Norwegian to bring more bargain choices to Seattle

Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, which operates as Norwegian, will begin service between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and London-Gatwick (LGW) on Sept. 17, providing another low-cost alternative for frugal travelers in the Pacific Northwest.

© Dmitry Pichugin, Wikimedia Commons
Norwegian will operate four flight per week between the two cities. Flights will depart each airport on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The carrier will use the Boeing (NYSE:BA) 787 Dreamliner for the route.

According to, Norwegian's Dreamliners are configured in an arrangement that is typical of today’s economy carriers. Standard 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. Premium Economy is the highest class of service offered by Norwegian.

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 writing 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 SEA and LGW, the website returned a note that read, “Choose LowFare+ for just €70 extra." The fare type include on-bard meals, seat reservation and one checked bag. Importantly, it noted, "You'll save €35.00 compared to buying this 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.

A LowFare ticket for a round-trip flight departing SEA on Sept. 24 and returning Oct. 1 would be €628.74, according to the airline's website. A LowFare+ ticket would be €698.74 and a Premium Economy seat €1,388.96.

One minor challenge was immediately apparent: The website only returns fares in euros; doing the conversion requires an additional step using a currency conversion website, which may differ slightly from the exchange rate your bank will offer for credit card purchases. At today's exchange rate, those fares would equal approximately $740.92, $823.48 and $1,636.92.

In addition, many banks levy a "foreign transaction fee," typically three percent, on charges made outside the U.S. Those fees may also apply to tickets purchased on Norwegian, so check with your bank beforehand, or use a credit card that does not assess those fees when making your purchase.

For an equivalent fare comparison, I checked the fares on VirginAtlantic, which flies between SEA and London-Heathrow (LHR). For the same dates, a standard economy ticket would be $716.86 while a Premium Economy ticket would be $2,133.26. On Virgin, meals, an amenity kit and in-flight entertainment are included with a standard economy fare.

Like Norwegian, VirginAtlantic operates 787 Dreamliners. Its standard economy seats are 17.5 inches wide with 31 inches of pitch while its Premium Economy seats are 21 inches wide with 38 inches of pitch. Unlike Norwegian, VirginAtlantic also offers a First Class cabin with flat-bed Upper Class seats that are 22 inches wide and with 79.5 inches of pitch.

The airline that is best suited for you will depend on a number of factors including your personal space requirements and your budget. At six feet tall, I find a 31-inch pitch tolerable for many short-haul flights but prefer more space for anything longer than about four hours. While I realize the price nearly doubles, the flights are nine and 10 hours, respectively, so comfort becomes all the more important, so Premium Economy would be my personal choice.

VirginAtlantic's Premium Economy seats are a bit wider, but Norwegian offers more legroom and a Premium Economy fare that is $500 dollars less.

While most low-cost carriers do not rate well when it comes to their customers' assessment of their service, Norwegian is something of an exception.

Norwegian was voted World's second-best Low-Cost Airline overall, World's Best "Long Haul" Low-Cost Airline, Best Low-Cost Ariline in Europe and second-best low-cost airline Premium Cabin and Premium Seat in the 2017 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.

While I have not personally experienced Norwegian or its service, I am looking forward to finding out first-hand and reporting my experiences here.

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