Norse Atlantic Airways 787-9 Maiden Flight Review in Premium – what does £616 get you?

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Today’s review is by Ed who has written a number of reviews for TLFL such as this Aer Lingus one or this one on ITA’s new A350. 

Introduction

Back in 2019, Norwegian Air Shuttle was the main low-cost airline across the Atlantic. The Covid-19 pandemic obviously changed this, as the airline went through bankruptcy and was recapitalised, in the process abandoning the long-haul market and focussing on the profitable short haul market. Several people involved in the original Norwegian operation, all named Bjørn interestingly, decided that this was another opportunity to light more money on fire try to compete against the legacy carriers again across the Atlantic and launched new airline Norse Atlantic Airways. This airline was solely focused on long haul flights using 787 Dreamliners, all previously operated by Norwegian, repainted in a blue “Longship” livery emblematic of the Vikings but otherwise virtually unchanged from the previous airline.

Originally meant to start operations in Spring 2022, the airline held off launching until June due to uncertainty caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The airline has secured leases on 12 787s comprising of three of the smaller 787-8 variants and the remainder 787-9s. These are on a power-by-the-hour style of agreement, which means Norse only pays for the aircraft when they are flying. It is genuinely possible that the cost savings from this could make the airline profitable but it has simultaneously been hit by record high fuel prices and has accepted cabin crew unionising which generally leads to higher costs. Eventually, the power by the hour aspect of the lease will lapse, and a standard lease rate will apply, which could strain the business model without the profitable short-haul routes subsidising the long-haul ones. That being said, the airline is still making a buzz in Norway which was made clear by the several minute long chat I had with the border guard upon entry to Oslo, who was fascinated by the carrier and where it was operating and kept asking me questions about it, I can only apologise to the people behind me in the queue.

Initial routes are all from Oslo but the next hubs were rapidly announced as London and Berlin with service starting on the 12th and 17th of August respectively. Routes are currently all to the United States with routes to New York, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando starting in phases followed by Los Angeles on the 9th of August. The airline claims to have learned from Norwegian and to be following more sustainable growth principles but opening so many bases and long-haul route networks out of various European airports suggests it may be at risk of being spread too thinly during the start-up phase of operations.

There is a special opportunity though for avgeeks from August to October where Norse will be flying London Gatwick to Oslo due to the fact the plane operating the Gatwick to JFK route will initially be based in Oslo and needs to be positioned, slightly more comfortable than the competing A320s.

 

Booking

Booking a flight with Norse is very easy, there are only two cabins, Premium and Economy and each has three different fare types Light, Classic and Plus. The main differences are whether the ticket is refundable, whether and how much checked baggage you get and whether seat selection is included. It should be noted that Economy Light includes no meal service at all.

I booked Premium Light given we would only have hand luggage and then added on seat reservations which were expensive ($75 per standard Premium seat) but still cheaper than booking the fare category that allowed them for free. It should be noted that you can choose which currency you want to purchase the fare in and if you have a credit card that has no foreign exchange fees, the Norwegian Krone was noticeably cheaper even though the default currency is US Dollars. As with all low-cost carriers, you will be bombarded by ancillary services you might want to buy before reaching the payment page. Prices start from around $755 return for Premium Light. 

Oddly, and I don’t know whether this is down to the airline launching operations so soon after putting tickets on sale but, when I purchased one of my friend’s tickets weeks after I purchased mine, it was actually cheaper. You can tell it is a young start-up airline as there were a few kinks in the system, including humorously, that during the payment confirmation page where it contacts your bank, the default website logo was there instead of Norse’s.

 

Ground Experience

Having explored Oslo for the day, my friends and I turned up at Oslo Airport approximately two hours prior to scheduled departure and headed for check in. Norse has a dedicated desk for those in Premium, which is good, but does not offer fast track security on any ticket type which I feel is a missed opportunity given the long queues we are seeing across Europe at the moment. That being said, security didn’t take too long and we progressed through to, what turned out to be, the new ex-Schengen terminal that was being opened with the Norse departure.

Norse had wheeled out multiple 787s to position on the terminal to take advantage of the opportunity.

It was clear which 787 was ours due to the large disorderly queue forming outside the single operational gate. There were in fact supposed to be two queues, one for Premium and one for Economy but they had all merged. By the side of the queue Norse had a stand with snacks, including branded cupcakes and, in a first for me on maiden flights, ham and cheese baguettes. Sadly, we had missed the speeches by the executives from the airline and airport, which seemed to be done much earlier than others that I have witnessed. Normally speeches happen the moment before boarding but this was not the case here.

It should be noted that the passport queue was slightly chaotic and, whilst not physically long, took longer than the morning queue had, this was not helped by many Brits choosing the wrong queue having long been used to using the EU gates. Whilst I did not experience this myself, the return flight had queues several hours long to enter Norway at passport control so any connecting flights should be booked with a long enough time in between (hopefully, this has died down now, though but always a risk during this summer due to low staffing levels). Boarding began with Premium passengers called forward to the side and walking along a red carpet with signs by the side celebrating the new route. Passengers then had their tickets checked and were allowed into the gate area with plenty of seats before being allowed to board the plane.

 

Cabin/Seat

 

A small caveat that I have never flown Norwegian long haul should apply here, but it appears that the interiors are exactly as they were when the plane was operated by Norwegian. This makes sense given the cost of reconfiguring the aircraft, the similarities in mission of the airlines and the fact that the aircraft I was on, LN-FNB, never actually entered service for Norwegian after it was delivered in July 2019, and was instead parked immediately, so the seats were still brand new in effect. The cabin has 56 seats across eight rows in a 2-3-2 configuration in Premium on the 787-9 with a smaller cabin on the 787-8s that the airline has.

 

This cabin was mainly occupied by various executives from the airline and a few journalists. The only real differences were the Norse branded disposable headrests, safety cards and menus. The seat itself was a rather pleasant recliner, with an extendable leg rest and an impressive 43 inches of pitch and 12 inches of recline. When the seat in front is fully reclined, it may be a bit tricky for the person in the window exit into the aisle, but I lucked out that the two people in front never reclined. A lie-flat seat this is not, but for circa £350 one way, this was a rather nice seat considering!

 

 

Departure

Welcoming passengers on board, the cabin crew came through the Premium cabin with a choice of juices and water. I chose apple juice for our wait. At this point, I remembered that I still had my ham and cheese baguette wrapped up in my pocket and had that. The crew came on to announce that there was an issue with the manifest and that we would be taking a delay whilst the ground crew manually counted the passengers in the economy cabin. This was not enough as they had to pass through again and check every single passenger’s ticket again. Not to let the opportunity go to waste, the cabin crew passed through the Premium cabin with sparkling wine for passengers to celebrate the inaugural service.

The Captain and the crew did a good job of keeping us up to date with how the delay was progressing which was helpful. Whilst waiting to depart, the sun started to set, leading to some beautiful skies behind our neighbouring Norse 787. The illusion that the other planes were waiting to depart was finally ended when engineers turned up with the giant plugs to seal up the engines. In the end, we took an almost two-hour delay before we were able to depart. Looking up at the roof of the terminal, you could see staff and guests watching our departure, along with a sizeable group of ground crew outside the plane.

Once in the air, the cabin crew passed by handing out earbuds and blankets, which I accepted. They are shown in the menu priced at $3.50 and $5, respectively. These were not charged for in the Premium cabin, and whilst I hope that is standard service for the cabin, there is nothing that actually confirms this that I have found so far. I should also note that those earbuds are akin to the type you used to get on tour buses so are not of particularly high quality (I managed to rip one of the buds off its wire, not on purpose, towards the end of the flight with remarkably little effort…) so I would highly recommend bringing your own.

 

 

Dinner

The first meal was a choice of salmon or chicken although by the time they had reached us they had already run out of salmon. This was perfectly acceptable to me though, as I had wanted the chicken all along. The meal was served in a cardboard box with wooden cutlery and minimal plastic. It consisted of chicken with vegetables and a risotto as well as a bread roll and a chocolate pot for pudding. With the meal, you can order a single drink with a choice of soft drink, wine or beer with more available for purchase if you want. Afterward, the crew passed through with coffee and tea. I will say, I liked the meal and was quite impressed with the quality, it was a bit on the small side though. Without the baguettes and cupcakes at the gate, I think I would still be quite hungry.

This may be the point given the airline’s aim to sell more food and drink to passengers, and given the price paid to cross the Atlantic, perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised at the size, but it is worth noting so you can bring snacks if so inclined. The meals served in Premium are the same as those available for purchase in Economy. The cabin crew were incredibly friendly throughout the flight, checking on passengers to see if they could get them anything multiple times. The crew were obviously excited to be on the maiden service and were clearly enjoying themselves which was nice to see in an industry that has been worn down and stretched to the max over the past few years.

 

 

Inflight Entertainment/Wifi

Once again, sadly there was no wifi onboard the aircraft which is a shame because it appears that the aircraft are equipped with the required antenna on top of the fuselage and previous Norse adverts have included references to wifi. It’s therefore unclear whether it was that the specific aircraft had no antenna, the company has rolled back the intended wifi or if no contract was signed in time.

In-flight entertainment was provided on monitors that folded up from the middle armrests. This is the case for all seats in the Premium cabin and not just those at the bulkhead. There was a decent selection of films, though I feel the menus could be made slightly easier to use as it just felt a little clunky but that could just be down to personal preference. There was also a flight information page which was notably missing a moving map. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of most of the films in the ”New Releases” section so don’t expect the latest blockbusters but there was a good selection to keep you entertained to New York. I watched Chasing Liberty, a film I liked as a child, which I had not ever really expected to see on a plane, then surprisingly it was also available on the Lufthansa 747 I flew back on.

 

Second Meal

The second meal comprised of a pizza pocket along with macarons. The crew also had an additional selection of Norse branded cupcakes like we had been given at Oslo airport. Especially, for the inaugural flight, we were also offered more sparkling wine. Considering the size of the main first meal, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of food provided in the traditionally much smaller second meal service. Once again, a drink was included for passengers in Premium. Again, the meal was exactly the same as that served in economy for those passengers that had elected to purchase it ahead of time. Throughout the flight, other food and drink items were available for purchase which could be chosen from the menu magazine in the seat pocket in front.

 

Arrival/Entry Experience

As normal, on approach to New York, the lights were dimmed given it was dark outside. What happened next surprised me slightly. The crew activated the 787s mood lighting, which displayed a multicolour flashing light show, reminiscent of the Northern Lights. This was slightly confusing to me, though as the purpose of dimming the lights is to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness in case of emergency, but the bright lights interrupt that process, though it was a rather impressive display showcasing the modern technology on the 787. Landing was uneventful, but sadly due to the humidity the windows steamed up almost instantly, leaving about half an inch to peer out of to watch our progress. I had hoped for a water cannon salute, but unfortunately that never materialised so the windows remained steamed up. Finally, we arrived at Terminal 1, but disembarkation was delayed due to crew confusion about the number of passengers on board again.

Once disembarked, however, the process through the airport was very smooth with very short immigration queues due to the late hour the flight arrives. I was impressed just how swift it was, having had the hour-long queues at LAX two weeks previously. It should be noted that Norse has chosen to operate to JFK, a primary airport, rather than the much, much smaller, Stewart to the north where Norwegian used to operate. This is due to JFK being able to handle freight which Norse is also focused on, unlike Norwegian. Should Stewart become able to handle the freight volumes Norse requires, I would expect this to change at that point. The late hour also meant a very smooth transfer into Manhattan with little traffic,, which was good.

 

Bottom Line

If you are looking for a no-frills but remarkably cheap way to cross the Atlantic, you should definitely consider Norse Atlantic. As they spread across Europe, more options will be available, and it is hard to beat a one-way fare in economy for just over $100 , which I saw a couple of days before our departure. The seats were comfortable and the crews very friendly and attentive. Premium class was good value in my opinion but remember that snacks and headphones may be needed. The seats were well spaced and reclined a good distance, though you may struggle to get out of the window seat if the person in front is fully reclined. It will be interesting to see how long Norse Atlantic is around in the uber-competitive North Atlantic market given the moves legacy carriers have made with Basic Economy classes to compete with the low-cost carriers.

 

1 Comment on "Norse Atlantic Airways 787-9 Maiden Flight Review in Premium – what does £616 get you?"

  1. Very thorough report. Sounds like chaos. Sadly so many poor aspects (especially manifest errors – room for Terrorists) I’ll be giving this a miss.

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