In a Class of Its Own: Norwegian Premium on the 787 From London to New York
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Norwegian Air Shuttle have had an aggressive growth strategy over recent years, though that has also caused the company financial woes both of their own doing (too-rapid expansion) and beyond their control (issues with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the 737 MAX, oil prices).
Believe it or not, Norwegian are the largest foreign operator at New York-JFK. They have recently started to move some of their flights from smaller airports such as Oakland (OAK) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to the mainstream ones in the same areas, like San Francisco (SFO) and Miami (MIA) to appeal to customers. London Gatwick (LGW) is their UK hub, and they have been expanding international services from LGW over the years — predominantly to the US but also to other destinations such as their short-lived Singapore (SIN) route and its new Buenos Aires (EZE) service.
Though the business model is essentially that of a low-cost airline, they pride themselves in having one of the youngest fleets in the skies. They offer straightforward, low-cost, no-frills economy seats as well as a ‘Premium’ product, which I was keen to try out on one of my regular trips to New York.
We booked this one-way seat 12 days before departure for £408, which is comparable to British Airways or Virgin Atlantic premium economy fares for one leg — though both of those carriers charge a ridiculous premium for one-way tickets (and likely also for booking that late).
Norwegian offer a simple rewards programme that allows passengers to essentially earn cash back (in the form of points) on the fares that they paid — 2% CashPoints on all LowFare tickets and 10% CashPoints on all Flex tickets.
Seat reservations for Premium passengers are free, and I managed to reserve Seat 1A for this day flight to New York. 7A was also available and SeatGuru suggested that there was more space in that row because of an emergency exist in front, but I’m glad I stuck with 1A, as Row 7 looked just like a normal row.
Norwegian flies from London Gatwick’s South Terminal, which is connected to the train station with direct trains to central London and other destinations. I arrived at the check-in area just before 8am for my 9.50am departure. There were self-service terminals, check-in desks and one Premium desk dedicated to premium-economy passengers flying to the US.
By the time I passed the preflight security interview and got a sticker on my passport, the passenger who had been using that desk had been checked in and I was seen straight away. Their luggage belts were broken, so I had to drop my bag with “someone wearing a yellow jacket” by the side of the check-in area. Those sort of things never fill me with great confidence that things will run smoothly, but I had no choice.
Norwegian Premium passengers got a silver sticker on their boarding passes entitling them to use the Gatwick premium security line, and there was no one else using this priority security check, so I was through in seconds.
The airline recently stopped giving all their Premium passengers access to a lounge — only those on Flex tickets can use a dedicated partner lounge. Through my Platinum Card from American Express, I have Priority Pass membership, so I proceeded to the No1 lounge. The Priority Pass app had shown me that in addition to using said lounge, cardholders could also use their card at a restaurant called Grain Store Cafe & Bar and spend up to £15 there. In fact, the app warned me that during busy times (aka mornings), cardholders might be sent to the restaurant instead of being granted access to the lounge.
I was torn whether to try the restaurant or the lounge — so was content with being told that the lounge was full and that I should use the restaurant instead. Service and food there were both quick and good — probably better than in the lounge anyway, so I was a happy customer. Sadly though, American Express is stopping the restaurant benefit for the Priority Pass for its Platinum members in the summer.
Before starting at TPG, I had been very loyal to Oneworld carriers, given my status, so I have never had issues with lounges. I have been genuinely impressed with the Priority Pass offerings, though, since trying other airlines (and flying in nonpremium cabins without access to lounges through the ticket). Sometimes, the Priority Pass offering has even been better than the airline lounges.
London Gatwick has a reputation for being the leisure airport for London (certainly compared to Heathrow), and though various improvements have taken place over the years, I wouldn’t call it a pleasant space. It has low ceilings and shops crammed into waiting areas. Making it worse, my flight was on a Monday morning and it was very busy (though most passengers weren’t commuting business travelers).
Boarding was supposed to start at 8:30am but the check-in agent had already told me that it would be later, so I aimed to get to the gate at 8:45am. Gate 25 was one of the farthest from the main terminal, and it took a good 10 minutes to get there.
A fellow AvGeek and Instagram contact, @DansFlying, was dispatching the flight on my day, and he got me onto the aircraft before the rest of the passengers so I could take a few pictures of the empty cabin.
Cabin and Seat
My flight was operated by a Dreamliner Boeing 787-9 that had only just been delivered to Norwegian in December 2018, so FlightRadar24, rightly, called the aircraft brand-new. There were eight rows of Premium accommodating 56 passengers in a 2-3-2 configuration, standard for premium economy in the Dreamliner. This particular version (and they are flying three different versions of the B787-9) seated 288 passengers in economy.
The seat pitch of 46 inches is more generous than most premium economy pitches, and the seat reclines farther than most premium economy seat without necessarily leaning too much into the space of the passenger in the row behind. I was genuinely pleasantly surprised by the comfort, pitch and recline of the seat, which felt more akin to older business cradle-class seats than today’s premium economy seats.
After lunch, I had a good nap for an hour or two in the comfortable seat. Clearly, it was not a business-class seat with an angled or even flat bed, but it was way more comfortable for sleeping than any other premium economy cabin I’ve encountered.
Row 1, being the bulkhead row, had the most leg space and was relatively easy to get out of from a window seat. As is the case with all bulkhead rows (and emergency-exit rows), nothing could be left on the floor during takeoff and landing, and the overhead bin space for storage was limited from Row 1 to Row 3. Still, all passengers were able to accommodate their bags even if this took a bit of rearranging.
At the front of the cabin, screens showed a moving flight map.
The footrest was big and easily beat, for example, British Airways’ World Traveller Plus footrest. However, it had clearly not been cleaned properly since a previous passengers spilled red wine all over it.
The seat controls for each seat were simple and straightforward. The table was sturdy and big enough for working.
The seat had two charging options: one USB port at the screen and a normal, multicountry outlet in between seats.
There were two toilets at the front of the aircraft for Premium passengers. These were standard aircraft lavatories without any premium amenities.
Below is a picture of the economy-class cabin, which I took before other passengers boarded.
Food and Beverage
Soon after takeoff, the crew did a drinks round. Soft drinks, beer and wines were free in the Premium cabin, though spirits weren’t and had to be ordered via the onscreen menu. Interestingly, Norwegian served Pepsi rather than Coke, which is unusual.
Throughout the flight, passengers were able to order the ‘free items’ via the touch-screen, which is a neat feature. Though two meals were served free of charge for Premium passengers, screens offered the opportunity to buy other items from the onboard menu. The screen also offered the ability to make a charity donation.
Around 90 minutes into the flight, lunch was served in a box. The choice was salmon with rice or chicken and beef with potatoes. I checked twice whether it was chicken or beef or chicken and beef, but I don’t think the crew member quite understood what I was asking.
I never found out, either, because I went for the salmon, which was decent enough, though both presentation and taste was more in line with economy meal than a premium meal, especially compared to the improvements you see on other airlines like British Airways and American. The starter was cauliflower with lentils, and the main course was finished off with a chocolate dessert. The presentation of the meal definitely topped the taste, quality and quantity. There were no menus.
Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
The meal was not overly big, so as the flight progressed, I actually started getting hungry again, so was glad when they served a second meal around 90 minutes before landing at JFK.
Again, the meal came in a cute box with amusing slogans. There was no menu, but it was essentially cold cuts, various vegetables and a roll. It was a bit random, though healthier than the pizza slice that other carriers serve as the second premium economy meal on similar flights.
Amenities and IFE
There was no amenity kit and no pillow. The blanket was a standard blanket, better than some I have seen including in some airlines’ business class, though not of the true premium quality that some airlines are now adding to their business-class cabins (such as Delta, American Airlines and British Airways). Again, it was hard to know whether I should mentally be comparing it to business class or premium. It was comfortable enough, though, and branded.
Wi-Fi came in two options: free or premium. Interestingly, they limited the number of premium packages available (it cost $14.95 for three hours). Access connected one device only. I started off on the free Wi-Fi, which was perfectly fine for working, including browsing the internet.
The screens were stored in the armrest, and they functioned well and offered a good selection of films and shows.
Over and above the touchscreen functionality, each seat also had a small control panel in the side of the seat that included channel and volume controls as well as the normal light and call buttons.
I couldn’t find any headphones at my seat and noticed that a lot of other passengers were using their own. Given I only had Bluetooth headphones on me, I asked the crew if they had any headphones and was given a nice pouch with decent ones. The crew advised me that these were now only available upon request.
Service was quite efficient, though it lacked some of the personalization that you'd find in business or even other premium economy products.
Service was generally good, and the crew were friendly enough. It wasn’t overly premium nor personalised, but I couldn’t fault the crew for responding to orders from the screen, the call button or generally an efficient service.
I had a short chat with the crew just before arrival at JFK and was surprised to learn that they stay for two nights in New York, whereas most other crew I’ve encountered working on the London-New York route only stay one night on either side.
We arrived at JFK on time and at a relatively quiet time, so immigration was quick (helped by my Global Entry status). And my bag made it so the man with the yellow jacket did his job as expected!
Taking into account the price point (£408 for a one-way Premium seat booked with less than two weeks’ notice), this was actually a very good flight. Certain aspects could be considered business class (certainly what business-class seats were like before the introduction of lie-flat seats), others very economy, and many in between, like many other premium economy offerings.
The seat, arguably one of the most important aspects of a flight, is very comfortable for a premium economy seat and tops all other premium economy seats I’ve flown on, in terms of pitch, width and recline. The 2-3-2 layout gives passengers plenty of space when many other airlines have a 2-4-2 layout in premium economy. Food was probably the biggest letdown, but it was perfectly fine and in line or just above a standard economy-class offering.
Though my seat could have been more thoroughly cleaned, the plane is modern and a good ride across the Atlantic. I would book Norwegian Premium again without hesitation.
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