This is our review of new low-cost long haul airline Norse Atlantic, flying in its Premium Economy seat from Gatwick to New York JFK.
On Friday, we were invited to join the airline on its inaugural flight from London.
Having previously flown on Norwegian almost exactly three years ago, in 2019, I was interested to see how it compared.
How does Norse Atlantic pricing compare to BA or Virgin?
Before we look at the flight, I want to explain now Norse is pricing its tickets.
Norse Atlantic offers six pricing tiers: Economy Light, Economy Classic, Economy Plus, Premium Light, Premium Classic and Premium Plus. There is no business class.
Tickets start from £255 return in Economy Light, although these fares are currently sold out for the remainder of the Summer schedule until the end of October. They should reappear once Norse loads its Winter schedules.
Premium Light was on sale for £460 return, whilst Premium Plus – the most expensive option on Norse Atlantic – was £933 return. This is very attractive for a fully flexible ticket and may appeal to corporate travellers.
In comparison, premium economy on legacy carriers is available from £800 return in September, with United, Virgin, American and British Airways all offering fares for less than £900. That said, there are plenty available for £1,300+ too – only a handful of flights were available at these lower price points.
Of course, one of the benefits of a low cost airline like Norse Atlantic is that it offers cheap one-way tickets. Most legacy carriers charge an arm and a leg if you only book a one-way flight.
The pricing, per leg, starts at £160 in economy from Gatwick to New York, whilst the inbound flight is cheaper as a one-way, with tickets starting from £93. A one-way ticket with any other airline costs the same as a return ticket, and in many cases as much as £1,500+!
What does your Norse Atlantic Premium ticket include?
What you get will depend on which tier of Premium you select.
Basic inclusions for all Premium tickets include:
- An under-seat bag
- 10kg carry on
- 2 meal services, including 1 house beer or wine per meal
- Premium boarding
- Priority check-in
If you upgrade to Premium Classic you get a 23kg checked bag plus you can change your ticket for half the price – just $100. In this case, if you don’t value the additional flexibility, it may actually be cheaper to pay for the checked bag separately, based on the unbundled pricing structure.
Premium Plus gets you an additional 23kg checked bag, plus a completely refundable and changeable ticket – although you’ll have to pay the fare difference if you swap to a new date.
At the airport
All Norse Atlantic flights depart from Gatwick’s South Terminal, as used by British Airways, which is more convenient if you are arriving by train. Oddly, the terminal is not shown during the booking process or on your ticket receipt.
Check-in and bag drop was in Zone H. To celebrate the inaugural flight there were some balloons (not pictured!)
When I arrived, three hours early, there were virtually no queues. I walked straight to the Premium desk and the economy desks next to me only had a handful of people waiting. Not too shabby at all.
Premium tickets include Priority security screening at Gatwick and I got through within ten minutes or so.
Once you’re through you’re by yourself – no lounge access is included, as you’d expect with a premium economy ticket – so I popped into The Grain Store restaurant with my Priority Pass for a bite to eat. I will do a review of this in the next few days.
The frivolities continued at the gate, with Gary Gatwick (a seven foot high bear) in attendance and a launch cake:
The crew were understandably in high spirits!
The Norse Premium cabin
One of the reasons that Norse Atlantic gets compared to Norwegian so often is that it uses the exact same Boeing 787 aircraft. The use of a new Boeing 787 means that you benefit from being on a modern aircraft in terms of the technical benefits of larger windows and improved cabin pressurisation.
Some of these planes are genuinely brand new. Although they were delivered to Norwegian, they never entered passenger service with the airline.
Norse has kept Norwegian’s cabin configuration. That means you get 56 Premium seats in the forward cabin, in a 2-3-2 arrangement across eight rows. This makes the window pairs attractive for anyone travelling with a companion.
You won’t get excited by the design: the seats are still in a dull grey faux leather that is probably called ‘Depression’ in the Pantone Matching System ….
The Norse Premium seat
I was booked into seat 3A.
The one thing you can’t knock about Norse is the seat. At 46″ pitch it has significantly more legroom than on British Airways World Traveller Plus (review), Virgin Atlantic Premium (review) or even Air New Zealand (review), which have 38″.
In fact, unless you are 7′ tall, you are unlikely to need all the legroom! Here I am, at 6’2:
The industry-topping pitch also means you get an exceptional recline, which makes a huge difference on red-eye flights.
Let me give you a quick tour of the rest of the seat. Each comes with an adjustable head rest with ‘wings’ you can fold in to rest against:
There is also a leg rest that folds out from under your own seat, with an extendable ledge. At 6’2 I can’t stretch my legs out fully using this but it is convenient for lounging.
A bi-fold tray table is in one armrest, whilst the in-flight entertainment screen is in the other:
This does mean that you are relatively trapped when both are out. Unlike with a seat-back screen, there is a lot of paraphernalia around you, which makes popping to the loo a little more challenging.
You also get one universal plug socket each, between the footrests:
…. plus a USB port on the IFE screen.
After take-off, crew come round offering earbuds and a thin fleece blanket. The earbuds are cheap in-ear types that economy passengers can buy for $3.50, so moderate your expectations. I always bring my own noise-cancelling headphones for exactly this reason.
In-flight entertainment on Norse Atlantic
Whilst the aircraft has a Wi-Fi hump there’s no Wi-Fi available to passengers, at least for now.
The IFE user interface is pretty basic (there’s no moving map, for example) but it is responsive.
The IFE catalogue is surprisingly large, at least for films. The recent releases category might be smaller than at other airlines but there’s a significant back-catalogue from the past five years and beyond to keep anyone happy. Dune, Matrix Resurrections, The Hunger Games and plenty more was available.
I ended up watching Wonder Woman 84 and Deepwater Horizon.
TV is less well represented and much harder to browse, as you’re swamped by single episodes of entire seasons.
Unfortunately there’s no gate-to-gate entertainment because the screen has to be stowed in the armrest for take-off and landing.
Service and food on Norse Atlantic
When it comes to food and drink, Norse is very much in the ‘budget premium’ category. Don’t expect to see real crockery, glassware or metal cutlery.
First up is an initial round of drinks before take-off, with a choice of apple juice, orange juice or water:
Once in the air a second round is made, this time with a ‘full’ drinks service. White and red wine, as well as beer, is free, but you’ll have to pay for spirits.
This is followed by the main meal service. On my flight, you had a choice of chicken or salmon. I went for the salmon. It comes in a metal tray in a cardboard box with a small chocolate pot and a bread roll:
The food tasted good, but it’s a shame it comes in such a small portion. There is definitely space to add a little side salad or something to spruce it up. I mean, British Airways even gives its economy passengers a four course meal.
I’m also not a fan of the wooden cutlery provided. Metal cutlery, which can be washed, is just as sustainable.
In fact, I was so peckish that I ordered an item from the buy-on-board menu. I went for a chicken and bacon sandwich, which was $10. It was good:
Crew brought cups of water through the cabin at regular intervals throughout the flight, and if you wanted something else all you had to do was ask.
About an hour before landing there is a second meal service. You get a pizza pocket, which tasted good but is a bit on the heavy side, and (strangely!) macarons:
Finally, 30 minutes before landing the crew come round up-selling a ‘Big Apple’ cocktail of apple juice and Hendrick’s gin for $11. I thought a pre-landing cocktail was a really nice touch, despite the fairly steep price, although it turns out this is not part of the normal service. It should be!
In general, I think the buy-on-board menu is a little too steeply priced: spirits come in at $9 or $10 for a double shot whilst cava is $11. The Nicolas Feuillate Brut champagne served on BA short haul flights is $13.50. I do always wonder whether they’d be able to sell more items if prices were slightly lower.
I have to say the crew were excellent, friendly and professional.
But is it premium?
What is premium economy, anyway?
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic think it is slightly more room with improved catering, free drinks and even an amenity kit.
Norse, meanwhile, has significantly more leg room but comes with food you’d expect to get in economy with other airlines. That said, I’ve been told that they are looking to improve the food offering later this year.
At the end of the day, I think it all comes down to cost. If you can find a £460 Premium Light fare you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank with all your leg room. You can always top up the meal service by buying snacks or sandwiches in the terminal before your flight.
The cost-benefit analysis gets a bit dicier as you inch towards £700 or £800. It’s not particularly difficult to find premium economy fares with legacy airlines at such prices, and at that point the upgraded food, amenity kit and other benefits may outweigh what you get on Norse.
Norse Atlantic’s success will rest on its ability to undercut other airlines. It is, after all, a no-frills low-cost airline. If it can’t deliver on cost then its entire raison d’être also dries up.
Because I am tall, I value leg room highly. I would happily fly Norse Premium again, provided it offered a £200 or £300 saving over BA or Virgin. You need to decide what matters to you – leg room, price, frequency, food, wi-fi or tier points and miles – and choose accordingly.
Will Norse Atlantic succeed?
The big question on everyone’s lips, of course, is whether Norse can succeed where Norwegian failed.
Whilst the Norse management prefer not to draw direct comparisons between the two, it’s hard to avoid given their similar target market. Norse even uses the exact same Boeing 787 aircraft that Norwegian used to fly – including the same cabin.
Norse claims it has stronger cost control than its predecessor. One executive claimed that they have managed to acquire the aircraft required for a 50% discount thanks to covid, which would certainly be an impressive feat. That’s a direct play from the Michael O’Leary School of Thought: Ryanair famously doubled down on aircraft orders after 9/11, with Boeing practically begging the airline to take 737s off their hands.
Norse Atlantic also says it will have a tighter focus, particularly on ‘gold mine’ routes such as from London and Paris to New York and LA. It won’t get distracted by launching flights to Singapore or creating Argentinian subsidiaries – one of Norwegian’s many bizarre strategic decisions.
Whether that holds true or not will remain to be seen. After launching flights from Oslo to the United States a few months ago, Norse has been busy opening routes from across Europe. Flights from Berlin are coming next week; Paris is on the cards, too. Some would consider launching three or four new bases within the space of six months overstretching it but we will see.
PS. There is a coda to this story. Norse is actually flying Oslo – Gatwick – New York – Gatwick – Oslo, and you can buy tickets for the Gatwick to Oslo legs incredibly cheaply in Premium. Rob is doing this trip later in the week and will report back.
Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.