I flew a long-haul low-cost carrier and lived to tell about it.
I recently flew the inaugural Norwegian Air flight from JFK to Martinique. I had booked it right after it was announced and planned to fly it with friend and fellow blogger Seth Miller. That simple plan was waylaid when Norwegian offered up 20 seats on each of the inaugural flights for free to InsideFlyer members (they were asked to make a donation to UNICEF, a charity Norwegian has had a special relationship with for quiet some time).
Norwegian Air launched these flights a few months ago. I’m still not sure if they’ll ultimately be profitable on these routes, but I do think they can be successful. They should be able to build some brand awareness with US citizens who take a cheap flight to the Caribbean and consider them for longer flights to Europe.
Norwegian let us squeeze on to the plane a few minutes early so we could take some pictures and kick the proverbial tires on the seats.
I tested out the exit row seat and found tons of legroom. Unlike some other carriers (ahem, United) you can select an exit row seat fairly affordably on Norwegian by just paying for a seat assignment. Premium seats are first come, first served. Their website indicates the most expensive seat selection (for international long-haul flights) is 42 USD, where shorter flights are between 12 and 26 USD. I think I paid 15 USD for an assigned seat so I could be sure to snag a window for picture taking.
The bulkhead seats are also a true bulkhead, unlike some configurations like the mid-cabin door on a 757 where the door is directly to your left. While this means no bags down at your feet you have plenty of room to stretch your legs. And, I did see Norwegian enforcing no bags under the seat in the exit row if this makes a difference in your seat selection.
But, I had neither of these seat types. I was planning to fly in “plain old coach” to be able to report on it accurately, since that’s the seat most folks picking Norwegian will travel in. Admittedly, I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to flying. I haven’t been in a coach seat for a flight over 3.5 hours in quite some time, and rarely find myself in coach at all. I get a ton of upgrades when flying domestically and I’m generally able to use miles and points to score business class seats when I travel abroad.
So, how was almost 5 hours in coach? It was just fine. Admittedly, I’m 5’9” and weigh 160 lbs, so I don’t take up a lot of space. But, I had plenty of legroom. The seat was better than the tortured United version of the slimline seat, though not as good as British Airways’ superior padding. It was plenty comfortable, I had no back pain throughout the entire flight. They were nice enough to block the middle seat for me and Tommy.
It would have been harder to work on my laptop with someone next to me given the proximity of the seat in front of me. With my seat reclined, I still had to flex my elbows a bit to be comfortable typing(I generally travel with a 13” MacBook Air). Working on an iPad was plenty fine. All in all, I would have preferred a bit more room for my laptop but had no other complaints about the seat.
I was expecting everything on Norwegian to come with a cost, given their low-cost carrier ethos. It actually turned out to be a mixed bag, better than I would have expected. They allowed me one small carry-on bag and a personal item, so fairly similar to the US. Wifi was free but the speeds were truly abysmal. I managed a handful of text messages, a few web pages and no e-mail.
I ordered a sandwich and a Coke. While the Coke was a bit overpriced at $3 I found that the sandwich was worth $5, given I paid over $5 for a mediocre slice of pizza in the terminal before departure. Pictures of the menu and pricing:
I’m not sure if it was a by-product of the fact that our airplane was ferried over from Oslo the day before or that Norwegian thought there wouldn’t be much demand for buy-on-board food, but it’s the first time I can ever recall seeing a rear galley that looked like this.
So, tell me Ed. Should I take my family to the Caribbean on Norwegian?
Even Tommy agreed the experience was better than expected. He’s at least a few inches taller than me and a bit, ahem, broader. He still found the legroom and seat comfort to be better than tolerable. He commented that his view was it made for a pretty reasonable $500-ish flight for a family of 4 to the Caribbean.
All in all, I found it to be a perfectly reasonable way to get to the Caribbean at prices that are a scream (I paid $69 one-way for my ticket on the inaugural flight). The plane was about 2/3 full, so I would suspect there will still be opportunities to find cheap seats. Families have a tougher time amassing enough points to get 4 tickets to places like the Caribbean than those just looking to sneak away for a quick weekend. They’re fighting the double whammy of restricted travel dates due to school schedules and needing to find a larger number of seats. When affordable opportunities like Norwegian’s entry to the Caribbean come up, they need to be considered.
Now, whether Martinique and Guadeloupe are worth exploring, that’ll take a day or two to figure out!