Tried & Tested

Flight review: Norwegian B787-9 Premium

18 Jul 2018 by Guy Dimond

Background

Tom Otley has previously reviewed Norwegian’s Premium service here, so my purpose in this review is to compare and contrast the economy and Premium service for those trying to decide if it’s worth paying the extra for Premium, and also to describe the overnight service from Boston to Gatwick.

Over the last few years I have made the return journey from London to Boston more than a dozen times with a variety of airlines. Norwegian is my current favourite carrier on this route because they offer such excellent value for money, especially in their economy class (which they brand “LowFare”); but also because the Dreamliner is a superior aircraft with higher cabin pressure and higher humidity, making long flights more tolerable.

The low fares of economy class, which I reviewed here, have long been Norwegian’s main selling point, but the airline has realised there is considerable demand for its more profitable Premium category, which is a halfway step towards the business class of other airlines. The aircraft I flew on had one of the latest interiors, with a larger Premium cabin of eight rows of seven seats (2-3-2): 56 in total.

Check-in

Boston traffic (and driving) is rightly notorious, and so I spent an hour trapped in a road tunnel leading into Logan Airport. I arrive at check-in an hour later than I would have liked, and was daunted to see long lines for economy. Premium, however, had a very short queue, and so by 1900, ten minutes after arriving at Terminal E, we were checked in. Premium passengers can check two 20kg cases. The solitary clerk advised us of the gate number and boarding time: in 30 minutes’ (1930).

The next hurdle was the queue for security. Fortunately, our Premium tickets qualified us for the much shorter business class line, and we were through security swiftly, x-rayed shoes and all, to airside.

The lounge

Gate 11 is where Norwegian boards, and it’s a mercifully short walk from security if you’re running late. Opposite Gate 11 is the lift to the many “airline clubs”, as the illuminated sign calls them. Norwegian have no dedicated lounge, and so on the second floor you pass the very chic-looking Virgin Atlantic lounge, down an institutionally dreary corridor, to the shared “The Club – Priority Class”.

This sizeable lounge was fairly crowded, so we sat at a counter as all the tables were taken. We only had 20 minutes, but this was enough to try some of the dishes.

The small buffet had a disappointing selection of dishes. I made the most of it though, and enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder, the seafood soup that’s a signature dish of Boston. Alcoholic drinks could be bought, and my cabernet sauvignon was palatable enough, like a better quality box wine.

Elsewhere in the lounge, two large TV screens were showing women’s boxing, and a busy-looking chap was making use of provided PC and printer. A solitary copy of the Boston Globe was the sole reading material I could find. I don’t think this lounge will ever make it into our Top 100 Lounges list, but I was grateful for the light meal. Travel in economy class and of course there is no lounge, and no fast track either.

Boarding

The call for the Norwegian flight was made in the lounge on the dot of 1930, prompting a small rush to the lift. We needn’t have hurried, as the first passengers didn’t start boarding until 1945 – families with small children and the elderly first. Premium passengers, with boarding group “A” tickets, were called next and this ran smoothly.

The seat

I’m well-acquainted with flying economy in Norwegian, and so on turning left into their aircraft for the first time, the differences were immediately obvious. Premium is a much smaller and cosier cabin, but with much larger seats. Finding sufficient legroom is always a concern for me (I have long legs) but in Premium there was room to spare – 140cm (55 inches). All the seats have power supplies, both USB (not suitable for powering a laptop) and a universal socket that fits both US and UK plugs. The seats recline, though only a bit – nine degrees, apparently. I saw many fellow passengers in Premium tapping away on laptops or iPads – not something I saw in economy class the previous week at all. The cabin was also noticeably warmer than economy, in a good way; temperate, not chilled. Unlike economy, blankets and disposable earplug headphones are provided.

The IFE lifts and swings out of the lefthand seat arm in a robotic manner, and there are around 150 hours of programmes to watch. The tray table lifts out of the right arm, and both are solidly built.

Best seats

I don’t think any of the Premium seats are “bad”. I was in a window seat half way up the cabin, and that suited me fine. The seats to avoid are any that are not adjacent to the aisle, because once the seats are reclined, it’s nearly impossible to clamber over your neighbour to get out, no matter how well acquainted with them you are. Go for an aisle seat if you tend to get up and walk around. Noise levels tend to be lower the further forward of the jet engines you sit; my smartphone app recorded noise of typically below 80dB in this seat, compare to just over 80dB in the economy seat a few metres behind me the previous week.

The flight

Take-off was delayed by more than half an hour because the water truck, meant to replenish our plane, had broken down. We eventually lifted off at 2105.

Service was delivered from the front of the Premium cabin. Plastic beakers of water or orange juice were brought around first, then alcoholic drinks at 2230. A glass of white Bordeaux was very decent; a bloody mary also hit the spot, made with Absolut vodka and a Big Tom mixer.

I then had time to try the IFE. I particularly liked the interactive map, which was so detailed I could zoom in on my home street. However, the sound quality via the supplied headphones was mediocre, and the option for subtitles that appears on the IFE simply didn’t work. I went back to working on my laptop.

Dinner was served around 2300. The advertised “three-course meal” began with a choice of mains, beef, chicken or fish. The beef was nicely cooked and immersed in a rich, buttery yellow sauce; the second “course”, I assume, was the side salad of herby leaves. Third course was traffic-light-coloured macarons. Everything was carefully prepared and tasty. The drinks included a southern French red, Minervois; a good example of its type. I’m not sure the Premium meal is vastly superior to the meal served in economy, but as both are really quite good, there’s no cause for grumbling. Trays were cleared by 2330, and I reclined the seat to doze off.

 

Part of the reason I wanted to try Premium is because, being tall, I rarely get comfortable on airline seats and am unable to sleep while sitting upright. The reclining seats therefore showed promise. I’d like to report they were delightfully comfortable, but for me, they were not. As I’m more than six feet tall, the bends and recesses were in the wrong places. If you are a more average height, maybe the seat is fine. Despite the lack of comfort, I still dozed right the way through the breakfast service, so can’t report on it. I’m reliably informed it was a snack, not hot, and although fine, it was not worth waking up for.

Arrival

We landed at 0810 UK time and taxied for a while, leaving the plane 15 minutes later, with Premium passengers going first. This turned out to be a false advantage, as there were then big delays at the baggage carousel. By 0840 the carousel screen incorrectly announced “Bags Delivered”, and stayed that way, although the bags of many passengers had still not shown up. I therefore made enquiries at the nearby Norwegian desk, just in time for a tannoy announcement saying more bags were on their way; “It would be nice if they told us”, said the Norwegian representative. At 0915 the bags eventually showed up. After a good flight, this was a very disappointing finish. This was, however, the first time this has happened to me on a Norwegian flight, so maybe this was just bad luck.

Verdict

There are two Premium fare options: Premium, or Premium Flex, which offers more flexibility (mainly late change or cancellation) and is therefore firmly targeted at business travellers. Premium is not business class, but for many travellers, it’s close enough and offers many advantages over economy. On this particular flight I was very grateful for the fast track, which compensated for arriving at the airport nearly an hour later than I had planned; and the use of the lounge meant there was time for a quick (and free) bite to eat before boarding. The seat is not great for dozing, even less so for sleeping, but it’s an improvement over economy, which I’ve never been able to sleep in. Best of all, perhaps, is how much roomer the seat is – plenty of legroom, space to put down hand luggage, set up a laptop, and work with a power supply. For business travel, Premium is the hands-down winner over economy. The main problem is finding one of the cheaper Premium fares, as choice dates sell out in advance; Premium Flex fares, however, are much more readily available.

Price: The internet rate for a return Premium class flight from Boston to Gatwick in July 2018 starts from £844.80 Premium, or £1,059.80 for Premium Flex.

Flight time: 6 hours 20 minutes LGW-BOS; 7 hours 15 minutes for the return journey.

Configuration: 2-3-2

Seat pitch: 46in/117cm

norwegian.com

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BTUK September 2018
BTUK September 2018
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