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During his recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen traveled throughout Scandinavia and got to take a flight on European upstart airline Norwegian Air. Here’s his review of the experience.
Although my round-the-world award included business class flights on EVA, Singapore and SAS, one of the flights I was most interested to take was a short hop from Oslo to Stockholm on Norwegian Air. The Scandinavian low-cost carrier has been making waves on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to game-changing low fares from the US to Europe, as well as to various destinations within Europe itself. Though the airline is for budget-minded travelers and doesn’t offer a ton of frills, it has been getting positive reviews for its new planes – which include 737’s and 787’s – free onboard WiFi and friendly service. So when I was looking at options for flying from Oslo to Stockholm at the tail end of my trip, I went looking for Norwegian Air flights first.
As with a lot of low-cost carriers (and all airlines for that matter), fares can vary dramatically on Norwegian Air, even to the same destination on the same day. On this particular route, which is about 35 minutes in the air, airfares ranged from $52.20 to $213.50 for the date I wanted to fly.
The flight I needed was at 5:00 pm, and a LowFare ticket cost $113.50 including taxes. I ended up spending another $12 on checked luggage and $7 for paying with a credit card. My total came to $132.50. There was also an option to reserve a seat as well, which is usually bundled with the baggage fee for an extra $5, but I figured I could sit for half an hour in a middle seat if I had to, so I skipped it.
I had to book through Norwegian’s site, since the airline is not supported on OTA’s like Orbitz or Travelocity.
That turned out to be a good idea, since the flight was not at all full, and when I checked in for my flight at the airport about 90 minutes in advance, I had my choice of seats for free.
Norwegian has kiosks at the airport in Oslo where you check in, and print out your boarding pass and luggage tag if you’re checking a bag. You then take your bag and the tag to the conveyor belt yourself, scan the bag tag, and weigh the bag.
That $12 luggage fee I paid got me 20.9kg (about 45lbs). My suitcase weighed in at 22kg, so the system told me to go to the check-in counter and talk to a representative. Luckily there was an agent on hand; she made me take a couple things out of my suitcase and stuff them in my carry-on, then move the bag to the next conveyor station, re-scan and re-weigh it, and voila, the bag was off.
I then made my way past security and walked about 10 minutes down the terminal to my gate. Like many European airports, Oslo’s has small gate areas separated from the main terminal by a glass wall. My gate opened about 45 minutes before departure and quickly filled up with people, but I was able to snag a seat.
Boarding started about 20 minutes before departure time with rows 16-32 boarded first, followed by rows 1-15. I was in row 10, so I waited until the very end to get onboard, and found only a half-full plane. I made my way to my seat and found that my row had two other people in it, so as soon as the plane door closed, I moved back a row and had it all to myself.
Norwegian doesn’t have business class, and while Norwegian’s 787’s have a Premium Economy section up front, the 737-800’s like the one I was flying have only economy seats in a 3 x 3 configuration, with 186 seats total. At 17.2 inches wide and with just 29 inches in pitch, that can be a pretty tight squeeze for some.
I’m 5’8” and had enough legroom, but there’s no way TPG would fit in one of these seats; taller passengers would have to snag the bulkhead or exit row or be out of luck. The 787 seats are the same width, but have 31-32 inches of pitch.
One of the things that intrigued me about Norwegian is that the airline offers free WiFi on its flights (when available). That probably means slow connection times as everyone signs on, but I was still hoping to try out the service. Unfortunately, my flight was not WiFi equipped.
That was not a surprise, since Norwegian does a good job during the booking process of letting you know which flights will be equipped with WiFi, and you can check your flight status and find out as well. Still, I was disappointed.
I was also disappointed that there are no individual seatback entertainment systems. Instead, there are overhead monitors that showed the safety video and then episodes of Looney Tunes during the flight, so I just read my book instead.
The flight was short and I didn’t see a flight attendant the whole time. There was no beverage service or anything. I was not that surprised given the airline’s low-cost reputation, and the flight attendants were friendly during boarding and deplaning, but this definitely felt more like a commuter bus ride than a plane trip.
The plane was quite new and had nice, large windows, plenty of overhead space, cool mood lighting, and was very clean. And the flight was on time, so I was pretty content. I just wish I had brought a bottle of water with me so I would have had something to drink!
Unfortunately, Norwegian Air is not in an alliance and has no airline partners, so in terms of earning points or miles, I didn’t have any great options.
Norwegian does have its own loyalty program; here’s how it works.
• You earn 2% CashPoints on all LowFare tickets
• You earn 10% CashPoints on all Flex tickets
• 1 CashPoint = 1 NOK
• You can use your CashPoints as full or partial payment for flight tickets, check-in luggage, seat reservations or ticket changes
• Your CashPoints remain valid until the end of the year you made your purchase + 2 years. For example, CashPoints for a flight paid for on 1 September 2014 are valid until 31 December 2016.
So you’re basically earning 2% back on those low fares to be used for future flights and fees. My flight netted me about $2.25 in credit for future Norwegian purchases – not so useful.
Still, for the price and convenience, this was an all-round decent flight experience.
Have you flown Norwegian? What was your experience like? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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