First look: Norse Atlantic Airways’ inaugural flight from New York on the Boeing 787
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I just flew from the U.S. to Europe for under $200, and I’d do it again — but maybe not to Oslo.
Low-cost, long-haul service returned to the transatlantic market on Tuesday, when Norse Atlantic Airways began its operations with flights between Oslo Airport-Gardermoen (OSL) and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
Norse promises affordable transatlantic flights during a time of surging airfares and high fuel costs — but also during a period of record demand for airlines, as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. No airline has ever succeeded in sustainably providing long-haul, low-cost flights.
The inaugural flight I flew on — Norse Flight 2 from JFK to OSL — was an excellent value. The aircraft felt new, the seats in economy were more comfortable than I expected and there were many movies and TV shows loaded on the inflight entertainment system.
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The trip wasn’t perfect. The airline would benefit from more clarity about which JFK terminal it uses. The flight departed at 1:55 a.m. — exactly a 2-hour delay. And a technical issue caused the Transportation Security Administration to reject my digital boarding pass.
But these can likely be chalked up as “teething pains” that are not unusual for any airline startup — especially during its first day of operations. The most notable issue was out of Norse’s control, but was still a big part of my experience: an incredibly long line for immigration in Oslo put a damper on an otherwise solid flight.
Beyond that, the ghost of another airline was hard to ignore the inaugural: Norwegian Air’s long-haul division, which was shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Norse’s CEO, Bjorn Tore Larsen, doesn’t like comparisons to be made between Norse and Norwegian — due to what he believes is a different strategy.
“We have our own soul,” Larsen told reporters before the flight. “We are a focused, widebody carrier only — Norwegian, for example, was not that. They were a hybrid like many other hub-and-spoke operators, so basically, it’s not the same model.”
Still, it’s difficult not to think of Norse as an indirect successor to Norwegian: Norse shares a co-founder with Norwegian Air, and Norse inherited some Boeing 787 Dreamliners from the airline on leases with favorable terms.
Many staffers — including crewmembers working this flight — once worked for Norwegian. Tuesday’s flight was operated by an ex-Norwegian aircraft that once bore a portrait of Argentine artist Xul Solar on its tail, with its interior from its Norwegian Air days largely intact.
JFK to Oslo is the first of many routes for Norse, which will also serve Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from OSL. The airline will also start flying between London Gatwick Airport (LGW) and JFK and Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) and JFK and LAX. The airline promises more routes soon and is teasing an ambitious winter schedule.
Booking and check-in
My ticket cost just $129, by purchasing the bare bones, base “Economy Light” fare the day after tickets went on sale. Day-of walk-up fares for this mostly full flight were still pricing under $300. I later purchased two add-ons: A $35 carry-on bag, which I would have purchased anyway, and $15 for priority boarding, which I purchased to be able to take more unobstructed cabin photos for TPG readers.
One thing I did not purchase was a better seat. When checking in online, I was assigned seat 28E, a middle seat in the middle section of the 787-9’s 3-3-3 economy layout. It’s a classic tactic of ultra-low-cost carriers to automatically assign the worst seats, prompting an upsell, but I didn’t take the bait this time — which ultimately paid off.
Check-in was a smooth process, which I did 24 hours prior to departure. Travelers are once again asked if they’d like to purchase any extras like bags, seats or meals in an interface largely identical to the one used for booking.
One extra that travelers should not purchase at this time — at least for the near future — is the $10 fee to check-in at the airport.
You should plan to go to the ticket counter, ask for a paper boarding pass and expect that fee to be waived — like it was for me and everyone else on Tuesday who did not purchase it upfront.
That’s because a technical issue with the digital boarding pass that Norse issued caused a TSA officer to immediately reject it, sending me to the counter to get a paper boarding pass.
Two Norse executives who were at the check-in counter helped me out, even apologetically escorting me to the front of the TSA line when I had my paper boarding pass in hand. (Full disclosure: I had introduced myself as a TPG reporter to them about 15 minutes prior, something we often do on inaugural flights to be clear that their conversations might be used on the record).
They also took a picture of my digital boarding pass, which read OSL was the code for “Fort Lauderdale-Miami.” They were eager to troubleshoot the issue, which I appreciate.
At the airport
At JFK, Norse uses busy Terminal 1. Norse did not put this information on its website, nor was it posted on the JFK AirTrain’s airline directory. However, it was signed on JFK’s access road and on digital signage. The lack of that information was a top feedback item for the Norse staff present on Tuesday.
Norse does not yet participate in TSA PreCheck, though the airline’s head of security told me that they expect that to change in the coming weeks. (Norse has been collecting Known Traveler Numbers since bookings opened.)
While security lines at Terminal 1 can be notoriously long, the late departure time of this flight (11:55 p.m.) means that passengers typically will avoid the worst rushes.
A big advantage of Terminal 1 is its Priority Pass offerings, including a Lufthansa lounge, Korean Air lounge, Primeclass lounge and an Air France lounge.
I spent time at the Lufthansa lounge, which was crowded but not unbearably so. It also offers a substantive buffet, making it a great option for budget-conscious travelers who wish to avoid purchasing dinner at the airport or onboard.
One traveler on the flight noted that the Air France Lounge was not accepting Priority Pass at that hour due to the number of Air France flights departing at the time.
Being a low-cost carrier, Norse passed on having any sort of gate party, instead springing for a more modest sign and some balloons at Gate 2. As is generally the case with inaugurals, there were plenty of passengers who had no clue about the significance of Tuesday’s flight.
After arriving on the inbound flight to JFK from Oslo, Larsen, the CEO, cleared immigration and immediately came upstairs to speak to staff, and then reporters.
As reporters waited to pre-board the aircraft for photos, the flight’s captain and several senior Norse executives also came over to chat, including the airline’s chief operating officer and its vice president of flight operations.
The staff were all excited and beaming with pride, despite the delay: The airline they had worked for over a year on was finally becoming a reality.
It was then that I learned the incredible reason why our inbound aircraft was delayed, which set the stage for the delayed departure: The airline had transported a significant number of Ukrainian refugees on its inaugural flight to JFK. Reservations for those passengers had to be processed manually, which took extra time.
The airline’s head of security arranged for some reporters to pre-board, giving us about four minutes to capture photos before the boarding started.
On Norse’s 787-9, you’ll find 56 premium economy seats and 288 economy class seats. The premium economy seats are in a 2-3-2 layout and feature 43 inches of pitch and recline 12 inches.
The economy class seats are in a 3-3-3 layout and feature about 31 inches of pitch. The cabin is largely the same as it was when the aircraft flew for Norwegian, though photos of national parks were added on bulkheads (Norse considers itself “the explorer’s airline”) and headrest covers featured the Norse logo.
The tray table in economy class was large enough for my 13″ MacBook Pro.
The inflight entertainment system offered several movies and TV shows, including “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!” and “The Office.” It was well-stocked for a low-cost carrier, though it did lack a flight map and instead just offered a page full of flight statistics and the time remaining.
All seats featured an in-seat power outlet and USB charging — though the USB charging did not work at my seat.
This aircraft lacked Wi-Fi, though the airline hopes to announce a connectivity solution soon.
In an effort to minimize the time in that dreaded middle seat, I chatted with the flight attendants working door three during boarding. These flight attendants were based in the U.S. and sported Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union pins.
Norse inked a unique agreement with AFA — the union that represents flight attendants at United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and multiple smaller carriers — to agree to recognize a bargaining unit once the airline started up.
These flight attendants were excited about their union-in-waiting, a key differentiator from Norwegian, which had issues with labor relations.
As I settled into my middle seat, Norse’s head of security appeared again to move the guy sitting to my left on the aisle seat and his family. I now had a much more comfortable aisle seat – all without paying for the upsell to the seat assignment!
Doors closed for boarding at 1:27 a.m. — we were further delayed due to some missing passengers and extra paperwork — and we began our taxi to Kennedy’s runway 22R at 1:41 a.m. We took off at 1:55 a.m.
Inflight service began at 2:22 a.m. when flight attendants began selling comfort kits consisting of blankets and headsets.
That was followed by a rather prolonged meal service for those who purchased meals ahead of time — many people switched seats, leading to confusion — and a beverage cart.
I would have liked to purchase a coffee at this time, but the cart made it through the aisle faster than I was ready to order. Items on Norse’s a la carte menu were available for purchase throughout the flight by ringing the flight attendant call button or by visiting the galley.
Good thing I stocked up on Lara Bars at TPG’s New York office before I left for the airport. It was late, I wanted to keep things cheap and that was sufficient. On a future daytime, westbound Norse flight, I look forward to trying some items from the menu.
And by the way, the water was free — and I even scored an entire water bottle.
Lights went out at 3:59 a.m., just over two hours into the flight, and came back on at 7:30 a.m. ET for the pre-arrival service — for those who purchased it. The aircraft arrived at 2:37 p.m. Then, the chaos began.
Arrival into Oslo
Given our late arrival into Oslo — about 90 minutes late — flight attendants asked those with connections to come forward and everyone else to remain seated.
However, it probably wouldn’t have mattered at that point.
What awaited us upon arrival was the longest immigration line I have ever seen: two-and-a-half hours of snaking through hallways and rope lines, while watching Norwegian and European Union citizens breeze by to use e-gates.
For travelers stopping in Oslo, it ends up just being a long wait at the end of your journey. Given this aggravating experience, it would be hard to recommend using Oslo as a connection point to other carriers (Norse doesn’t sell connections) — especially if it’s a shorter connection. This summer has been rough at airports throughout Europe, and I had lucked out until today.
Unless — or until — Oslo sorts out its immigration queues, London Gatwick might be a better option for low-cost connections when flying Norse. Service to that airport begins on Aug. 12 from Kennedy.
While the situation at Oslo is one for Norwegian authorities and the airport to resolve, as a Norwegian company and airport tenant looking to grow, I hope Larsen and other Norse executives speak up and do what they can to try and help resolve this issue. It might hurt his new airline otherwise.
Norse Atlantic Airways burst onto the scene Tuesday, offering low-cost long-haul flights between Oslo and New York, with many more city pairs to come.
I felt the airline was a great value: A flight for less than $200 from New York to Oslo that got me there within a few hours of the scheduled time. The staff was friendly and having inflight entertainment was a nice bonus — I look forward to the airline installing Wi-Fi on its fleet.
Unfortunately, an extremely long immigration line in Oslo put a damper on the experience, but it wouldn’t preclude me from flying Norse again in the future. I look forward to taking another flight with them.
Featured photo by Ethan Klapper/The Points Guy.
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