High risk, high reward. That’s how I viewed my booking on Norwegian. They recently started serving Denver, Colorado (DEN) from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) using their ever-expanding fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The one-way, one-stop fare from my family vacation in Copenhagen was only $600 per person in their “Premium” cabin – a steal for holiday travel.
Why did I need a one-way fare? I had used United miles to book my family from Denver to Copenhagen (via SFO) on Christmas Day. 30,000 miles per person for a pretty convenient one-stop routing on United and SAS was too good to pass up. But it made getting home a challenge. That’s one of the things that drew me to Norwegian. Also, we’re not exactly rolling in international service here in Denver. Norwegian is a new player, and I wanted to try them out.
For some reason, international travel has not reached the same parity as domestic U.S. travel when it comes to one-way fares. Piecing together an itinerary in the states is pretty easy, but just try booking a one-way flight from London to Denver. Norwegian is disrupting that model with its a la carte approach to everything, as are its long-haul international competitors such as WOW and Icelandair.
So, why high risk, high reward? Norwegian only flies to Denver three times per week. They also don’t interline with other carriers. So, when things go bad (delayed/canceled flights) they go really bad. I knew not to expect to be booked on another carrier if things went wrong. I had a backup plan in case we got stuck in London (there are worse places to be stuck), but we were lucky that our travel was flexible.
So, how was the trip? Did I win the gamble? Read on…
The Norwegian Flights
As we were starting our trip in Copenhagen, Denmark, we had a much more typical Norwegian flight to kick things off – a short intra-European flight on a high-density 737-800 (I was sort of hoping for my first 737MAX). Because we had booked our overall trip in Norwegian’s “Premium” class (about a $140 up-charge per person from the economy fare that included bags, seat selections, and meals on the long-haul segment), we didn’t have to suffer the bare-bones indignities of flying a low-cost carrier. We had bags included, fast pass security, and pre-reserved seats. That said, there isn’t much more “premium” to get on Norwegian’s short-haul fleet. It is a high-density cabin.
The roughly two-hour flight to London was pretty uneventful, other than a delay in Copenhagen holding in the penalty box due to weather in London. Our plane was a six-week-old 737-800 that had been delivered from the Seattle area right before Thanksgiving. The plane was in great shape, but didn’t yet have any wifi connectivity installed. That Boeing Sky Interior sure makes any plane look nice – even the ones with crammed seats.
I’m 6’1″, and I found the legroom tolerable for the short flight. My wife commented, “this isn’t any worse than United.” We passed on the drink and snack service – Norwegian charges for everything, including water. The barf bags did give me a good chuckle – Norwegian has a sense of humor.
Because of spending time in the weather penalty box en route to London, we didn’t have time to check out the No. 1 Lounge (which our Premium tickets would have entitled us to). We trekked across LGW through a maze of corridors that seemed to be added one upon the next. What a strange airport. At least we didn’t have to take a bus for miles like at Heathrow.
Shortly after we arrived at our gate, an on-time boarding commenced for our ten-hour flight to Denver. Premium passengers were invited to board first, and we were soon in our seats. My kids (both under age 10) were very excited for their first flight in “big seats” so they were thrilled to find blankets waiting for them (although, notably, no pillows were offered at any point). Flight attendants offered a choice of water, orange juice, or apple juice. My kids were thrilled.
The premium cabin on Norwegian’s 787-9 has five rows of seven seats, in a 2-3-2 configuration (while the economy section is in the now-standard 3-3-3 configuration). The seat is definitely not a lie-flat experience; it is a comfy recliner with an adjustable foot rest and lots of leg room – better than domestic first class seats in the U.S., but don’t go in expecting a bed for your trip. For what it’s worth, the seat just felt sort of cheap. It was covered in vinyl, sort of like the chair at your dentist. In the upper back, a metal bar protruded. The tray table would not stow on its own without me messing with it.
The plane could have been maintained a little better. I’ve seen it discussed on Twitter recently, but the air supply vents along the wall were gross. This plane (LN-LNJ) isn’t very old – it was delivered in April of 2016. Given their pride on operating a young fleet, Norwegian would be well-served to keep them a bit more polished.
The IFE screen is stowed in the armrest. The system is responsive, has a decent selection, and offers a nice feature for ordering drinks and snacks. The drawback is that you can’t have it out during the lengthy taxi at places like London Gatwick. Norwegian does not offer wifi on their long-haul fleet.
Once in the air, the two flight attendants working the premium cabin sprung in to action, offering a variety of drinks (at no charge) from the cart. I had a nice glass of sparkling wine (cava). For the benefit those traveling in economy, where everything comes with a cost, Norwegian did have very informative videos about how their service worked. I found it clear cut, and the buy-on-board prices were reasonable ($3 USD for a nice bag of kettle chips, for example).
My family was well settled in when the first meal was served. Up until that point, I was quite happy with the value proposition. I was sitting in a comfortable lounge seat, enjoying sparkling wine, and watching a movie. I knew that I shouldn’t expect a meal like I’d get in ANA business class.
Even in premium, Norwegian has no-frills service. I can appreciate that, actually, as it contributed to my $600 trans-Atlantic fare. The meal is served in the warming tin, along with a cardboard box of accompaniments. Wine is served in a plastic glass. I’m not fancy – I don’t need a multi-course meal service on china. My main complaint about the meal was that the beef option I selected (of three options) was pretty much inedible. I’m pretty sure prisons might reject this beef. The sides were all fine. My wife had something described as “shrimp scampi” – it was equally meh. The special premium “child” meal that I pre-ordered was all the same sides, with an entree of mashed potatoes, peas, and some odd little hot dogs.
The crew was top notch throughout the flight. As an example of this, the woman across the aisle from me was a mom traveling with an infant. The flight attendant knew that she and her husband were going to take turns eating, and proactive offered to serve her meal at any point later on. He then refilled her wine glass. Good man. The crew passed through the cabin after the meal service offering Baileys or cognac to all premium passengers.
The meal being weak wasn’t a deal-breaker. I took advantage of the buy-on-board snack menu through the IFE, ordering some munchies through the flight (and a few more drinks). Drinks were all included for premium passengers, but not the snacks (which I found a little odd… unlimited Heineken? Sure. Potato chips? Get out your wallet). Whenever I ordered something from the electronic menu, even water, it was delivered in an instant and with a smile. Crew on legacy U.S. carriers would hate this system.
One side note for the passionate folks out there – they had individual air vents at each seat! Holla!
We were served breakfast about an hour outside of Denver. It was equally unmemorable, but not offensive. As it was a daytime flight, there was less of a push to get the cabin woken up.
We landed in Denver and taxied to our gate, arriving only two minutes late despite our nearly-45-minute-late departure from London due to weather. We bid farewell to the pleasant crew and headed toward customs.
Overall Norwegian Premium Cabin Thoughts
As I said in the beginning, everything went right for us on this trip. I know from others that things could have gotten jacked up in a hurry if we’d had a missed connection, lengthy delay, etc. But, that didn’t happen. Instead, we had a seamless intercontinental, two-flight trip that arrived within two minutes of its scheduled time.
For the price I paid, I’d fly Norwegian again in a heartbeat. $600 for a flight with an intra-European connection, plus a long-haul flight to the U.S. in a comfy seat on a Dreamliner is pretty hard to beat. Yes, the food was mediocre, but booze was free. Next time, I’d book a longer connection to enjoy the lounge or a good restaurant in the airport. Also, the value proposition of being able to book a one-way affordable flight was hard to argue with. I look forward to similar carriers popping up in the trans-Pacific market as well.
Norwegian is adding a flight to Paris from Denver in the spring. Edelweiss is launching service to Zurich. Guess what – United is (finally, again after a decade) going to offer service to Europe from Denver. I’m enjoying the competition in the market.