Flight Review: Norwegian (737-800) Economy From New York to Martinique
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International low-cost carrier Norwegian Air has been expanding rapidly over the last few years. In 2015, the airline started flying multiple routes from the East Coast to Martinique (FDF) and Guadeloupe (PTP) in the French Caribbean. In May, the carrier also announced that starting this October, it'll be adding service from Providence (PVD) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to the islands as well.
Norwegian's fleet consists of about 120 aircraft — with more than 100 Boeing 737 MAXs currently on order. The average age of these planes is just 3.6 years old, making it one of the youngest in the world. The Boeing 737-800 I was going to be flying on is staffed by two pilots and four cabin crew. I had flown on Norwegian's 787 Dreamliner back in 2014 as one of my first-ever long-haul international flights from Oakland (OAK) to Oslo (OSL) and really enjoyed the experience, so I was looking forward to testing out one of its other planes this time around.
Since I was booking this flight just a couple of weeks ahead of my departure, I was expecting the airfares to be high. Luckily, I managed to find one that was only $298 round-trip — I also opted for a LowFare+ ticket, which included seat selection and a checked bag for $25 more each way, so the total cost for my trip came to $347.20.
You'll earn the best return when booking with The Platinum Card from American Express, which gives you 5x points for flights purchased directly with the airline and would have yielded me 1,735 Membership Rewards points, worth about $33. Another option is to use a travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which lets you earn 3x points on travel purchases and would have netted me 1,041 Ultimate Reward points, worth about $23 according to TPG's most recent valuations. I also ended up earning 29 CashPoints through Norwegian's frequent flyer program for the purchase.
Since my flight, DY6751, departed at 2:20pm, I decided to get to the airport early so I'd have plenty of time to check out the airport and lounge. Norwegian departs from Terminal 1 at JFK, an international terminal that's a great place for plane spotting — I saw a couple of A380s and 747s as I walked through the concourse.
Check-in was a breeze, which came as a surprise to me — Norwegian is a low-cost carrier and I had expected to encounter long lines and limited staff. Since I was bringing along a checked bag, I had to go through the check-in line anyway.
For a budget airline, Norwegian's bag policy is actually pretty generous — you're allowed to bring one personal item (i.e. a backpack or purse) and one full-size carry-on. Compare this to other carriers like WOW or Spirit, which only allow you to bring a small personal item and charge extra for carry-ons. Checking a bag only costs an additional $25 dollars each way on Norwegian, whereas WOW charges $50 per bag each way — and that's just on its shorter routes!
I dropped off my bag with a friendly agent, got my ticket and headed toward security in a matter of minutes.
Priority Pass Lounges
One of the benefits of being a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder is that you get a Priority Pass Select membership, which gives you access to more than 1,000 lounges worldwide. At JFK, there are actually two lounges in Terminal 1 that you can access with Priority Pass, The Air France Lounge and the Korean Air Lounge.
Unfortunately for me, the Air France Lounge was too full to accept Priority Pass members when I arrived, but the concierge told me if I came back in 15 minutes, I should be able to get in. I was also denied entry to the Korean Air Lounge — apparently it's only open to Priority Pass members between the hours of 2:00pm and 10:30pm.
I headed back to the Air France Lounge and was let in this time. I was quite impressed with the two-story space, which was modern with lots of seating and had plenty of food and beverages to choose from.
I headed up to the second floor since the first level seemed to be pretty crowded — I'd definitely sit here if you value your privacy. It's also much easier to get food and drinks up there since there aren't too many people and same food options as downstairs were offered here as well.
As for drinks, several kinds of beer, red and white wines, spirits, sodas, juices, coffee and a tricked out Nespresso machine were all available.
The liquor selection was solid but it was disappointing to see many of the bottles were empty — lounge employees passed by and didn't replace them.
Food offerings included chicken, salad, chickpeas salad, salmon, sandwiches and soups. I found the chickpea salad to be pretty tasty. The rest of the food was fine but nothing really stood out.
There was also an assortment of fresh fruit, yogurt and cheese if you're looking for something lighter to munch on.
If you immediately turn right after entering the lounge, you'll find a small relaxation area that was much quieter than the rest of the lounge and would be a good place to chill out before a long flight.
Other than the empty liquor bottles and being turned away from the lounge at the beginning of my visit, I must say it was quite an enjoyable experience. The staff was friendly, the lounge was modern and clean, the food was fresh and there were a decent amount of dining options and plenty of comfortable seats. I can definitely see why the Air France Lounge made TPG's list of Top Priority Pass Lounges in the US.
I highly recommend getting to the gate at least 30 minutes before boarding, as I was cutting it close and almost missed my flight. Most airlines will close the doors 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time but Norwegian actually closes them 30 minutes before. Luckily, I got there right before the pilots pushed back from the gate. The carrier used a reverse boarding process, so the folks sitting at the back of the plane are let on first.
Once I was on the plane, the boarding process was relatively seamless and there seemed to be plenty of overhead bin space available. We took off on time and all the flight attendants greeted me as I came aboard.
Cabin and Seat
Norwegian operates just two types of aircraft — Boeing 787s on long-haul routes and Boeing 737s on shorter hops. This flight was operated by a Boeing 737-800, which featured a 3-3 all-economy seating configuration that held 186 passengers.
The best way to describe the cabin is by saying it's no-frills. You'll see gray seats with red head covers while the ceiling and walls are a plain white color. Everything seemed clean and fresh. I appreciated the simplicity of the plane and that Norwegian never tried to hide the fact that it's a low-cost carrier. There was also LED mood lighting, which changed colors throughout the flight.
I chose to sit in 9A, a window seat and was thrilled to find out I had the entire row to myself. I'm not sure if I just got lucky or if it's because I'd paid for my seat, but either way, having an entire economy row to yourself is like flying in a poor man's business class and was great.
The seat itself was comfortable enough — it was relatively thin with not a lot of cushioning, but I still wouldn't call it uncomfortable by any means. For a 4.5-hour flight, it did just fine. The recline was only about 3-4 inches, which was pretty limited, though luckily I wasn't trying to sleep on this flight. It would have been nice to have had an adjustable headrest.
The seat pitch on this aircraft ranges from 29-31 inches according to SeatGuru, which seemed to be accurate on my flight. I'm 6'1" and had about six inches of space between my knees and the seat in front of me — it helps that the seat-back pocket of these Recaro slimline seats is moved up to allow for more room. The seats are 17.2 inches wide and I felt, as a stocky guy, like I had enough space to be comfortable.
I noticed the tray table was a bit small when I was trying to use my 15" MacBook. There weren't any power outlets on this plane, which was surprising since Norwegian's fleet is so new and the flight is more than four hours long.
There are two bathrooms on the plane — one in the front and one in the rear — that were clean and fully stocked with the usual restroom items. Again, going along with the whole no-frills theme, the lavatories weren't anything special but did the trick.
Food and Beverage
Meal service started pretty quickly into the flight and surprisingly, I discovered there was an extensive menu featuring plenty of options — the four fresh foods of the day were chicken salad, fruit salad, a veggie wrap and a salami sandwich with cheese, each of which was available for $5. I ordered a bottle of water, a veggie wrap and a pain au chocolat (ie. a chocolate croissant for those of you who aren't in the know).
The veggie wrap was tasty and fresh, which I appreciated, whereas most legacy carriers' meals seem to have been stuck in the fridge for a week and are stale before they're even served to you. The croissant was also very fresh and hit the spot.
One thing I can commend Norwegian on is its food and beverage service. Yes, you do have to pay for just about everything on the flight, but I found every item to be reasonably priced. My veggie wrap was only five bucks, whereas a legacy carrier probably would have charged about $8 or $9 for the same thing. The pain au chocolat was only $3 and the water was $2.50. I essentially had an entire meal for $10.50, which I don't think is a bad deal at all.
Note that Norwegian only takes credit or debit cards as payment on board, so I decided to use my Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card since I was working toward reaching my minimum-spend so I'd earn 80,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending $5,000 in three months. I also scored 3x points on the purchase since it coded as travel.
Since Norwegian doesn't serve free drinks, fewer people are actually being served, which means the food and beverage service passed through the cabin quickly. Usually, being nine rows back means it could be a while before it's your turn to order, but on this flight, I waited just three minutes.
The flight attendants came around for a second round of food and beverage service about two-thirds of the way through the flight. I found them to be very friendly and welcoming, with smiles on their faces whenever they interacted with passengers.
Norwegian offered limited entertainment options on this flight and there weren't any seat-back IFE screens — throughout the cabin were several flip-down screens, which played an unrecognizable TV show. I tried to tune in to whatever was on them but wasn't able to find a headphone jack in the seat after a few minutes of searching — either I was clueless as to where they were or there just wasn't any way to listen in.
At that point, I decided to boot up my laptop and check out the Wi-Fi situation. Connecting to the internet was a breeze, and oh yeah, it was free! The fact that Norwegian is a low-cost carrier that offers complimentary Wi-Fi is just one more reason why I really liked flying with this carrier. All you have to do is let the system know if you're traveling for business or pleasure, watch a quick ad for Rocketmiles and you're in.
Once you connect your device to the internet, there was a small and strange assortment of movies that you could stream to your laptop, phone or tablet for a price. You had to enter your credit card information before you could see the price, so I passed on that one.
There were just two free shows to choose from, but nothing that was of interest to me. Live streaming of Bloomberg TV was also an option and it played seamlessly for the few minutes I watched it. I streamed one of the free foreign series and the playback on that was smooth as well.
Wi-Fi was relatively fast, which I was surprised by because it was free. I was able to watch YouTube videos and send emails throughout the flight.
In any case, I would recommend avoiding Norwegian's content of in-flight entertainment, especially now that you can download content onto your phone or laptop if you're a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriber.
I really enjoyed my flight with Norwegian and would definitely use this carrier again. The airline gets a lot of things right with its low fares, reasonable extra fees, complimentary Wi-Fi, friendly service and comfortable cabin.
I'd probably choose Norwegian over other airlines in some cases considering how legacy carriers are continuing to increase prices for an inferior product, especially with the introduction basic economy fares and the fact that they'll make you pay for almost everything on the plane nowadays. You're going to be getting a better value for a better price since Norwegian offers free Wi-Fi, full-sized carry-ons and its food and drink options are super-affordable. Not to mention, we've been consistently seeing $210 fares to Europe for what could be considered a better economy product than most others. As the carrier continues to expand its route network, I'll definitely be looking for more opportunities to fly it.
Have you ever flown in economy aboard Norwegian's 737? Tell us about it, below.