I have to admit that when I agreed to fly Norwegian Air on their new Dreamliner, I was a bit skeptical. A budget airline that offers transatlantic flights? What were these flights going to be like? Memories of budget flights I had taken within Europe with a certain Irish budget airline (whose crazy CEO had suggested standing room on flights a while back) popped into my head.
Memories that included throwing a fit over a fee for not having printed my boarding pass (a fee that was more expensive than the ticket itself). Memories of radio commercials for said airline playing so loud from the speakers on the plane that you were barely able to hear your own voice. The list could go on, but let’s not go there.Of course I have not only had horrible experiences with budget airlines. I still treasure the memories of countless AirAsia flights which were all smooth and painless, and I was curious to see how Norwegian would compare. Plus, I was highly impressed that an airline was finally offering flights from Europe to the U.S. at an affordable rate. You can fly Norwegian Air from Stockholm to San Francisco for as little as $187, and flights from London to New York start at $249 (Note: London – NYC seems downright expensive compared to the Stockholm – San Francisco route, but that is because the airport fees in both London Gatwick and New York JFK are among the highest in the world. Stockholm – NYC flights start at $158, Oslo – NYC at $167). Not all seats are sold at these rates, but if you are planning a trip well in advance, it is possible to snag one of these amazingly cheap tickets.I am familiar with this concept thanks to train, bus and air travel in Europe: the earlier you book, the cheaper the tickets are. With Norwegian though, I was surprised to see that less than a week prior to my flight from Berlin to London, from where Norwegian runs its transatlantic flights (in addition to Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo), Norwegian didn’t only come up as the cheapest option in my flight search, but still offered flights for 29 Euros, as I had seen advertised in some magazines and at the airport in Berlin from where I’d flown to Israel the month before. I was happy to see that I didn’t necessarily have to plan my trip months in advance to get a great deal like this, but could still spontaneously book a flight at that cheap rate five days prior to my departure.My next moment of joy was when I discovered that I didn’t need to print a boarding pass, and that I wouldn’t have to fear a fine for not having a physical print-out, instead, I didn’t even need to present my booking confirmation on my smartphone – my passport was enough.
Before I got on the plane, I was a bit worried that the planes would have rows as narrow as Ryanair’s, where the pockets on the back of the seats (to store your magazines and other stuff) are missing, just so they could fit in another row of seats or two. I can tolerate no leg room (I am 5.7′ and have long legs) for a two hour flight, but not for seven or eight hours. I also wasn’t sure what to expect entertainment-wise, knowing that most other low cost carriers don’t even have monitors.
I had read though that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was one of the most modern planes out there – if not the most modern one. From extra large windows for better views, plus a button to darken the window should the sun disturb you (instead of window shades), an automatic dimming light system that changes according to the time of day or night, better (ie. lower) cabin air pressure which is supposed to reduce jet lag, power outlets and a USB charger. And the environmentalist in me was happy to find out that the Boeing 787 is the most fuel efficient airplane on the market. The Dreamliner itself sounds amazing!And it turned out, the plane lived up to my expectations and all of my worries were unfounded: Legroom in the plane was spacious, there was room to store a book in the backseat pocket, and each seat has its own TV screen. In fact, the thing that impressed me most was the entertainment selection on my flight. Even the music selection, which I usually ignore, had plenty of albums that I wanted to listen to, and ranged from billboard chart topping hits, to classics, to a whole bunch of jazz and classical music. My flight wasn’t even long enough to listen to all the albums that sparked my interest, and I hadn’t even checked out the movies and TV shows yet. If you are planning to take the eleven hour direct flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, do not fear: there are enough Hollywood Blockbusters and Classics to keep you entertained for the entire length of the flight (and back!). Flying Norwegian Air isn’t any different from flying any other commercial airline.
The snack bar, also accessible via the 9′ high-tech touch-screen monitor, allows you to order food simply by clicking on the item you desire, and it will then be brought to you shortly after. Prices aren’t cheap – $11 for a sandwich, $4 for a chocolate bar – but that is to be expected. You can, however, order a full hot meal when booking your flight (more on that below).The other thing that I absolutely loved was that I didn’t only have a USB charger (most planes have them these days), but also a power outlet on the side of my seat to charge my laptop. I made use of both of them a lot and being able to work on my laptop without it running out of battery was a huge plus for me.
You’re also able to purchase accessories like a blanket ($5) or a headset ($3) – for some people it might be annoying having to pay for these things but let’s not forget that Norwegian has to cut its costs somewhere to be able to offer their incredibly low fares, and I for example used my own headphones. If you book premium economy, these add-ons are already included, as are the meals.Speaking of meals: This is the only aspect of the flight where I see room for improvement. Even the flight attendant looked apologetic when she handed me my pre-paid vegetarian meal, offering me to add some fish, because it looked quite meager. Considering that the extra cost for a meal isn’t insignificant, I’d expect a little more here. Other than that, I didn’t find anything to complain about during the flight – like I said, the Dreamliner itself and the service on board were faultless.
Norwegian Air being a budget airline, I was curious to see how much the extra charges, or ‘hidden fees’ would add up to. The first time you come across potential additional charges is when you choose your fare and start the reservation process. Here it actually pays off to read the fine print: Norwegian gives you the chance to pay an additional $60 to the basic fare (LowFare), but for that, you’ll get a seat reservation, one piece of luggage and a meal included in your ticket automatically.I chose to stick to the Lowfare to see how much extras would add up to. Checked luggage is charged at $42, and if I’d like to reserve a window seat (or any seat, but why would I want to reserve a middle seat?), that would be another $42. Now my total was already at $382.20 which, in a way, already contradicts the ‘budget’ aspect. However: Let’s not forget that I was looking at a flight two weeks from now.
With an added vegetarian meal though, the price comes to $417.20, which is pretty steep. Remember though that Norwegian had given me the option to choose a better fare option, the Low Fare +, which includes all these add-ons and is $357.20.The last step to confirm my reservation: Making the payment. If you’ve ever taken a budget airline, you know that they charge an extra fee for payments made with a credit card. Norwegian is no different, but at least it is possible to avoid the $7.30 fee if you decide to pay with a debit card. Since I don’t own a credit card that doesn’t have to be paid off entirely the next month anyway, I am fine with putting the payment on my debit card, but I know that most people prefer credit card payments. However, a 1.99% credit card surcharge is not outrageous.If you were to pay your ticket with a credit card and you opted for the Low Fare+, this would come to $364.20. So if you are one of these travel types I admire who travel only with carry-on only, don’t care about a seat reservation and survive on a New York bagel bought before boarding the plane in NYC, you can get away with the Low Fare ticket, which comes to $304.30 with the credit card surcharge.What I discovered when I was going to finish my reservation was the little box saying ‘Need More Time?’, offering me a 4-hour money back guarantee should I decide to cancel my ticket within the next four hours. That way, travelers can reserve a ticket at the lowest price but should they find a cheaper fare or change their minds for whatever reason, they can still cancel without being charged.While the NYC-London deal is good (thanks to the large amount of daily connections on this route it is possible to find similar deals on regular airlines), I think what makes Norwegian really stand out are the fares offered from the West Coast to Europe. $187 incl. taxes from San Francisco (Oakland) to Stockholm? Los Angeles to London for $249? Yes, please! And remember that if you decide to fly to Stockholm or London on this low fare, you can transfer within Europe on the cheap by taking another inexpensive Norwegian flight, say to Rome or Madrid, or like I did to Berlin.During a quick search, I found return flights from L.A. to Copenhagen for $465 which is a steal. If you accept the no-frills policy and the fact that extra fees for meals and baggage are part of the concept of a budget airline and your priority is flying on a low fare, you can’t go wrong with them. Flying Norwegian was nothing but pleasant for me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a transatlantic flight with Norwegian Air. Just be aware that if you fly Norwegian, you will have to pay for everything extra unless you buy it before the flight.By the way: You can also fly Norwegian long-haul between Europe and Bangkok, starting at $204!