Budget carrier Norwegian Airlines has announced that it will start non-stop service between Singapore and London from September this year.
According to the press release, one-way fares from Singapore to London will start at S$199 for economy and S$839 for premium-class with the following schedule
It looks like that the press release was incomplete, as from November 2017 the Friday departure from Singapore moves to a much more sensible 10.50pm slot, allowing you to start your vacation on Friday without taking an additional day of leave.
The route is expected to start in late Sept/early October, but in the meantime, here are a few things you should know about the new Singapore-London route.
You’re flying to Gatwick, not Heathrow
One of the ways that Norwegian can keep prices low(er) is by flying to London Gatwick (LGW) instead of London Heathrow (LHR). LHR is a major international hub and as you can expect, landing slots sell at an obscene premium ($75M for a prime slot, anyone?)
What does that mean for you as a traveler? Well, let’s look at where the two airports are on a map
I’m taking Paddington Station as the de facto centre of London for the purposes of this illustration. You’ll see that Heathrow (dot 2 on the map) appears to be closer than Gatwick (dot 1 on the map)
But that’s not the whole story- in terms of public transport (trains in particular), Heathrow and Gatwick have very different options
Heathrow is served by
- Heathrow Express (15 mins to Central London, GBP 5.50 one-way if booked 90 days in advance for weekends, otherwise GBP14-25)
- Tube (1 hour to Central London, GBP5-6 any time)
Gatwick is served by
- Gatwick Express (30 mins to Central London, GBP 17)
- Thameslink (80 mins to Central London, GBP 20)
- Southern ( 80 mins to Central London, GBP 20)
The biggest difference is there is no tube option for Gatwick (although Oyster cards are accepted for payment). Anecdotal stories on Flyertalk suggest that Gatwick is less congested than Heathrow as well.
Landing at Gatwick also means there will also be implications for Singapore passengers looking to use the Norwegian flight as a means of connecting to the rest of Europe- depending on where your connecting flight departs from, you may need to budget more time or money.
Fortunately, Gatwick has a wide variety of carriers like Ryanair, Vueling, WOW Air and Norwegian Air Shuttle that can connect you to your onward destination, which should minimize the need to change airport.
Norwegian has 5 types of fares
If you’re flying in economy, you’ll have a choice of booking a Lowfare, Lowfare+ or Flex ticket. If you’re flying in premium, you have the option of Premium or Premium Flex. You can see the differences in each ticket above.
It obviously defeats the purpose of buying a budget airline ticket if you opt for Flex. I mean, SQ’s promotional return economy rates to London are S$1,218, so a one-way Norwegian ticket for S$1,190 just doesn’t make sense.
Based on what I can see, the cheapest possible option for a Norwegian round trip to London is about S$520.
In case you were wondering, it will cost you 76,000 Krisflyer miles and ~S$240 of taxes to travel round trip to London in economy. Despite the removal of fuel surcharges during the recent Krisflyer devaluation, surcharges on UK award flights remain high because of the Air Passenger Duty that the UK authorities charge.
From a quick search on Kayak, the cheapest flights to London are with Air France at S$878. These aren’t direct, however, and require a 90 min layover in CDG. Direct flights would start upwards of S$1,200.
So on the surface, Norwegian appears to be offering a very good deal for a direct flight.
Of course, there’s always the add-ons…
Prepare to be upsold
I suppose it’s part and parcel of opting for a budget carrier that you’ll be upsold left right centre. That said, Norwegian isn’t half as egregious as some other carriers– for starters, none of these add ons are gotcha style pre-selected options.
Where luggage is concerned, it costs you S$45 for 1 bag (max 20kg) and S$100 for 2, per way (the prices are the same SIN-LGW and LGW-SIN).
It costs S$45 to select a seat, but interestingly Norwegian does not seem to discriminate among “better” exit row seats and regular seats. It costs you the same amount of money to pre-select a middle seat at the back of a plane as it does an exit row one.
Note that Norwegian has 3-3-3 seating in economy and 2-3-2 in premium.
Meals on Norwegian aren’t cheap at S$45 (this covers 2 meals on the SIN-LGW flight)
As per the Norwegian website, here’s what you can expect.
- A hot meal including beer, wine or mineral water during the service
- You get to choose between two different dinner options. Which one of the options you want you decide on board.
- You’ll get a small starter, a main course and something sweet to go with your coffee afterwards.
- Got a special dietary requirement? Don’t worry. We’ve got alternatives for you.
- On flights with two meal services you’ll also get a light meal
You should also be aware that the second “meal” isn’t much of a meal, more like a cold item.
- A cold pasta/salad starter
- For the main course you have the choice between either a meat or fish dish with vegetables and potatoes or rice
- The meal is rounded off with a dessert
- Coffee/tea is served after the meal
- A snack bag which includes a sandwich, a sweet or savoury treat and a juice box
Just what is the Norwegian Air experience like, anyway?
Given that the flight is blocked at 13h 40 mins outbound and 12h 40 mins inbound, I imagine a lot of people want to know what they can expect on the aircraft.
Here are trip reports from Norwegian Air’s 787 economy and premium cabins respectively to give you some idea. All seats on the 787 have free IFE and every 3 seats share 2 power sockets. Each seat will also have a USB socket under the IFE screen. Norwegian offers free Wifi on some flights, but it doesn’t look like they’ve extended this to long haul international yet.
Again, it’s difficult to describe the product without actually trying it, but it seems like apart from the absence of a free meal, your cabin experience would not be too different from flying any other full service carrier.
Would I take it?
The flight definitely looks like a spectacular deal to London. 13 hours is a long time, but Norwegian’s cabin doesn’t look particularly punitive in the way that Ryanair or Spirit try to make theirs. In fact, with free IFE and presence of charging outlets, you could argue this would be no different from any other long haul flight.
I think it’s great that long haul budget options are finally coming to Singapore, and I hope the additional competition compels SQ/BA to reduce their cheapest economy fares on this route.
That said, I would probably look to redeem miles (for premium cabin travel) to London, then take a cheap flight to Paris to avoid APD on the return leg to Singapore.