Norwegian’s 737 TATL service faces #PaxEx challenges

Norwegian made a big splash with the announcement that its new NAI low-fares transatlantic service will start this June from cities in Ireland and the UK to greater New York, Boston and New England area facilities.

The introductory pricing touted by Norwegian drove much of the hype, with a $65 one-way fare attracting plenty of attention. But there are a couple of #PaxEx quirks that may make otherwise keen travelers reconsider the service, at least for a while.

One of Norwegian’s better passenger experience benefits is the complimentary wifi service offered on board it domestic flights. It is not the fastest service in the sky but it is free to passengers. Alas, for travelers on the first Boeing 737 MAX aircraft that will ply these TATL routes, connectivity will not be on offer. Norwegian’s planes are not getting the wifi kit as a line-fit option installed by Boeing, and the planes will not be retrofitted before entering service as Norwegian is keen to get the new birds flying in time to catch the peak summer season.

While passengers on Norwegian’s TATL widebody flights are not accustomed to having wifi available – the carrier’s Boeing 787s never got fitted despite company promises to do so in 2015 – the fact that the MAX planes are not going to be equipped when service begins is unfortunate for passengers.

Okay, so there’s no Internet service on board, but at least you can watch the content you bring on your own devices, right? Sure, just as long as you also have a stash of batteries on hand. The aircraft will not offer any power ports, not even USB-based charging. And unlike the wifi situation, the power problem is not expected to change in the nearish term.

Even after the wifi system is added – including BYOD streaming entertainment – passengers will need to carry enough power on board to make it through the flight.

Finally, but importantly, the early flights will spend longer in-flight due to certification requirements. Norwegian indicated that its initial 737 MAX deliveries will enter service without ETOPS certification in place. That means it will need to take a longer flight path to stay within 60 minutes of a diversion airport as the plane crosses the Atlantic Ocean. Such routings are possible thanks to airports in Iceland and Greenland but they require less efficient flight paths and extra time in the air for passengers.

Arguably the longer flight time is better on the east-bound trips as it means more time to sleep on board, but that’s something of a Pyrrhic victory.

As an added bonus, the bargain-basement priced intro fares mentioned above turned out to be few and far between; passengers will pay extra for virtually everything they need beyond the seat. So booking requires a very focused effort in comparison shopping, including factoring airport transfers at both ends, to make sure the price is right.

I’m very excited by the service. I think it is slightly risky financially in terms of driving sufficiently large volumes of traffic to be a commercial success. But it also represents another major market shift in terms of access for secondary and tertiary airports.

I can foresee some of the westbound services in particular being useful to me as a passenger. I’m just annoyed at the less than spectacular #PaxEx we’re going to see for the initial service window.

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13 Comments

  1. Scotlady

    Flew with Norwegian last year LA to LHR and wasn’t impressed. The Ryanair of long haul, but two and half hours with Ryanair I do but won’t do a long haul again with Norwegian.

    • Chris Kjelgaard

      I thought Norwegian flew all its London long-haul flights to and from LGW, not LHR, nor STN, and I note that the only London airport Norwegian offers as a destination today from LAX is Gatwick. Are you sure it was LHR to which you flew from LAX?

  2. Chris Kjelgaard

    While (according to Google) Newburgh’s Stewart International Airport is 69.4 miles by road from New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT), at least the Stewart Airport Express service to be operated between the airport and the PABT by Coach USA subsidiary Short Line, in conjunction with Norwegian, will cost only $20 per one-way per adult and $10 per one-way per child.

    Coach USA says on its website for the Stewart Airport Express that, in each direction, the trip between NYC and the airport will take about 1 hour 20 minutes. That might be an optimistic estimate at times if the service enters and leaves the PABT via the nearby Lincoln Tunnel, which it is highly likely to do. While the schedule for the four daily round-trips shows all the buses leaving Stewart for NYC between 7:25 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., times which should see them approaching the PABT at times when the road lanes inside the Lincoln Tunnel aren’t likely to be greatly congested, the times at which the four buses will leave the PABT are all between 4:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. That is the peak rush-hour period for commuters leaving Manhattan by car and bus for New York metropolitan area suburban counties in New Jersey and also the suburban counties of Rockland County and Orange County in New York state.

    While the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operator of the Lincoln Tunnel, opens more lanes in the Lincoln Tunnel to traffic leaving Manhattan in the late afternoon than to traffic entering Manhattan from New Jersey, the outbound tunnel lanes and the approaches to the New Jersey Turnpike (the major road which leads to the Garden State Parkway and then I-287, which leads to I-87, the major freeway which leads directly through Rockland and Orange counties to Stewart International Airport) still become very congested in late afternoon. And all it takes is one car or truck accident on a lane inside the Lincoln Tunnel for absolute traffic chaos and major traffic jams to ensue, as I have found personally on occasion.

    I think perhaps the takeaway from what I’m noting here is there might be a good possibility that not all the eastbound TATL Norwegian flights from Stewart International Airport will depart on time, given there’s a strong likelihood those flights will be boarding many passengers who take the Stewart Airport Express buses to get from NYC to the airport!

    • Seth Miller
      Author

      These flights are going to be a major challenge for NYC-based passengers. The commute to SWF sucks. Norwegian will need to pull from the Hudson Valley area to make these work.

  3. Dorapilot

    It will be a nightmare. Not because wi-fi etc. (you can have a good book and that will be much better than any wi-fi you can have) but because you can just imagine how little space you will have on board. The pitch between seats will be ridicoulus (so, no way tyo sleep, even if the flight will longer) and as single aisle, narrow body, it will turn very unconfortable during the lond flight (no way to move around during the service etc). Considering that the low fares announced are only for just few seats and the cost penalty to pay for the transportation to reach the remote airports chosen, I guess that at the end there will be very little fare difference with legacy Airlines on the same routes.

    • Seth Miller
      Author

      I’ve flown single-aisle planes across the Atlantic a couple dozen times now. And the pitch isn’t all that different from other economy class products these days. I believe those claims are red herrings.

      Total fare and access to the airports remain realistic concerns. Plus the limited offerings early on.

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