In the air
Should you fly this budget carrier? 8 Things to know before buying your ticket
Low-cost, long-haul carriers like Norwegian Airlines can offer pretty attractive fares to American fliers. But before you hit the BUY button on your computer screen, read on. There are 4 things that you’ll love about these deals and a few things that you may not be so keen on.
What you’ll love
When Norwegian Airlines first launched its transAtlantic flights to Europe, it listed fares starting as low as $65 each way. Those low, low prices were promotional, introductory fares, offered to create buzz about the new service, but the company said round-trip fares on the new routes would average $300 to $500, still a comparable bargain. That made a vacation to Europe more do-able for families.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t forget to check Norwegian when looking for cheap flights within Europe, too.
The airline has flights from 14 U.S. cities: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Miami, New York JFK, Newark, Oakland, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa. Notes some of the routes are seasonal only.
3/Good airplane food (yes, really!)
I can’t believe that I’m about to write this, but one of the things that we liked about our flight was actually the food. The kids’ meals came out first, and our daughter actually ate it and liked it! Chicken tenders (with real breast meat not processed nuggets), mac ‘n cheese, cooked carrots and broccoli, apple juice, and a blondie brownie. For us, it was grilled chicken with zucchini, squash, eggplant, and bell peppers over sticky rice with a cucumber, onion, and feta salad on the side that was so good even I (the non-cucumber lover) ate it all! There were blondie brownies for Mom and Dad, too. Meals come with your choice of beer, wine or mineral water during the service, but you have to pay for any beverages beyond that (including coffee or water).
KidTripster Tip: If you don’t opt for the prepaid meal at booking, you can buy options like a salad, cold sandwich, hot sandwich, fruit salad, chips, nuts, cookies, and your usual selection of drinks on board. On our flight, passengers who didn’t pre-book a meal (48 hours or more before the flight) weren’t served anything more than a cup of water. Also, passengers who booked meals were served first and only after that were other passengers able to order drinks or meals for purchase. And no free drinks are served beyond that initial cup of water.
Norwegian's inexpensive flights have forced other airlines to drop their prices to places where Norwegian flies. Read our 12 secrets for finding the best airfare.
What you may not like
As with anything that may sound too good to be true, there is, of course, a catch. There are other hidden costs that you need to factor in, especially if you’re traveling with kids and multiple bags.
Preordered meals are $11 each way.
Want to reserve your seat on the lowest fare ticket? That will cost you $12 to $60 per leg; on a long-haul flight, that fee can jump up to $95 per leg.
There’s even an extra fee for a connecting flight! It will cost you an extra $13 per leg or $25, if connecting via London’s Gatwick.
2/Low baggage weight allowance and more fees
Most airlines allow checked bags to be up to 50 pounds; on British Airways, it’s 51 pounds. But on Norwegian Airlines, like many other low-cost airlines, the weight limit is 44 pounds. And much like those other airlines, Norwegian will charge you $15 per kilo for the extra weight.
If you book a “LowFare” flight on Norwegian, a checked bag isn’t included, so you’ll pay $65 ($130 round trip) for domestic flights or $100 ($200 round trip) for international flights to check one suitcase at the airport . If you packed 50 pounds of stuff, you’re looking at an additional $90 in overage fees each way. If you pay for your bag online in advance, the cost varies based on your itinerary (and convoluted chart).
This difference in weight limits has always bugged me. I just wish that it could be standard across all airlines. Ever flown from New York to London with a 50-pound suitcase (within the limit) only to have a connecting flight to Ireland on RyanAir which only allows 44 pounds? Yep, I’ve been there.
KidTripster Tip: Before you book, add it all up and compare it to fares on other airlines that don’t charge for those things. Remember, many airlines still give you one checked bag for free on international flights plus free drinks, and food.
KidTripster Tip: Note that carry-on luggage isn’t extra on Norwegian. However, on the lowest fare ticket, the size is limited to 13” x 9.8” x 7.9” and 22 pounds. Anything over that, and it’s going in the cargo hold… and you’ll be charged!
Our Norwegian flight had 189 economy seats in a 3-3 configuration with one center aisle and no first class or premium section. Each seat is 17 inches wide with a seat pitch of about 29 to 30 inches. That’s on the small side and not much legroom. By comparison, most JetBlue, Alaska, and Delta flights have 32 inches of seat pitch in economy. (Norwegian’s older 737-800s have 31 inches in economy.) At 6 feet tall, legroom is always an issue for me. And while being on a plane like this doesn’t kill me on a one- to three-hour flight, it’s brutal on a long-haul flight over the Atlantic.
To be honest, this plane was pretty stripped down. The seats themselves didn’t recline much, and the headrests were hardly padded. We could certainly feel the difference on our backsides upon landing.
4/In-flight entertainment system
…or lack thereof, as it were. There were no in-flight entertainment screens at all on our flight – not in the seat backs or even on tablets for purchase. The airline tries to make up for this fact by selling you on the idea that there’s free WiFi. Sounds great in theory, but when the WiFi is too weak to load any websites, the promise falls flat.
The airline’s website says that when you connect to the Norwegian Internet Access network, you’ll be able to browse the internet, enjoy its Video On Demand service or watch live TV. None of those things happened for us. At one point, I was able to bring up the Video On Demand menu and discovered that not only were there no new (or even new-ish) releases to be had, but they were charging €5 for Fiddler on the Roof from 1971! The only other titles that I recognized were Fargo, Get Shorty, and A Fish Called Wanda.
KidTripster Tip: Always have a device (or two) loaded with shows, movies, and games for yourself and the kids.
If you’re looking for a comfortable, luxurious way to get to Europe, this isn’t it. These low-cost carriers are no-frills, budget-friendly options for families who want to travel and see the world without breaking the bank. The fares to Europe are unbelievably low, and there’s clearly a demand for that. Just go with your eyes open.
Marcia Breen is a journalist who was bitten by the proverbial travel bug in Germany where she was once an exchange student. She has been happily infected ever since – seeing the world, living abroad, and telling stories along the way. She lives in NYC with her favorite travel buddies: her husband and 3-year-old daughter.
Photo courtesy: Norwegian Airlines
This writer received a complimentary flight for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.