The question I always ask when it comes to "low-cost airlines" is whether the carrier is cut from the Southwest / jetBlue cloth that I'd call "Low Cost - High Quality" or the Spirit / Frontier / Ryan Air cloth that we'll charitably call "Ultra Low Cost", though some might think more in the direction of "Flying Garbage Scow". If my experience flying from London Gatwick to Gothenburg, Sweden ("Göteborg" in Swedish) is any indication, though, Norwegian Airlines / Norwegian Air Shuttle (mostly) falls into higher quality category. With nine destinations from New York alone, the airline may be a compelling alternative for some cost-conscious travelers who aren't willing to stoop to the Ultra Low Cost level. My review is below.
Flight: Norwegian Air #4440
Date: 4 November 2016
Origin: London Gatwick, United Kingdom
Destination: Göteborg Landvetter, Sweden
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Experience at London Gatwick Airport
Norwegian advertises service to nearly 50 destinations from Gatwick, so the airline is certainly busy here. Gatwick itself is a big throughway for low cost and ultra low cost airlines, and the airport is rather a zoo overall. From Norwegian's decidedly do-it-yourself kiosk check-in, bag tagging, and luggage drop to the cattle call of a security screening situation, there's not a lot of posh or shine in the airport experience. Even the post-security "Number One Lounge" that I would have accessed with my Priority Pass Select Membership was filled to capacity. It looked nice in the posted photos, but after being turned away at the door I consoled myself with a cold croissant and a diet coke at a café. The three positive points I'll make for Gatwick are:
- It's quite easy to get there from downtown London by taking the Gatwick Express train from the Victoria Station (it is similarly easy to get to Heathrow via the Heathrow Express from Paddington Station);
- There's an abundance of reasonable dining options centrally located in the main pavilion post-security, at least in the south terminal;
- The abundance of low cost and ultra low cost carrier options may please some travelers.
Gate and Boarding
I proceeded to my gate soon as it was posted (the flight was running about 45 minutes behind schedule due to some snow in Scandinavia). There is no passport control between the main post-security restaurant / lounge area and the gates, so you'll be alright on time there. Boarding was very efficient, wherein passengers assigned seats in the front half of the plane entered from the jetway attached to the front of the aircraft, and the back half entered via tarmac and air stairs docked at the rear. I had been assigned seat 7A at check-in, so entered through the front; I can imagine that the only drawback here is for rear-seaters in foul weather.
The interior of my Boeing 737-800 was quite pleasant, featuring those nifty ambient "sky lights" that extend the length of the cabin and change pleasant colors to set the mood. Overhead bins are modern and spacious, though I had checked my bag on rumors that Norwegian would charge you extra to wear an oversized jacket if they could (joking of course?). I found these rumors to be unfounded, but as always carry on at your own risk, and do check the current posted carry on size and weight restrictions. You never know when a flight attendant with a bad day will make yours even worse!
Seats were of the thin variety, and these seemed harder than most. Firm seat lovers rejoice! (I guess?) Each was outfitted with a red disposable head cloth velcroed to the head rest, which I like psychologically though I am sure there is absolutely no actual hygienic benefit to it. There's but one class of service on this flight, and my seat 7A directly next to a window offered ample legroom with room to spare for my 5ft 9in. The seat backs offered reasonable tray tables and that handy plastic magazine / iPad storage bin at eye level. There's no room to store even a typical 13in laptop in any of the seat pockets, though, so you'll have to stuff it in your bag at takeoff and landing.
Crew and Communication
Communication throughout the journey from the captain and the cabin crew was business like in good English and (I assume) Norwegian and Swedish though I don't know either well enough to easily distinguish. One flight attendant was particularly kind conversing with the child next to me; I always appreciate friendly crew even if I'm not interacting with them.
Food and Beverage
My only real gripe on this 1hr 30min flight: Snacks and beverages carried a charge. None were complimentary, even the sodas and chips. Remember, I said Norwegian seemed to mostly come from the mold of Southwest and jetBlue, both of which offer snacks and non-alcoholic drinks for free. My philosophy on this is that I'd rather pay an extra dollar in my ticket if that's what it takes to get a reliable diet coke without the fuss of exchanging money on a plane.
Aircraft and Destinations
I'll add that Norwegian has invested in 787 Dreamliner aircraft for its long-haul routes, which I think are most likely the cream of the crop for low cost offerings. There are compelling fairs between the United States and Europe that travelers might investigate (...that I might investigate). Cities served (though I can't say which are served by which type of aircraft) include New York, Boston, Baltimore-Washington (BWI), Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Oakland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Juan, St. Croix (which shocks me), as well as Guadeloupe and Martinique to round out the Western Hemisphere. Norwegian flies all over Europe, with a handful of additional destinations in continental Africa and the Canary Islands, Tel Aviv, Dubai, and (explain this to me please) Bangkok. I can also now say with confidence that Norwegian Air is my ticket whenever I get around to taking my long-awaited trip to Svalbard island, for it flies into Longyearbyen.
One more thing: I appreciate the uniqueness of their plane's paint jobs that feature distinctive red front quarters and depictions of famous Nordic folk on the tails. Good job.
Overall, Norwegian seems good for what it is. You won't fly luxuriously, but I think you'll fly comfortably… and you'll have some money leftover to spend when you get to wherever you're going (yes, even Bangkok).