Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Norwegian: A better bargain airline?

Always on the lookout for an airline I have not yet flown, I identified another during a recent trip that took me through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX): Norwegian.

© Dmitry Pichugin, Wikimedia Commons
Norwegian is the commercial brand name for Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA. Norwegian began serving Europe in 2003 and launched its long-haul operations in 2013 with the Boeing (NYSE:BA) 787 Dreamliner.

While the carrier notes it is the first low-cost carrier to fly non-stop between the U.S. and Scandinavia, the carrier primarily serves European passengers with 424 routes to 130 destinations that stretch across Europe into North Africa, the Middle East and Asia in addition to the U.S.

At this time of this writing, Norwegian serves seven U.S. cities: Ft. Lauderdale (FLL), Orlando (MCO), New York [John F. Kennedy International (JFK)], Los Angeles (LAX), Oakland (OAK) and Las Vegas (LAS), and added seasonal service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) and JFK to two Caribbean destinations in Dec. 2015.

Year-round service from its U.S. gateways is limited to Scandinavian destinations and London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW). From Ft. Lauderdale and LAX, Norwegian flies to Copenhagen (CPH), LGW, Oslo-Gardermoen (OSL), and Stockholm-Arlanda (ARN). Flights from Orlando serve CPH, OSL and LGW, while flights from Oakland serve OSL and ARN and flights from Las Vegas serve CPH and ARN.

Flights departing JFK serve the largest number of destinations. Passengers can fly from JFK to Bergen (BGO) and Oslo, Norway; Copenhagen and Stockholm and, on a seasonal basis starting Dec. 5 to Pointe-à-Pitre Airport (PTP) on Grand-Terre in Guadeloupe and Aimé Césaire International Airport (FDF) in Fort-de-France, Martinique in the French West Indies.

In May, Norwegian will add service to an eighth U.S. airport, Boston’s Logan International (BOS), from LGW.

“We expect Boston to be a popular addition offering an exciting new city break, and providing affordable access to the New England region for both business and leisure travelers,” Bjørn Kjos, Norwegian CEO, said in a statement announcing the new service. “The cost of flying to America has been too high for too long, and the success of our transatlantic flights show there is huge demand for quality, affordable long haul travel.”

While choosing a low-cost carrier for a long-haul flight may not provide the type of upmarket experience I prefer for both travel and blogging about, there are several aspects of Norwegian’s operations that seem to indicate the carrier is a step up from many low-cost airlines, particularly those based in the U.S.

Like many airlines today, Norwegian offers its services on an à la carte basis. However, Norwegian’s website offers helpful comparisons between its lowest fares, called LowFare, and the next step up, called LowFare+. For example, when investigating a LowFare ticket between LAX and OSL, the website returned a note that read, “If you would like checked baggage, Nice&Tasty menu and seat reservation, it pays to choose the ticket type LowFare+ for $89.00 extra. You can then save $37.00 compared to buying these optional services separately.” While I have issues with certain aspects of the industry’s move to à la carte pricing, at least Norwegian provides an instant price comparison for those services its passengers select most frequently.

Norwegian operates 787 Dreamliners on its long-haul routes in a configuration that is typical in today’s travel environment. For example, Economy class seats are 17.2 inches wide with pitch of 31-32 inches. Premium Economy seats, which come at a premium prices, are 19 inches wide with pitch of 46 inches, according to SeatGuru.com.

Finally, there is the evaluation of fellow travelers.

Norwegian was voted Best Low-Cost Airline in Europe for three consecutive years, and was named World's Best Long Haul Low-Cost Airline and third-best low-cost airline worldwide in the 2015 Skytrax World Airline Awards announced in June at the Le Bourget Air Show in Paris. Operating since 1999, the annual Skytrax awards are decided by millions of air travelers from more than 100 nationalities. The award for low-cost carriers is based upon customer satisfaction assessment of product and staff service standards supplied by the airline in both the cabin and airport environment, according to Skytrax.

I am looking forward to finding out first-hand and reporting my experiences here.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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