What Is It Like to Fly Norse Atlantic Airways? Our Review
Is there a sourer expression than you get what you pay for? Does that phrase have any basis in reality anymore? Over the years, I’ve had some awful travel experiences made worse by the fact that I paid too much for them, and I've enjoyed life-affirming adventures that cost next to nothing.
And yet… I get nervous when a deal is too good, as it was with Norse Atlantic Airways. I recently pounced on a low price from this relatively new, cheapo carrier from Norway that was $200–$300 less than the airfares I saw elsewhere, but I made the purchase with trepidation.
Intellectually, I know that any airline flying into and out of the United States has as good a safety record as all the others. That’s a standard that the Federal Aviation Administration demands, and although there have been near misses, no international airline flying into the United States has had a catastrophic crash in 22 years, which is an impressive record that means you can trust any foreign airline that touches down in America.
But could the Norse flight experience be a big bummer, with uncomfortable seats (à la Spirit Airlines), a surly crew, delays, cancellations, or any of the other issues that can make discount flying so dispiriting?
Here’s my review of this no-frills airline: the bad, the good, and the surprising of Norse Atlantic Airways.
My mind wasn’t at all eased by Norse’s lack of pre-flight communication. Unlike every other airline on the planet, it doesn’t send out an email urging flyers to check in 24 hours before the flight.
When I realized that I was within 22 hours of the flight without a ping, I went to the Norse Airways website and tried to check in there. I clicked a lot of boxes confirming my original flight and that somehow triggered an email about a "change in my plans"—even though no change had been made.
I'm an admitted paranoiac, so I went into a fear spiral that I had accidentally paid twice for the flight. I hadn’t. But the email from Norse was damn weird.
What I did receive from Norse were unceasing "price drop alert" come-on emails that pestered me about upgrading my seat for a discount that grew larger as the flight time came closer.
Norse is an airline that performs an unbundling striptease during the booking process, asking for more money again and again, I’d already upgraded once to Economy Classic (an additional $35), which allowed me to reserve a seating assignment to avoid the dreaded middle seat.
That class also, I had thought, bought me a meal—but more on that later.
Even with that uptick in costs, though, I was still paying hundreds of dollars less than what I’d have paid elsewhere.
I flew Norse one-way only, from Paris’ huge Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport to New York City.
But I discovered that instead of flying out of the maddeningly crowded, maze-like, and massive CDG terminals 1 or 2, my Norse flight left from the backwater known as Terminal 3.
And that was a very good thing. CDG's Terminal 3 is a facility for discount airlines, and France doesn’t have very many of those. So even though I had to check in at the counter (no online check-in, as I said before), that only took 6 minutes from joining the line to getting my paper boarding pass. (Yes, I timed it). I also got through security and customs so fast, you could hear the wind whistling off my back as I sped through the terminal. Really.)
The terminal was no great shakes, with just one store for magazines and candy, and a branch of Pret a Manger for everything else. It also had no working charging stations. But it was serene, barely inhabited, and quiet as a regional airport. Compared to the rest of Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 3 is a dream.
Because the terminal is so far from the actual runways, Norse started boarding the flight a full hour and 20 minutes before departure. Passengers had to be bussed to the plane. But that actually made for easier boarding since passengers arrived at the aircraft in batches rather than all at once. The process was almost civilized.
Norse flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Yes, those were the jet that initially had issues, like igniting batteries and fuel leaks, when they first hit the world's runways in 2011. But in the many years since the Dreamliner's debut, the kinks have been worked out, and today this aircraft has the same safety record as its competitors.
Dreamliners are currently in operation on Air Canada, Hawaiian Air, Air France, American Airlines, United Airlines, and some 70-plus other major carriers. Norse hasn't diverged from these other airlines in terms of seat configurations or other aspects of plane design, so the physical sensation of flying Norse is pretty much the same as it would be on the others. As importantly, the 787 Dreamliner is a greener aircraft than earlier rival models. (Since the Dreamliner is lighter, 20% less fuel is used, and it flies with a more efficient engine type).
Leg room on Norse is a lousy 32 inches (see below, and keep in mind that I'm only 5'3"), but that's no less than in the economy cabins of the airlines mentioned above. The seats, too, are the same size, at roughly 17 inches across. The plane is configured into rows of three on each side, plus four seats across in the middle and two aisles.
Norse's planes also have the same types of pressurization, LED lighting, and window sizes, meaning most people can't tell, once they're aboard, that they're not flying one of the so-called legacy carriers. Each seat has both a power outlet, a USB port, and a seatback screen (if you don't bring your own headphones, though, they'll charge you to purchase a set). Wi-fi is not available for purchase, but that's often the case on many other transatlantic flight, too.
I'm happy to report that the crew members didn't seem to know they're working for a cheapo carrier. They dress in natty blue uniforms and are unfailingly polite and helpful.
In fact, I'd say that based on the evidence of this one flight—not a large sample, I grant you—the flight attendants on Norse seem far less jaded about their jobs than other flight attendants I've interacted with recently on other airlines. Maybe I was lucky. Or perhaps flying with a brand new airline means crew still have that NRF (new relationship feeling) about the gig.
The ability of Norse's crew to be so gracious is a feat, because boy, do their corporate overlords put them in an awkward position when it comes to onboard food.
Long story short: The only food item they won't charge you for on Norse Atlantic Airways is water.
Maybe.I put in a qualifier because when I purchased my ticket, I was told that my upgraded Economy Classic fare entitled me to meal service. Here's a look at the email showing what my seating class included:
There was nothing on that email alerting me to the fact that if I wanted to actually receive the meal my upgrade had paid for, I needed to also choose what I wanted to eat in advance. As I said earlier, Norse's pre-flight communication leaves something to be desired.
When the crew came down the aisle with the meals, I was simply ignored, because they had no pre-order information in their system for my seat.
I didn't wind up starving during my flight. Apparently, what happened to me is so common that when I told a flight attendant about it, she gave me a drink and one of the leftover (and not at all bad) fish dinners.
Despite the food kerfuffle (and the fact that the movie selection didn't include any films from the last six months), I have no qualms about flying Norse Atlantic Airways again.
It's charging a fair price for flights between Europe and the United States, and it regularly holds sales that drop airfare to as little as $99 for each hop across the pond, including taxes.
If that doesn't deserve a Skål (Norse cheer) I don't know what does.