Having flown across the Atlantic Ocean from the UK to Florida many times on almost all of the major airlines, as well as with some budget ones and in all cabin classes, I thought it was time to sample what was on offer from the ‘new kid on the block’…Norwegian Air Shuttle from Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale and return.
On studying the many variations of prices as to seating, food and on board amenities, I chose to fly in its Premium Cabin, selected and pre-booked the seat I wanted and the meal package and arrived at Gatwick at the time suggested by the airline.
Having an aversion to the self check-in systems now so prevalent – but which are so often confusing – I presented myself to one of the manned check-in desks. That process went smoothly and I was happy to learn that departure time was on schedule.
The Premium fare also included access to one of the airport’s lounges…the Number I Lounge. My first impression was one of dismay on noting the overcrowding and lack of seating. The word ‘lounge’ seemed to be a misnomer, as the majority of seats were upright dining chairs set around closely packed tables and the few actual ‘lounge seats’ were occupied.
The only hot food displayed on a table in the centre of the room, was a metal canister containing lukewarm carrot soup, from which customers had to self serve using an encrusted ladle. There were a few other food items available to order, such as a Bacon Roll, which on being served by one of the overworked staff, turned out to be a soggy concoction, which, after one bite, stayed untouched on the plate.
Three hours in this ‘lounge’ was certainly unsatisfactory and anything but comfortable.
Onwards to the departure gate where boarding was on time. The aircraft – a Dreamliner – is indeed a beautiful and quiet piece of modern engineering. The seats in the Premium Cabin came as a surprise, certainly more spacious, comfortable and cleverly designed than any I had experienced in the comparable cabins of the major, full service airlines, which ply the same route.
Each seat was equipped with a large touch-screen entertainment system with enough choices to satisfy the most ardent film buff and with games galore and a constantly available global information segment.
I found the cabin crew to be efficient, professional, smiley and willing to serve….AND…there were enough of them to cater without delay!
This outward leg exceeded my expectations in every department, except for the food and the manner in which it was served in a cardboard box containing both the hot meal of choice and other bits of food. Adding to that disappointment was when unwrapping the paper napkin and finding a tiny plastic knife, fork and spoon. I did not envisage such having paid for a Premium Cabin seat.
The nine and a half hour flight ‘across the pond’ went well and the aircraft landed spot on time, taxied to its designated stand out of sight of the terminal building before the seatbelt sign turned off and doors opened. Then came the next surprise and certainly not a welcome one, when on exiting passengers were faced with a steep set of metal stairs leading down to the ground.
Like one has seen on TV, Japanese commuters being herded and pressed into city trains, we experienced a similar process when having to climb aboard a bus and constantly being ordered to move closer and closer together to accommodate more passengers. Crammed like sardines, the bus began its long, long journey to the arrivals terminal to disembark. Then the real agony began.
Tortuous is the best word I can conjure to describe the journey through Fort Lauderdale’s so called ‘International Airport’. Aircraft were landing in constant streams, mostly from Caribbean Islands, Mexico and nearby countries, with their passengers adding to the chaotic situation inside the terminal.
Airport staff were rude, absolutely unwelcoming and carried an air of resentment that they had to perform their duties. Laggardly describes the immigration staff and ‘unbelievable’ best describes the staff who constantly shouted orders for passengers of certain flights to do this and that.
Eventually through immigration and into the tiny baggage claim hall. Two! Yes, Two carousels only – both empty and unmoving. During the HOUR that I spent waiting for the one on which my luggage was to appear, many hundreds of passengers completely filled the hall. Heated arguments could be heard, children were crying, elderly people having to sit on the floor because there were NO seats and in the rising temperature, tempers did similarly.
When my case eventually appeared and when trying to fight my way through to reach it, it was then that I noticed that its telescopic handle was broken.
So, two hours after alighting from the bus, I finally got through the terminal to my awaiting car driver for the final 150 mile journey north by road to my accommodation.
None of this quite unbelievable scenario can be blamed upon Norwegian Air Shuttle, Fort Lauderdale airport is just not fit for purpose…could that be the reason that this airline also now offers flights from London to Orlando?
I have written four letters to Fort Lauderdale Airport Manager but have not even had the courtesy of an acknowledgement, never mind a reply.
Now on to my return flight.
Scheduled departure time 22.00hrs. Actual departure only 15 minutes later. Same aircraft, same cabin, same seat. Cabin crew as good as my outbound flight. The cabin lighting and ambience does help one to relax and even sleep. The meal served – again in the cardboard box, was adequate and many types of drinks were readily available throughout the flight. With a following jet stream, we shot eastwards at over 600 mph, landing at Gatwick exactly on time.
This then is the account of my experiences with Norwegian Air, the Gatwick number 1 Lounge and Fort Lauderdale Airport.
If I was to use the scale ‘marks out of ten’. I would award 8 – 3 and 0 respectively.