The budget long-haul carrier recently started new flights between Seattle and Europe, and the prices are right. One catch: It’s the master of “a la carte” pricing.
Getting to Europe just got a lot cheaper, thanks to the new Seattle-London flights of Norwegian Air.
Fares for some flights are as low as $199 one-way this fall. That’s often hundreds of dollars less than what British Airways or Virgin Atlantic/Delta Air Lines charges for a nonstop flight from Seattle to London.
Norwegian began flying four times a week in mid-September between Seattle and London’s Gatwick Airport. The low-fare carrier offers transatlantic flights from a handful of other U.S. cities as well as many routes within Europe and beyond.
I flew on Norwegian from Gatwick home to Seattle in late September, and paid $279 one way.
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The plane was a spotless Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, an aircraft Norwegian is using on all Seattle-London flights. For passengers, the Dreamliner is a treat: better air quality, bigger overhead luggage bins and bigger windows than most planes.
Just as low-fare carriers have revolutionized travel in the United States and within Europe, Norwegian aims to do the same for transatlantic flights with its low fares (some U.S. airlines and labor groups unsuccessfully fought its entry into the U.S. market). While some Norwegian fares are ultralow, prices vary widely depending on demand and time of year, so check the low-fare calendar at norwegian.com/us.
Norwegian representative Anders Lindstrom called the Seattle market “overpriced,” adding, “However, we hope that our entry into the Seattle market will bring overall fares down …” Seattle travelers to Europe soon will have even more choices as Norwegian plans to launch Seattle-Oslo flights next year and Air France will start Seattle-Paris flights March 25.
While Norwegian’s airfares can be enticingly low, there’s a catch. Norwegian is a master of “a la carte” pricing, charging for everything beyond the base airfare on Seattle-London flights. Check a suitcase? That’s an extra $45. Want an assigned seat? Another $45. Something to eat onboard? Pay $45 for the full meal service (which must be ordered in advance) or buy snacks on board. Cup of tea or bottle of water? $3 each — although you can get a free glass of water if you walk back to the galley and ask.
At least the excellent seat back video-on-demand is free. But bring your own headphones or pay $3 for a pair.
If you want to avoid Norwegian’s extra charges, here’s how:
• Travel with carry-on luggage only. But pack lightly. If you’re transferring to another European airline, many won’t allow the supersized carry-ons to which Americans are accustomed.
• Buy food at the airport to take aboard. At Gatwick, I got excellent sandwiches and salads at Pret A Manger.
• Don’t reserve a specific seat right away. If your flight looks like it’s filling up, you can always reserve a seat closer to flight time.
Tips for navigating Gatwick Airport
Unfamiliar with London’s Gatwick Airport? Some things to know:
• It’s a half-hour train ride from Gatwick Airport, Britain’s second-busiest airport after London’s Heathrow, to central London. The train station is in the airport’s South Terminal where Norwegian flights also are based. Choose from three train services: Gatwick Express goes to the very busy Victoria station in the heart of London while Thameslink and Southern serve other London stations with connections to the city’s Underground (subway system). Get more information at gatwickairport.com.
• Buy train tickets at automated kiosks in the airport. Or buy an Oyster card, a very convenient preloaded fare card that can be used for trains from Gatwick to London and all of London’s Underground and buses. There’s a Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk) kiosk selling Oyster cards in Gatwick’s South Terminal arrivals hall.
• If you’re connecting to another Norwegian flight at Gatwick, Norwegian will transfer your checked luggage. If you’re continuing on a different airline, you’ll need to collect your suitcase and recheck it or use GatwickConnects to transfer it (details at gatwickairport.com).
• It can be convenient to spend the night before your homeward flight at Gatwick. I stayed at the BLOC Gatwick inside the South Terminal, a minimalist hotel with tiny but comfortable rooms (blochotels.com/gatwick). My room had a good bed, good shower, fast Wi-Fi and a big window with views of airport buildings and planes — the cheapest rooms have no windows — and cost $154 a night. There’s an even more compact Yotel, with capsulelike day-use or overnight rooms, in the South Terminal. For a more conventional hotel room, the Hilton Gatwick Airport is connected by a covered walkway to the South Terminal.