A proud symbol of the era of affordable air travel
The 787s that Norwegian Air uses for its longhaul operations are far from glamorous — expect slimline seats clad in grey “leather” for as far as the eye can see — but they are representative of an undeniably positive development in the commercial airline industry: more people can afford to travel. Norwegian occupies an interesting position in the market; it was one of the first carriers to take the low-cost/LCC model and successfully apply it to intercontinental travel. Its fares are so consistently low (it’s not unusual to see oneway transatlantic tickets go for around $100), but correspondingly, it’s natural to wonder if there’s any sort of catch involved. Is flying Norwegian an absurdly miserable experience — in the same way that Spirit can sometimes be — or is it a viable option for higher flyers?
Spoiler alert: Norwegian is a perfectly pleasant way to fly a long way, but it’s crucial to set your expectations appropriately beforehand. First class on Singapore Airlines this ain’t! In fact, this ain’t even comparable to Singapore’s economy class! The first reminder of such comes at the start of the journey when you go to check-in. If Norwegian is operating a lot of flights out of your particular departure airport on the day of your flight — on this particular night, Boston was hopping with activity — you’re more than likely to encounter a zoo. When it comes to airports, I’m #TeamJustInTime (as opposed to getting there hours in advance), although Norwegian’s operation warrants the latter strategy…
If you’re only taking a carry-on with you, then you’re offered a reprieve of sorts in the form of a dedicated line. It’s safe to assume that it’s less crowded than the general line for those with checked bags, but nothing is ever promised.
Of course the easiest, most time-sensical way would be to check-in online, but Norwegian doesn’t allow this. Members of the airline’s ground crew verify that each suitcase is in accordance with the size limits published online — carry-ons are restricted to 10 kilograms/22 pounds and checked bags to 20 kilograms/44 pounds — and the owners of delinquent/too-big bags are forced to pay fines. You can learn more about those in this review’s companion article: “How to: Navigate Norwegian Air’s fees to get exactly what you want.”
Even if you’re willing to pay extra for too-heavy bags, you have to be in compliance with the posted limits online. In fact, you must be underweight otherwise you won’t be issued a boarding pass. Once you’re in the clear (hopefully you don’t have to dispose of things right there at the airport), you’ll get a bright yellow tag reading “APPROVED” to stick on your suitcases.
You have to jump through a lot of hoops until you’re actually preparing to board the plane, but once you get to the gate, things start to improve… although that’s not exactly saying much. Passengers are theoretically assigned to one of three groups. The first is for those in premium economy, the second is for those who are seated in the forward sections of the plane and for those who paid for priority boarding, and the third is for everyone else. When boarding was first called however, all that order was thrown out the window and everyone rushed the gate area. The agents working didn’t seem to know what to do or care about the onslaught.
Getting elbowed in the ribs and shoved around isn’t a great first impression, especially after the equally frustrating check-in process, but oh well. Everyone eventually made it on board and that’s what matters in the end.
Norwegian Air DI 7148
Boston Logan (BOS) – London Gatwick (LGW)
Scheduled Departure: 21:15 (21:46 wheels up)
Scheduled Arrival: 8:35 (8:27 wheels down)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-900
Stepping on board one of Norwegian’s 787s is akin to stepping on an extra-wide coach bus. The seats are upholstered in a neutral gray leather, the walls and ceilings are white and plasticky, and the fluorescent overhead lighting, at least during boarding, is harsh. Aside from red accents on the headrests, everything looks remarkably sterile… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (who doesn’t like a clean airplane?). As a matter of fact, you could even call the interiors “fresh,” at least in the sense that they appear to be new.
None of that is to say that this cabin is aesthetically pleasing in the visual sense — doing so would be a stretch — despite how hard Norwegian tries (more on that later). Then again, I’d love to meet the person who flies a low cost carrier for an aesthetically-pleasing experience. For those who do appreciate such stimulation, there is a rather pleasant-sounding and soothing boarding soundtrack which, in a way, makes it easier for passengers to accept their fates of squeezing in to a cramped metal tube for hours.
The seats are gray, as is pretty much everything else on board, but the headrest covers are notable exceptions. The splashes of red are nice, as is the leather upholstery, but neither compensate for the unsatisfying seat dimensions. You get 31 inches of pitch compared to the average 32, seat cushions are a hair over 17 inches wide (which is dense but becoming increasingly standard, especially on Boeing 777s), and once you sit down, you’ll immediately notice that these are thinly padded Recaro slimline seats. But hey, it’s easy to keep the leather clean. That ought to count for something, right?
But anyway, despite being perfectly pleasant in the visual sense, the bones of each chair are disappointing. The value of personal comfort far outweighs aesthetic when it comes to long haul travel, and Norwegian very obviously sacrifices that comfort in the name of cramming as many people as possible in to its planes. The aesthetic is merely a facade to make the grim reality seem more palatable.
When you sit down, the lack of legroom is immediately noticeable and, in a similar vein, the seat in front of you seems especially close to your knees.
Someone who’s taller than me (6′ 3″, 189-192 centimeters) will indeed have a hard time finding the space to squeeze in, let alone comfortably. If you’re 6′ 5″ (195 centimeters) or above, I’d strongly recommend purchasing an exit row seat. That’s not fair, but c’est la vie.
Norwegian Air at least, unlike some of its low-cost peers, offers some features that might help ease the pain. In flight entertainment is the most noticeable of them, as every seat has a respectably-sized touchscreen display that’s loaded up with complimentary movies and TV shows.
It’s worth noting that only the monitor is provided; you either have to purchase earbuds on board (for $5) or bring your own headset if you want to listen to what’s being shown. For those who bring their own devices, there’s also a USB charging port directly underneath the screen…
…and a universal power plug underneath the seat. Everyone has their own set of outlets and you don’t have to pay to utilize them (as you would if you were flying on a Scoot 787, for example). The two of them at my seat both functioned without any issue, although physically reaching the plug proved to be a bit challenging.
Reclining seats seem to be going by way of the dodo on low cost carriers — as poorly-padded, “slimline” seats become more commonplace too — but fortunately Norwegian doesn’t deny its customers of that simple luxury. The recline on board the 787s is minimal — Norwegian claims three inches of it — but it’s better than nothing.
The headrests are robust and sturdy — in the sense that they can move in multiple directions and hold their forms — and can help improve passenger comfort.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise comes in the form of personal air vents. These are becoming less-common on new planes, especially on non-US airlines, and being able to have a level of temperature control is welcomed.
Otherwise the rest of the ceiling panels are pretty ordinary. Personal reading lights and seatbelt signs are present and accounted for!
And for that matter, the rest of the hard product is unremarkable and uninteresting. There’s a seatback pouch, but it’s janky-looking and, unsurprisingly, doesn’t do a good job holding your excess belongings. An iPad, let alone a laptop, couldn’t fit in here.
There’s a decently-sized tray table, but if you want to use your laptop, you might not be able to. The seat ahead is simply too close to make typing comfortable — there’s not a lot of room for your arms — and it’s game over if that seat is reclined.
For what it’s worth, Norwegian failed on the cleaning front. There were all sorts of marks and stains on my particular tray table. Yuck!
In flight entertainment is available from gate-to-gate, which is nice for passing the time during particularly long taxis to the runway and other delays on the tarmac. During boarding, the system cycles through highlights of Norwegian’s “tailfin heroes” (aka “boundary pushers” whose portraits adorn the tails of Norwegian’s aircraft).
The main menu is a little bit more simple, advertising six sections over two pages: Videos, Snack Bar, For The Kids, Games, Destinations, Norwegian. All are pretty self-explanatory.
There are also some rudimentary digital seat controls too!
In an age where both low cost carriers and legacy airlines are moving to charge for in flight entertainment, it’s impressive that Norwegian offers a complimentary selection of movies, TV shows, and games. Granted there’s not a lot to choose from, but something is better than nothing; it’s definitely quality over quantity too. Seriously though, big, expensive blockbusters are available for viewing, as are a few episodes of premium cable TV shows.
The selection of videos is wide enough to warrant organizational sub-genres, although some might seem a bit… gratuitous.
Want to learn more about the names and faces Norwegian paints on its planes? Check out the “Tailfin Heroes” section!
Or alternatively, did you know that Norwegian Air has a philanthropic side to it? Well one section of the movie selection won’t let you forget!
Want to learn how you can #FlyHigher thanks to Norwegian Reward? There are plenty of infomercials to teach you the ins and outs of the program.
And lastly, nothing helps a plane ride fly by like videos about passport and visa laws.
There’s an informative and customizable moving map…
…And another one for kids too, complete with pictures of animals native to certain regions and nice pastel colors. Gotta recruit new AvGeeks somehow!
Regrettably, despite Norwegian’s obvious investment in digital entertainment, wifi is not available on board its long haul aircraft (but it is available on its 737s). I’d be willing to sacrifice some of the “Classic” movies in exchange for access to the internet. The good news is that it’s in the process of being rolled out on select 787s.
There was a little bit of a delay in getting airborne — the chaotic boarding process caused a delay, and in turn, caused us to miss our takeoff slot — so there was plenty of time to peruse the selection (and take pictures of the display) as we waited for an opening. Soon enough, the safety video was screened and, in a rather meta moment, the IFE system made a cameo appearance.
The safety video otherwise looks like a Pixar film that was left in the microwave for too long.
The analog in flight entertainment consists of a single magazine. The one waiting for me had seen better days, but your own experience may vary.
In any case, don’t expect a lot of thought provoking journalism in Norwegian’s publication.
And for that matter, there is so much sponsored content. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise — what a great way for a low cost carrier to make some ancillary revenue — but it comes across as tacky. (But then again, who cares? This was just something to peruse as we sat around on the tarmac.)
After taking off 31 minutes past our scheduled departure, the cabin crew didn’t hesitate to swing in to action once we were wheels up… and boy, there were a lot of moving parts in this production! The passengers who opt in to the full meal service — a meal that costs $45 at the time of booking — are served by pairs of flight attendants who operate traditional food and drink carts. Those who refrain from spending that kind of money on an airline dinner aren’t left to starve though, and can instead purchase less-substantive snacks on demand. As soon as you place your order, someone from a team of non-cart-pushing flight attendants will deliver your selections from the galley at a near-immediate speed. It easiest to think of these crew members as waiters, and indeed, they certainly looked like their counterparts on the ground when they ran around the cabin while juggling plates of food and plastic bottles of wine.
Anyway, as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off, you might notice an option for the “Snack Bar” within the in flight entertainment system. Its menu is surprisingly expansive and, unlike the prepaid option, its offerings are reasonably priced.
The real kicker is that all of the individual components of the $45 meal can all be purchased separately. If you’re considering the package simply because you want warm food, you can still buy a number of different hot snacks on board for much cheaper. There’s no difference in quality either; one is just more convenient than the other.
There are other things too, namely comfort items and duty free, that you can purchase through the Snack Bar.
Once you’ve selected all the things you wish to order, you’ll be prompted to either close out or, uniquely, leave your tab open. Note that if you leave the tab open and forget to close it, you’ll automatically be billed the balance once the snack bar closes upon final descent.
I was somewhat hungry and thirsty, but I didn’t want to eat too much because it was a short flight and maximizing sleep was the priority. So, intrigued by the bacon chips, I ordered those and some ramen noodles, plus some white wine and a bottle of water to wash it all down. The total cost for all that came out to $17, which might seem high, but for a plane, it’s not terrible. Remember, the fare cost $119 and besides, this is comparable to what Spirit charges. Paying for water on a plane will never not be cool, but you have to make do with what you’re given on Norwegian.
After placing the order, a flight attendant appeared with the bottle of water, and then 90 seconds after that, a different one appeared with the chips and the wine. Then five minutes later, a third person dropped off the cup of noodles. No one really said anything, but rather just held out the goods with an unsmiling grimace.
The whole process was impersonal to say the least, but in the crew’s defense, they all have an unenviable task: they have to spend the entire duration of the flight acting as a wait staff for nearly 300 cranky economy class fliers. Their hustle has to be commended. On legacy European airlines, the flight attendants get to take breaks during the flights and are consistently on their feet only for the meal services. Norwegian’s employees know no such luxury, and credit has to be given where credit is due: everyone was working so hard for so long.
As for the food: it was good and satisfying in the way that junk food is. The bacon chips were indeed a highlight…
…as were the noodles. It was like having a midnight snack in college all over again.
The wine served, a chardonnay from Spain that retails for around $7/bottle, was serviceable. Not gag-inducing, but also not something I’d seek out on the ground. It’s perfect for putting restless passengers to sleep.
After my meal, I made my way back to one of the six lavatories Norwegian equips for its passengers in economy class (those in premium economy have two of their own). Despite servicing nearly 50 people each, there was hardly ever a wait and thanks to LED lights above the doors, you could easily tell if any given one was occupied.
And similarly, the toilets and the floors were kept clean. Like the cabin itself, this was a nice discovery.
The amenities were near nonexistent, and there were some rather janky aspects about the set up.
For instance, in addition to the standard paper towel dispenser, there was also a massive, industrial grade roll of them sitting on a shelf.
There’s also a layer of perma-grime, which is unfortunate given that the plane is still so new.
But hey, at least there’s soap and running water!
After returning to my seat roughly two hours after wheels up, the cabin lights were turned completely off with the exception of a cool, dark blue mood light. Most people went to sleep, although more than a few stayed up to watch movies. The cabin never really settled down though, as flight attendants continued to deliver snacks and drinks to the hungry and thirsty passengers ordering via the Snack Bar.
All was well and good for about 90 minutes. I slept soundly, benefiting from an empty seat next to me, until all of the cabin lights were turned on and a flight attendant yelled for a doctor on board over the PA. It was a jolt to say the least.
The good news was that the ill passenger was okay and that we were already getting close to starting our descent; we were less than two hours away from London!
Thanks to a strong tailwind we were on pace to make the transatlantic crossing in under six hours. That’s a pretty remarkable feat (the final time wound up being 5 hours, 40 minutes), and all the better for those trying to minimize their time on board a cramped low cost carrier.
All of the lights coming on revealed some pretty repulsive “secrets” about the other passengers. One person in particular was smoking an e-cigarette and parading around the aisle in bare feet. She kept stepping in a mystery fluid. If you ever find yourself on an airplane, please never do any of these things. The former is so, so inconsiderate, and the latter is just nasty. I’m not one to passenger shame, but that crossed a line.
Since we were already so close to our destination, the flight attendants decided to put on “sunrise” moodlighting instead of turning off the cabin lights completely following the medical incident. It was a nice aesthetic and a far more pleasant way to wake up and prepare for landing.
Although perhaps Norwegian gets a little bit too enthusiastic with its moodlighting sometimes.
The rainbows cycling through the cabin was amusing the first time, but 10 straight minutes of this was a bit much. You gotta hand it to Norwegian though; it embraces its earnest-yet-goofy brand and makes it work. There’s something endearing about watching a farewell video right after touch down too.
Aside from that video, there was nothing else remarkable about our arrival. Despite the delay on the front end, we were able to deplane right at our scheduled arrival time thanks to the schedule padding and super strong tailwind. Strangely there was no crew by the exit to say farewell to, but perhaps they were crashing after their long night of working.
Sure enough, despite the rocky start and cold service, I landed in London in a good mood. You can’t beat the price of a Norwegian fare after all. Yes, there’s no way around the fact that Norwegian is a low cost carrier and you’ll have to compromise some of the creature comforts you might be used to on a legacy carrier, but with clean, leather seats and decent in flight entertainment, you’re getting more than what you pay for. On such a short flight (relatively speaking) across the Atlantic, this is the perfect solution for higher flyers (and especially those on a budget), although the cramped seats and simple snack foods may be too big of deterrents on longer flights. London to Buenos Aires would be too far for me — that’s one of the carrier’s further routes — but the value from London to New York is too good to pass up. If you know what you’re getting in to, you’re sure to come away from your flight sold on what Norwegian has to offer.
The good, the bad, the ugly of Norwegian’s Economy Class
- The Good
- The incredible value Norwegian can represent, complete with surprising features like…
- A nicely appointed cabin.
- By LCC standards, impressive in flight entertainment.
- Solid snack options at affordable rates.
- The hardest working flight attendants in the sky.
- There’s a certain whimsy to flying Norwegian.
- The incredible value Norwegian can represent, complete with surprising features like…
- The Bad
- The check-in and boarding processes can be unruly.
- While the cabin may look nice and fresh, the seats are cramped and legroom couldn’t get that much tighter.
- Like any LCC, there are some rather outrageous fees to be had. You can read more about them here.
- The Ugly
- Strictly enforcing baggage rules seems to be a necessary evil. Well, it’s definitely irritating!
- Paying for water on board a flight will never not be cool.
- It’s bad to passenger shame, but there’s a special ring of hell for the people who smoke e-cigarettes on an airplane.
Not-so-Norwegian Mini Trip Report
- Introduction: Not-so-Norwegian Air
- How To: Navigate Norwegian Air’s fees to get exactly what you want
- Norwegian Air Economy Class Review, Boeing 787, BOS-LGW
Have you flown Norwegian Air before? What are your thoughts?