The analysts were wrong… It’s the New Year and the low-cost airline Norwegian hasn’t gone bust – despite some nasty rumours at the end of last year that suggested the carrier was close to defaulting on its huge debt pile. But while Norwegian has acknowledged it has a problem (and is in the process of a multi-million dollar cost-cutting plan), that doesn’t mean it is going to completely cut back the passenger experience.
In fact, Norwegian is still making huge investments to improve its product and has just become the first airline to offer free in-flight WiFi across the Atlantic. Rather unusually for a low-cost airline, Norwegian has offered free (but agonisingly slow) WiFi on much of its short-haul fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft for several years but this is the first time the service has been made available on long-haul flights.
The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner (tail number: G-CKWP) to have the super-fast Collins Aerospace enabled WiFi installed went into service in mid-December and regularly flies between London Gatwick and New York JFK, as well as Buenos Aires. Norwegian expects to have WiFi installed on at least 50% of its long-haul fleet, including single-aisle 737MAX aircraft by 2020.
According to Norwegian, over 3,000 passengers tested the system over the Holiday season and the feedback has been “extremely positive”. Even on a full-flight, over 160 passengers apparently connected to WiFi at the same time without problem.
The free package gives access to email and social media messaging, as well as basic web browsing. A premium paid version enables faster web browsing, along with film and music streaming. Full-service airline, Delta is the only North Atlantic competitor that offers a free WiFi plan on connected flights but that service only gives access to social media messaging and not web browsing.
Norwegian says it is also in the process of upgrading its WiFi service on short-haul flights where a premium paid service will soon be made available.
The Oslo-based carrier has an “ambitious” plan to save something in the region of $350 million USD over the next 12-months as part of a massive cost-cutting strategy. The airline says it has been negatively affected by engine problems on its Dreamliner fleet, although the carrier is expected to be offered a massive payout by engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce over the debacle.
Norwegian’s rapid long-haul expansion has also caused the airline significant growing pains and talks are still underway with an unnamed business partner for a joint venture to refinance its fleet.