MIAMI – Norwegian Air Shuttle celebrated the inaugural service from New York’s Stewart Airport (SWF) to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI) on Thursday evening.
The inaugural flight was originally planned to be served by Norwegian’s new Boeing 737 MAX-8, however, a delivery delay occurred, and the airline opted to begin flying as scheduled on June 15th with a replacement aircraft.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 21:25 local time, and land in Edinburgh at 09:25 the next morning.
Norwegian Airlines spokesman, Anders Lindstrom, told Airways that the airline’s first new MAX will be delivered on June 29th, and service will begin this summer. Lindstrom declined to give a precise date but did say the MAX would likely be swapped into scheduled service for flights within Europe for proving runs and crew training.
Norwegian’s ticket counter in the check-in area has four positions for agents, which were manned and ready a full five hours before our scheduled departure time.
Once they begin taking deliveries, Norwegian will receive six of the MAX this year, basing two in Edinburgh, and the other four in the U.S. Additional routes will be added from Stewart to Bergen, Belfast, Dublin, and Shannon.
Service from Providence, Rhode Island begins on June 16th and will have flights to Bergen, Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Shannon. Providence and Hartford start their Edinburgh service on June 16th, and 17th, respectively.
Norwegian has opted not to install any type of power outlets on their MAX, just like the original MAX launch customer, Southwest Airlines. The Norwegian MAX planes will eventually have Inmarsat GX Wi-Fi installed, but it won’t be done prior to delivery.
Stewart Airport is remotely located, 74 miles North of Midtown Manhattan, with about 1.5 hours of driving time each way. The airport facilities are quaint to put it nicely. The outbound TSA screening area has two screening lanes.
The inbound Customs and Border Patrol has two screening kiosks in the baggage claim lobby. Having not arrived on the inbound flight from Edinburgh, we did not get a peak inside the CBP facility.
There is only one sit-down restaurant/bar/coffee shop inside security. But to be fair, the airport only has eight gates. I arrived at SWF from DTW on a SkyWest CRJ-200 at about 1:00 p.m. and the terminal seemed downright sleepy, with no other planes at the gates.
Alexander Barrett from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey told Airways about some of the logistical issues with international flights at Stewart. As the airport is currently arranged, the baggage claim area has to be closed off by a partition wall for Norwegian’s arrivals.
The big hitch comes if a domestic arrival comes in late around the same time. Right now, the domestic arriving checked luggage could be dispersed on an unused bag belt in the ticket counter area, operating the belt in reverse.
Upon arrival, passengers disembarked onto a ramp that was rolled up to the plane. A walkway framed by orange pylon cones directed passengers toward the Customs and Border Patrol area.
Coming out of Customs clearance, passengers were met with applause, then handed gift bags that had several “I [Heart] NY” items, and offered cupcakes. The facial expressions of the passengers all looked pleased, but that may have been simply because they just got off a very long ride on a 737.
Hopefully, passengers were fully aware when booking their ticket to SWF that the airport isn’t exactly close to New York City, but the airport has arranged bus service to run after each international arrival.
Norwegian CCO, Thomas Ramdahl, said the airline is working with the airport and the city of Newburg, New York to create awareness of the new service among Europeans.
The SWF-EDI Flight Experience
Once we checked in for the flight and went up to our gate, there was little else going on in terms of inaugural festivities. At the gate podium, a Norwegian staff member gave out four pairs of round-trip tickets on their airline. Winners were chosen by seat locations that were drawn from a hat.
Boarding began a bit late for our scheduled 21:25 departure.
Once on board, there was not any special celebration of the inaugural flight, other than a casual mention of it by a flight attendant during the regular boarding announcements. As a result of the late boarding, we didn’t push back from the gate until 21:43.
We got airborne right at 10:00 and still managed to arrive about ten minutes early to Edinburgh. There was no celebration when landing at EDI or upon disembarking.
I was happy to see the Global Eagle Wi-Fi hump atop the plane when it arrived, however, it wasn’t operating during our flight. I even asked a flight attendant if it would be activated, and he assured me the pilots were trying their best to get it working.
My devices could detect the network, but would not log on. Same for the passengers around me.
Dinner was served about an hour into the flight, which was roughly 3:00 a.m. in Edinburgh.
We were offered either a chicken or beef entree. I had the chicken, which was grilled and served with grilled vegetables and risotto. The flavor was good, but the chicken was a bit too dry.
I also found it odd that our first drinks were served after the food, which is opposite of what most airlines do. I asked for a Heineken, but it wasn’t cold at all, so I opted for white wine instead.
There was no breakfast, snack or drink service prior to landing.
I found my seat really uncomfortable. I was in 1C, which is on the aisle in the very front row. I found it very difficult to sleep because of the constant galley visits by the cabin crew, and of course, the inevitable lavatory breaks of my fellow passengers.
I did recline it, but I still couldn’t get comfortable. It didn’t help that there were no pillows or blankets for us to use. Seven hours is a very long time to sit in an economy seat on a 737.
The lack of in-flight entertainment was another disappointment. Yes, it’s an ultra low-cost carrier, but I feel like Norwegian should have waited to start service until the MAX is delivered, and after Wi-Fi is installed.
It’s best for airlines to show their best when making a first impression, and although it’s inexpensive for passengers, I can’t imagine anyone running back for this experience again.
All photos are by the author, Paul Thompson (except for the Boeing 737-MAX rendering, courtesy of Boeing)