At the departure gate the airport’s mascot, a cuddly bear known as Gatwick Gary, welcomed passengers to the inaugural Norse Atlantic Airways flight to New York last week.
Slices of raspberry sponge celebration cake were handed out by cabin crew, and the chief executive of the new Norwegian airline, Bjorn Tore Larsen, led a cheer of ‘Norse! Norse! Norse!’
First-flight festivities over, we were called through to our Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner plane. Of the 338 seats, 301 had been sold: word about the new long-haul budget airline had got out.
Tom Chesshyre flew on Norse Atlantic Airways’ inaugural London Gatwick to New York flight. Norse, a new long-haul budget airline, is offering economy returns to NYC from £303. Tom notes this is ‘strikingly low’ in comparison to the airline’s competitors
Pictured left is Tom in his economy seat, which ‘had reasonable leg space’. He said that on his 787-9 Dreamliner flight 301 of the 338 seats had been sold – ‘word about the new long-haul budget airline had got out’. Pictured right is the premium economy section
‘The service had a free-wheeling feel,’ writes Tom. ‘An announcement was made of a 15-minute “happy hour” on the way to New York with “Dreamliner” cocktails available for £8.27’
Premium economy seats (above) on Norse have ‘generous’ 43-inch seat pitches, recline 12 inches and cost from £611 return to New York; 56 of the 343 seats are ‘premium’
Hardly surprising, with economy returns to the Big Apple from £303. Given BA is selling the equivalent from £357 and the next best rival, Play, from about £340, via a 100-minute pitstop in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik — it is strikingly low.
Norse was founded in 2021. It’s leasing planes previously operated by Norwegian, which went bust during Covid, but for a fraction of the cost as the aircraft owners are keen not to have them unused. So Norse can fly long-haul for low prices. But is it any good?
On board, in economy class, the grey, faux leather seats had reasonable leg space (31-32 in, see comparison chart). Big overhead containers meant no jamming in carry-on bags, which cost an extra £21 each way.
My neighbours in row 30 had a gripe. No headphones were included for the ‘state of the art entertainment experience’. These had to be purchased for £2.90. Hire of blankets was £4.15.
So began the dawning realisation that the rock-bottom £303 fare, only available for short periods when the airline releases tickets (it can be much higher), got you a seat — and not much else.
A hot meal cost £25 at the time of booking; snacks such as sandwiches for £8.27 were available. On the inaugural flight the meal options were chicken, salmon or vegetarian. I went for the salmon with mash and spinach, and it was as good as any dish I have had on a flight, even in ‘posh’ cabins.
What was going on? The answer was that as the airline is Norwegian and the flights to Gatwick begin in Oslo, with some passengers continuing to New York, the salmon is fresh from the fjords. On my return flight, the Thai chicken was awful: tasteless and rubbery.
The above chart compares the Norse offering to New York with other major airlines
No drinks are included in economy (above) on Norse, notes Tom. A 33cl can of Carlsberg was a ‘steep’ £5.79, a small bottle of wine £7.45, a Coca-Cola £3.31 and mineral water £2.90. ‘No wonder the canniest passengers had brought their own sandwiches and filled water bottles at the fountains at Gatwick,’ Tom writes
Left is Norse’s chief executive, Bjorn Tore Larsen, who led the festivities ahead of the inaugural flight. Further transatlantic routes from Gatwick are due to be announced soon — perhaps to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Los Angeles
One of Tom’s complaints about his flight was the food. He said his Thai chicken on the return flight ‘was awful: tasteless and rubbery’
Tom said that his flight arrived on time at the Big Apple’s JFK Airport. His verdict? ‘Grab the cheapest fares, but don’t expect an airline Ritz’
Gatwick’s mascot, a cuddly bear known as Gatwick Gary, was in attendance to see passengers off, along with Mr Larsen (above)
TRANSATLANTIC WINNERS AND LOSERS
Sir Freddie Laker began Skytrain flights on DC-10s from Gatwick to New York in 1977 with one-way tickets from £59, revolutionising transatlantic flights. BA and others responded by price-matching and Laker Airways went bust in 1982.
Then, after a hiatus, along came Norwegian, offering transatlantic fares from £69 one-way from Gatwick. This golden period ran from 2009 to 2019, but the airline failed due to over-expansion. The same fate befell Iceland’s Wow Air, which offered one-way Stansted-NYC tickets from £99 via Reykjavik from 2012 to 2019.
Norse is the new kid on the block, joining Play, an Icelandic carrier with Stansted flights via Reykjavik, and slick U.S. airline JetBlue (see chart above).
No drinks are included in economy on Norse. A 33cl can of Carlsberg was a steep £5.79, a small bottle of wine £7.45, a Coca-Cola £3.31 and mineral water £2.90.
No wonder the canniest passengers had brought their own sandwiches and filled water bottles at the fountains at Gatwick.
Having acquired headphones, I checked out the films. The selection was decent (I enjoyed recently released King Richard, about tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams), but it was not as extensive as on BA or Virgin.
The service had a free-wheeling feel. An announcement was made of a 15-minute ‘happy hour’ on the way to New York with ‘Dreamliner’ cocktails available for £8.27.
Further transatlantic routes from Gatwick are due to be announced soon — perhaps to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Los Angeles — each with economy and ‘premium’ seats.
The latter have generous 43-inch seat pitches, recline 12 inches and cost from £611 return to New York; 56 of the 343 seats are ‘premium’, equivalent to the premium economy offerings of other airlines.
We arrived on time at the Big Apple’s JFK Airport (the journey is around 7hr 20min, depending on the wind direction). So full points for that.
The verdict? Grab the cheapest fares, but don’t expect an airline Ritz — just be patient and keep an eye out for the lowest prices when the airline first releases them online.