If you’ve searched for cheap airfare from the U.S. to Europe you’ve likely run across Norwegian Air Shuttle. A week ago I had the chance to fly round-trip from Orlando, Florida (MCO), to London Gatwick (LGW) – click here for our top 10 free things to do in London – on Norwegian’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner long-haul service. Since then I’ve been asked by several friends to share my experience with the airline. Truthfully, it was a bit of a leap of faith when I booked my last-minute tickets to London because I had some of the same questions/concerns.
In this post, I share as much as I can about my experience, and hopefully this review will help answer some of your questions and give you a baseline to rely on when deciding if traveling with Norwegian on their long-haul routes is right for you.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, or just Norwegian, is the third largest low-cost carrier in Europe. The European airline began long-haul service in 2013 and now offers flights to London-Gatwick, Oslo, and Bangkok, to name a few. They operate 10 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and there are reports that the airline has placed orders for an additional 28. In 2015 it was named the “World’s Best Low-Cost Long-Haul Airline” by Skytrax World Airline Awards. They gained widespread media attention with their cheap international flights. If you plan ahead you can find fares below $400 round-trip!
Because I booked my trip last minute, I didn’t get a great deal, but it was still $110 less than the cheapest U.S. carrier.
Booking flights on Norwegian’s website is pretty simple. However, because they are a low-cost carrier, you will pay a steep $45 for a seat assignment (per flight), $45 for in-flight dining (per flight), and $45 for your first checked bag, depending on the ticket fare you choose. So be careful when booking! That $460 round-trip flight to London can end up costing you an additional $225 dollars, effectively canceling out the price difference between Norwegian and major U.S. carriers that offer larger networks and better service.
Tip: I booked through edreams.com, a third-party vendor that I found during a Kayak search. The same flights that I found on Norwegian’s site were $150 dollars less on eDream. After completing the purchase form and inputting my credit card information, I received a notification that my tickets were issued and was given a Norwegian Air confirmation code. Check them out, you might be able to save some $$$!
Norwegian offers 3 different types of economy fares; LowFare, LowFare+, and Flex. The price difference between LowFare and LowFare+ is typically $90 USD per flight. So, if you plan to check a bag, want meal service, and prefer a seat selection, you’d be better off buying the LowFare+.
Since what attracted me to the airline was the low prices, I chose the LowFare ticket and packed just what I needed between my carry-on bag and a small backpack. I didn’t choose a seat either, but during the check-in process, I was able to get the seat I wanted by simply asking for it.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner
All of Norwegian’s long-haul routes are conducted in new Being 787 Dreamliners, arguably the best part of flying on Norwegian long-haul routes.
The Dreamliner offers improved passenger comfort with lower cabin noise and better cabin air quality. Because of the Dreamliner’s 50-percent-composite-material construction, the cabin can be pressurized to allow higher amounts of moisture (humidity). Why are higher humidity levels important? Think about your last flight. Did your nose feel dry? Eyes irritated? Increased cabin air moisture can help prevent those annoying symptoms and even help with jet lag.
In addition, the overhead bins are larger, so no more fighting to get your bag in the cabin. Another great feature of the overhead bins is that their shape significantly increases headroom and creates a more spacious feel.
The view is better, too. The windows on the 787 are among the largest you’ll find on any passenger aircraft. Oh, and you won’t find any window shades. Boeing did away with those in favor of a more high-tech window dimming system.
Norwegian’s 787 Dreamliner fleet is equipped with a seatback entertainment system, USB plug at every seat, and 2 power outlets at every row. From the high-definition screen, you can watch movies, play games, and even order snacks. I was really impressed with the size and picture quality of the screen and the touchscreen functions worked with just the slightest touch, unlike the unresponsive touchscreen on many Airbuses.
On my outbound flight, I flew in a 787-8, a shorter version of the Dreamliner with roughly 291 seats. On the return flight, I flew on the newer and larger 787-9, which accommodates an addition 53 passengers.
The service onboard was interesting….
Like I mentioned before, I purchased the LowFare fare ticket that, unfortunately, didn’t include meal service. For those who did have meal service, the meal was served roughly 1 hour into the flight—pretty normal.
However, I had to wait 3 hours for the “snack bar” to open. Three hours before I could buy any food!!! I was not prepared for the long wait, and I was really annoyed. I couldn’t even get a drink during their “regular service” because the flight attendants focused their attention only on the passengers on their list. They literally walked up and down the aisles with a list of those who purchased the meal service.
Tip: Don’t expect to buy a drink or snack 1, or even, 2 hours into the flight. Bring your own drinks and snacks while you wait for the snack bar to open.
On a positive note, the interactive seatback snack bar was pretty cool. You order items using the screen and slide your credit card right there. Two to five minutes, later the items magically appear. Soft drinks ran around $3, wine at $7, and spirits at $8. Just be aware that the snack bar isn’t open for the first 2.5–3 hours of the flight or during the last 1–1.5 hours of the flight.
Since the airline charges for checked baggage, they carefully scrutinize your allowable carry-on bag, so be careful. Of course, if you buy a LowFare+ or higher ticket, 1 or 2 checked bags are included, so you don’t really have to worry.
Here’s the deal with carry-on luggage:
LowFare ticket holders are allowed 1 carry-on bag weighing 10 kg and measuring 55 x 40 x 23 cm. You are also allowed to bring 1 personal item described as a “small laptop bag.” Airline personnel WILL CHECK YOUR CARRY-ON LUGGAGE. When you check in for your flight, you will be asked to show the agent your bag and they will have you place it on the scale. If your bag is overweight or oversized, you will have to check it in and pay the checked bag fee. Pay attention to this. I saw plenty of unhappy people.
But what if you hide your carry-on and you answer “no” when asked if you have one? I thought about doing this, but…on my return fight my carry-on was tagged at check-in with a bright yellow tag with the words “Approved Carry-On.” During the boarding process, I observed the gate agents looking for theses tags as passengers boarded, though I didn’t see anyone being stopped or questioned before I boarded.
I was under the 10 kg weight limit, so I wasn’t too worried. I did carry on a regular-sized backpack which was larger than a small laptop bag, but they didn’t seem too concerned about the personal items. Generally, if it fits under the seat, you’re OK.
While Norwegian’s long-haul service is growing, it is limited. For example, flights between Orlando, Florida, and London, England, are only available on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Other routes are seasonal. This makes it a bit tricky to manage your travel schedule, especially if you’re limited in PTO or vacation days.
There have been some reports of passengers being stranded for days because of Norwegian’s limited service. For example, passengers in Los Angeles were stranded for 2 days after their Dreamliner experienced technical problems. Since the airline doesn’t have replacement aircraft or code share agreements, the passengers remained stuck at the airport until the airline could fix the problem. This was by far my biggest concern when booking my trip–getting stranded because of mechanical issues or weather. Luckily, everything went well for me, but I still considered it a gamble.
Overall, I was happy with my experience traveling on Norwegian Air Shuttle’s long-haul service, and I would travel with them again. I did have some serious concerns, like getting stuck somewhere, but everything worked out.
If you stick to the LowFare tickets and avoid buying any extras like checked bags or a meal service, you can save some serious moolah. However, if you need those extras or perhaps don’t have the flexibility to deal with unforeseen circumstances that may leave you stranded, I’d recommend spending the extra bit of cash on a U.S. carrier.