Norwegian has certainly stirred up competition across the Atlantic with its long haul, low cost flights from the UK to the US, South American and Asia. With headlines prices as low as £155 one-way for economy across the Atlantic and £455 for premium one-way, it has arguably been the driving force behind existing airlines offering Hand Baggage Only (HBO) fares in an attempt to match these prices and has also added capacity and choice for travellers.
(As background, Norwegian is now the second largest long-haul airline at Gatwick with 13 direct long-haul destinations. The airline serves a total of 11 routes to the US and recently added Chicago and Austin to its expanding network.)
What will happen next will be most interesting. IAG is in the process of trying to buy the airline. Meanwhile, Norwegian isn’t making money, and so needs to concentrate on its profitable routes and its most profitable passengers.
To that end, it is dropping routes that don’t make money, and adding frequencies to the ones that do. Routes such as this London Gatwick to New York JFK route are profitable, so it has added a third frequency from October 29, 2018.
These extra frequencies are also a recognition that business travellers want frequent daily departures on a route, partly so they have the choice of when to travel, and partly because it gives them more confidence that if something goes wrong with one aircraft forcing a flight to be delayed or cancelled, there’s more chance of service recovery being in place.
Norwegian is also putting its newest B787-9 aircraft on the New York route with a large premium cabin, since it believes the demand is there from business (and leisure) travellers wanting a greater degree of comfort.
Whether all of this is too little, too late, remains to be seen, but if Norwegian disappears it will be a great shame, because having flown long haul with them in Premium to and from London and New York, it really is an excellent service, and very inexpensive compared to the competition. Choose some dates in the coming months and price it up compared with Virgin or British Airways in premium economy. It is considerably less expensive, and also bear in mind that for business travellers who generally don’t want to stay a Saturday night, the differential is even greater.
I arrived at London Gatwick at 1405 for my 1705 departure on flight DI7015 to New York JFK Terminal 1, a flight of some eight hours. Norwegian flights depart from the South Terminal. There is a dedicated area for check-in for the US flights and a queue for premium passengers. I joined this queue, but unfortunately the check-in agent encountered a problem with two passengers in front of us, and so left the desks to try and sort this out.
We then waited for 15 minutes while the economy passengers in the main queue were processed, and we were ignored. We were particularly ignored by a young lady who was learning the job and was left sitting next to the empty chair of the person she was shadowing. After ignoring us for 15 minutes I asked her why we were not being directed to other check-in agents. Her reply was “We would just have to wait”. It is very discouraging that this is the attitude of a new recruit learning the job. It’s also not the way to encourage Norwegian’s best customers – those flying Premium – to return. Most importantly, it was the opposite attitude of the onboard employees of Norwegian who are all excellent. I would suggest that these ground staff go and spend some time with their flying colleagues, because a far more positive culture would then rub off on them.
Premium passengers can check in two 20kg bags. I had no bags to check, having just a wheel-on and a small back pack.
I then used the fast track security, which was extremely swift. Once through the large duty free shop, I went up the escalator and went to the No 1 Lounge.
We have reviewed the No 1 Lounge at the North Terminal previously, and this one is very similar. It is very busy and yet the staff manage to keep cheerful in the face of a huge through-put of traffic. I wasn’t there long because I wanted to get to the gate and get onboard early to shoot some video for the review. You can see that below.
The flight boarded at 1630 from Gate 13 (I’m not superstitious, and neither is Gatwick, obviously).
The flight attendants are dressed very distinctly, with the men wearing a checked jacket and the ladies wearing a more traditional but smart navy blue uniform with red and white details.
As you’d expect with a Dreamliner B787-9 the windows are lovely and large and there’s lots of head room, even though there are good size overhead lockers, larger over the window seats than the middle seat.
The video review (above) has a full walk-around of the cabin, so have a look at that to see more of the seat and its characteristics, demonstrated by one of the excellent flight attendants.
The seats are in a grey leather with red antimacassars on the head rests.
The seats look the same as the ones on the B787-8 aircraft and previously-delivered B787-9 aircraft, but there are more of them in the premium cabin and they have less leg room. This was a new aircraft – G-CKOF.
Norwegian’s B787-8s currently have 32 premium seats and its B787-9s have 35 premium seats. This B787-9 has 56 premium seats (and 282 economy) for a total of 338 seats.
Premium seats have a reduced seat pitch (leg room) reduced from 46″ pitch to 43″. Seats are in a 2-3-2 configuration (AC-DEF-GJ) running from row 1 back to row 8.
The seats are larger than premium economy seats, but they definitely aren’t business class seats. The leg rests rise and the seat reclines old style, so that it moves into the space of the passenger behind (and the seat in front reclines into your space). Each seat has a coat hook on the back, though I didn’t see anyone use this, with everyone just stowing their coats and jackets in the overhead lockers.
The seats are comfortable to sit in, and also to sleep in. The IFE screens come out of the arm of the seat – which means of course you can’t watch it for take-off and landing as you can in economy. The IFE screen is touchscreen, but there is also a small controller in the side of the seat, though this isn’t in a very good position and can’t be taken out of the seat (it is fixed into the wall of the seat) so if you have the table down it is obscured.
There is in-seat AC power for devices and also a usb point in the IFE screen also has a small charge and gradually charges up your device. Long-haul wifi is planned for the Dreamliner fleet, perhaps as early as the end of this year.
Row 1 doesn’t have overhead lockers over the front middle seats, so that can mean it’s a little crowded in the overhead lockers at the front. There is in-seat power at every seat as well as USB charging.
The middle seats are obviously the ones to avoid since they can be very difficult to get into and out of when all the seats are reclined. That said, they also have the most room under the seat in front – useful if you want to put your belongings there, whereas the aisle seats such as those at 1D and 1F, 2D and 2F etc… don’t have much room, but it’s less important because you can just stand up and access the overhead lockers.
We were offered apple juice, orange juice or water (no Champagne). Waiting at each seat is a blanket in a plastic wrapper – this had quite a nice feel to it, and since the seat next to me was empty I used one as a back bolster and the other to cover myself for the flight and when sleeping.
There was a delay which the captain was very good about keeping us informed about. Three passengers with checked luggage didn’t turn up at the gate, so that luggage had to be unloaded. In the end we were only about twenty minutes delayed, and he said we would make up that time, which we did.
No amenity bags are offered (there aren’t any), but earphones were given out after take-off (you can see a picture of these in the video). I have noise cancelling headphones and I’d recommend regulars to buy some or take their own to both listen / watch the IFE or watch your own entertainment. The choice was fairly limited onboard so I hung my iPad over the system and watched my own entertainment, but if you don’t fly much there was a small choice of quite up-to-date Hollywood films. I tend to watch films on the MUBI app. If you like films, it can’t be beaten, and one of the perks for frequent travellers is that each country you goes to has a different range of films to download so you get an even wider choice.
Service is delivered from the rear of the cabin, but starts from the front, by trolley. Around 1805 the drinks service came round. The choice was prosecco – I’m afraid I didn’t see the brand of this because I don’t drink it, one beer – Heineken, one white wine – a Michel Lynch Bordeaux 2016 Sauvignon blanc and one red, a Cabernet Syrah -Domaine L’Ostal Cazes Grand Vin Minervois 2016.
The tray table comes out of the other arm of the chair, and was good and firm – I had no trouble using it for both eating and working on my laptop. It also folds in half – you can see a demonstration of it in the second half of the video.
Shortly afterwards, the meal service came round with a choice of three main courses: Lamb rump in a rosemary jus, roast potatoes, grilled asparagus and a mint pea puree, hake in a beurre blanc, or chicken with potato gratin.
You should listen to the video to hear how the flight attendant described the meal choices. Like all her colleagues, she was very professional and informative, especially considering she was reading from her own hand-written notes jotted down onto a yellow post-it note.
I had this same crew back the following night on the overnight flight, and they were just as good then, which is amazing since they were doing a 24-hour turnaround. If two things impressed me (and surprised me) more than anything else about Norwegian, it was how good the staff were, and just how inexpensive the tickets in premium are compared with the premium economy competition.
The food was tasty and hot. The flight attendants then offered other drinks, including a basket of miniature Baileys, Cognac and whisky with plastic glasses pre-filled with ice (and without) – a nice and economical touch. Tea and coffee came round as well.
After lunch I wanted to sleep for a little while, and although the lights had been dimmed, there was still a lot of light in the cabin so I asked if there were any eye masks and ear plugs. The answer was an apology but no, there wasn’t. I think this is something Norwegian should look at. I think it’s fair enough to save money not offering flight socks etc… but I think ear plugs and an eye mask should be available on request, because those passengers wanting to sleep won’t be consuming the complimentary drinks that are available during the flight, and there were some passengers who drank right the way through – which I don’t have a problem with, but is more expensive than an eye mask and ear plugs.
By way of showing how good the flight attendants are, the one who had apologised for not being able to offer the eye mask said he had one of his own if I’d like it. I was very grateful, and got an hour’s sleep which I needed after an early start that day. This was typical of the service. The flight attendants never stopped working, walking up and down the aisle delivering the drinks which had been ordered through the IFE system and also trays of water.
One last point on the eye masks. I think they used to give them out, but you should definitely bring your own because they keep the screens on at the front of the cabin – these show the flight information, and the glare from those would keep you awake if you were in the front row or maybe even the second row as well.
About ninety minutes before landing, a second meal service took place. This was a quiche salad (there wasn’t a choice) and more drinks.
We landed slightly ahead of schedule at 1950 but then waited 30 minutes for a stand to become free. Once off the aircraft there was a short walk to immigration, where the queue was about 15 minutes.
This was an excellent flight after the initial pain of the check-in, and what most impressed other than the very low price was the standard of the service on board. Norwegian’s Premium is better than premium economy while not being a long haul business class, but so far as taking the discomfort out of a long haul flight, giving you room to work and the possibility of sleep, it is well worth the extra money over economy.
Lead-in prices for a Premium Flex (the most expensive ticket) return are around £1450 and that’s without a Saturday night stay (flying out on a Tuesday, back on a Thursday). Compare that with the competition, and you can understand why other airlines are worried. Or just simply trying to buy Norwegian.