In the air
NORWEGIAN AIRLINES: BARGAIN FLIGHTS TO EUROPE
Too good to be true? What you need to know before cashing in on super cheap fares.
Low-cost, long-haul carriers like Norwegian Airlines are just breaking into the American market, offering ridiculously inexpensive fares to Europe. But before you hit the BUY button on your computer screen, read on. There are 5 things that you’ll love about these deals and a few things that you may not be so keen on.
And we’re speaking from experience. My husband, my 3-year-old daughter, and I recently flew on Norwegian from the U.S. to Dublin, Ireland.
What you’ll love
When Norwegian Airlines first launched its new discount service from New York and Boston to Cork, Shannon, and Dublin in Ireland, 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.
Norwegian currently flies from 13 airports in the U.S. to Ireland, the U.K., Denmark, France, Norway, Spain, and Sweden as well as the French Caribbean. And they have plans to add more than a dozen additional routes starting this fall including Denver and Seattle to London Gatwick and Los Angeles and Newark to Rome.
KidTripster Tip: Norwegian serves Boston, Denver, Hartford, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale-Miami, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, New York-Newark, New York-Newburgh (Stewart), Oakland-San Francisco, Orlando, Providence, and Seattle. It also will serve Austin and Chicago, starting March 2018.
Norwegian has managed to break into the U.S. market by flying out of some smaller, lesser-known airports around the country. For example, the cheapest New York flights are actually out of Stewart International Airport (SWF - I know, I had never heard of it either!).
We flew to Dublin out of SWF which has just two runways and is located some 70 miles outside Manhattan. It’s certainly not the most convenient airport to get to considering many New Yorkers don’t have cars. But once you’re there, it’s a lot quicker and easier getting through security than JFK or Newark. That’s great for families, particularly those with little ones.
4/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 from New York to Dublin 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. For example, I have noticed flights to Ireland on airlines like Aer Lingus have dropped significantly. 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.
Those eye-popping low fares don’t include a specific reserved seat, checked baggage or food and water. You’ll be charged $3 for a small bottle of water or a small coffee. It’s $55 per person per leg more for a meal, bag, and seat assignment (or $65 per leg for just the bag, if checked at the airport).
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, food, and even beer and wine.
KidTripster Tip: Also figure out the best way to get your family to the airport and factor in that cost when comparing fares.
2/Low baggage weight allowance
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 - RyanAir, WOW Airlines and EasyJet to name a few - 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, no bags are included, so it’s $65 to check one at the airport ($130 roundtrip). If you packed 50 pounds of stuff, you’re looking at an additional $45 in overage fees each way.
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: After that incident of having to pay overage costs on RyanAir, I’ve done two things: 1) never flown RyanAir since and 2) always traveled with a lightweight, collapsible bag in the front pocket of my suitcase so that I can throw extra stuff into it and either check it (if I have a ticket that allows two checked bags) or take it on board as carry-on item.
KidTripster Tip: Note that carry-on luggage isn’t extra on Norwegian. However, on the lowest fare ticket, the size is limited to 21” x 15.7” x 9” and 22 pounds. Anything over that, and it’s going in the cargo hold. “That’ll be an extra $130, please!”
We flew on a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. It 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. Even 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 for 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.
While Norwegian advertises that it flies out of “New York” and “Boston” for these discount fares, it’s actually flies out of airports that are hours outside those cities. Instead of New York City, Norwegian flies from Stewart International Airport, which is a 1-1/2-hour bus ride (or in our case on a Friday afternoon in the summer, 2 hours and 15 minutes) from Midtown Manhattan. And “Boston’” flights are really out of Providence, Rhode Island.
Getting to the smaller airports can be challenging and expensive. When you’re doing the math, remember to account for your taxi, Uber/Lyft, subway, bus or train ride - or more likely, a combination of several of those options.
Note: Norwegian does fly big 787 Dreamliners out of JFK to London, but those aren't the bargain flights that we're talking about.
KidTripster Tip: Also think about the airport that you’re flying to. Norwegian flies into London Gatwick which is a $46 round-trip train ride into the city, whereas many other airlines fly into Heathrow, in which case, you can take the Tube to Central London for far less. All these costs add up when you’re traveling as a family.
5/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