a white airplane in the sky

Norwegian is in an uphill battle, and they may have just accidentally pressed the wrong button on the treadmill, or taken a wrong turn, as the saying goes.

Major airlines are bullying Norwegian by matching their prices, but offering things like bonafide loyalty programs, meals and full sized carry ons. It’s a price war to the bottom, where legacy carriers benefit from deeper pockets and more lucrative benefits.

To counter, Norwegian has made the obscure decision to start charging for full sized carry on’s, much like Ryanair. That might work if there was a glaring price difference between traditional airlines and Norwegian, but when prices are the same and you offer even less than you currently do, it’s a head scratcher…

a white airplane in the skyNew Norwegian Carry On Policy

For the most part, the most alluring draw of Norwegian Airlines is their “low fares”, which is precisely what makes this move hard to understand. Anyone purchasing a Norwegian Air “Low Fare” from Jan 23 2020 onward will need to pay an additional $12 for a full sized carry on, or bag requiring overhead bin space. It’s $8 for short haul flights. Those prices are “each way”.

Norwegian made a video to spin their new policy, for your viewing pleasure…

Customers purchasing Norwegian “Low Fare +” tickets, the middle of the road option will still receive a carry on and personal item as before, in addition to a checked bag. These fares can be significantly more expensive, but can also bridge the gap for those who need a checked bag. Norwegian has an oddly low weight limit, where the personal item and full sized carry on cannot exceed a weight of 10kg in total.

To put that into perspective, even the lightest of full sized carry on’s weigh over 3kg, so you’re nearly at a third of your total allowed weight before you’ve placed a singular item into said bag, or added a small personal item bag as well. Shoes aren’t exactly light either.

When Norwegian first came out, the thought was “you can probably get rid of your full sized check bag if you learn to pack your carry on well”. Now, you can’t even have a full sized carry on without paying more, so it’s hard to understand how this might “help passengers be more comfortable”.

away carry-onPutting Norwegian’s Changes Into Perspective

Basically, if you buy one of the headline grabbing low fares Norwegian offers, you’re no longer able to bring anything more than a backpack, without paying an additional $12 on a long haul flight each way. That policy has done alright for Ryanair on European flights, but the last airline to try this on long haul was WOW Air, who now are nothing more than a cafe in Washington DC, sans planes.

As travellers, we owe a debt of gratitude to Norwegian for transforming long haul travel into the price competitive market it now is, much like Ryanair and EasyJet did with short haul in Europe. Sadly, for Norwegian, gratitude does not pay the bills, and as customers feel additional service squeezes while major airlines continue to deliver record smashing low fares, the death rattle feels closer than ever…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Where is the problem here?
    I travel around the world just with my small backpack with a total 8kgs.

  2. I like using Norwegian Air for cheap long haul flights. I travel with my two children. We have used it to fly from Singapore to London yet they stopped this route. We used it last year to fly from Copenhagen to Bangkok and from Los Angeles to Stockholm. I loved paying the lowest airfare and being able to take up to 10 kg for my hand luggage. We also took flights with Air Asia and they allowed around 7 kg each. So we got overcharged at Cebu Airport. We will fly from Barcelona to Miami in April. So begin our trip will will fly from London on Ryan Air. We are already feeling worried out there rules for hand luggage.

  3. Can we say, “Calling JetBlue, hello this is London. Please report to the former Norwegian Gates in London and possibly beyond!”

    I can hardly wait!

    1. Except Norwegian are at Gatwick and I can’t imagine that’s what JetBlue want. They want Heathrow and enough slots to make it workable.

  4. Norwegian’s competition is largely with FR and EZ. My guess is that this move, which aligns with FR rather than EZ, is in response to FR’s move on hand baggage. If it sticks, expect to see EZ follow. And I don’t recall ever seeing, when searching, a legacy carrier have fares which were similar to, or cheaper than, Norwegian.

    Long haul, however, is different and I cannot understand who could contemplate travelling long haul without hand baggage. Also, when checking, I always find that most of the legacies are price matching, or undercutting, Norwegian. It only therefore is competitive on one way tickets.

  5. If a person’s carry-on weighs 3kg empty, they may want to consider getting a new one…ditching the wheels and going with a travel-pack design. My 1.3 kg model has proven invaluable over the past decade+, allowing me to fly on the cheap with carriers that have cabin bag limits as stingy as 7kg.

    As for Norwegian’s ability to complete, I think the author missed a key point; their prices are more consistently low to their key destinations (i.e. LON, PAR, BCN, and ROM) and are often available as the travel date closes in. That’s an important distinction for late decision-makers, whether impromptu travelers or procrastinators (yeah, “that guy/gal” who’s last to book on a group trip, I’m talkin’ about you). In contrast, the deep-pocket carriers typically match those markets prices more infrequently, with sales that come and go, and are less likely to be available 30 to 60 days out.

    All things considered, I think that a $139 o/w flight from SFO to BCN is still a value with a $12 bag fee added.

    1. Life without wheels… I can’t imagine it.

      I see your points re: fares to some extent, but I just wrote about $207 round trip fares on Delta, American and others to these key destinations, which include meals, full sized carry ons and miles, elite status benefits.

      This move, particularly on long haul makes Norwegian an obscure, borderline unusable option at the most attractive pricing…

      1. It’s called “carry on” for a reason.. It’s small/light enough to be carried. If it’s so heavy that you need wheels, it’s not carry on.

  6. One thing you are all missing. Norwegian is on shaky grounds financially and has been for awhile. Some of the travel insurance companies won’t cover them for financial default because of their financial situation.

  7. I have used Norwegian several times between Fort Lauderdale and Copenhagen and enjoyed the comfort in Premium Class, food not so much. Now I am at a loss to understand them cancelling this direct connection last fall just before the start of the popular South Florida winter season travel rush.

  8. I predict this will turn into the Air India model (and others), where if you dress nice but not too nice and the agent likes you, your bags go free and if not, you pay up.

  9. Like many others here, I’m missing the direct flights that attracted me to Norwegian in the first place. In my case, those are flights from OAK-ARN and CPH. If you want me to pay for overhead storage on your plane, you first have to fly to places I want to visit. I wish them luck though; I have average-to-fond memories of the several trips I’ve taken over the years on them.

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