this inaugural it was aircraft registration LN-FN1 named Jotenheimen which is a park in Norway. There are hopes for a double daily flight from Gatwick in the near future, but for more on that, see the verdict at the end.

Check-in

I arrived at London Gatwick South Terminal at 1000 for my 1335 departure on Norse N0701, a flight time of seven and a half hours.

The railway station is still a work in progress with the current renovation and at busy times it can take a few minutes to make your way from the platform, through the gate area and up to the airport. (In fact, there aren’t gates, but people want to touch in and out on the machines. If you have a paper ticket you can walk straight through, or you could if there weren’t so many people in the narrow passageway).

Once there I went upstairs to departures and Zone H where there was a dedicated queue for Premium passengers. Norse has two classes – Economy and Premium, and each of these has three fare classes: Light, Classic and Plus, so there are at least six different price points, each with different elements included in the ticket price.

When booking, there is also the chance to offset the flight through a partnership with Choose, though this is set at the ludicrously low value of £5 ($6) each way for a flight in Premium.

In Premium, the Light fare is hand baggage only, whereas Classic and Plus offer more checked bags and greater ticket flexibility. Norse does not have an arrangement for Fast track security, though I am told one is being planned. It also does not have a loyalty programme, though again, there are plans for one.

There is also no lounge, and, once airside (about five minutes to get through security), some lounges were closed, all were full and none were accepting Priority Pass passengers without a wait. I joined a virtual queue for one and over two hours later, as we were on the aircraft, received a message saying there was now space in the lounge.

Boarding

We boarded from Gate 13, which, from memory, was the one which Norwegian used to use for this route. There were various speeches and celebrations at the gate, and a cake was cut and then distributed. I interviewed Bjorn Tore Larsen, CEO of Norse Atlantic Airways, and then headed onboard early to have a look at the cabin and shoot some video for the YouTube review which I will post tomorrow.

Norse B787-9 Premium-cabin

The seat

The 56 Premium seats are in eight rows of 2-3-2 at the front of the aircraft. The configuration is 2-3-2 (AC -DEF GJ). These are comfortable armchair-type seats, identical to those offered by Norwegian. For a flight review of that cabin from four years ago on this route, see

Flight review: Norwegian B787-9 Premium

The seat has a pitch of 43 inches and 12 inches of recline (the B787s have 46 inches in Premium), and has a utilitarian grey leather covering with antimacassars with the Norse logo on them.

When you buy your ticket you’ll find (as with many low cost carriers) that there are various ways of spending more than the headline fare. Seat selection seems to cost between £30 and £75, depending on the seat (window seats are more expensive). The system also says that all the seats are ‘extra legroom’ which might make you feel better about paying to select them, but isn’t true for most of them, unless it means extra compared to the legroom in economy. If you buy a Premium Plus ticket, then seat selection is included.

Bear in mind also that if any Premium seats are unsold, just before take-off economy passengers are invited to pay for an upgrade, so even if the doors shut and the seat next to you is vacant, it may not remain that way.

Norse Antimacassar

Under one arm is the tray table which folds out and is bifold. Once fully opened, it rests on a ledge on the other arm and so is very firm and is easy to use as a base for your laptop and also to dine.

Norse Premium Tray-table

The seat has a leg rest which comes out from beneath the seat and is released via a switch in the armrest, and then there is a sliding switch which then allows this to be further extended with a foot rest. This is quite abrupt, so it’s best to keep your feet out of the way (and especially your toes) when performing this manoeuvre.

Norse-Premium-3J-window-seat_1

The other armrest hides the IFE screen which, when raised has a USB socket and a plug for the headphones which are distributed along with a blanket. The screen is good quality, although the headsets (really ear buds) which plug into them aren’t wonderful, so you would be better served using your own headphones and connecting to the system, though you would have had to have packed the right jack for that to work. There is no wifi, although the aircraft are fitted with a Rockwell Collins system – which creates its own headache since that company no longer supports the hardware. Wifi may come one day is what I was told.

The IFE screen had a small choice of entertainment, though to be fair I’ve noticed on recent flights with other airlines that the selections seems to have been cut back generally – perhaps by Covid-related financial constraints. There was also no flight map since the system apparently needs upgrading for that, and I must say I missed not knowing where we were, especially on the approach to New York.

The storage is limited to a large pocket on the seat of the back in front. There is also a button for hanging jackets.

Norse pocket storage

Best seat

If you are looking for a window seat, avoid row 5 since it has only partial windows, and since you are flying west, try and choose the right hand side of the aircraft for the outward journey from Gatwick (so G or J) so the sun isn’t in your face on the way over there.

The back row apparently has the same 12 inches of recline as the other seats (I was told by someone sitting in one). I will test this out when I next fly, because it’s hard to see how there is enough space for this (when the seats are reclined they do impinge the space of the person behind.

Norse-Premium-cabin-in-flight_1

The flight

Before take-off we were offered a choice of water, orange juice or apple juice. There was a slight delay pushing back from the stand, and then a further delay as we waited for aircraft to land and take off, and we departed around 1425 rather than 1330. The pilot kept us informed the whole time as to the reason for the delays.

Take-off was smooth without any problems, and then once airborne, around 1500 the drinks service began from the front of the cabin. There was a choice of drinks – wine, both red and white, one beer (Carlsberg), and soft drinks including no-alcohol Carlsberg, juices and water (still only, no sparkling).

You get one drink and then a second one with the meal (water is complimentary) and then a third with the final meal. If you want to drink more than that then it is available for sale – wines are $9-11.50 ($13.50 for Nicolas Feuillatte Reserve Exclusive), Carlsberg is $7 and there’s a BMC India Pale Ale for $8.

The meal service was around 15 minutes later, and the main meal choice was either chicken and rice and vegetables or salmon with potato mash and spinach (I was told the salmon was the better choice by a family across the aisle which had ordered and tasted both). You can also pre-order special meals and my vegan choice was Asian noodles and tofu and was very tasty. Premium passenger are served much more quickly than economy passengers, and long after we had finished the meal we went back to see a colleague in economy and he was still waiting for his meal (which is complimentary for all tickets other than the Light fare). We made the same recommendation of the salmon.

Coffees and teas were next, though there was no milk of any sort loaded, so it was black tea or black coffee.

The rest of the flight passed uneventfully. I worked and at various points the flight attendant’s brought round trays of water (though of course it was possible to buy drinks). About 2000 (1500) the second meal service was a choice of tomato and mozzarella pizza sandwich, some macaroons and another drink.

Since I’m not doing a separate review of the night flight back, I should say that it was a good service, though I found it difficult to sleep in these seats. It was a little like the old ‘ski slope’ business class seats, where every time you fall asleep you have to push yourself back up using the footrest.

As far as that footrest is concerned, it is not quite far enough away, so your legs are bent (if you are over 5 foot 10 inches) so you can’t stretch out. Still, this isn’t business class.

Norse Vegan-Asian-meal

Arrival

As we had set off late we were late arriving into JFK, with a landing at 1625 and then disembarking at Terminal 1 at 1645. As Premium passengers were first off, we were lucky and there was no queue for immigration, but economy passengers had a longer queue and it looked as though at least one but possibly more flights had landed at the same time, as it quickly grew in length, though to be fair it did keep moving as the immigration officials were efficient. I had no bag checked and so was on my way by 1720.

Landing at JFK

Verdict

This was a comfortable flight, with enthusiastic and friendly staff, and there were no significant delays, but really with Norse it all comes down to the price, and that is fluctuating at the time of writing this. To give some idea, when I looked online the day before the flight, it was £465 for a Light fare in Premium. This has risen considerably (to £711 a few days later), partly because there is only one flight a day and only 56 seats to sell, partly because, as explained below, the flights beyond the end of October for the winter season have yet to be loaded, and partly because that was always a lead-in price. Selecting some random dates in the middle of September and the price is around £900-£1,000. Revenue management for all the airlines works that way, but it is difficult to give an accurate idea of what the lead-in fare is at the moment, only that it is competitive.

That said, there are a number of challenges for Norse beyond the uncertainties of being a start-up airline in very uncertain times and with very high fuel prices.

The first is that Norse still does not have an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) for the Gatwick to New York flight, and so is relying on ‘fifth freedom’ rights.

Fifth freedom: Aviation liberation

This might seem to be irrelevant for flyers, and in a sense it is, but it means that the flight which comes in from Oslo to Gatwick then goes onward to New York is what is allowing Norse to fly this route until it gains the right to fly point to point (London to New York). Until this is solved, it is unlikely that a second daily flight will go on the route from Gatwick to New York, and this will dampen demand from cost-conscious business travellers, who want the security that a second flight can bring both in terms of convenience and also in case anything goes wrong with the flight they are planning to take (a technical problem, for instance).

Secondly, because of this (at the time of going to press), flights are only on sale from now until the end of October, Norse is missing out on future bookings. This will be remedied in coming weeks, but it is an added strain for a fledgling airline.

Thirdly, as already indicated, it is difficult to speak about the price because everything – for Norse and for other airlines – is so changeable. Norse will offer low fares on a promotional basis (at least 10 per cent of the seats at the lead-in low prices), but British Airways could compete by dropping the price of its economy and premium economy seats from London Gatwick to New York, for instance, especially since its B777s at Gatwick are configured in economy as 10-across. The lack of room for flyers gives the airline more ‘room’ to offer low prices.

Then there is Jetblue which is about to go two times daily from London Gatwick, flying a narrow body, admittedly, which won’t be to  everyone’s taste, but able to offer a low price because of the economics of that narrow body and with both economy and business seating.

Norse is promising it has learned the lessons from Norwegian’s failure, and it is being careful not to over extend itself, but the headwinds are considerable going into this autumn and winter. I wish it luck.

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