by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, January 16, 2019
Norwegian, the low-cost carrier that offers flights from the UK to around a dozen US cities, has quietly scrapped airport lounge access for its Premium ticket-holders.
Only those who pay for a PremiumFlex fare, which costs considerably more, will retain the benefit.
The change applies to all bookings made after December 21 and has been lamented by passengers. Previously Norwegian was the only major airline operating in the UK to offer lounge access to those who purchase a premium economy fare, albeit only for those taking a long-haul flight.
“Norwegian has well publicised financial difficulties, but this is still a disappointing move,” said Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website headforpoints.com. “The timing is surprising as Norwegian was meant to be main user of the new My Lounge in London Gatwick’s South Terminal, which opened a couple of weeks ago. While it is independently operated by No 1 Lounges, and accepts cash visitors, it is branded as ‘The home of Norwegian’ but will no longer be seeing many Norwegian passengers.”
Twitter users who booked flights from Gatwick with the airline in recent weeks have complained that the changes were not communicated to them directly or publicised. “Feels like a ‘bait and switch’ to have upgraded to Premium with the promise of lounge access, only to be denied entry at the lounge’s front desk because it wasn’t PremiumFlex,” said one, who claimed they saw several other passengers with Premium tickets turned away.
A Norwegian spokesperson told Telegraph Travel: “Premium customers travelling on flexible tickets receive complimentary lounge access at selected airports* in addition to all Premium bookings made before December 21, as per the original terms of their ticket.
“We continuously evaluate our product and service to ensure that we are meeting our customers’ expectations. Customers can pay for lounge access if they wish and Norwegian Reward members can benefit from discounted entry at London Gatwick.”
One-off access can be purchased through a number of providers, such as Lounge Pass and Dragon Pass.
Despite the move, Norwegian’s Premium offering still stands up well against its transatlantic rivals. Legroom or seat “pitch” ranges from 43 to 46 inches (compared to 38 inches in BA’s World Traveller Plus), while prices are usually far cheaper too. One-way Premium fares to New York in February, for example, can currently be found for as little as £400 (PremiumFlex costs £640), compared to around £1,900 for BA’s World Traveller Plus.
The move suggests Norwegian is seeking to cut costs and improve its financial position following some heavy losses ($234m for 2016 and $456m for 2017). Industry insiders predicted the worst last year, with dramatic headlines about “predators circling”, but the airline surprised everyone last July when it reported a second quarter profit. October brought more good news: a Q3 profit of $156m. Winter is a tough time to be an airline, however, and the recent downfall of two low-cost long-haul carriers, Primera and Joon, as well as the woes of a third, Icelandic airline WOW, demonstrate just how carefully it needs to navigate.
*The airports are Bangkok, Barcelona, Boston, Copenhagen, Gatwick, LA, Madrid, New York (JFK and Newark), Oakland, Oslo, Paris, Seattle and Stockholm.