Norwegian is set to commence its Transatlantic 737 service this summer, announcing routes, launch dates and, perhaps most important, incredibly low fares to entice travelers to choose carrier and its operations from smaller gateway airports in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. As is typical for the company these days the launch is not a timid move. Ten new routes will fly starting 15 June 2017, connecting five cities in Ireland and the British Isles with Hartford; Providence, RI and Newburgh, NY.
Only two of the routes – Newburgh/Stewart to Edinburgh and Dublin – will see daily service in the Summer to start. Most of the rest of the flights will operate 2x or 3x weekly. In total the ten routes will see 38 weekly round trip services, moving between 5 and 6 737s back and forth aircraft across the Atlantic each day. During the winter season that number drops to 25 weekly frequencies and only the Newburgh/Edinburgh service remaining daily. Cork, theoretically the city that launched the discussions 737 flights across the Atlantic for Norwegian, gets 3x weekly service in the summer and 2x in the winter from Providence.
Dublin, Edinburgh and Shannon have proven demand for Transatlantic service, though a significant portion of the Dublin traffic is connecting onward in Europe. On the US side Hartford just recently added Dublin flights while Providence has service from Azores Airlines and Cabo Verde Airlines. Providence also recently had seasonal service from Condor Airlines but that was not renewed after the 2016 season.
For Cork and Newburgh/Stewart these are the first Transatlantic flights to operate. It is also a massive increase in lift at Newburgh. The airport has service from Delta, American, Jetblue and Allegiant today but that total lift averages well under 500 daily seats. Norwegian’s five daily flights to Europe will be double that volume, very quickly changing the dynamics of the airport operations.
For Belfast it is a resumption of service that was lost when United Airlines pulled out in January 2017 after the local airport subsidies were found to run afoul of EU laws. The airport authority followed up on that ruling with a renewed effort to attract service with appropriate marketing subsidies which Norwegian is the beneficiary of. Moreover, the UK APD fee for long-haul departures from Belfast remains low, allowing this to be one of the least expensive markets for Transatlantic service (and one where Norwegian can charge a little more in base fare and still keep the bottom line number for travelers lower).
The carrier is branding the Providence flights as serving the Boston area while the Newburgh flights receive a New York City-area designator. In both cases the airport served is well more than an hour from the named market. That has potential to frustrate travelers, especially with limited convenient transit infrastructure available. Norwegian suggests that it could operate a bus service to help connect New York City customers to its flights, similar to what Ryanair has done in some of its more remote European “city” airport offerings. Moreover, the catchment area for these airports include millions of people who live outside the associated cities. Drawing just on those population bases could be sufficient to support the service.
— Edward Russell (@e_russell) February 23, 2017
With the less-than-daily services on most routes it is unlikely that Norwegian will be looking to feed passengers onward at either end. This is all about the local markets at either end. And with fares starting at $65 one way (plus plenty of fees for “extras” like a bag or seat assignment or meal on board) there’s a decent chance the market can be stimulated to deliver profits to Norwegian and holiday services to travelers on both sides of the pond. Of course, the fares are not always $65. For summer travel between Newburgh/Stewart and Edinburgh fares north of $200 (and often close to $300) are more the norm than the exception.
As for me, I’m excited about the potential the new routes present and very, very interested to see if the smaller markets can support regular flights. Many of these destinations are places I want to visit (or visit again) and I’ve been known to sacrifice personal comfort from time to time to save some money on a trip. The balance between traveling more and traveling better is a tenuous one. I’m also a little sad that timing of the inaugural flight from Stewart to Edinburgh might not fit my schedule this summer.
Header image: A Norwegian 737MAX rendering; image from the company.