Great Plane, Bad Sandwich: A Review of Norwegian’s 787-8 in Economy From New York to Stockholm
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This past August, I jumped on the unique opportunity to fly from New York-JFK to London Gatwick on an former Singapore Airlines A380 with a Norwegian Air ticket. In doing so, I not only got to cross the Atlantic in Singapore’s old first-class suites extremely cheaply but also earned a decent number of CashPoints (the currency of Norwegian’s loyalty program). A recent trip to Europe was the perfect chance to put those points to use.
My final destination was Frankfurt, Germany (FRA), but since Norwegian doesn’t offer service there, I decided to book a one-way ticket from JFK to Stockholm, Sweden (ARN), and then book a separate ticket (on a different airline) to complete my journey. After finding the flight I wanted on Google Flights, I headed to the Swedish version of Norwegian’s website to purchase it. While certainly not a guarantee, TPG’s found flights to be up to 30% cheaper when selecting “Sverige” or “Norge” as the country. Fortunately, the foreign websites look exactly like the US version, so even if you don’t speak a word of Svenska or Norsk, you shouldn’t have much trouble navigating the site and then enlisting the help of Google Translate when necessary.
The $229 one-way ticket I found on Norwegian’s US site through Google Flights came out to 1,800 Swedish kronor ($200) on the foreign site. CashPoints have a fixed value of one Norwegian krona apiece (about 12 cents per point). After applying my 1,627 points, my out-of-pocket cost dropped to 68 kronor ($8), which I paid for using my Chase Sapphire Reserve so I’d be covered by the card’s excellent travel protections and wouldn’t be charged a foreign-transaction fee.
Norwegian offers three types of economy fares: LowFare, LowFare+ and Flex. I booked a LowFare+ ticket, which included advance seat selection, a free checked bag and onboard meals. LowFare was the most bare-bones option, including nothing but a carry-on bag and the flight itself. Meanwhile, Flex included everything that came with my LowFare+ ticket plus an additional checked bag, priority boarding and free changes. Norwegian also allows all economy passengers to upgrade to Premium Class (Norwegian’s business class) — either by paying the fare difference or bidding. The lowest offer I could have placed for a bid was 1,715 kronor ($190) which would have been a great deal, but I skipped the chance.
I arrived at JFK’s Terminal 1 about three hours before my scheduled departure time. The check-in line was handled efficiently and moved quickly.
The security situation, on the other hand, was a mess — as it usually is in this terminal. Although Norwegian participates in TSA PreCheck, the benefits are limited at Terminal 1. There was a dedicated PreCheck lane, but it fed into the same area as everybody else, so I still had to remove my electronics from my bag, though I was able to keep my shoes and belt on. In all, it took me about 15 minutes to get through.
Once airside, I rushed to the Korean Air lounge. My coach ticket did not offer lounge access, but I was able to get in with the Priority Pass membership I have via my Chase Sapphire Reserve. The reason I needed to rush was because Priority Pass members only have access from 2pm to 8:30pm daily, and it was already 8pm.
The lounge felt past its prime and was jam-packed when I arrived. Note that this photo was taken minutes before the lounge closed to Priority Pass members, so seats opened up as people began to leave.
I was hoping to squeeze in a quick meal in the lounge before my flight, but there was absolutely no food to speak of.
OK, not actually, but the selection was sparse. There was instant ramen, fruit, muffins and some packaged snacks (Sun Chips, Oreos, crackers and Fig Newtons). Needless to say, I would’ve been extremely disappointed if I had accessed the lounge as a business-class passenger.
Although I was under the impression that the lounge simply stopped admitting new Priority Pass members at 8:30pm, it fully closed at that time and then reopened for Korean Air’s own passengers later in the evening. The nearby Air France lounge, which also participates in the Priority Pass program, is a much superior option, but was closed to members the entire time I was there.
Things didn’t get any better by the gate. It was rush hour at Terminal 1, so there weren’t any open seats. After 15 minutes of circling around, I put my stuff down and sat down on the ground (oh, the horror!)
Five minutes before the scheduled boarding time, there was an announcement that boarding would be delayed by 10 minutes. There weren’t any more updates until 40 minutes later, when boarding actually began.
Besides this being my first time flying Norwegian metal, this was my first time on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, so I was eager to get on board. Our aircraft was about 5 years old and sported a portrait of Norwegian marathon runner and former world-record-holder Grete Waitz on its tail.
Cabin and Seat
There were 259 seats in economy, arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration, standard for Dreamliners.
Seats were 17.2 inches wide with 31 to 32 inches of pitch. That wasn’t spacious by any means, but surprisingly, it didn’t feel that cramped to me. It helped that the armrests by the windows were not locked in their positions and could be lifted up, which is something you don’t see very often. I also thought that the leather seats were well-padded and appreciated that the adjustable headrests’ side flaps actually stayed in place. Despite it being a low-cost carrier, I’d consider these seats no different than on most full-service airlines flying transatlantic, in terms of comfort.
Bulkhead and emergency-exit row seats (rows 6 and 24) offered much more legroom and could be selected for no additional fee. But none were available when I booked my flight, so I settled with 9J, a standard window seat toward the front of the cabin.
My one major disappointment with the seats was their limited recline. However, I wasn’t too bothered, since, on the flip side, it meant that no one invaded much of my personal space.
Even with the seat in front of me reclined, I was able to work on my 13-inch laptop fairly comfortably. And speaking of personal space, I was happy to see that, unlike some international carriers, there were individual air vents, meaning I could could control the temperature in my immediate area.
This being my first time on a Dreamliner, I was excited to play with the high-tech windows that featured electronic dimmers in lieu of traditional pulldown blinds. As much as I enjoyed being able to look out my window for the entirety of the flight, I was surprised by how much sunlight poured through in the morning. This shouldn’t be much of an issue on newer aircraft, thanks to an opacity upgrade.
There were two lavatories separating the two economy cabins and another two in the rear of the aircraft. As is standard for the Dreamliner, there were automatic faucets and motion-activated toilets. I especially appreciated the tabs at the outer edges of the toilet seat and lid, since it meant I never had to touch the rims themselves.
Amenities and IFE
As expected, there were no amenities waiting at my seat — headphones, blankets and pillows were all available, but at an additional cost.
Each seat had its own entertainment system and USB port. Universal power outlets were also available beneath every other seat. The touchscreen systems were sharp and relatively responsive (passing the Dorsey Test) but did not tilt to adjust for seatback recline.
The entertainment selection was adequate and available free of charge. As a point of comparison, European low-cost carrier Level will begin charging for entertainment in June 2019, and WOW air doesn’t offer any entertainment at all, aside from an iPad you can rent.
Norwegian is in the process of rolling out free Wi-Fi on its intercontinental flights, which is especially notable considering that even its legacy counterparts don’t offer that as a complimentary amenity. It was not outfitted on this aircraft yet, though.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
My LowFare+ ticket included two complimentary meals — a hot dinner followed by a cold breakfast. Since I didn’t have a positive experience with Norwegian’s catering on my last trip, I figured that my safest option would be to preorder a vegetarian meal. Although Norwegian’s kosher meals receive a lot of praise, I would’ve needed to pay extra had I wanted one, and I wasn’t prepared to do that — it was still economy-class airplane food, after all.
About 45 minutes after takeoff, dinner was served. My vegetarian meal consisted of a cheesy pasta with tomato sauce and steamed vegetables, a small side salad and a fruit cup. It was served with a cup of water, beverage of choice and coffee or tea. While this meal was much better than my previous experiences on Norwegian, it still lacked flavor and was on par with what you’d usually expect from an economy meal — minus a bread roll. If I hadn’t preordered a special meal, my choices would’ve been chicken or beef.
Between meals, snacks and drinks were available for purchase through the IFE system. Most nonalcoholic drinks cost $3, while sandwiches cost $7. Cups of water were available for free, but only if you asked a flight attendant directly.
About 90 minutes before landing, I was abruptly woken by the crew putting down my tray table and plopping a brown bag in front of me. Inside was my vegetarian breakfast: a really sad sandwich of lettuce, tomato and cucumber that resembled what was served at Fyre Festival — applesauce, a cup of orange juice and a choice of second beverage. While the sandwich came with a small container of margarine, there was no knife to spread it. I definitely wished that the crew would have let me sleep through this meal.
There isn't much interaction with flight attendants when you're flying coach, let alone on a low-cost carrier. The service I did receive was fine, for the most part.
Going in, I didn’t expect much in terms of service. Aside from the two meal services, flight attendants didn’t walk through the aisle unless someone ordered something from the snack bar. While I can’t tell you how long it took for orders to be fulfilled, it took the crew a while to come when I wanted to test out their response time to the call button (the call button could be found by pressing the gear button on the IFE system).
The main flight attendant who served my section was friendly, though that wasn’t the case with all of the crew. During boarding, I was greeted with a smile and encouraged to take photos when I shared my excitement about flying on the Dreamliner for the first time. However, when I went to take a photo from the back of the cabin, a different flight attendant told me that photography was not allowed and didn’t believe me when I said that I was given permission by the other crew member.
Although I wouldn’t consider Norwegian my preferred way to cross the Pond, it isn’t the worst contender either. My LowFare+ experience wasn’t all that different from regular economy on a legacy carrier, so I would certainly choose it again if it were at a competitive price. The food wasn’t great, yes, but this was economy class. Having a modern plane and comfortable seat is a lot more important to me on overnight flights like this one, and, the inflight experience will only get better once free Wi-Fi is fully rolled out across the fleet.
All photos by the author for The Points Guy.
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