Back in the 1970s when I was growing up, international travel was presented as fun and glamorous. Alan Whicker seemed to relish the chance to fly, hob-knobbing with the rock stars, rich sheiks and Joan Collins. And he put it all on his Barclaycard. But that was 1976. And 40 years later, the glitz has gone, thanks to low cost airlines. You won’t be offered champagne. But they’ll probably flog you scratchcards.
But not all no-frills flights are the same. I was impressed by Norwegian in January 2015 when I took the short flight from London Gatwick to Oslo. The seats were reasonably room with a 30-inch pitch. And I experienced a flying first – free on-board Wi-Fi. It’s good fun Facebooking friends with a view from a plane that they can see flying high overhead. So when I heard that I could take the 9-hour flight from Gatwick to the American Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, starting at £115 one way, I jumped at the chance.
“More jet, less lag,” announced the transatlantic voice on the video that played as we taxied away from Gatwick’s South terminal. The company is very proud of their Dreamliner aircraft, which the voiceover says is fitted with smart cabin lighting that changes in flight and reduces the risk of being disorientated with the time difference. The air is cleaner inside and as the aircraft uses less fuel, they’re saving the planet and you’re saving quite a few quid. So what about other signs of cost-cutting?
I couldn’t see them and to call this a low-cost airline does Norwegian an injustice. Each seat has somewhere to charge up your device, a rarity in economy. The food was good. There were two choices – meat or fish. The reasonably sized salmon slab was tasty, as was the tomato-ey sauce and couscous. It came with a small pasta and feta starter and then dessert was a passable white chocolate pudding. I’d happily choose to eat that menu again. That’s something I can’t say of my recent BA travel. And I didn’t expect to be offered the free glass of wine either.
Everything you expect is provided through a tablet device in the seat rest. You can swipe your credit card and order extra snacks and booze. It’s not cheap. The woman next to me had a sort of toasted sandwich and a small bottle of champagne for $32. The only downside, maybe, is the relatively small choice of new movies. You can pick from around a dozen on demand, with additional selections of classic films. The entertainment is free, but bring you own headphones.
A final observation is that the staff smile, are courteous and pleasant. Again, not always a given. So thank you Oslo – this one-man United Kingdom jury is awarding you douze points. Cheap really can be cheerful.