This Airline's London Shuttle is Calling...
This spring I discovered a substantially less-expensive airfare option from New York to London outside of the usual suspects: British Airways, Delta, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines.
A roundtrip, direct, economy flight on Norwegian Air departing within two weeks from John F. Kennedy Airport to London’s Gatwick Airport was $400 less compared to other options at $1,300 and up.
To blighty and back for under $972? I was in. Booking months earlier would have cost less than $500. As of this writing, a roundtrip flight in mid-January 2016 is roughly $550. A couple of clicks and I was booked and registered for “Norwegian Reward,” the airline’s loyalty program (it’s not affiliated with Star Alliance, SkyTeam nor OneWorld programs).
Treat Yo Self
What’s most appealing is Norwegian’s affordable Premium Economy cabin, which can be had for a $400 upgrade fee at the airport counter (the London Shuttle has only two cabins: Economy and Premium Economy). It’s an attainable luxury and worth it if you dread overnight international flights, and particularly when business and coach price disparities can range in the thousands.
Above: Norwegian Air's Premium Economy cabin. With a 2-3-2 configuration, passengers enjoy a 46” seat pitch—larger than British Airway’s short-haul business class seats at 30”.
Above: Blankets feature kitschy New York and Scandinavian motifs. Touch-screen options include 3-D maps, snack bar, and entertainment options. Can you guess the movie?
Above: Premium Economy meal. Chicken korma, yum!
New Kid on the Block
Since Norwegian launched its budget transatlantic service two years ago, it now has flights originating from multiple U.S. Cities which include New York (JFK), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), the San Francisco area (OAK), Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Orlando (MCO), flying to popular European, Scandinavian, and now French Caribbean destinations.
“We just celebrated one year of London Gatwick service last month, and we couldn’t be happier with the performance,” said Norwegian Airline’s CEO Bjørn Kjos.
“Our goal has been to allow Americans to fly affordably from the United States to Europe, and our routes from London Gatwick allow us to do that. Thankfully, the response from our customers has been tremendous,” said Kjos.
A new Boston to London service begins in May 2016 and the airline is ambitious and extremely committed to expanding the U.S. market as “we believe Americans deserve cheaper long-haul air fare,” according to Kjos.
The airline recently nabbed Skytrax awards for “Best Low-Cost, Long-Haul Airline,” and “Best Low-Cost Airline in Europe,” the latter for the third consecutive year.
As far as competition goes, the airline welcomes it. “They should stop worrying about global next-generation airlines and instead spend all that money and focus on creating a better and more affordable experience for their own customers,” said Kjos.
Not Without Quirks
For American travelers not accustomed with budget airline practices made notorious by RyanAir and EasyJet, prepare to pay for what may seem like basic amenities.
Seats are unassigned—reserving one costs $42 each way. “Nice & Tasty” meals are $41 in advance (snacks can be purchased onboard), headphones $3, blankets $5, and amenity kits including toothbrush and toothpaste at $20.
Norwegian also doesn’t have a mobile app (yet) so there’s no check-in platform and a queueing up for boarding passes at the airport counter is in order.
Above: The flight home, in Economy cabin. No meal pic (which indicates it was unremarkable).
Above: With a 3-3-3 configuration and a 31” seat pitch, comparable to Virgin Atlantic Economy class.
A main allure of the London Shuttle is the Dreamliner experience. With LED mood lighting, 65 percent noticeably larger, tinted windows, higher cabin pressure, more humidity and cleaner air while flying, it boasts less jet-lag and fatigue upon arrival—heck maybe passengers are taller, skinnier and more popular, too. Just kidding.
“But at least you'll feel fresher and more rejuvenated when you arrive, which will hopefully make you feel more beautiful after a long flight,” said Kjos. Fair enough.