Monday 17 December 2018

'From Dublin to somewhere in New York state' - what it's like to fly with no-frills Norwegian Air

'That’s not to say I haven't had any brutal experiences with budget airlines – but for the most part they’ve carted me anywhere I wanted to go for considerably cheaper'

Patricia Murphy:
Patricia Murphy: "When it comes to a cheap flight my consumer morals become very loose, very quickly"

Patricia Murphy

On a Saturday morning last May, I booked a €99 one-way flight from Dublin to New York’s Stewart International Airport with Norwegian Air, thrilled that I had nabbed a transatlantic flight for less than a cost of a few rounds in the capital.

In general, I would class my consumer personality as pretty loyal, but when it comes to a cheap flight my morals become very loose, very quickly.

Despite the dozens of stories I’ve read, and certainly written, about terrible customer experiences that people have had with budget airlines, I can say without question that I wouldn’t have been able to travel to many of the destinations that I have done, as a person in their twenties, without them.

That’s not to say I haven't had any brutal experiences with budget airlines – I was once stuck in an airport in China for 16 hours with just a boiled egg and a coke courtesy of Asian budget airline Tiger Air - but for the most part they’ve carted me anywhere I wanted to go for considerably cheaper.

After booking my Norwegian flight, I could not help but boast to my colleagues about how much I had saved; about how much money I still had to burn in my pocket. But instead of the impressed nods I anticipated, I was met with a wall of negativity.

“€99? Ah, we’ll see how that goes.”

“You have no telly though it’s an awful long flight without that, I couldn’t do that.”

“There’s no dinner on that though. You’d be starving.”

“Sure isn’t it a two-hour bus down from that airport to the city? If you were on holiday, that’s half of it gone.”

I worried I had made a rookie travel mistake, looking at the final price and not considering anything else.

By the time September rolled around, my dad had joined the travel itinerary and, with extra legroom, he flew from Dublin to New York’s Stewart International Airport with me and back to Shannon 10 days later on his own for a total of €300. It was €150 to get to New York with extra leg room, and €150 to return to Shannon in an aisle seat. 

Included in our flights were two standard carry-on bags and US pre-clearance in Dublin Airport – but that was it. It was completely no frills - no inflight entertainment system, no included-in-the-price airplane dinner, no steamed towels to pamper yourself with as you could expect on the likes of Etihad. It was a basic A to B journey.

I am a big sleeper when it comes to flying often nodding off before departure but my dad isn’t, so he struggled on a seven-hour flight to the US without entertainment. Norwegian promises that you can connect to their entertainment network via your own devices, but the faulty WIFI was out of action in our case, and unable to connect to my tablet.

Moving to New York for the foreseeable future, I needed to check in a 20KG suitcase, which cost €35. I thought they would fleece me when I was 2kg overweight but they let me off without even a question, much to my relief.

I had a window seat, next to an older lady and although I found the leg space constricting, I didn’t find it more so than other long-haul flights I’ve been on. The flight was uneventful. I think I had a glass of wine, which cost a little more than €8 but having eaten before I left, I didn’t feel so hungry.

When we arrived in New York, Stewart International Airport was a dream. It almost reminded me of Kerry Airport where I can go from runway to car park in minutes. My bag was doing circles on the carousel before we even arrived in the luggage hall.

Stewart is about a 90 minute bus away from Port Authority in the city and costs $20 (€16).

I must admit that the journey was a little jarring on a summer evening after a long flight but pretty easy and smooth over all.

We landed in New York at 5.30PM and were in Manhattan by 7.45PM. The airline also flies into JFK, which is notably more convenient (and just a subway or taxi away from the city) but flying into Stewart is where passengers are making the most savings when it comes to the Big Apple.

For me, I had a wonderful experience with Norwegian, but I have heard the horror stories.

In January, Norwegian flights took off from the UK amid snow warnings in New York leaving many of my British colleagues here stranded in random airports around the country and their bags lost for three whole weeks.

Another girl I know said she shivered from Dublin to Los Angeles with the cold on the Norwegian Airlines flight she took in 2016.

And of course I have read about the poor misfortunes that were stuck on a Norwegian flight in August that took off from Dublin at 3pm only to turn around due to a technical fault and do circles in the sky to burn off fuel. The airplane eventually landed again in Dublin four hours later and a €20 food voucher was doled out to passengers as a commiseration.

Yet, for me, it all comes down to the price.

I cannot moan when they ask me to follow the baggage rules, or give out that I don’t get my in-flight dinner when I’ve paid a fraction of the cost I would have if I had chosen another airline.

It’s just the way the cookie crumbles, except on Norwegian you’ll have to pay for the cookie.

For many Irish people on a budget, Norwegian Airlines is offering us a chance to travel to the US and to save a few euros while we’re at it.

As much as we moan and groan about budget airlines, and worry about not having the luxury of an in-flight dinner or that Melissa McCarthy movie on the way to America, if the price is right, do you really need the frills?

My dad may have given out a little bit about his red-eyed round trip to the States without his action films, but at the end of it all, even he couldn’t argue with the fact that he had flown to New York for €300 return.

Because honestly, what is there to be moaning about?

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