We live in the Washington DC-area and received a wedding invitation to northern Germany. As we’re already spent our budget for summer vacation we had to find a really cheap flight to make this work. Affordable AAdvantage-Award flights are really rare these days, so we had to think outside the box.
Norwegian Air just started new operations across the Atlantic: From the north-westernmost-tip of the UK and Ireland their mid-sized Boeing 737s have barely enough range to reach the north-easternmost part of the USA. So, they are able to operate those stretched routes over the pond without the big, expensive and difficult-to-fill long-haul-planes. The result: Those flights usually sell for just around $100, but introductory tickets were offered for just $89 per Person one-way on routes like Bradley, CT to Edinburgh. Food, drinks, assigned seats and checked baggage would have cost extra, but we didn’t need that this time.
At the time of booking, I didn’t really know where Bradley, CT exactly is, nor did I really care. We booked the flights and knew we would make this work somehow. Afterwards I couldn’t believe my luck as I saw that Ryanair had a €9.99 (about 11 USD) flash sale on their website. They operate a flight from Edinburgh to Bremen, exactly where we had to go. We would have 5 hours to connect in EDI, which sounded like a reasonable safety buffer for delays (luckily, more on that later).
So, $89 flight on Norwegian + $11 flight on Ryanair: Germany here we come, for just $100!Our planned route. I drew the map with the help of http://www.gcmap.comPlane
As an aviation-nerd I was very excited to find out that this flight would be operated by a brand new Boeing 737 MAX-8. At the time of our flight, there were only two other planes of this new type delivered. Boeing promised significantly reduced fuel and a more comfortable passenger experience. I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself.
Also: Keep in mind that this small plane was built for regular short- to medium services that usually only last 1-3 hours. How would this plane behave on a long haul-route that it was never intended for?Getting to the airport
Google Maps estimated a 6 hour drive from my home in Washington DC to the airport. It’s quite a ride, but doable. However, in reality we experienced heavy delays on the road: Especially the last stretch between New York City and Bradley Airport took almost two hours longer than anticipated due to bumper-to-bumper traffic on CT-15. Make sure you plan enough buffer time if you’re planning a similar trip yourself.
As we didn’t book meal service on the flight, we enjoyed a tasty dinner at a Thai restaurant in Hartford, CT on the way. Afterwards we got to the airport and parked the car in no time. The flight itself had a relaxed departure time of 21:35 at night.Check-In and Boarding
The Norwegian staff was extremely friendly and helpful. Even though we didn’t paid for assigned seats in advance, everybody in our party was able to sit together. They do however weigh carry-ons very thoroughly and would charge you if you exceed the limit of 10kg. Fair enough, with a flight right at the limit of the planes range it’s probably a good idea to double check the load.
BDL is a fairly small airport with just one terminal and virtually no line at the single TSA checkpoint. There are a couple of shops with the usual airport-food. I liked that they have a bottle-refill station that allows you to bring water on your long flight. I was also positively surprised to discover an AA Admirals Club right across the gate, but unfortunately that Lounge already closed two hours before our flight.
Boarding was announced about 45 Minutes prior to departure in no particular order. But given the length of the flight it doesn't really matter who gets onto the aircraft first, right? It was a very relaxed process and they were able to close the doors on time. I liked that we could use an actual jet bridge and didn’t had to climb stairs onto the aircraft like other low cost carriers make you do it.
The flight itself was almost completely full, even though they operate this completely random route for just a couple of weeks now. I found odd that when they eventually started to check carry-ons, they did not apply any bag tags and just put the bare bags in the planes hold. But everybody got their bag in the end, so this seems to be working fine.Flight
After an on-time pushback and taxi, we suddenly stopped right before the runway. After some 30 minutes the Pilot made an announcement, that ATC couldn’t find a proper flight plan in their system and HQ in Norway was working to submit a new one. This “small paperwork issue” went on and on. Eventually we had a proper flight plan for the Atlantic crossing, but the local tower in BDL was still missing it’s part of the documents. In the end it took almost two hours until we could make our way onto the runway and into the clear night sky. I’m not sure if the airline or the ATC was at fault, but instead of the planned 7 hour flight time, we totally spend 9 hours on board the small single-aisle 737-MAX 8.
I was very excited to be one of the first passengers on this new plane type and read a lot about the new engines and wing-tips that were supposed to be a lot quieter and more efficient. However on board I didn’t noticed a difference. The sky-interior looked new, but besides that the takeoff was just as noisy and a bit bumpy as with any other 737. The MAX is really not as special and “ground breaking” as the Boeings press releases suggest. Disappointing!
So, how does it feel to cross the Atlantic in a small 737 instead of the usual A330, A380 and B787? Surprisingly not that different: After all you’re still bored in your seat, watching movies and waiting for the time to go by. The fuselage is naturally smaller, there is only one instead of two aisles. The long flight through the night was completely uneventful, at no time did the plane felt “not safe” for the long haul job.
One thing I didn’t like was how cheaply Norwegian equipped those new planes: There were no IFE-screens, Wifi-connection or even power plugs. But we knew what we were getting into, so we downloaded to Netflix-Series on the Ipad and brought a USB-Power Bank. Pro Tip: You can “hang” your Ipad-case perfectly into the elevated seat pocket in front of you.
The new Slimline-seats offered decent 31’ legroom, but the cushioning was nothing to write home about, especially on such a long flight. There were no adjustable headrests, so you may want to bring your own pillow.
There were four flight attendants on board, a very young team from Madrid. They were very friendly and told us how excited they were to serve on prestigious flights to the USA, a welcome difference to their usual zigzag throughout Europe. Norwegians Wikipedia page states that some flight attendants are getting employed through dodgy labor contracts in Thailand, so I hope that those guys got a better deal.Food and Drink
There is no free food on this low cost flight. We could have ordered meals for $40/Person at the time of booking, but we were generally satisfied with our previous dinner, some snack bars and the water we brought. However, we did order a can of Coke for $3 to go with the movie. The header on the receipt however made me wonder:
If a Norwegian company registers a plane in Ireland to fly from the USA to the United Kingdom, hiring Spanish flight attendants with Thai employment contracts to sell food through a licensing partner in Switzerland – Where do they actually pay taxes? On the other hand: My ticket price gave me 89 reasons not to worry about it for too much.
Another impression: If you don’t pay for food, you get nothing. They don’t even serve water for free. I don’t know how desperate some people might get on such a long flight, but they had to put a big red warning sign into their lavatories:Landing
After we got a couple hours of sleep, we were woken up by some light turbulence during our decent through the thick rainclouds above Edinburgh. After the landing we were able to disembark via a jet bridge again. Smaller planes means less passengers, which ultimately leads to reduced wait times at customs and immigration – I like it!Our plane after the landing in EDI
Due to the 2 hour delay, we still had three relaxed hours left to clear customs, claim the bags, stop for a nice brunch, check in with Ryanair and go through security again. The following 1 hour flight to Bremen was the usual Ryanair-experience and not really noteworthy. Screenshot of Flightaware.comConclusion
Besides the delay, the flight was uneventful, the staff very friendly and the fares extremely cheap. I think I will do it again!Bonus-Pictures
As the plane flew through the night, I wasn’t able to do many pictures. On the way back however we flew a very northern route that offered spectacular views of Greenland. The overall experience on the way back was the same.