by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, October 12, 2018
Norwegian has ousted British Airways to become the European airline that flies the most passengers to or from New York.
According to data from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the low-cost airline carried 1.67 million passengers in or out of the region’s airports during the 12 months to the end of July - a shade more than the 1.63 million flown by BA.
The figures represent a significant changing of the guard and illustrate just how quickly Norwegian is wresting the upper hand from its UK rival. They also explain why IAG, BA’s parent company, chose to launch its own low-cost carrier - Level - last year, offering long-haul services from Paris, Barcelona and Vienna (but not yet Britain), before repeatedly attempting to buy Norwegian this summer.
BA also recently extended its “basic economy” fares, which do not include checked luggage or seat selection, to include selected long-haul routes.
Norwegian’s first transatlantic service - from Oslo to JFK - took off just over five years ago. Today it flies to 15 US airports (including JFK, Newark and Stewart International, around 60 miles north of New York City) as well as two in Canada. UK travellers can fly non-stop with Norwegian to 13 of those American cities.
Last year we highlighted how Norwegian was rapidly closing the gap to BA, increasing its transatlantic winter capacity by 111 per cent year-on-year, from just over 400,000 seats to almost 860,000 (BA, conversely, registered a 1.1 per cent increase). BA was still shown to be the biggest airline for flights between Europe and North America, however, with a 2017 winter capacity of 1.87m, putting it ahead of Delta, United and Lufthansa.
Which is better for transatlantic flights: BA or Norwegian?
According to the annual World Airline Awards, dubbed the “Oscars of the aviation industry”, BA is the 31st best airline on the planet. That’s a far cry from its 2006 heyday, when it topped the table (this year’s number one is Singapore Airlines).
The awards are based on the opinions of travellers - Skytrax, the company behind them, claims more than 20 million people took part in the 2017/2018 survey - and while BA is sliding down the charts, Norwegian’s star is rising. It came 32nd this year – up from 74th back in 2012 and only one place below BA.
BA casts a wider net when it comes to transatlantic flights, giving Britons the chance to fly non-stop to 26 US cities.
Both airlines serve Boston, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, LA, New York, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle, but only BA can take you direct to the likes of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Nashville, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Washington DC.
BA’s A380s offer 31 inches of seat pitch in economy and 17.5 inches of width, as do its 787 Dreamliners and its 747s.
Norwegian offers a shade less width (17.2 inches), but the same amount of legroom.
It’s a tie
Food and drink
BA’s long-haul passengers, even those that opt for a “basic economy” fare, still get a free meal. Norwegian’s don’t.
BA passengers can bring hand luggage weighing up to 23kg, with maximum dimensions of 56 x 45 x 25 cm, if they opt for basic economy. Regular fares include free checked luggage too.
Norwegian’s hand luggage limit is far stingier: 10kgs and 55 x 40 x 23cms. Checked luggage costs extra.
Norwegian’s long-haul services use sleek and shiny 787 Dreamliners, unless it's replaced by a charter airline. BA is slowly modernising its fleet, and has 20-odd 787s in service, but it still flies a large number of older aircraft, including 36 747s with an average age of 22 years. While these are still undoubtedly safe, they don’t quite compare to a spanking new jet in terms of both passenger experience and environmental efficiency.
The all-important factor for the majority of passengers is price. And, despite BA’s best efforts to cut costs and compete, it still falls woefully short. Even those who opt for “basic economy” will find cheaper fares with Norwegian.
The lowest priced tickets from London to New York JFK in November, for example, start at £155 one-way (for a November 4, 11, 13, 18 departures), while for most days there are seats available for £165. The best BA can manage next month is an extortionate £1,565.
The other low-cost long-haul players
It isn’t a straight shoot-off between BA and Norwegian, however. Another option is WOW, which flies to 13 US cities, including several served by neither BA or Norwegian (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, St Louis and Pittsburgh), plus Montreal and Toronto. There’s a significant catch, however. All services from the UK include a stopover in Reykjavik.
Level, meanwhile, owned by BA’s parent company IAG, launched last year offering low-cost flights from Europe to Boston, LA, Newark, Oakland and Montreal (as well as Punta Cana and Buenos Aires). The only problem for British fliers? It is based in Barcelona, Paris and Vienna.
The competitive marketplace has put paid to one pretender. Primera Air, founded in Iceland, headquartered in Latvia, and with a Danish operating license, recently ceased trading having offered services from Stansted to Toronto, Boston and New York.