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Norwegian Economy Review Oakland (OAK) to Stockholm (ARN) 787
Ever since Norwegian started flights to the US in 2013 I wanted to try them. Norwegian has been building a loyal fan base over the years and I really liked my flight with them from Norway to the UK during the summer.
I had booked the flights directly on norwegian.no rather than the US site, since it was an additional $70 cheaper for the round-trip! I ended up paying just about $260 for the return flights, which included no extras like food, baggage or seat selection.
I arrived early for the check-in at Oakland Airport (there is NO online check-in for US flights) and it opened just about 4 hours out. I was the 16th passenger to check in. The friendly agent made it clear that the flight was sold out. I asked if there was an aisle seat and he assigned it to me. He required me to weigh my carry-on and travel backpack, which were each at 10kg and 5 kg – easily above the carry-on allowance of 10kg total for ALL your cabin belongings. Much to my surprise he did not comment on it at all and gave me cabin tags for both right away.
There was no line at TSA and I was through security in seconds. Norwegian has just invested (together with MAG USA) in the Escape Lounge in Terminal 1 at Oakland Airport. For now it is only accessible for Norwegian Premium passengers to Stockholm, Barcelona and London. There are plans to make it a Priority Pass lounge (the first at this airport) but there is no agreement yet.
I snapped a couple of picture thanks to the friendly attendant but did not use the lounge.
Oakland Airport is a rather calm affair outside of the morning and evening rush hours and I found a quiet spot. Armed with a Starbucks espresso and my Boingo subscription (for faster airport WiFi) I had a productive 3 hours before boarding was called.
‘My’ gate agent would treat this boarding as an ‘American Idol’ performance and kept entertaining the crowd with announcement after announcement. We ended up boarding 30 minutes late but his performance kept everyone on their toes.
Norwegian boards using rows; I was one of the last people to board as I was up front in the main cabin.
There was plenty of overhead bin space left for my carry-on and the whole 3-3-3 config seemed less crowded than I’d feared. Not that it was spacious, but I did not feel cramped until – just a few minutes after take-off – the passenger in front of me reclined and then tried to go to sleep – oh well!
I really liked the videos Norwegian played; the safety video is short and not so annoying and the video to introduce you to its 787 aircraft is very well-crafted.
This particular plane seemed brand new. The flight was indeed 100% full and mostly kids and retirees ruled this transatlantic crossing. The pilot promised to make up some of the delay and after an endless set of turns we got a proper northerly heading.
Norwegian equips each set with a big LCD screen that is very responsive. In addition to a good number of recent movies and TV shows, there is also a snack bar. Most people around me had pre-ordered a meal, which comes out about an hour after take-off.
Most alcoholic drinks are $7 while snacks are around $5. I had brought some snacks and water with me and felt I could live without buying some on-board.
After some more work that evening, I started to watch a movie. It took me a while to realize that my seatmate (who I had just chatted with) had fainted twice in the aisle. Now all flight attendants and passengers with any medical knowledge came by (there was no doctor on board) and we all hoped he would get back on track. So he did and an emergency landing over Northern Canada wasn’t something we needed to do that day.
I tried to sleep a few hours and after I woke up we were just 30 minutes outside Stockholm – almost making up our initial delay. This was a dark, dreary day in Sweden (it gets dark as early as 2.30PM). Immigration was easy and I was then on my way to a connecting flight with SAS.
Norwegian Economy Review Stockholm (ARN) to Oakland (OAK) 787
Just 10 days later, it was time for my return flight with Norwegian. I had an inbound flight with SAS from Vilnius and only had two hours of layover. Norwegian had moved flight times since I booked, making it 30 minutes earlier. I was at check-in just about 90 minutes before the scheduled take-off.
The gate agent was exceptionally friendly and offered to re-seat us together in an empty row. Apparently the plane would only be about 50% full, which seems a rare sight with Norwegian. Unfortunately I got the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass; it’s been over a year since it came off.
Since we had not bought any on-board food with our ticket, it was time to find some food at Stockholm Airport. While there is plenty of quality food at the airport it’s also really expensive. It wasn’t crowded thankfully and with snacks in hand we went to the gate. The stern agent told me that they close the gate entrance 20 minutes prior to departure and it was now 30 minutes from departure. I still managed to check out the Priority Pass lounge near Gate 59. It’s a decent lounge with a limited view, but there was some hot food and a good mix of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on offer.
Now nothing special was done for my SSSS at security. I had asked the agent, who told me that it would be done at the gate, but all I got was a secondary check of bomb-making materials in the gate area. It all seemed to be done in a very clumsy way and took all but a few minutes. There were about 20 people from my flight on the SSSS list that day – quite a large proportion of just 129 passengers.
While boarding was quick with so few passengers, baggage and cargo would take a bit longer due to a delay. Passengers spread out quickly despite a stern warning by the cabin crew that the plane would become unbalanced. I wondered how a 787 can really become unbalanced by people spreading out evenly?
This flight is interesting as it starts out at 2PM in Sweden and by the time we took off it was almost sunset time at 2.30PM. For the next few hours all I could see was sunset clouds to the front left side of the airplane – like a supercharged sunset for 8+ hours. The pilots union must have requested this one for their enjoyment.
Since I had a whole row to myself, I slept well for almost 6 hours before arriving into rainy Oakland.
Arriving at the airport was easy and there was Global Entry with two working machines. Immigration and customs could have not been more friendly or efficient and I was out in seconds (the first person to leave the immigration hall).