What’s the hype all about?
Norwegian Air has been a hot topic within the aviation industry lately – the airline has been disrupting major long-haul routes around the world with rock-bottom fares. The concept of long haul budget travel, while not new, has been relatively unexplored – even airlines which call themselves ‘long-haul budget airlines’ such as Scoot rarely operate flights longer than 8 hours.
Why? Long distance flights are uneconomical – aircraft operating longer routes have to carry a disproportionately large amount of fuel to compensate for reduced efficiency due to additional fuel weight. As a result, such routes are profitable only if there is a high demand for business travel (e.g. Singapore-London). Of course, there is also the consideration that fewer people are willing to strap themselves into a “no-frills” seat for so many hours.
So, Norwegian Air entered into a territory that nobody has (successfully) ventured into. In fact, the new Singapore-London route currently holds the title of being the world’s longest budget flight. Thus, the question begs to be asked: Is Norwegian Air a worthwhile option, or should you just stick to full-service options for long-distance routes? Last month, I had the opportunity to try it out. Read on to find out about my experience.
A quick search on Norwegian’s websites shows that return fares generally hover between 500-600 SGD. Of course, being a “budget” airline, the lowest tier of fares (“Lowfare”) does not include catered meals, check-in luggage, or seat selection, which are “frills” usually included on a legacy airline ticket.
An upgrade to “Lowfare+” (SGD 170 return) would include all of the above, thus providing a flight experience that, at least on paper, rivals a legacy airline for a reasonable price of 680 – 780 SGD. Cheapest legacy airline tickets are usually priced at 900-1000SGD.
However, it must be noted that a Lowfare+ ticket would still not entitle you to the following, which are mostly complimentary on full-service flights:
- Amenities kit
- Earphones (bring your own for the in-flight entertainment)
- Pillow and blanket
I managed to purchase my “Lowfare” ticket during one of Norwegian’s offer periods for a reasonable 450 SGD. I then included the meal service option for 85 SGD (return), but left out all other frills. So for just ~535 SGD, I had return tickets to London Gatwick!
The seat product (economy class)
Seat comfort onboard the Boeing 787 is good enough for the average Singaporean. With an average seat pitch and seat width of 31 inches and 17+ inches respectively, seat dimensions are almost identical to that of an economy class seat on a British Airways aircraft. It still falls short of premium airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways, though the difference is certainly not night and day. If I had to nit-pick, the seat’s recline angle seemed relatively limited – I felt that I was sitting more upright than usual.
Economy passengers also get the following additional niceties that are usually absent on budget airlines:
- Individual in-flight entertainment with free movies and games
- In-seat power supply (USB and 3-pin)
- Fully adjustable headrest
Finally, it should be noted that while you are not able to select seats online if you opt for the “Lowfare” option, you can simply ask for your preferred seat when you’re checking in at the airport (I did this for both legs, with no issue at all).
Food/beverages and entertainment
In-flight entertainment, as mentioned above, is available. Each seat is equipped with a touchscreen which allows you to access a selection of movies and TV programmes, or order snacks and beverages from the snack bar. The movie/TV selection is adequate, albeit more limited compared to legacy airlines. Nevertheless, it was hard to fault for the price.
Water also seemed to be available on request – I observed that passengers who did not pay for meal service received water, and even tea, when they asked for it. Of course, Norwegian does not contractually promise either of these, so take my advice for what it’s worth.
If you pre-purchased the meal service (like me) or upgraded to the “Lowfare+” option, you get two full meals (beverages included) and one snack during the 14 hour flight. The food was, believe it or not, tastier than most I’ve tried – if one of your meal options is “curry fish”, take that option! One criticism I had was that the portion size was relatively small. Other reviewers have had mixed experiences with regard to the food quality, although the same would apply to almost any other airline.
So, what’s the catch?
TLDR: flying with Norwegian Air to London is almost like flying with any other full service airline. While the flight experience falls just slightly short in various aspects, you also feel inclined to overlook these issues because of the low ticket price. Compared to true budget airlines like Scoot or Jetstar, you are still getting a much better flight experience – trust me, it’s not even comparable.
That said, the very fact that Norwegian operates a low-cost model would mean that you may be left without respite should travel disruptions occur. First, Norwegian does not have alliances with other airlines, so you’re less likely to be rebooked quickly if your flight gets cancelled for some reason. Second, Norwegian is likely to operate with little or no spare aircraft within its fleet – so replacement aircraft might not be readily available if your designated aircraft is unable to fly for some reason.
In conclusion, if you’re travelling on a time-sensitive schedule and cannot afford any screw-ups in your travel plans, look elsewhere. Otherwise, if you plan to spend a day or two in London anyway, Norwegian Air is an extremely worthwhile option. Just make sure you have travel insurance to cover for any travel delays.