Is it worth paying less for Norwegian long haul?

Inside Norwegian's 787 Dreamliner

For years, Norwegian has been offering reasonably priced no-frills flights across Europe, successfully propelling them into the top three budget airlines in the world.

One of Norwegian's 787 Dreamliners
One of Norwegian’s 787 Dreamliners

While they’ve only got a fleet of eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and currently only nine routes in operation, expansion always seems to be around the corner.*

With four Norwegian long haul flights on two different routes behind me, let’s take a look if they’re worth the money.

What is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner like?

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a pretty impressive plane. While it’s no Airbus A380, the Dreamliner is a spacious, clean, modern aircraft designed to take large amounts of passengers across continents for less – that means less environmental impact as well as money, by the way.

Inside the 787 Dreamliner, pictured here from row 22.
Inside the 787 Dreamliner, pictured here from row 22.

The Dreamliner is pretty comfortable too, giving decent amounts of legroom for all guests. There is a rather irritating (but apparently revolutionary) mood lighting system too which, if you believe the marketing, stops your getting jetlag (it doesn’t).

One notable feature of the Dreamliner is the overhead baggage compartment which is bigger than on most planes and is designed for easier access from your seat. It works, it must be said. Hand baggage space is plentiful.

Pile of baggage waiting at the airport to go aboard the Norwegian Dreamliner.
Somehow all of this stuff fit on the Dreamliner.

There’s also a range of other technologies on the Dreamliner, most of which is marketing-glossed nonsense, including the lower air cabin pressure which reduces jetlag (it doesn’t again), the larger windows (which actually do offer better views), and the dimming glass in the window rather than a shutter (which is just annoying).

All in all, it’s a solid plane and one I look forward to fly on, and the initial Dreamliner problems certainly don’t seem to have remained.

The verdict on Norwegian’s service

“Here at Norwegian, we do things a little differently,” exclaims the overzealous American onboard tannoy system. It’s true, there are differences between Norwegian’s long haul service and other airlines. And not all of them are good.

There’s a lot of Norwegian marketing tosh

As mentioned above, most of the anti-jetlag ideas simply do not work.

On the four flights I’ve had in the Dreamliner, I’ve still felt jetlagged and groggy. The air inside still feels as unclean and air-conditioned as any other flight, despite claims that it’s cleaner and better circulated.

The view from the Dreamliner over the wing, with this horrible blue hue to it (due to the 'blinds')
The view from the Dreamliner over the wing, with this horrible blue hue to it (due to the ‘blinds’)

The mood lighting only puts me in a bad mood rather than calming me for the long trip ahead.

And the windows, while larger for sure, don’t benefit from having an electronic dimmer. (A dimmer which never truly blacks out the light like a shutter would, and is automatically controlled by the staff at times so that you’re woken up in time for meals. I JUST WANT TO SLEEP GOD DAMMIT!)

While the innovations are welcomed, they’re unnecessary and I wish Norwegian would stop trying to push their value.

The expensive food and drinks system

If there’s a law governing when food and drinks become free when a plane is stuck on the ground, I find it hard to believe the obligation to provide some sustenance magically disappears when in the air.

So how airlines are escaping freebies somewhat baffles me. Free water? Nope, you’ve got to order that through the ‘Snack Bar’ for eight dollars a bottle. Free snacks? Nope, crisps cost around five dollars a packet. Free blankets, headphones, or anything? NO. If you want anything, you have to pay. (Except the toilet. It’s not a Ryanair publicity stunt.)

Norwegian's airline food offering - the pretty standard stuff on offer.
Norwegian’s airline food offering – the pretty standard stuff on offer.

The lack of freebies problem is averted if you book the lowfare+ category ticket, which includes meals and luggage. It’s actually worth doing when you consider the prices of things onboard.

Oh, and even if you do pay for the better ticket, there’s still no unlimited water and so on.

The comfort is pretty good

The legroom is pretty decent on the Dreamliner and the chairs aren’t actually too bad. For the price, you can’t really argue.

And the best bits are…

Yes, a fair amount actually. And even where there are misgivings, consider the price you’re paying for the ticket and remember to plan a bit before you get on the plane to avoid going hungry, for example.

The onboard entertainment works well

The Android-powered in-seat entertainment system works smoothly for the most part. There’s a decent selection of films and music onboard and, while I was bored by the lack of variety between my trips, I guess the entertainment library will be updated regularly.

The Android system onboard is alright. The 3D map works well too.
The Android system onboard is alright. The 3D map works well too.

The plane is incredibly quiet

I’ll give Boeing and Norwegian some credit here. I’ve been in a few different seats on my long haul journeys and it’s always been relatively peaceful.

The food issue can be navigated by packing a picnic

Let’s be honest: you’re not forbidden by Norwegian from packing a picnic. So if you fear you’ll get the munchies on the plane, just pack a picnic in your hand luggage right before you get on the plane (and have gone through security, of course).

The price is right

When I was flying to New York, I paid in the region of $400 for a return flight to JFK with Norwegian. I booked my flights only two weeks in advance. Delta wanted almost $1,000.

The pricing system has been the subject of some controversy, a lot of it deserved too. To sell cheap tickets, labour onboard is cheap and is sourced from Ireland rather than Norwegian’s normal pool of, erm, Norwegian people, because Norwegians would be too costly.

Even with all the issues outlined, Jo and I were still both pretty happy on the plane (albeit TIRED)
Even with all the issues outlined, Jo and I were still both pretty happy on the plane (albeit TIRED)

And then there is a complaint that US airlines levied against Norwegian. The Airline Pilots Association (APA) protects the rights of American pilots and suggests pay brackets and working conditions to US airlines. However, as Norwegian isn’t an American carrier, they can circumnavigate these rules and, potentially, provide far worse working conditions. Read more here

So what’s the long (haul) and short (haul) of it?

Weigh up the pleasing price tag for most Norwegian flights against the disadvantages and, for me, it’s totally worth it. For me, to save potentially hundreds of dollars is more important than a couple of glasses of complimentary wine. And as much as the complaints roll in, it’s pretty simple and easy to pack a picnic, a blanket and so on.

So give it a go!

* From May 2013, Norwegian introduced Norwegian long haul – currently a fleet of eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners zipping across continents with cheap flights to nine destinations including JFK in New York, Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Bangkok in Thailand, and Los Angeles in California. Norwegian announced new routes in 2015 including Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and London Gatwick to San Juan, Porto Rico. A route from Copenhagen to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands was also announced. Both should be in operation from November 2015.

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