A few years ago, Norwegian Air started selling flights from New York to Europe for just $99. And with it, the travel industry changed.
It changed in two ways. First of all, it made intercontinental travel more financially accessible than ever before. For the price of a train ride from Boston to DC, I could instead get myself to London, or Paris, or even Rome. It was the first low-fare long-haul carrier, and in redefining what air travel should look like, it made a lot of champions (because you can customize what you want to pay for) – and a lot of enemies (because not everyone gets the same thing).
The second thing that changed was the aircraft itself. Norwegian exclusively brought on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a new craft that sparked curiosity everywhere (and, to be honest, had a few false starts before it kicked into gear).
You can imagine my excitement, then, to try both Norwegian and the 787 Dreamliner when Norwegian joined us as a partner at our first WITS Europe and sponsored my Boston<->London flights (Click here for Wanderful’s full disclosure statement.)
What would a low-fare long-haul flight actually feel like (or to put in more direct terms, would it be bearable)? And is it really making air travel better?
The short answer is: it felt amazing.
Let me take you on board!
Why People Love the Dreamliner
The new Dreamliners have been generating a lot of buzz. They have some really sexy features like enormous windows (65% larger than traditional aircraft windows and very noticeably so) with a cool dimming feature that allows you to adjust how much sunlight you’re taking in without having to pull a shade down (in fact, there’s no shade there even if you wanted one!)
Plus, with high overhead storage compartments, sleek LED lighting, and that new plane sparkle, everything feels a little bit more spacious. I found myself appreciating the feeling of not being completely enclosed with tiny breathing room like on many other aircraft.
But the Dreamliners have some other really brilliant qualities that you might not notice right away from your seat.
For one, they produce a smaller carbon footprint – as much as 30% less than the average. With its fleet being among the youngest in the skies, Norwegian was recognized as the world’s most fuel-efficient airline on transatlantic routes by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in 2018.
They also have deployed systems to bring in fresh air from the outside to provide higher air quality within the aircraft.
And their cute LED lighting isn’t just for looks either! By being able to slowly adjust the amount of cabin lighting available at various times throughout the flight, it can actually help your body transition better into its new time zone.
I’m a budget traveler at heart. I’ll do *almost* anything to decrease my travel costs if it allows me an extra day or special meal at my destination. Yes, I have been that person wearing six layers of clothing plus my heavy winter coat in September in order to fit everything else into a “personal item”. I take no shame in it. It has brought me some amazing experiences around the world.
That’s the kind of mentality that we try to share in our Wanderful community, too. That it’s not always about how you get somewhere – or even how far you go. What’s important is that you open your heart, say “yes” to adventure, and try something new. Sometimes our expectations of what travel should be limit us, and they shouldn’t.
But other times we must recognize the fact that it’s not always our mental limitations that keep us from traveling. Exploring really new and faraway places can simply be cost-prohibitive for many. That’s why it’s exciting when something like super low airfares comes into play – because it makes travel more accessible for people who may not have ever considered travel before. It’s what made trying out Norwegian appealing to me.
Broadening the Range
Many critics of low-fare airlines argue that these types of companies are bringing down the average quality of air travel. They scoff at not automatically including meals for everyone, or offering checked luggage (trust me, I used to be one of them).
But one thing I appreciated about my booking experience was a fabulously tiered booking structure.
With five different categories of ticket, you can book a LowFare ticket with no add-ons (I mean literally, prepare to bring your own meals and water), or a LowFare+ ticket with checked bags and meals, or a Flex ticket that you can switch the dates for free, or a premium cabin.
You can order LowFare and then purchase a meal in advance, or you can grab something in-flight from the snack bar with just the push of a button on your seat-back entertainment screen.
Plus, everyone gets free basic wifi — now, that’s a game changer.
Screenshot of Boston-> London flight options. I just pulled some random dates in February 2020 for this.
In this way, Norwegian isn’t “bringing down the quality” — it’s broadening the options. It’s making air travel more financially accessible, more possible, for many of those who wouldn’t be able to consider air travel before — budget travelers, families, people with limited finances, and beyond.
To this I say, fly on.