The primary purpose of my crazy weekend trip to Europe was to review American’s new Premium Economy seating. A secondary purpose, though, was to try as many new airlines as possible. One airline that made the cut – Norwegian Air, technically Norwegian Air Shuttle. Known for its rock-bottom pricing, Norwegian Air provides new options for budget-conscious Transatlantic travelers. Not to mention, a good option for those trying to position to Europe to catch an award flight elsewhere. Furthermore, Norwegian Air Premium Class often prices out the same or less than coach on legacy airlines. Thanks to an excellent fare and favorable scheduling, I decided to give Premium Class a try.
Norwegian Air Shuttle (DY) Flight 7147
- Sunday, November 6, 2016
- Depart: London Gatwick Airport (LGW), South Terminal, Gate 17, 16:16, 16m late
- Arrive: Boston Logan International Airport, Terminal E, 18:25, 5m early
- Duration: 7 hours 9 minutes
- Seat: 3J, Premium Class
- Equipment: Boeing 787-9
Norwegian Air – The Basics
Norwegian Air is a low-cost carrier (LCC) offering both short-haul (intra-Europe) and long-haul (Transatlantic) services. This review focuses on DY’s long-haul service. Most Transatlantic flights originate from “non-traditional” gateways like Copenhagen, London Gatwick, and Stockholm. However, a handful of flights also depart from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to New York, Fort Lauderdale, and Los Angeles. Most flights DO NOT operate daily, so verify the exact schedule before searching.
Norwegian Air’s main competition consists of other LCCs, such as Icelandair and WOW Air. James posted an excellent WOW Air review last month, which provides a good overview of the model in general. Similar to its LCC brother, Norwegian charges extra for almost everything. Basic fares, dubbed “LowFare”, include only one carry-on bag and one personal item. Carry-on dimensions must not exceed 55x40x23 cm, with a weight limit of 10 kg. Seat reservations cost $45 each way, while meals range from $4 for soft drinks to $45 for a full, pre-ordered meal. Norwegian uses a variable, distance-based fee for checked baggage, ranging from $45-100 per piece. You can upgrade to “LowFare+”, which bundles some of these charges into the fare.
As with WOW Air, Norwegian does unfortunately charge some punitive fees if you don’t pay attention. Paying for bags at the airport, rather than online, can run up to $135 each way. Meanwhile, a common “gotcha” is an extra fee of $13-25 levied on connecting flights. Bottom line – while the insanely cheap $99 TATL one-ways are tempting, always tally up fees first. What seems like a great deal might not be. Click here for a full list of fees.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – What’s Different?
Unlike WOW Air, Norwegian offers a true “Premium Class” for those looking for a more upscale experience. Besides a more spacious seat, Premium Class adds perks such as two checked bags, a three-course meal, and lounge access. Cheap fares, though, remain very much the same. Premium Class fares often price out at less than $600 each way. In addition, Premium Class allows for Fast Track security and seat selection at no charge.
When Booking Tickets, Choose Your Site Carefully
As I detailed in a previous post, it pays to choose your country-specific site carefully. Why? Perhaps due to a foreign exchange quirk, prices can vary significantly when pricing in foreign currency vs US Dollars. For example, my flight priced out at $616 on the USA site. However, switching to the UK site resulted in fares of either £399 or €465. As mentioned in my post, paying in euros on the UK site resulted in savings of nearly $95, even with the credit card fee applicable to UK-site bookings. Bottom line: though it doesn’t always work, always play around with the site and currency when booking.
Anyway, with the basics out of the way, on to the good stuff.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – Check-In and Boarding
I arrived at the counter at 2:15 PM for my 4 PM flight, and found myself the only one in line for Premium Class. A most cheerful fellow checked me in promptly, and provided detailed directions to the No 1 Lounge. Which I much appreciated, as the corridor is a little difficult to find. The agent also pointed out that gate information would post around 2:50, and closed at 3:30. I watched the departure board in the lounge carefully, only to see it flip to “Final Call” at 3:05. So I ran to the gate – only to find boarding hadn’t even started yet. Bad Norwegian! At least I now had time to take photos of the beautiful Dreamliner already waiting for us.
It appeared boarding would be chaotic, as a long line of passengers clogged the walkway to the gate shortly after I sat down. Fortunately, the gate agent called for Premium Class passengers after pre-boarding, and strictly enforced queue cutting.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – Seating and Interior
Once on board, I headed left towards 3J – only to find someone already sitting there. After politely informing the woman that she had the wrong seat, she proceeded to play dumb. Finally, after studying her boarding pass for a while, she responded with “it’s fine, I don’t care where I sit”. Yeah, right, and so we started off with my biggest pet peeve. Folks, if you don’t like your seat, just ask politely if the other person minds switching. Don’t try to pin the blame where it doesn’t belong when you get caught.
Anyway, Premium Class features give rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. I found the grey leather seats with red highlights smart-looking. The black-and-white photograph on the wall (in the economy cabin) also made for a nice touch.
As you can see, the seats aren’t true Business Class. In fact, they remind me a little of “cradle” business class seats from about 10 years ago. Nevertheless, 46 inches of pitch provides plenty of space to stretch out.
Premium Class seats feature 19-inch width. No, you don’t enjoy the same privacy or space as business class, but it’s much better than coach.
Seat controls are simple – one button on the armrest controls recline, the other the leg rest. It’s easy enough to extend the leg rest – just push the button. Retracting it, though, takes some work. You not only have to push the button, you also must push it back into the seat with your feet. It takes a firm push to get it all the way down. In addition, a small foot rest swings out from the bottom of the leg rest.
I’d rate overall seat comfort fair-to-good. Seat recline is generous, and the padding was comfortable for a 7-hour flight. I suffered no saddle sore, even though I remained seated almost the entire flight. On the other hand, the leg rest/foot rest combo was predictably awkward. Thigh support from the leg rest was OK with the foot rest retracted, but when extended, I felt quite a bit of pressure in my calves. Ultimately, I kept the foot rest stowed and just let my feet dangle free most of the time. This was a daytime flight, and I purposely stayed awake the whole flight. However, with pitch about 6-10 inches better than domestic First or international Premium Economy, I think sleep comfort would be better than on my AA Premium Economy flight. I’d bet the extra recline makes all the difference, neck support wise.
Also, don’t expect some of the other frills usually associated with business class. In other words, no fancy blankets and duvets, no mixed nuts, etc.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – Entertainment
Norwegian equips all Premium Class seats with personal TV monitors and power ports. The TV monitors feature excellent resolution, and include a USB port. I generally dislike monitors that swing out of the armrest, for two reasons. One, it means the IFE can’t be used during take-off and landing. Two, it makes it awkward to use the tray table at the same time. Good luck wiggling out if nature calls before the FA clears your tray. On the other hand, your USB cord stays out of the way on the armrest.
A power port is located below the armrest. Again, I generally dislike this design, as it’s tough to see what you’re plugging into. In addition, the socket seemed to suffer from a loose connection. I had to jiggle my laptop plug several times to get the juice back on.
Norwegian provides Premium Class passengers a pair of headphones, but beware, they’re awful. By which I mean, barely functional. I forgot my headphones at home, and so had to use them. The sound cut in and out of the left earbud, and I had to turn the volume on my phone WAY up to even hear anything.
The entertainment system contains a wired variety of movies and TV shows. While the selection is generous in general, the TV selection lacks much in the way of American dramas (think NCIS). Of course, avgeeks enjoy at fantastic multi-function moving map at their disposal. I watched an episode each of “Deadliest Catch” and “Through the Wormhole”. Otherwise, I took advantage of the in-seat power to play games on my laptop. If you’re stuck in coach, fear not. Norwegian offers the same selection in the back of the bus
, though for a fee. As for WiFi, you’re SOL, unfortunately. Norwegian does not currently offer WiFi on its long-haul fleet.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – Food & Beverage
Our meal service began on the ground, with an offer of a pre-departure beverage. Sorry, no champagne, but you may choose from a selection of fruit juices or water. I ordered an apple juice to get the party started.
About half an hour after take-off, the FAs offered a drinks service. Premium Class passengers may order soft drinks, beer, wine, liquor, or cocktails/mixed drinks. I decided to indulge with a white wine, which actually wasn’t bad.
All Premium Class fares include a three-course meal and pre-landing snack at no additional charge. Roughly one our after pushback, the flight attendants took meal orders. Don’t expect a fancy business class menu; the choice consisted of chicken or fish. Those with special dietary needs can request special meals online. I ordered the chicken, and found myself slightly disappointed when presented with – chicken in a box. At least it was a clever box.
Sadly, the meal tasted about as poor as it looks. The appetizer was an odd mix of couscous with one carrot slice. It actually tasted alright, strange presentation aside. But the main dish simply wasn’t very good. Everything was overcooked, the chicken especially so. It was dry, with too much herb seasoning to boot. The potatoes on the side were mushy almost beyond recognition. The two chocolates, at least, were tasty. At least you can order wine with your meal, the FAs pouring generous helpings and offering frequent refills. (Note: I failed to mention originally, you aren’t limited to wine – any beverage on the menu is fair game.)
Following the meal, the FAs offered a choice of coffee or tea. I ordered a cup of tea. No, it doesn’t compare to the afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel, but it was fine.
A choice of Bailey’s or cognac immediately followed the coffee/tea service. I like Bailey’s, and I like cognac. Decisions, decisions – but I picked cognac on this occasion. Getting the mini-bottle is always a nice touch, if you ask me.
Baron Otard VSOP is a fine cognac, retailing for £40 for a 700 ml bottle in the UK. Kudos to Norwegian for making this part of the meal offering. On the other hand, it’s a bit – odd – that the only choices are Bailey’s or cognac. No complaints here, though.
The Premium Class FAs proactively passed through the cabin about every half hour, offering refills on water. Then, approximately an hour and a half before landing, they handed out pre-landing snacks. This consisted of what I think was a salmon pie with salad, a piece of packaged cream cheese, and a chocolate bar.
I don’t like salmon to begin with, and the pie was downright dire. The cheese and chocolate were fine. No, packaged cheese doesn’t win any awards, but hey, I love cheese of all stripes. And at least Norwegian continued to show off its quirky sense of humor with the box.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – Flight Experience/FA Service
I hoped to partake in some exotic planespotting at Gatwick, but alas, our slight departure delay meant too little daylight to really see anything. Nevertheless, after taking my seat, I enjoyed a view of a Monarch Airlines A321 a couple of doors down.
Also on display – a Turkish, Monarch, and easyJet tail parade, along with a butt shot of another Norwegian 787.
Before the light faded completely, I managed a grainy shot of the beautiful English countryside.
By far the best flightseeing opportunity on a westbound flight around sunset? The fact that you chase the sunset, making it linger for some time. Nature’s show began with an orange glow over the North Atlantic.
And it reached its peak with this incredible view of the sun reflecting off the Dreamliner’s engine cowling.
Service impressed from start to finish on this flight. From the check-in agent to the flight attendants, every Norwegian employee I encountered provided friendly, attentive ,charming service, getting the little things right to make the experience more enjoyable. This included the check-in agent taking a few extra seconds to point out how to get to the lounge, to the FAs proactively coming through the cabin every half hour to offer water.
Finally, after arriving in Boston, I needed to retrieve the bag I checked in at Gatwick. Let’s just say, after buying a bottle of (not cheap) perfume in a fancy bottle, I didn’t want to take a chance on getting it confiscated at security. Norwegian does not offer priority tagging for Premium Class. And unfortunately, my bag ended up in the last batch delivered to the carousel. That entailed a roughly 20-minute wait. Annoying, and Norwegian really should consider including priority baggage handling for Premium passengers.
Norwegian Air Premium Class – Overall Thoughts
It’s difficult to pin a label on what exactly Norwegian Air Premium Class is. The airline provided excellent in-flight service, generally on par with business class. Seat pitch and comfort also falls somewhere in between premium economy and business. On the other hand, meal service was dreadful. It frankly reminded me of the coach meals I “enjoyed” in American traveling to and from Tokyo last year. Premium Class also excludes some features important to business class, such as premium bedding.
Overall, I’d rate it as slightly better than premium economy. So does this make Premium Class a good deal? A randomly selected 5-day trip in mid-March yields a discounted Premium Class fare of $1,095. The same dates yield one-stop coach fares on full-service carriers from $738 and business fares from $2,935 to Heathrow. At that price differential, I say Premium Class represents a good value. You receive a much better seat and experience than coach for only $350 more, and you fly nonstop. (If you’re a points and miles junkie, yes, you should also account for the opportunity cost of not accruing redeemable/elite qualifying miles in your favorite program.) But when the inevitable discount business class fare for $1,500 round-trip shows up? Pony up the extra money and fly the real deal.