Photo of the Week!
F 6.3; 1/125; ISO 100; 53mm.
Shot from Cathay Pacific’s The Pier lounge at Hong Kong International
Norwegian Air’s strong reputation is due in part to the relatively comfortable accommodations it features on its sleek new planes, but its affordable airfares are equally as important in bolstering the airline’s status. There are some downright incredible deals to be had! That said, Norwegian shares a business model with an infamous counterpart in the United States: Spirit. The former has been praised as an innovative disruptor in the long haul transit market, whereas the latter is reviled for its many layers of (perceived) awfulness… even though they both run pretty similar operations. Don’t be deceived by Norwegian’s cheery Scandinavian/Ikea-esque branding; crafty bargain hunters must pay careful attention when they’re booking flights. Otherwise they risk getting trapped in a fee-laden hell all in the name of getting a “cheap” fare… and that’s definitely not higher flyer!
The introduction of new, remarkably fuel efficient planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 have led to two significant developments in the commercial airline industry: the emergence of really, really long routes (think Singapore to “New York” nonstop) and the application of the low-cost-carrier business model to longhaul flying. The former is useful and convenient for premium passengers especially, but the latter is special because it affords more people more opportunities to travel. Norwegian Airlines is one of the most prominent operations to do this; it’s taken advantage of relatively lax EU laws and has set up shop all over Europe to offer cheap flights to the Americas and Asia. Is it glamorous? Far from it. For the price though, Norwegian is comfortable enough and can certainly be considered “higher flyer” for its excellent value proposition.
Despite being reviled by customers and critics alike, British Airways’s business class — referred to as ‘Club World’ — is undeniably important in the realm of higher flying. It was the first true lie-flat product to enter the (uber-competitive transatlantic) market, and it single-handedly elevated the standard of what international business class should offer to premium travelers. In the few short years after that introduction though, BA’s competitors both caught up and surpassed the original in terms of quality and value offered; Club World’s revolutionary reputation has long since faded and replaced by something far less flattering. Perhaps no longer contempt to be the butt of jokes, British Airways announced new, much-needed investments into the passenger experiences in April 2017 and then again in March 2019. While tangible improvements have been rolling out across all classes of service, Club World is noticeably better and now has most all of the makings of a competitive offering. In practice is it actually competitive though?
Is premium economy really just lipstick on a pig? For one thing, it definitely isn’t the same as standard economy class with an extra three extra inches of legroom. With cabins akin to North American regional first class and food served with proper chinaware, premium economy is trending within the industry and for good reasons. As more and more airlines unveil their own versions of it, it’s abundantly clear that there’s a market for higher flyers who want something better than cramped, poorly-padded chairs but also don’t want to pay fortunes for business class. Iberia’s Turista Premium, as it’s called, does a good job catering to these travelers; it’s an obvious step above steerage and usually doesn’t carry significantly higher price tags. The product isn’t perfect, but if you’re trying to fly to Europe in comfort while maintaining a budget, you should look to Iberia for a smart solution.
Ah, Spirit. The airline that travelers love to hate, yet somehow keeps convincing those who say “I’ll NEVER fly Spirit again” to give the ultra low cost carrier another go. There are a number of good reasons why Spirit has become as notorious as it has, but perhaps none are as infamous as its fee-driven business model. After flying on it a few times though, I’m convinced that Spirit is a viable option for higher flyers, albeit with a few conditions. You can’t go in expecting Emirates — this passenger experience will be much more akin to riding a public bus (that flies!) — but you can definitely count on a safe, affordable, and effective mean to your end. For those reasons alone, it’s worth your while to at least consider Spirit for accomplishing your travel goal(s).
Spirit offers a far from glamorous flying experience, but its no-frills service approach isn’t exactly the reason why the airline so reviled. Its flight crews and staff are helpful and competent and pretty kind, while the carrier’s operational reliability is just about in line with everyone else in the industry. Its fleet is even the youngest in North America! Spirit is fine — definitely no more awful than its legacy competitors like American, Delta, and United — and its fares are markedly cheaper. “How does the airline make money?” you might wonder. Easy: its notorious fees make profit margins skyrocket. You definitely wouldn’t be the first to scream “Spirit sucks!” as your expenses balloon and frustrations mount… but you don’t have to suffer this fate.
The key to happiness, some say, is to keep low expectations. You may agree with that sentiment, you may not, but when you’re planning a trip on Spirit, it definitely helps to have that frame of mind. Its tickets, which are (affectionately?) referred to as “bare fares,” are just that: means for you to get from point A to point B. You’ll have to pay extra for everything that you might possibly want on a plane — including drinking water — but if you know what you’re getting in to, you’ll tolerate Spirit at the minimum. If you can play its game and avoid making some far-too-common mistakes, you’ll easily save a lot more than what you would on a legacy carrier. Your fatter wallet alone can be worth those frustrating, tacked-on fees, and while the travel experience itself is far from perfect, who cares at prices like these? #FlyHigher indeed.