It’s been in the works for years, and now it’s official. Norwegian last week unveiled its first 737 MAX schedules for transatlantic flights and put them on sale. Three points in the US will be connected to five points in Ireland and the UK. This is actually a rather momentous occasion, and it’s without question the first of many more to come (not just at Norwegian) thanks to this bad boy:
Yes, there are 737s that have crossed the Pond before. PrivatAir 737s in an all-Business configuration have flown over the ocean for years. WestJet has done some flying from far Eastern Canada to Europe on its 737s. I do remember Icelandair flying a 737-400 from Halifax to Keflavik, but I can’t really call Iceland to Canada to be transatlantic. Those, however, are outliers. In the future, the 737 won’t be an outlier, and Norwegian is ushering in that era. The new 737 MAX has the range to finally connect some Eastern US cities with Western Europe. And Norwegian is happy to be a pioneer in using it for that purpose. Here’s the map:
For the airport-code-challenged, from left to right that’s Newburgh/Stewart (about 10 hours north of New York City by barge), Hartford (gateway to, uh, East Hartford), and the mighty Providence (preferred airport of Quahog residents).
It is no mistake that Boston and New York City are also on this map. Norwegian is really hoping that it can pull people from those monstrous cities out into these alternate airports, where gates are cheap and runways are empty. I’ve already written about Stewart.
Looking at all these routes, none of them have overlap with existing nonstop service, unsurprisingly. There is, of course, nonstop service from Boston to Dublin and Shannon as well as from New York to Dublin, Shannon, and Edinburgh. But Logan, JFK, and Newark are a long way from Providence and Stewart.
Norwegian is coming into this with differing summer and winter schedules, as you’d hope. Here’s a brief breakdown of how the flights will operate:
|City Paris||Summer Frequencies||Winter Frequencies|
|Providence-Edinburgh||4x weekly||2x weekly|
|Providence-Cork||3x weekly||2x weekly|
|Providence-Dublin||5x weekly||3x weekly|
|Providence-Shannon||2x weekly||2x weekly|
|Hartford-Edinburgh||3x weekly||2x weekly|
|Stewart-Belfast||3x weekly||2x weekly|
|Stewart-Shannon||3x weekly||2x weekly|
When you first see all these lines on a route map, you probably assume there’s a ton of flying actually being done. But Norwegian is going Allegiant-style here with some sub-daily flying so there are fewer than 6 a day each way. This is very clearly aimed at the leisure traveler and not the business traveler, though undoubtedly Norwegian will attract some business travelers… the ones who aren’t on an expense account, at least.
To accomplish this flying, Norwegian is going to base two 737 MAX 8s at both Providence and Stewart. (Hartford presumably will be served by an aircraft based in Europe.) What’s interesting is how much extra time Norwegian will have available on those airplanes.
These flights aren’t being operated at crazy times just to ramp up aircraft utilization. Eastbound flights leave the US between 7:30pm and 10:30pm arriving in Europe in the morning. Westbound flights leave Europe between 3:30pm and 5:30pm. So we have four airplanes that will spend hours and hours just sitting on the ground in Europe, right? No way.
That kind of schedule means Norwegian can easily fly an intra-Europe roundtrip before having to head back to the US. Today, of the five cities seeing service to the US, only Edinburgh and Dublin have Norwegian service within Europe. And in both those cities, the handful of flights are operated by airplanes that come in from elsewhere and then turn right back around. I assume it’s only a matter of time before we hear about new flights from all these cities to points within Europe to keep aircraft utilization up and to build connecting options.
And really, connections are going to be hugely important over time. It will be easy for the big guys to compete out of JFK/Newark/Boston to these same cities if they so choose (and you know they will). But once you throw in connections to a bunch of smaller European cities without the same price pressure, it gets harder to compete. Is Norwegian going to be able to run enough connections to make a difference? No, but that’s what Ryanair and easyJet are for.
Looking at the seat map, Norwegian is going to put 189 seats on the 737 MAX 8, all in coach. That’s pretty similar to what Norwegian has on its 737-800s now, and it doesn’t leave much room for your legs. But for many people, a cheap fare is going to make it worthwhile anyway.
Norwegian did do some splashy intro fares for under $100, but there weren’t a ton of those. Still, fares are going to be pretty low, especially in the winter when Norwegian is going to have a heck of a time trying to fill these airplanes. In particular, with one-way pricing, this will be a huge bargain compared to the traditional airlines.
So for now, if you want a cheap flight, you’ll be able to find one… just not as cheap as you saw in the press release. I will remain skeptical that Norwegian can pull this off until I see proof otherwise, but I do think Norwegian is setting itself up as well as could be hoped for in a secondary airport. Even if this doesn’t work, others will find a way to make it happen. (It could be Norwegian with a revised plan, for all I know.) This is just the first attempt at what is bound to be a big change in transatlantic travel.
[Images via Norwegian/CC 3.0]