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Last week, European low-cost carrier Norwegian Air took delivery of its first two Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Norwegian is the second airline to fly the new plane (following Malaysia’s Malindo Air), and will be the first to offer MAX 8 service in the US beginning later this summer. With four more aircraft to be delivered this year and 100 total already on order, Norwegian hopes to continue developing its model for inexpensive transatlantic and other long-haul travel.
While these planes are new, the in-flight experience will be similar to what you’d find on Norwegian’s 737-800 aircraft. Most seats are a bit tight and offer few amenities, but roughly 10% of the cabin offers significantly more legroom. You can select your own seat with a LowFare+ or Flex ticket, or you can pay extra for a seat assignment if you’re booked at the cheapest LowFare rate. In this post, I’ll show you which seats to target for a more comfortable ride.
Cabin and Seats
Norwegian’s MAX 8 has 189 economy seats in a 3-3 configuration — three more than the 186 seats you’ll find on the 737-800. Unfortunately, that translates to even less room.
Each seat is 17.2 inches wide, with most seats offering 29-30 inches of pitch. Both measurements are on the small side, and the legroom is scant, including by Norwegian Air’s own standards. In comparison, the airline offers a pitch of 31-32 inches in its 787 economy cabin, and a relatively luxurious 46 inches in the premium cabin. Even the airline’s older 737-800 aircraft have some economy seats with 31 inches of pitch.
With those dimensions, the average person is likely to feel a bit cramped on long-haul flights, so paying extra to select your own seat may be worthwhile.
You won’t find much in terms of amenities — each seat has a tray table, fan and overhead light, but they lack more modern acoutrements like power ports and seat-back entertainment devices. On the bright side, every row has access to a window, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in a false window seat. The cabin is also fairly uniform, so you won’t find any odd obstructions or protrusions.
Which Seats to Pick
Your best bet for a comfortable ride is in the exit rows and behind the forward bulkhead. Those areas offer roughly the same amount of pitch, but my picks for the best seats in the cabin are the aisle seats in the second exit row (16C and 16D), since you get a little extra room for your feet under the seat in front of you.
The seats in row 16 recline fully, giving them a clear advantage over the other exit seats in row 15, which don’t recline at all. However, row 15 still offers 38 inches of pitch, so it’s a good option for shorter flights or if you don’t mind being fully upright. Keep in mind that passengers with special needs and children under 16 years are not eligible to sit in either exit row.
The window and middle seats in the exit rows are equally spacious, but keep in mind that the view is obstructed by the wings. If you value a view above extra legroom, look for a window seat in rows 1-12 or 21-31.
My next choice of seats would be in the window or aisle behind the forward bulkhead. These seats all offer extra legroom and the ability to debark first, but you lose a little bit of seat width due to the solid armrests that contain the fold-out tray tables.
The bulkhead seats are in row 1 on the port side, with A at the window and C by the aisle. Norwegian’s 737 MAX 8 configuration does not have a row 1 on the starboard side, so seats 2D and 2F are the ones to target there.
Which Seats to Avoid
On this aircraft, last is least. Row 32 offers a trifecta of suboptimal seat conditions: You’re at the back of the plane (so you’ll have to wait longest to debark), you have a limited recline due to the bulkhead behind you, and you’re in close proximity to the rear lavatories and galley. I’d prefer a middle seat elsewhere in the cabin to the aisle or window seats in this row. (For better or worse, the soda shown in the image below is not included.)
The other seats you should try hard to avoid are in row 14. These seats don’t have the same noise or smell factor as those in row 32, but being directly in front of an exit row, they don’t recline at all. On a shorter flight, you might be happier in an aisle seat here (14C or 14D) than in a middle seat elsewhere, but you should steer clear of the whole row on transatlantic or other long-haul routes.
Finally, the view in rows 13-20 is obstructed to varying degrees by the wings and engines. Other than row 14, those seats are still preferable to the middle, but if you’re looking for a window seat, try to snag one farther toward the front or rear if you can.
If you’re looking for a luxurious way to cross the Atlantic, Norwegian’s 737 MAX 8 isn’t it. On the other hand, for roughly $90 round-trip (on an international long-haul flight), you can select a fairly comfortable seat and still end up with a very reasonable fare. Depending on how many seats are available at booking, you should consider paying extra just to avoid the worst ones, which could be grueling on longer flights.
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