This feels familiar: A review of Norse Atlantic Premium on the 787 from London to New York
Remember low-cost carrier Norwegian Air's long-haul services across the Atlantic before the pandemic?
I was a huge fan of the ability to book affordable, one-way flights between Europe and the United States on new Boeing 787 Dreamliners with a choice of economy or premium economy. In my first year at TPG in 2019, I flew numerous Norwegian flights between the two TPG offices in London and New York, in both classes of service.
Norwegian unfortunately did not survive the pandemic. In 2022, however, a new airline from Norway called Norse Atlantic Airways emerged with a remarkably similar business model, promising low-cost, long-haul flights across the Atlantic. Sound familiar?
Even though Norse Atlantic insists it is a completely new airline with a fresh start, it initially leased nine Boeing 787 Dreamliners that previously flew for Norwegian Air. (Norwegian had over 30 Dreamliners in 2019.)
When I saw Norse Atlantic would launch flights between London and New York, I was curious to see if the experience would be better, worse, or at least similar to my fond memories of Norwegian.
Here's how my flight in Norse Atlantic Premium from London to New York went and why I'd fly it again.
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As a new airline, Norse Atlantic currently has only a few pins on its route map, including services from Olso to Orlando and Berlin to Los Angeles, though it plans to steadily but cautiously grow over the coming months and years.
Norse Atlantic recently launched a daily nonstop between London's Gatwick Airport (LGW) and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), one of the world's most competitive and lucrative long-haul aviation routes.
The airline flies Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners for the service, departing London at approximately 1 p.m. and arriving in New York at 3:55 p.m., almost eight hours later. The return flight departs New York at approximately 6:25 p.m., arriving in London at 6:45 a.m. the next morning, with a scheduled flight time of seven hours and 25 minutes, though strong tailwinds for these flights usually mean the flight time is significantly shorter. Departure times differ slightly each day of the week, and the schedule and frequencies remain subject to change given this route has only just commenced.
One-way, nonstop flights between London and New York on legacy airlines tend to be very expensive, sometimes more so than round trips. The cheapest premium nonstop economy fares I could see, even in the off-peak winter period, started from $2,193 one-way on United (round-trip fares were a much more reasonable $748 on British Airways).
Fortunately, Norse Atlantic offered affordable one-way fares in both directions in economy and premium economy when I was looking at flights. TPG's Ethan Klapper took the cheapest economy option he could find on the airline's inaugural long-haul flight from JFK to Oslo, Norway, recently. I decided to travel a little more comfortably, trying out the airline's premium economy cabin instead. At only $372, a Premium Light fare was a terrific value and included a full-size carry-on (plus a smaller personal item), two meals, priority check-in and boarding, and a seat in the premium economy cabin, though not seat selection.
For an extra $90, Premium Classic fares included a 50-pound checked bag. Checked bags added separately start from $60 per bag for 33 pounds up to a pricey $170 for a 70-pound checked bag — so if you plan to check a bag, compare the cost of doing so as an extra in Premium Light or bundled with Premium Classic.
Norse Atlantic charges steep seat selection fees in the Premium cabin, with a middle seat choice starting at $35 per person up to $100 for a front row window or aisle seat with extra legroom.
Predicting my flight soon after the new route launched might not be full, I tried my luck and did not select a seat in advance. This paid off and I was automatically allocated a window seat at 7A at no extra charge, saving me $60. What's more, there was no passenger next to me, so I had two seats to myself.
There is currently no way to redeem traditional frequent flyer points or miles for Norse Atlantic flights, as the new airline does not have a loyalty program. Norse also does not yet appear on online travel platforms like Google Flights, and for now you won't be able to use points like Ultimate Rewards through the Chase Travel portal.
Related: 8 underrated airline and hotel loyalty programs you should know
Norse Atlantic departs for America from the South Terminal at the leisure-focused Gatwick Airport in England, which even in early September was still bustling with holiday-makers.
At the H check-in desks, there were four desks designated for economy passengers for my flight to New York, and a single priority desk for Premium passengers. I was helped in just a few minutes by the upbeat and efficient check-in staff who seemed excited to be working for this new airline. Economy passengers are required to check in online to avoid paying a fee to do so at the airport (the passenger at the economy desk next to me was stung by this rule), but Premium passengers can choose either option at no extra cost.
Related: Does checking in online prevent me from getting upgraded?
I was unsure if Norse Atlantic provided fast-track security to premium economy passengers so I tried my luck at the South Terminal security entrance, politely showing my boarding pass and asking if my ticket type gave me access. The friendly gatekeeper advised me that Norse had not yet arranged access for Premium passengers, but hoped to do so soon. I was impressed that she both knew exactly what this new airline was and appeared to know the current status of the arrangement.
I've never waited for more than a few minutes at Gatwick Airport's security checkpoints in my six years living in London and this flight was no exception. Norse Atlantic Premium passengers do not have access to any airport lounges, in line with most legacy airlines' premium economy products. That's a shame because this would be an easy way for Norse to differentiate itself from its competitors and provide a unique offering.
Gatwick Airport is not a particularly pleasant or well-designed terminal. Seating is crammed into every space possible including hallways, causing bottlenecks and a general feeling of crowding.
I have a Priority Pass membership from The Platinum Card® from American Express and while there are several lounge options that, in theory, accept Priority Pass, the reality is you are unlikely to gain entry as they are perpetually full. I was met with the following sign at the No. 1 Lounge. Enrollment is required.
I joined the virtual queue but I never received a text message for entry.
Related: UK Priority Pass lounges are perpetually full, and you’re not the only one who’s noticed
Instead, I headed to the airside Grain Store restaurant, one of the few airport restaurants in Europe that also accepts Priority Pass. Members can receive a 15 pound ($17.50) per person discount on their meal.
Admittedly, my sweet corn fritters weren't great — rubbery, bland and not something I would eat again. But the grilled halloumi cheese hit the spot as did the coffee. It came in at just under 15.40 pounds ($17.90) in total including the service charge, and the staff advised me there was nothing more to pay. I was on my way to the gate.
I headed to Gate 19 where there was plenty of seating for passengers waiting to board my flight and a generally relaxed atmosphere.
Boarding started promptly 40 minutes before departure with Premium passengers invited to board first, though there were no separate boarding lanes.
Unfortunately, my fellow passengers and I ended up spending almost as much time at Gatwick as we did flying to New York. Busy British airspace and inclement weather meant we were held at the gate after boarding for a full hour and then, after finally lining up on the runway to take off, a last-second equipment failure of air traffic control over the Atlantic temporarily grounded all transatlantic aircraft departing London. Our plane — along with a WestJet and a JetBlue flight — all headed back to the gates to wait. And wait. The pilot instructed all passengers to remain on the plane during the entire delay so that if the problem was resolved, we could quickly be on our way.
Related: Mad about delays? Blame air traffic control, United says
Three hours after our scheduled departure we were finally given a new slot time for departure — a further 90 minutes after that. One of our pilots timed out during this period so we had to wait for a new pilot to arrive. Just after 6 p.m. we finally took off, arriving in New York around five hours late.
While the rolling delays were very frustrating, they did give me plenty of time to experience the cabin and service.
Cabin and seat
Norse Atlantic's Boeing 787-9 aircraft features a Premium cabin with 56 seats arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration across eight rows. The cabins immediately felt familiar as these aircraft previously flew for Norwegian. Norse Atlantic chose not to change the cabin interiors beyond removing Norwegian signage and headrest covers. The seats, seat covers, cabin layouts, bathrooms and IFE screens are exactly the same as Norwegian used. This felt like a fairly savvy business decision. Norwegian's product was popular and understood by its customers, so Norse Atlantic could save some cash by not reinventing the wheel inside its aircraft.
While the color scheme was a rather drab gray, what was immediately appealing was the abundant legroom. At 43 inches, it was much better than you will find on legacy carriers on this busy route: the industry standard is 38 inches and the difference was noticeable.
The 12 inches of recline each seat had was also more than you find on other carriers in premium economy, where the typical recline is nine or 10 inches. It was both a blessing and a curse — the angle was great for napping as it went almost flat, but when the passenger in front was fully reclined, it greatly reduced my personal space, even with the generous legroom.
At 19 inches, the width of the seat was also above average, slightly more than you'll experience on Virgin Atlantic's and British Airways' flagship Airbus A350 aircraft in premium economy.
Related: A review of Virgin Atlantic's Premium product on the A350
The recline was operated by a lever on my right armrest, with another lever to swing out the leg rest (which also had a footrest that could be manually folded down). Other features of the seat included a beverage tray extending out of the center armrest that was shared with the seat next to me and a charging point for each seat just below that. There was also a small and fairly flimsy tray table (just large enough for my 15-inch laptop) that folded out from the armrest, plus an adjustable headrest.
Other than the small, scuffed literature pocket, there was no storage around the seat, but this was a small complaint for what was overall a comfortable, spacious seat.
Amenities and inflight entertainment
No bedding or pillows were waiting for me when I boarded, another reminder this was indeed a low-cost carrier. Shortly after takeoff, the crew distributed complimentary earbud headphones and thin blankets to the passengers in the Premium cabin. The headphones were terrible quality but I grinned when I realized the blankets were the old Norwegian-branded blankets with the tags just roughly hacked off with scissors.
With no Wi-Fi available on the flight, I perused the 9-inch inflight entertainment screen with interest. It swung out from the center console next to my feet and could be operated by both its touchscreen and a small remote housed below the center beverage tray.
Entertainment options were limited, with only 18 new release movies including "Belfast," "Dune" and "The Matrix Resurrections." As an avid tennis fan, I enjoyed "King Richard," the story of Venus and Serena Williams' rise to fame. The TV series options were even less impressive, with "B Positive" as the only box set, and the flight map feature was not interactive.
Two bathrooms were provided at the front of the Premium cabin; with the cabin just half full there was never a queue and they were kept clean.
Food and beverage
The crew passed through the cabin during boarding offering a choice of water, apple or orange juice in pre-poured plastic cups. While no Champagne or sparkling wine was offered, this was still a nice touch.
During our rolling delay on the ground at Gatwick the pilot promised several times to organize some food and drinks to be provided to the restless passengers. After several hours, only a bottle of still water and a small tin of pringles was offered, meaning I was starving by the time we finally departed.
Fortunately, the crew commenced the meal service minutes after the seatbelt sign was switched off after takeoff.
Premium passengers receive two meals included on flights across the Atlantic. As the crew wheeled trolleys through the cabin they advised me there were three lunch options: chicken with tomato sauce, vegetables with rice, or salmon with horseradish cream sauce. I chose the chicken option and was handed a cardboard box containing the entire meal.
Even for a low-cost carrier, the meal was meager. The chicken tasted like a standard microwave dinner you could purchase for a few dollars from the freezer section of your local supermarket. I gobbled up the bread roll, which I smeared with the Norwegian butter using the sustainable — but not very practical — wooden cutlery.
The chocolate pot for dessert was tasty, but like the rest of the meal, too small. The entire meal left me quite hungry.
I wish Norse Atlantic charged slightly more for Premium fares and invested in larger meals. This was a very low-quality element of the experience. I would recommend purchasing snacks on the ground to take on this flight.
One beer, wine or soft drink per meal was provided free of charge to the Premium cabin, though spirits came with an extra charge. As this was a Tuesday, I opted for a Coke Zero instead of alcohol, and it was served with a cup of ice.
Tea and coffee were also offered to Premium passengers at no cost. This was served in a paper cup, ending an uninspiring first meal.
I was still hungry midflight and a little bored without Wi-Fi. In the absence of any complimentary snacks, I carefully perused the buy-on-board menu.
I immediately recognized several items from my 2019 flights on Norwegian and quickly ordered my favorite, the candy box ($8) as well as the "exotic" cashew nuts ($3.50) and salted chips ($3.50).
While there was nothing particularly exotic about the cashew nuts, I thoroughly enjoyed the candy box again, which provided numerous sweets from Sweden. (I could barely pronounce their names but they were tasty.) Whether you are traveling with a small child or a giant child like myself, it was a fun, destination-themed way to pass the time across the Atlantic.
Related: Lufthansa unveils new buy-on-board menu
Ninety minutes before landing, the second meal was served. I've flown between London and New York more times than I can remember and my common grumble is that the second meal served is never big enough in economy or premium economy on any airline. Norse Atlantic was no exception. The only option was a tomato and mozzarella "Sorrentina," which was halfway between an Italian calzone and a Turkish pide. It was carby, cheesy and fairly small, as expected.
A pair of macarons rounded out the meal. This glimpse of elevated sweets left me again wishing again that Norse Atlantic would invest more in the overall meal experience. Beer and wine were again available at no charge for Premium passengers but I instead had an orange juice.
Unlike the onboard meals, there was nothing budget about the service I received in the Premium cabin on Norse Atlantic. Both cabin crew members who served me were exceedingly polite and polished, regularly offering additional cups of water and answering service calls quickly. The pilot was extremely apologetic and professional about all of the delays, which were out of his hands, and the crew patiently answered passengers' questions and complaints about the long afternoon at Gate 19.
Like the name of the airline itself, the uniforms were rather nondescript and felt like they might have come from a charter airline rather than an exciting new start-up. Norwegian was fun, youthful and a little cheeky — I would love to see Norse adopt more of a personality.
If you flew Norwegian long-haul before the pandemic, you can expect an almost identical experience on Norse Atlantic. The name on the side of the plane and the uniforms may be different, but the cabins are almost identical to Norwegian's and the little details — down to the blankets and menu items — will give you a strong sense of deja vu.
With its generous legroom and recline, Norse Atlantic Premium feels like a better premium economy seat than the legacy carriers offer on this route. However, the meals were small and unremarkable. The lack of Wi-Fi, which should be fixed soon, was forgivable in the airline's first few weeks on this route. For the price I paid, I thought my Norse Atlantic flight was a fantastic deal for the seat alone and I would choose it over any other airline's regular economy seats if airfares were similar.
I did notice I was flying a low-cost carrier when flying Norse Atlantic. A few small tweaks — like offering passengers fast-track security, increasing meal sizes and ensuring Wi-Fi connectivity — could easily make this new airline a unique market leader on this incredibly competitive route.