Updated 15 June 2018 – When Boston is your home, but you’re an expat living in London, Norwegian (the budget transatlantic airline) becomes a necessary evil. The fares sound too good to be true, but having flown Norwegian several times now, I can confidently say it is the real deal. The key to flying Norwegian is understanding what you’re paying for (and what you’re not). Low expectations, a little patience and preparation will make your journey easy, comfortable and cheap.
I’ve compiled all my tips for flying both to and from Boston, London Gatwick and Chicago. This has turned into your ultimate guide for flying long haul on the cheap with Norwegian!
How I Found Norwegian
With just a month to go before our move, I was feeling so sad (not to mention super guilt-tripped) to be missing the surprise 60th birthday party for my dad. This milestone event was one we’d been planning for so long and it was going to be disco-themed (I love disco). We were going home for Christmas that year and another December trip seemed silly. If I went, it would have to be quick. But maybe, just maybe, there would be a flight cheap enough to make sense.
That fateful day, I took to GoogleFlights to see what it might cost to go home for a weekend. I selected the departure date, the Friday before the party. Soon prices began populating for possible return dates.
I clicked on it. Direct. Roundtrip. $311. On Norwegian Airlines. My jaw dropped. Tears welled in my eyes. I was going to be there for this family milestone!
I texted my voice of reason (Andrew). Green light. I booked it.
One thought lingered, however: what am I getting myself into? With transatlantic flights this cheap, there had to be a catch.
Back to Google I went to read reviews about Norwegian. There are a fair share of poor reviews, but I learned a lot from reading them. They left me confident enough to book (…with enough peace of mind. Let’s be real: I was going to book regardless.).
And so it was done. I was flying home for just over 48 hours to attend what would hopefully be the best party of my dad’s life… and possibly the worst redeye flight of my life. Time would tell.
I was given a vote of confidence and some helpful tips when a friend of a friend visited London for the weekend because of these super cheap flights. He told me that you get a seat assignment when you check in (awesome) and that the planes and entertainment are great. He did say he got super thirsty on the flight and had to beg for water, but I was already planning to bring along a small ocean’s worth of bottled water based on reviews I had read, so I was feeling good about my tip.
Norwegian Transatlantic Flight Review
I booked another Norwegian flight to Boston before I even took this one because fares became so cheap. So I can’t say that now I’ll fly them again, I already was planning on it. But now I am happy to fly again! Honestly, for a traveller like me, this flight was perfect.
The planes are huge and brand new. They have a new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners that are more fuel efficient than your usual long-haul flight plane, which is what helps make fares so cheap. Given that so many people are crammed onto this plane, the seats are quite comfortable. I didn’t even need to recline the whole way on the way there! I felt like I had enough legroom, but I’m not all that tall. I’ll have to ask Andrew what he thinks when he takes his long-haul Norwegian flight.
Each seat has its own Android IFE screen which is newer and faster than comparable systems on the big airlines, and it has a decent selection of entertainment to choose from. They claim their flight information screen is top of the line and I did find it pretty interesting and useful.
Since you have to pay up to get the meal service, not many people get meals so there isn’t much cart-in-the-aisle interruption during the flight. I appreciated this, especially during the redeye flight. They have a snack bar screen within the IFE system where you can order food and drinks if you didn’t order a meal. Ordering is super easy, but it is only open during select times during the flight and can take a while for your order to arrive. The options looked pretty good and were much cheaper than the £25 for the whole service. They had sandwiches and salads for $7-$9. Bottled water was $3.50. (It is Norwegian after all).
The huge windows are cool, as are the light effects. Both times I sat in the left aisle seat of the middle row in the middle cabin which has something like 5 bathrooms for 10 or so rows. That worked out great for a hyper-hydrator like me. Both times they boarded the middle row on the other side of the plane, so my bag was the only one in the overhead bin. Not bad!
Also, the flight attendants outfits are adorable! The guys wear plaid sports jackets and the ladies have adorable capes to wear through the airport. I had read reviews that the staff on these planes are really rude – not my experience at all. Everyone seemed very pleasant.
The Less Good
Boarding takes forever, however, they do start boarding really early to try and help this along. It’s a huge plane that can fit a lot of people, and getting everyone on takes time. The planes are large and therefore pretty fast, so on the way there we made up the time in the air and arrived almost 20 minutes early. On the way back, we didn’t make up the time and arrived 20 minutes late.
Because it is a budget flight, there are some inexperienced individuals who board slowly and the annoying people who were too cheap to reserve seats together and instead hold up the entire process by asking to swap seats to sit with one another. My fellow passengers were probably my biggest gripe, but they weren’t that bad.
Another less than perfect thing about my flying experience not related to Norwegian is that Terminal E in Logan is terrible! There are not many restaurants or takeaway food options. It’s lucky the flights out of Boston are redeye and the plan is to sleep, not eat. You’d have a hard time finding substantial take on food in this terminal at Logan.
My Tips for Flying Norwegian
If you choose the cheapest option and do not have an assigned seat, I recommend getting to the airport early and going up to the counter to check in with a staff member. They assign seats on a first come, first serve basis, and I discovered that they hold decent seats for these customers and you can ask for a window or aisle seat.
The night before I left for Boston, I hopped online to reserve an aisle seat for the redeye back. I figured it would be worth £25 to get a seat toward the front that would give me some chance of sleeping. I had to click through a seat selection screen for the first leg of my trip before I could reserve my seat for the redeye back. Only middle seats in the back of the plane were available for the first leg of the trip, yet when I checked in the attendant asked me “Aisle or window?” Surprised, I hopped right on that aisle seat and it was in row 22! I waited in line for a few minutes so several people had already checked in and I still got a seat toward the front of plane.
As for the redeye, the flight was not full so people toward the back of the plane got to stretch out and sleep across three seats. JEALOUS. It might not be worth £25 to reserve a seat if you could be in your own row! My advice would be to check in at the counter and ask for an empty row.
Flying out of Gatwick, I didn’t notice staff weighing bags, but at Logan they definitely did weigh carry-on luggage. I was traveling with just a backpack so I was good, but there were several people around me that were quite upset to have to check their carry-ons (and it is not cheap on Norwegian!). Make sure your bag is under this limit. Not only will it save you money, but it will also make check-in much faster for you and the people around you. For this reason, it would be difficult to pack for a longer trip and take Norwegian on the lowest fare they offer.
They board from back to front, so if you are in some of the back rows head to the gate an hour before takeoff, when boarding begins. Give yourself time to get to the airport and get all of your supplies ahead of this hour cut off.
If you want to save money, skip the meal and bring your own food or order food on the plane. If you don’t want to be at the mercy of the “snack bar” hours and the flight attendants’ busy schedules, bring food with you. Norwegian flies out of the South terminal at Gatwick and it is great. There is plenty of shopping, restaurants and there’s a Pret for your takeaway food needs. Boots was having a 2 for £2 water sale, perfect for stocking up for a long, waterless flight. Since I was planning to get there early to get a good seat assignment, I waited until I got to the airport to shop around for London-y gifts to bring home. There’s a small Harrods shop which is basically a selection of every best English gourmet gift you could imagine.
Terminal E at Logan kinda sucks, but I was able to bring some snacks from my parents’ with me and attempted to sleep most of the flight, so I never got very hungry. You can buy huge bottles of delicious, American SmartWater at Terminal E, so I was happy (no, English SmartWater does not taste the same).
If you choose the lowest fare, make sure your bag is under the limit and that you get there early for check-in to get a good seat and ensure you’ll have time to grab some snacks. Boarding is slow, but once you’re on the planes are quite nice. Settle in, watch some movies and you’ll be across the pond before you know it.
I will fly again, and I am so thankful that Norwegian exists so that I could be there for priceless moments like this one on the cheap!