Fly to New York for £149! When challenger carrier Norwegian announced it would offer the first low-cost transatlantic flights since Freddie Laker’s pioneering-but-doomed Laker Airways in the early-1980s, there may have been the odd panicked-sounding voice in the boardrooms of the giant airlines
Not only were Norwegian’s fares so competitive, but the flights would be on the new Dreamliner 787-8 with its ultra-modern interiors, cleaner air-filtering systems and jetlag-alleviating ‘sunglasses’ windows. Meanwhile its improved fuel efficiency (20 per cent less per passenger compared to similar-sized aircraft) means Norwegian can live by its “if we save money on fuel, you save money on tickets” motto.
Norwegian’s much-trumpeted £149 prices may involve a little booking ahead (Director found £151 one-way fares in October on norwegian.com’s low-fare calendar), the £299 fares for this weekend (4-6 September) are still inexpensive compared with larger transatlantic carriers. Attending an Enterprise Nation trade mission in the Big Apple, Director sampled what business travellers really expect when paying £149 to nip across the Atlantic…
Norwegian Flight DY7015 check-in
Forgive Director for starting this review on an ablutionary note, but the little boys’ room at Gatwick’s South Terminal (part of an ongoing £21m revamp) really do exceed normally airport latrine standards. Each cubicle comes with its own sink and slide-doors, and – unusual for airports – spotlessly clean.
Although check-in took 20 minutes (possibly down to staff having to process nearly 100 trade mission guests at once), security was a breeze – just four minutes thanks to Gatwick’s discipline-inducing green-light system which sees travellers queuing on floor markings, not unlike a Japanese train platform. 8/10
Norwegian has no dedicated lounge at Gatwick, so Director headed to the No.1 lounge. Costing just £25 for entry, its airy ambience (space-age décor, panoramic runway views) and complimentary food and drink (chicken cacciatore, Keralan vegetable curry, salads, soups, fruit etc) made it a pleasant alternative to Gatwick South’s other food options (Nando’s, Wetherspoons, Pret A Manger, Frankie and Benny’s) where meals could cost northwards of £20. Plus, there’s no nervy glances at the destination boards – guests simply wait for the Norwegian flight to be called, before a casual 10-minute saunter to the gate. 9/10
Economy seats on this Norwegian flight were in a 3-3-3 configuration with comfortable legroom (pitch: 31-32”, width: 17.2”) and USB chargers (handy for the flight’s free Wi-Fi). The curved contours of the chunky overhead lockers are more aesthetically-pleasing than other cabins, while passengers sat in window-seats are treated to self-tinting ‘sunglasses’ windows (you can still daydream at the clouds even when cabin lights have been dimmed) which are apparently 65 per cent bigger than other cabin windows. 9/10
Despite taking off 25 minutes after the scheduled 18.20 time (the Norwegian language safety announcements startled many of the primarily English-speaking cabin), the Dreamliner’s quieter engine design keeps noise levels to a minimum. There’s no ‘chicken or fish’ trolley service – instead customers order food/drinks by swiping their credit card on a screen in the seat in-front. Director had pre-ordered food (note: must be done 72 hours in advance) which consists of two meals: a delicious prawn red curry and a cheese-and-onion sandwich, served in a bag bearing quotes by 1930s’ Norwegian figure-skater Sonja Henie (don’t ask).
Meanwhile, the eight onboard toilets are tiny, but artfully-lighted and mercifully free of the soggy mounds of loo roll that seemingly carpet other aeroplane lavatory-floors. Best of all is the ambience of the Dreamliner cabin – its calming lavender hues and higher cabin pressure (apparently good for reducing jetlag symptoms) more akin to waiting in a spa. 9/10
Although the flight landed on time, the snaking immigration queues and snappy staff at JFK Airport were an immediate dampener.
Could Norwegian become an Uber of transatlantic aviation? If they continue providing the same service as this flight (and are profitable too), Director wouldn’t be surprised… 40/50
Norwegian operates daily flights from London Gatwick to New York JFK. To book visit norwegian.com