By Ezra Gollan
Trip Report: Norse Atlantic Airways’ Inaugural Flight from New York in Premium Class
Norse Atlantic Airways — the ultra-low-cost transatlantic carrier — recently launched its operations from the U.S. As passengers look for cheaper fares in a summer travel market that is expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels, CEO Bjørn Tore Larson’s all Boeing 787 Dreamliner airline looks to offer an alternative option to passengers who would ordinarily be faced with legacy carriers.
The carrier’s ultra-low fares are being offered on a twice-weekly basis from Oslo, Norway’s Gardermoen Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy in a two-class configuration. With fares as low as $114 each way, Norse is far and away from the cheapest option over the Atlantic offering passengers a gateway to Europe once in Oslo, Norway.
AirlineGeeks was onboard the inaugural flight from New York to Oslo in Premium and had an up-close look at Norse’s brand new operation.
Norse departs from Terminal 1 at JFK Airport. Terminal 1 is home to many international carriers at the airport and serves only international destinations. Air France and Lufthansa have the biggest presence at the terminal offering their own lounges given that they operate multiple long-haul flights per day. Norse, however, had not communicated the terminal very well to passengers leaving many confused and worried about the status of their flight.
JFK Airport placed a label on the airline directory heading into the terminals by car, but there was no mention of a terminal on the AirTrain. This has since been added, and there is a level of leeway that needs to be given when an airline is operating at an airport for the first time let alone its first and second-ever flights.
I was seated in Norse’s Premium Cabin and once I located check-in, I was able to collect my paper boarding pass. Norse’s electronic boarding passes faced hiccups too, with no mention of a terminal or gate. This was also the case in Oslo.
After collecting my boarding pass, I was directed to the Fast Track security lane, which is a great benefit to have when flying long haul often removing the stress of long lines when running smoothly. In Oslo, Norse does not yet offer a priority security benefit, though I was told by a representative that they are awaiting approval from Avinor, who operates the airport in Oslo.
Norse does not offer lounge access — something Norwegian provided for its premium passengers through contract lounges up until 2019. It is unclear if Norse will add this to its Premium travel benefits but for the time being your airport experience is entirely dependent on your location and since Norse does not operate on a spoke and hub model this will vary greatly. JFK’s Terminal 1 offers few options for dining and is very clearly in dire need of a refresh.
There are enough choices for passengers to buy a variety of very expensive bottles of water and pre-made sandwiches should you wish to do so. Oslo Gardermoen offers a far superior experience when it comes to dining, shopping and great places to sit and rest.
If you happen to carry status with another airline or credit card, there may be lounge access available to you as both JFK’s Terminal 1 and Oslo have a few lounges. It is worth noting that lounges at Oslo Gardermoen are located before passport control, meaning that you must be willing to take your chances on the wildly unpredictable queues.
Post passport control, there is a great bar/cafe with outlets at every seat along with a convenience store selling sandwiches and salads and a duty-free shop. Prices are very reasonable, and the cleanliness and quiet of the F gates are fantastic.
Once the arrival flight had deplaned the pace began to pick up as Norse Atlantic CEO Bjørn Tore Larsen spoke to reporters by the gate. When asked about the experience so far, Larsen said, “It is fantastic to experience the spirit of the people in this company.” added, “I am truly honored to be part of a team but this is not about me it’s about the rest of the team particularly I would say the crew onboard the aircraft.” Larsen stressed how much the onboard experience matters and how important the team onboard the aircraft are saying, “Running an airline from an office desk is, in theory, very easy but in practice, you can’t do it. You do everything onboard.”
Larsen, who before Norse had spent decades in the shipping industry may be new to airlines but it’s clear he values the people who are on the front lines of an airline. This is obviously promising to hear from a new CEO and having had the chance to speak with multiple Norse employees, they all mentioned how much he believes in the team.
Our aircraft arrived at JFK as Norse flight 01 landed at 10:44, after a delay due to issues with bookings for Ukrainian refugees. Nearly 100 were on Norse’s first-ever flight and if there is ever a time when a delay is perfectly acceptable, this was it. Our aircraft had also brought in 20 tons of Norwegian seafood, cargo that CEO Bjørn Tore Larsen told reporters was critical to the carrier’s success.
The aircraft rolled into the gate drawing a considerable crowd of enthusiasts and journalists alike all hoping to get a peek of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that would be taking us over the Atlantic. LN-FNB, a 2-year-old jet once bound for Norwegian stood out in a crisp multi-toned blue livery.
The inbound delays and paperwork that needed to be done for the inaugural meant that we didn’t get to board the aircraft until just after midnight. It was clear by around 11:30 pm that the chances of us getting off the ground in a timely fashion were slim to none.
Norse Atlantic boards by groups with Premium passengers in group 1 and then those in standard economy boarding in no real order. Passengers were instructed to form a line in order to board the aircraft. Whether or not this is the world’s most efficient boarding process is for another day but considering that this was only the second-ever boarding of a Norse flight, crowds were relatively well controlled by the gate agents.
In Oslo, many flights operating from the F gates use a boarding system that involves “pre-boarding” passengers over 2 hours before the scheduled departure time. Gate agents scan boarding passes and solve any issues at a checkpoint before a departure area so that when the aircraft is ready passengers can simply just head to the aircraft.
Unfortunately, this seems to create increased stress and many passengers could be seen rushing to the gate after reading “boarding” on the departure board despite the fact that the actual boarding of the aircraft would not take place for another hour and a half to two hours. When boarding commenced there was little distinction between premium passengers and those traveling in Economy Class with many rushing for the jetbridge.
Back in New York, we boarded the aircraft and were greeted by a friendly crew who seemed happy to be there. I was shown to 4A, my seat for the 6 and a half-hour ride to Oslo. The new aircraft smell and buzz in the air for an inaugural meant many of us were too excited to be worried about delays.
Onboard Norse’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners are 56 Premium seats arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration with 8 rows. If the look of the seats and configuration seems eerily similar to that of the Norwegian 787s, well that’s because they are nearly identical. An interior refresh in terms of different colored mood lighting was added along with images in each cabin of a national park somewhere in the world where Norse longships are named after. This adds a nice touch of personality and branding but aside from those additions, it is very similar.
This is not to say though that this is not an incredibly comfortable and spacious premium product. The seats feature lots of legroom, footrests, adjustable headrests and excellent recline among other things. The seat is roomy, and both the tray table and IFE monitor slide upwards from under the armrests on both sides of the seat.
The reclining function can be accessed by pulling back on the labeled switch as well as the padded footrest that comes out from below the seat. The padded footrest combined with the fully reclined seat makes for a fantastic sleeping chair.
While not fully lie-flat, when it comes to pure comfort, these are some of the best premium economy seats that many will be thrilled are back in the sky. The seat itself is far and away better than what is offered on most US legacy carriers and international airlines operating transatlantic routes. Each seat has a coat hook, reading light and air vent. The reading light can be switched on and off from the IFE monitor.
Each Premium seat is equipped with a 13.5-inch touch screen IFE monitor. The screen, as expected for a brand new one, is very responsive. Also to be expected with a brand new airline, a fairly limited selection of movies and TV shows with enough to keep one occupied over the course of a 7-8 hour flight. It probably would not have enough options to the point where passengers can find their favorite show or movie. For those whose favorite TV show is titled “3D map” starring a rendering of the aircraft you are flying giving you a 360-degree view of the world, you will be disappointed to find that Norse’s flight information screen is fairly basic.
All the essentials one would like to know over the course of the flight are there, but if your favorite activity throughout a long-haul flight is to watch the aircraft icon move, you may have to wait a little while longer. It is for certain that over the coming months and years, Norse’s inflight entertainment offerings will expand.
The airline says 5G wifi is coming to all aircraft which will be the best in its class when it rolls out aboard the 787s. Norse says they anticipate wifi installation in the summer of 2023. Once again, these are all to be expected with a new airline and what is on offer at the moment is solid.
For those seated in Premium, Norse offers a standard meal service with your fare along with 1 alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverage of your choice. Since we didn’t get off the ground in New York until 1:56 am local time, the crew was eager to begin what was a very late night dinner service. Despite the delays, the crew remained professional and calm.
The in-flight meals onboard Norse are what would be considered standard economy class meals. All meals include a main dish, a dessert and a warm bread roll with butter.
On the flight departing JFK I decided to try the vegan option, which was some vegetables stewed in tomato sauce which was pretty good and a coconut pineapple pudding that was fairly bland but not bad. Before landing in Oslo a light breakfast was served. Muffins and yogurt along with tea and coffee were included.
Norse’s catering out of Oslo was impressive. On the departure with much more normal dinner service at around 8:30 pm local time I opted for the salmon with mashed potatoes, dill sauce and sautéed greens. This was where I felt that Norse’s in-flight experience shined once again. The fish was flavorful for an airplane, and it wasn’t too overcooked. My meal also came with a chocolate ganache for dessert which was also excellent. The crew was once again friendly and attentive.
Norse is an ultra-low-cost carrier, which means that for those not seated in premium and for those in premium looking for food throughout the flight, you are presented with a menu featuring a wide variety of snacks, sandwiches and pasta along with a broad selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. I ordered some fusilli arrabbiata towards the end of the return to New York and it made for a good, inexpensive snack. If onboard shopping is your thing there are watches, stuffed animals and earrings plus other accessories for purchase.
After flying through the night back to the US and all morning in Norway, we touched down at Oslo Gardermoen at 2:38 pm local time. Upon parking, at the gate, the cabin crew asked us to let those with connections disembark first. I had a flight later that night on Ethiopian to Stockholm, but since I had 5 hours till departure even with my delay, I figured I would take my time.
What awaited me when I turned the corner into the customs hall was a line and a crowd of people as far as the eye could see. I had read about European airports being pushed past their capacity and it was evident here. I was lucky only waited an hour and a half compared to others who waited up to 2 and a half hours. This of course is out of Norse’s control but from a passenger standpoint, be prepared when traveling to Europe this summer as airports are simply unable to handle the demand.
The emergence of Norse into the transatlantic market is something every traveler, or “explorer” as Norse calls its passengers, should be excited about. Whether in economy or premium, they are offering a product that rivals many legacy carriers for a fraction of the cost. The premium seats make for a fantastic option for those looking to cross the Atlantic in comfort and a level of affordability that simply did not exist beforehand.
While there certainly are areas for improvement especially when it comes to the ground experience, with a brand new airline you just have to give it time. The airline recently launched its Oslo to Fort Lauderdale, Florida route on Monday and plans to launch services from Oslo to Berlin on August 17th with Oslo to Los Angeles operations beginning August 19th.