by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, March 29, 2018
I’ve just landed at New York’s JFK airport, not so fresh off a flight from London Gatwick, and I'll be back here again in just a few hours.
Why? Because Norwegian Air now operates double-daily flights across the Atlantic starting at £269 return, which means you’ll be eating breakfast in London, lunch in New York and dinner back in London again. Provided you think 13 hours on a plane is worth it, which is what I’m here to find out.
I approach the immigration officer’s booth, and present my passport.
Officer: “How long are you staying in the States, Miss?”
Me: “I’m leaving tonight.”
Me: “Tonight, I’m only here for the day.”
Officer: Pause. Puzzlement. “Why?”
Me: “It’s a new flight route I’m trying.”
Officer: “What hotel are you staying at?”
Me: “I’m not, on account of me leaving tonight.”
Officer: “Miss, I’m going to need an address.”
Me: Pause. Puzzlement. “The Ritz?”
Officer: Wry smile. Stamps passport. “Welcome to New York.”
Here’s how it works: Norwegian’s earliest flight out of Gatwick leaves for JFK at 6.20am (GMT), getting you into New York for 9am (ET), with its last homebound flight departing at 10.30pm (ET), getting you back to foggy London for 9.30am (GMT). You’re spending as much time in the air as you are in the Big Apple, and the only sleep you’ll get over the 30-hour ordeal will be on the plane. Here’s how it went...
4am: I awake, quite by chance, having failed to set my alarm properly. This is not a good start. If I weren’t already at the airport, in one of Yotel’s on-site sleeping chambers, I would have missed my flight, which would have made for a very dull travel story. Hurriedly I gather my possessions and make a dash - tired and mad-haired - to Gatwick’s check-in counters.
4.30am: I needn't have panicked. The airport is quiet and I breeze through security, then find a pub to sit in. Is it really, really early? Or really, exceptionally late? Late, I decide, which means I can have a glass of wine. My plan is sleep through as much of this plane journey as possible: coffee would hinder this.
6am: I have boarded the plane - Norwegian’s shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliner - mercifully secured myself a window seat, and feel suitably woozy and exhausted for the seven-hour flight ahead. There’s a lot riding on this planned chunk of shut-eye. Should I fail, there is no conceivable way I’ll be able to stay conscious for the duration of the very long day that awaits me in New York. Succeed, and I’m in with a shot.
9.20am (NYC time): I’ve landed at JFK, having managed a less-than ideal three hours and surrendered, at last, to coffee.
10:30am: The security queue is lengthy, but I’m carrying hand luggage only, so no waiting at the baggage carousel. It will be exactly 12 hours until I’m back again to fly home. I order myself an Uber into town, which is unnecessarily extravagant but I’m so tired that already I’m making reckless financial choices. Locating the Uber driver, who is on the wrong level, proves frustrating, made worse by the fact that he is not on the wrong level, I am.
11am: I lived in New York for five years and have visited countless times on top of that, but I still get the same thrill every time the skyscrapers spring into view. All the tired cliches are true - no other city in the world provokes this feeling. I couldn’t tell you why this is, but it’s enough to jolt me temporarily into a state of wakefulness.
11.30am: With less than an hour before I meet friends for lunch, I circle the streets aimlessly, my eyes like slits, my hair still mad. Usually, this is the part of any trip where you check into the hotel, do a bit of unpacking, have a shower and gather yourself. But today, I feel a little lost.
12.30pm: My friends have swooped in to Chelsea’s meatpacking district and we’re having lunch at Blossom, my favourite restaurant here. I’m by now on my fifth cup of coffee, and vibrating in my seat. Two glasses of wine bring me down to normal(ish). I’m balancing my uppers and downers with admirable precision.
1pm: It’s now 5pm in UK-time, and in comes the second wind - I'm suddenly very awake. This actually makes sense, given that I’m an unwavering night owl, and my bodyclock has told me that nightfall is nearing. Back in England, no matter how sleep-deprived I might be, I perk up as soon as the sun goes down, which is really unhelpful for my early morning starts, but turns out to be a surprise bonus today.
3pm: We’re on a mission, my friends and I, to reach Central Park for a crisp winter wander. Jubilantly, I suggest we get there by way of the charming rickshaw that crosses our path. This is great fun until we are presented with the bill: £40 for a 12-minute ride - albeit a freezing slog for our cyclist through the chaos that is 8th Avenue. I part with the cash. Buyer’s remorse sets in.
4pm: A brisk turn in the park, another coffee, and I’m roughly halfway through my allotted time. Morale is high.
5pm: The sky darkens so we hightail it to the Rockefeller Center, its skating rink, and surrounding neon-lit streets. I’ve gone full-tourist by now, fuelled by the novelty of this whole scenario, to the point of purchasing a jumper with flashing lights on it.
6pm: We head into a bar for our goodbyes, and because my caffeine levels need balancing. Everyone in this bar loves my jumper, and tells me so. This is because they, too, are all tourists.
7pm: The time has come for me to head back to the airport - via Uber, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb by this point - and I have to say I’m surprised. I had expected my day to drag a little, at least in parts. But I’d remained sprightly for the duration (thank you coffee, thank you wine) and it had flown past. Praise be to the gods of travel.
8pm: Spoke too soon. I’m back at JFK, and it’s hideous. Every man and his wife has piled in for rush hour, and the caterpillar queue for security is so long and slow-shuffling, it’s alarming. Tolerance levels are fairly low at this point, and there’s a rare break in my steely British silence. Twice, I audibly huffed.
10.30pm: Now no longer human, I am instead a high-functioning zombie - capable of walking, following signs and glaring, but little else. The advantage to this being that I’m asleep before the plane even takes off, and effectively miss the entirety of today’s second transatlantic flight.
10am (London time): I wake as my fellow passengers start disembarking the plane, and I can’t say I feel refreshed. Am I jet-lagged? Was there even time to get jet-lagged? I have no answers, only questions, as I head off in search of the road home.
10.30am: Getting another Uber would be unjustifiable so I’m pretty sure I end up paying £35 for a Gatwick Express ticket to Victoria and then get on the Tube instead, though my memory is hazy. It takes ages. I’m hungover. My hair is madder than it’s ever been. And I'm wearing a flashing jumper.
Noon: Finally home, and it feels like I’ve been gone a week. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and another day stretches ahead of me. I go straight to bed.
Conclusion - was it worth it?
Absolutely. Would I do it again? No, once is probably enough.
In terms of value, the ticket cost £269 and I spent almost exactly the same again on things like getting to and from the airport. What I would say, however, is that staying overnight at Yotel’s Gatwick outpost was worth the money, and a definite game-changer. An extra few hours in bed before a 4am check-in makes all the difference when you’re up against a whole day in New York on barely any sleep. The rickshaw? Not worth it.
Norwegian (norwegian.com/uk; 0330 828 0854) operates twice daily nonstop flights from London Gatwick to New York JFK. Same day return fares start from £269 return and £824 in Premium, which includes spacious seating with more than a metre of legroom and lounge access.
Yotel (yotel.com) has rooms at Gatwick Airport's South Terminal starting at £37 for a standard cabin that sleeps one, and £49 for a premium cabin that sleeps two. Guests can book for a minimum of four hours. All cabins are equipped with en-suite bathrooms, flat screen TVs and free Wifi.