Skift Take

This will be a good test. There's no doubt people love low fares, and Norwegian Air will be using a cost-effective aircraft. But is there enough demand from smaller U.S. airports to sustain flights to Europe?

How much do consumers in smaller markets crave cheap trans-Atlantic flights?

We’ll find out by this summer, when European discounter Norwegian Air launches 10 new routes from three smaller U.S. airports — Stewart International Airport in New York’s Southern Hudson Valley about 65 miles north of Manhattan, Hartford Bradley International Airport in Central Connecticut, and T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island. Norwegian will operate all flights with a new single-aisle airplane, the Boeing 737 Max.

Norwegian had been teasing the new service for weeks, but on Thursday morning, it named the routes and released introductory prices. From Stewart International Airport, Norwegian will fly to Dublin and Shannon in Ireland, and Belfast and Edinburgh in the UK, while from Providence it will fly to all those destinations plus Cork, Ireland. From Hartford, Norwegian will serve only Edinburgh.

At 6 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, Norwegian put on sale “quite a few thousand” tickets for $65 one way from the three U.S. markets, Lars Sande, Norwegian’s senior vice president of sales, said in an interview. After those go, the cheapest fares one-way fares are expected to be $99, though those tickets also will be limited. Like most airlines with its model, Norwegian charges extra for nearly everything, from advanced seat assignments, to onboard food, to checked luggage.

“For too long, Americans have paid too much to go to Europe,” Sande said.

Flying to smaller airports is a bold move. Most international airlines prefer to go where the people are — big-city airports with millions of potential travelers living within 50 miles. Norwegian has used that approach too, and it flies double-aisle Boeing 787s to New York Kennedy, Oakland, Los Angeles, Boston and Fort Lauderdale, among others.

Norwegian’s past big-city approach has served it well, allowing it to compete head-to-head with legacy carriers and take advantage of near-limitless demand between major cities like London and Los Angeles. But this small airport approach will be trickier, airline industry analyst Brett Snyder said in a recent post on his blog, Cranky Flier. He wondered if Norwegian still will need to rely on passengers from larger cities to fill these flights.

“In the end, is there enough meat on the bone to get people to schlep out to Stewart?” he said. “Can people save enough money to make it worth it? Maybe there is just enough, barring competitive response, but do you really think the legacy airlines are going to take this lying down?”

But Sande said Norwegian isn’t expecting many passengers from New York City or Boston to come to the outlying airports. Instead, Norwegian is betting each of its three new markets has enough of a local population to sustain profitable flights.

It helps that Norwegian will be using a small plane. On its 737s, Norwegian only has to fill 189 seats, or 155 fewer than on the airline’s Boeing 787-9s. And, as another bonus, it costs less money to rent airport space and pay landing fees at smaller airports — savings the airline can pass to customers.

“The catchment areas around these airports are big,” Sande said. “Not everybody want to go to [New York] JFK, [Boston] Logan or Newark. These are airports that are very efficient. It will make the whole experience for the passenger very smooth.”

Of the three airports, only Hartford has service to any of Europe’s larger cities, with flights to Dublin on Aer Lingus. Germany’s Condor Airlines flew from Providence to Frankfurt for about a year, but stopped the route in 2016 because it was not able to make it work. Providence still has a flight to the Azores, a Portuguese-controlled archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.

On its flights, Norwegian expects slightly more than half of the passengers to be coming from Europe, where the company’s brand is strong. But the carrier plans to be honest in describing the location of the U.S., Sande said.

“We re going to sell it just as it is — Stewart, New York, as gateway to New York state,” Sande said. “We are not going to say this is Boston or New York and then people will get confused or angry with us.”

If it works, Norwegian could launch more flights. The carrier has ordered 100 737 Max aircraft, and it estimates the plane’s range is about 3,500 miles — long enough to fly as far as Providence to Barcelona, Sande said.

Here are the flights, which will be operated by Norwegian Air Shuttle under an operating certificate granted by Ireland. 

Flights from Stewart International Airport in New York

Destination Begins Summer Frequency Winter Frequency
Edinburgh, Scotland June 15 Daily Daily
Belfast, Northern Ireland July 1 Three times weekly Twice weekly
Dublin, Ireland July 1 Daily Three times weekly
Shannon, Ireland July 2 Twice weekly Twice weekly

Flights from Providence’s T.F. Green Airport

Destination Begins Summer Frequency Winter Frequency
Edinburgh, Scotland June 16 Four times weekly Twice weekly
Belfast, Northern Ireland July 1 Twice weekly None
Cork, Ireland July 1 Three times weekly Twice weekly
Dublin, Ireland July 2 Five times weekly Three times weekly
Shannon, Ireland July 3 Twice weekly Twice weekly

Flights from Hartford Bradley International Airport

Destination Begins Summer Frequency Winter Frequency
Edinburgh, Scotland June 17 Three times weekly Twice weekly

Note: Winter season begins Oct. 29.


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Tags: low-cost carriers, norwegian air

Photo credit: Norwegian Air will fly 10 new routes from smaller U.S. airports to Europe. Boeing

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