The pilot seemed to know the question on everyone’s mind, and he answered it on the tarmac as we sat waiting for departure.
“You might be wondering why Norwegian Air’sfirst flights out of Boston are to the Caribbean,” he said in that reassuringly calm, casual tone that somehow most pilots have mastered. You know the one I mean. “In the off-season we have planes that just sit in Europe. We thought this would be a better use for them.”
Those otherwise dormant planes were brought to Boston and are currently in use for a seasonal route to Martinique and Guadeloupe (the routes end the weekend of March 23). Although Norwegian is a new arrival in Boston, it has much grander plans than a three-month schedule to the Caribbean.
“Boston is really our main focus for 2016,” said Anders Lindström, US director of communications for Norwegian Air. “We already have Martinique and Guadeloupe, and then in 2016 we’re adding London, Oslo, and Copenhagen.”
Norwegian made a splash when it arrived here in December because it dangled a carrot in front of travelers with impossibly low fares to the Caribbean. I paid about $250 roundtrip for my flight to Guadeloupe in early December. Had I bought my ticket the day I departed, I could have flown down for $49 one way. As you can guess, those bargain fares mean flights don’t come with much in the way of amenities. Like Iceland-based WOW, which debuted in Boston two years ago, you’ll pay for everything on a Norwegian flight, from your snacks ($2.50 for a bag of potato chips, or $3 for a can of Sprite) down to the bottled water ($2.50). A little pre-departure shopping in the airport can help you avoid those prices.
Your carry-on (no more than 22 pounds) and one small personal item (emphasis on small) are free.
Before the flight I was concerned that the check-in experience would be a disaster. Currently Norwegian has no self-service ticketing at Logan. Lindström said the company is working toward introducing self-serve kiosks in 2016, but couldn’t offer a timetable for their arrival. The last time I flew an economy flight with no do-it-yourself check-in process was shortly after the introduction of Iceland’s WOW, and it was a disaster.
Fellow passengers, not aware of weight restrictions, did the luggage shuffle. A little more in this bag, a little less over there. A few additional layers of clothes worn on the plane to lighten carry-ons, until proper, fee-free weights were achieved.
I imagined the weigh-in process at a Weight Watchers meeting was less angst-filled and painful than watching WOW passengers struggle with luggage sizes.
I had no difficulty with my old-school Norwegian check-in process. I’ve since heard from other Norwegian flyers that they experienced a bit more turbulence at the ticket counter. There were so few people on my Norwegian flight that I imagine luggage weight was not an issue.
But Norwegian is not interested in being put in the same category as WOW or Spirit Airlines. They see their closest relations to be JetBlue or Virgin America. But let me clarify here that the entertainment offerings were lagging far behind JetBlue, unless you have a keen interest in Norwegian-language movies and television programs.
You can also bring your laptop and log into the free Wi-fi, but the connection was so slow on my flight that I think we had landed by the time my first e-mail departed my inbox. I may be exaggerating just a little bit, and I did appreciate the gesture of free Internet. Seat comfort did not appear to be a priority. I believe I wrote “park bench” in my notes. The chair felt slightly more comfortable on the return flight.
Regardless of Norwegian’s shortcomings, the airline is growing at a frantic clip and will begin flights from Boston to London in March, quickly followed by Oslo and Copenhagen. Expect more bargain introductory fares (currently you can find an April fare to London Gatwick for $195 one-way). The company has hinted at $69 one-way fares by 2017 on direct flights from the United States to Europe, but those will be occasional sales and not the norm.
Norwegian will also begin flying Dreamliners out of Boston with discounted first-class fares. Instead of paying $2,000-plus for first class (Norwegian uses the term “premium” seats), you’ll pay an average of about $800 each way. Those premium spots on Dreamliners will feature lie-flat seats.
“Boston is another destination that is doing really well for us,” said Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos in a statement. “Which is why we’ve moved ahead our European launch dates, and we can’t wait for our Dreamliner to arrive at Logan.”
Norwegian is currently Europe’s third largest budget carrier after Ryanair and EasyJet. But the airline may soon best its competitors. In October it announced that it ordered 19 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners at a price of $5 billion. It will take delivery of the planes between 2017 and 2020, and has an option to order an additional 10. It’s also waiting on orders of smaller planes.
“We’re the world’s fastest growing airline,” Lindström said. “We announce more routes constantly than any other airline.”
I’m excited to hear about forthcoming routes, but I’d also be excited to hear about faster in-flight Internet or slightly more comfortable seats. But if Norwegian comes through with $69 fare sales to Europe, I’ll happily forgive the sluggish Internet quality.Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and on Instagram @Chris_Muther.