Saturday, May 19, 2018

Norwegian Air experience: short-haul and long-haul

Short version: We took Norwegian Air OAK-ARN-AMS (Oakland California, Stockholm/Arlanda, Amsterdam/Schiphol), and HEL-LGW (Helsinki-Vantaa to London Gatwick). There was a lot to like and I have few complaints.

You may have heard about Norwegian Air's astonishingly low prices on transatlantic flights. We flew them for the first time in April 2018. Our first flight was Oakland (California) to Stockholm. Of course the price for a checked bag is higher than you might expect, and meals, "free" on legacy carriers, are extra. We chose "low fare plus" or something like this, and pre-ordered meals. The total was a bit higher than the sensational prices you may have seen in ads, but it was still an excellent deal.

Seating was comfortable. I think the transatlantic flight was in a 787, hence a new airplane. How about the room? Though I'm short (5'3" on a good day), I have felt cramped on other airlines -cough-United-cough-; no problem on Norwegian. The first surprise was that the seat-belt sign was turned off pretty soon after take-off.

It seems to me that other airlines want to keep you immobilized as long as possible; Norwegian's philosophy seems to prioritize comfort. The first meal was also served pretty soon after take-off.

There was a power outlet at every seat—a US-style grounded outlet (maybe more but I didn't care), which we used for Carol's laptop; a USB jack for smaller electronics.

The meal was served on cardboard, rather than plastic, trays. It was a little surprising, but the trays worked well enough. They made me feel less ecologically evil, too.

As we approached our destination, the seat belt sign was left off longer than I remember from other airlines. Again, it seemed to me that Norwegian prioritized passenger comfort over immobilization (I'm guessing that other carriers keep passengers in seats longer to facilitate flight-attendant operations).

We were about 5 hours in Stockholm. I don't remember anything about the ARN-AMS flight.

Our next Norwegian flight was HEL-LGW. The departure gate was something like "50C", in Terminal 2. Seating near that gate (all the bus gates, really) was sparse in my view. Yes, I said "bus gates" -- we were loaded into buses, which took us out to where the aircraft awaited.

Bus gates aren't my favorite, but that may just be part of the package when taking a low-cost carrier. On this particular occasion, there was a delay once we got out to the airplane. I rather wished that they'd delayed getting us onto the buses, rather than loading us on and having us sit (or stand) on the tarmac in a rather overstuffed and under-ventilated bus. It felt like half an hour but was probably 15-20 minutes.

Anyway, we got onto our airplane and we had the same short-term confinement to our seats (this was 26 April 2018, i.e., after the Southwest engine explosion on April 17); we took off and pretty soon the seat-belt sign went off.

I was delighted to discover that we had free wi-fi aboard. It wasn't fast, but I could read and send email.

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