Norwegian across the Atlantic: On the Dreamliner JFK-Gatwick


Flying into sunset with the 787 wing outside my window
Flying into sunset with the 787 wing outside my window

When it comes to visiting London I do my very best to fly during the day rather than overnight. The trip from New York City is usually under 6 hours in the air and that’s barely enough time to sleep, even in business class. A couple weeks ago I was looking for a cheap flight to get to a conference and I really wanted the daytime option. Alas, the legacy carriers know there is a demand for those and they are often priced more expensive than the overnights. But Norwegian recently launched daytime service and tickets were cheap. Like $150 one way cheap. I paid up the extra $90 for the LowFare+ option including seat assignment, meal and bag (I knew I wanted the seat, I thought I needed the bag, I figured I’d try the meal) and it was still way less than anything else I could find. And in exchange for that paltry sum of money I probably received more than I paid for.

Pre-flight

I arrived at JFK T1 plenty early. Unfortunately Norwegian doesn’t support online check-in for the flights so I would be stuck in line for some period. I read the signs in the terminal lobby and went where they directed me for check-in, only to find the area abandoned. Fortunately the terminal is not very big and I eventually spotted a group waiting in line. It was only ~20 passengers deep but still took about 20 minutes to clear. Not especially impressive, but I got my boarding pass and headed through security.

Check-in was slow and in the wrong place, but it worked well enough in the end
Check-in was slow and in the wrong place, but it worked well enough in the end


JFK T1 is pretty awful, even on a good day. The dining options inside security suck and there isn’t much in the way to stay entertained short of staring at your fellow passengers and listening to the Golf Channel blaring far too loud on this particular day. I did duck in to the Air France lounge for a quick snack before the flight thanks to Priority Pass. A decent spread as such things go (I did a small caesar salad and some smoked salmon; it seemed somewhat like breakfast) before heading out to the gate.

Pre-flight bubbles in the Air France lounge; not an option for the overnight flight when the lounge is closed to Priority Pass admission.
Pre-flight bubbles in the Air France lounge; not an option for the overnight flight when the lounge is closed to Priority Pass admission.

Boarding was confused. By which I mean that the agents couldn’t really figure out what they wanted to be doing with processing passengers. At one point they were checking passport against boarding pass when scanning. Then they were splitting the role and having one person check and another scan. Then the person checking separated the BP and made a pile for the other person to scan. None of it was efficient but they started boarding early enough that we pushed back on time.

Seat/Cabin

I paid for my seat to ensure I got a window on the A seat side of the plane. For an eastbound, daytime flight the A seat means no sun which means a cooler overall ride. The exit rows were gone by the time I booked so no extra leg room for me. And I know just how tight the 787 is at 9-abreast.

Lots and lots of seats in the Norwegian 787-9
Lots and lots of seats in the Norwegian 787-9

I gambled on row 36 (of 42) figuring that any empty middle seats would be in the back of the plane. I also like seeing the wingtip for photos, so being at the back is okay for me. And the extra 10 minutes at the end of the trip is worth it if the middle stays empty. By my count the load factor was well north of 90% on this flight but my strategy paid off. I scored the empty middle.

This seat stayed empty. That was a HUGE win.
This seat stayed empty. That was a HUGE win.

That probably was the full difference between it being an acceptable flight and an enjoyable one.

Seated on board the Norwegian 787; my shoulders do not fit in to my allotted space.
Seated on board the Norwegian 787; my shoulders do not fit in to my allotted space.

Leaning against the wall with my left shoulder I still overflow into the adjacent seat with my right shoulder. I know how to slightly twist to position myself to make it work, but that’s really not comfortable for 6ish hours on board. If doing a similar trip with someone else I’d strongly consider buying 3 seats for 2 passengers to ensure the middle stays free. Especially at those low prices.



Meals

I paid for the meals so I figured I’d eat them. I also hedged my bets and brought a spare bagel sandwich on board, just in case. That proved to be a very smart decision.

A cute packaging for the meal, and it came with a free drink
A cute packaging for the meal, and it came with a free drink

The first meal was a choice of “beef or chicken” without much additional detail offered. I was informed that there was only one chicken left and I’m not that picky so I told the FA I’d try the beef so someone else on board didn’t yell at her. Definitely scored some brownie points there. Alas, I also scored an impressively bland serving of meat and potatoes. And a carrot, to pretend that it is healthy.

"Lunch" on board Norwegian's JFK-LGW daytime flight
“Lunch” on board Norwegian’s JFK-LGW daytime flight

There was a grain salad with either way too much vinegar in the dressing or it had gone off. Only a half bite of that made it in to my stomach. The cakelove mini pot of cake+icing was adorable and tasty, if also tiny.

The second meal was a mixed bag, literally
The second meal was a mixed bag, literally

A few hours later the second meal rolled around. It was different and better and very much worse. Better in that I like apple juice and the bottle inside was great for breakfast the following morning. And the danish was ok. The turkey and cream cheese wrap, however, is an abomination on all good judgment. I have no idea how that came to pass but it was not a good choice.

Fortunately I had my own food, sourced from before I got to the airport (again, T1 is a food desert) so I was okay. I strongly recommend you do the same.

This was the roast turkey & cream cheese wrap served on my Norwegian flight. No, I did not eat it.
This was the roast turkey & cream cheese wrap served on my Norwegian flight. No, I did not eat it.

I heard from others after my trip that the ad hoc buy on board options are decent. I wouldn’t know as they sold out before they got to the back of the plane. People around me were asking to buy things and kept running up against stock issues. So, seriously, pack your own food.

Meal ordering is also handled through the screen and mostly worked very well. One passenger nearby had an order that managed to not show up for a while but the bulk of what I saw was quickly delivered, assuming not during the regular meal service times where the crew was busy. It also means that passengers can run a tab and close out at the end of the flight. That’s a nice experience for the airline (I’m sure sales volumes go up because of it) and the passenger who doesn’t have to keep swiping.

Entertainment & such

The IFE system is Panasonic Avionics eX3 with content from Global Eagle. It is an impressively responsive kit. The movie selection was decent enough, though not huge. I managed to find a couple selections for the quick trip. Multi-player games were snappy.

A brand new 787-9 taking me to London. There's a radome on top to protect the antenna that delivers inflight connectivity; alas the service is not yet installed
A brand new 787-9 taking me to London. There’s a radome on top (far left, near the jet bridge) to protect the antenna that delivers inflight connectivity; alas the service is not yet installed

As one of the newest 787-9s in the Norwegian fleet (only 6 weeks old when I got on board) the plane had a radome on top. Eventually that will support the Inmarsat Global Xpress connectivity solution but, for now, it sits empty. That’s a bummer, of course, but at least there is (theoretically) a plan to retrofit it at some point. Hard to know when that will be.

I'm a big fan of the FlightPath3D interface
I’m a big fan of the FlightPath3D interface

The system also features the moving map from FlightPath3D which is probably my favorite inflight map option on offer today. With the empty middle seat I was able to keep the middle screen on the map while the two of us each watched our shows. Pinch-and-zoom, multiple view angles, plenty of data and all sorts of other goodies make that a great interface to me. Only minor complaint is that when zooming in too much the plane is bigger than some small countries. Makes it rather harder to tell where you are until you zoom back out.

Rainbow lights overhead in the Dreamliner for the win
Rainbow lights overhead in the Dreamliner for the win

Oh, and because it is a 787 the cabin crew switched the mood lighting to rainbow mode as we made our final descent into Gatwick. Never underestimate how happy that will make passengers, even those not nearly as AvGeek’d as me. Lots of photos and videos being shot on board at that point.

Final Thoughts

Overall the flight was fine. Definitely good value for $150 or even the $240 I paid, though I’d skip the full suite of payments next time and just book the seat. The meal wasn’t worth it (standalone cost is $45!!!) and I managed to get my bag into the limited carry-on size without too much trouble in the end. The experience wasn’t great by any stretch, but it was sufficient and we even arrived 30 minutes early.

The fact that it was a daytime flight (I booked a hotel right in Gatwick to sleep upon arrival and was pretty well rested the next morning for the conference) sure helped, too. I’m not saying it defeated jetlag, but it was pretty darn close. And a cheap way to get there.

Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.


Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for the write-up. FYI, if you buy the ticket thru a travel agent, the pricing is just a little bit higher than what you see on Norwegian website, but it includes a meal, a seat selection and 2 suitcases.

    1. I didn’t have my tape measure on my this trip (I usually carry one) but it is 31-32″ pitch. And slimmer seats so there was decent knee room, if not great butt padding.

  2. Thanks for sharing this detailed and honest review of Norwegian, though at that price range certainly at an option to consider for that route. Regards, Alastair Majury.

  3. Seriously just pop for the premium seating at the front. 46″ cradle seat w full leg support, meals you can choose and free drinks flowing plus all your bags (2 on intl flights) and it comes with a lounge pass & fast lane boarding priorty. It beats suggesting buying and empty seat to suffer through!

    1. If I’m buying premium economy I’ll probably end up on a different airline, at least based on the prices I’ve seen lately. I fly a lot of BA’s World Traveler Plus these days because it is cheaper than Norwegian’s premium and gives me that extra space.

      Norwegian’s premium often isn’t cheap. And if I have a couple people traveling buying 3 for 2 can be a great deal.

  4. Great suggestion for 3 for 2. And sitting in A for heat reasons. Never paid enough attention to that – always hate being hot on a plane since it adds to the coffin effect, especially in steerage/economy.

    1. Yeah…that’s one of my pet peeves, especially when the planes don’t always have individual air vents. Fortunately the Norwegian 787s do so that helps.

Comments are closed.

BoardingArea