JUST PLANE COOL: Norwegian Air

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Like any road warrior, I’m a relationship-oriented, committed-minded kind of guy — when it comes to airlines, that is. Recently, I found myself in Barcelona without a return ticket to the U.S., but a quick online search turned up two viable options: kiss Uncle Sam adios forever and try to make money selling gouaches of unfinished Gaudi churches to confused tourists or snap up a one-way ticket to JFK on a relatively lesser-known European airline called Norwegian Air Shuttle. Thus began a new friendship, born of cool Scandinavian efficiency (and my inability to actually paint).

Norwegian has been around for a while but recently launched its long-haul flights in 2013, and it’s a low-cost long-haul carrier — the first one, in fact, to fly non-stop between the U.S. and Scandinavia. Norwegian is in growth mode, with a fleet of the most efficient and modern long-haul aircraft on the market. With the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, they’re flying the newest generation of long-haul aircraft. It’s now the third largest low-cost airline in Europe and the seventh largest in the world, offering some 439 routes to 132 destinations, and people seem to be taking note: Skytrax named Norwegian Europe’s Best Low-Cost Airline for the past three years. The Dreamliners are generating high marks while the airline itself holds fast to lower than expected fares.

Flying Norwegian from Barcelona to New York did mean a short stop in Oslo first, but I heard the airport there was as cool as the airline, and indeed it was, with natural wood finishes and interesting dining spots. The first segment was aboard one of their new 737-800s, but the real experience began with wheels up from Oslo.

Firstly, Norwegian’s planes are redheads: the front sections of the planes are drenched in rich burgundy while the tailfins sport oversized sketches of notable Scandinavian personalities like Thor Heyerdahl and Hollywood’s favorite Swede, Greta Garbo. The interiors feature an understated grey color scheme and smooth Recaro seats, but the thing that struck me immediately upon entering the main cabin on the Dreamliner was the cleanliness. Even during the flight, the air felt cleaner than it usually does on board, the credit for that going to Norwegian’s “fresh air” system. And don’t look for that little ceiling nozzle over your head: it’s been eliminated. Because the plane features carbon fiber composite instead of metal, they can bring more humidity in from the outside, resulting in less headache and less jetlag, too. Also refreshing are the capacious overhead bins and large oval windows that dispense with pull-down shades in favor of photo-sensitive dimming.

Now, if you really want to go Garbo style, treat yourself to Norwegian’s Premium cabin, where you get a bigger seat and more legroom, upgraded dining options, use of an entertainment system and lounge access from your airport of departure. From Oslo to JFK, I flew in Premium and one of the things I instantly appreciated was the free baggage allowance for up to two suitcases. Neat Scandinavian style and utility prevails: I’ve flown a lot and can say that at 35,000 feet you really don’t need plated meals with silverware and associated accoutrements better suited to a restaurant. It’s superfluous and you pay for it — but Premium tickets on Norwegian don’t seem to cost that much more than regular economy transatlantic tickets on the legacy carriers and, truly, you get all that you need and more.

More from the catalog of cool: complimentary WiFi aboard the 737-800 fleet, an in-flight magazine worth keeping, cordial cabin staff who sport spiffy uniforms by Moods of Norway. The food, service and cleanliness made the whole experience of flying on Norwegian — rapid though it was— surprisingly refreshing.

Norwegian is giving travelers plenty of ways to cultivate their own relationship with the airline. One of the best things about a transatlantic low-cost airline is that now you can piece together an itinerary, on the fly (literally), and that takes flexibility in trip planning to a new level.

New York is a major North American hub for Norwegian, but long-hauls to Oslo and Stockholm depart from LAX, too — meaning you no longer have to tangle with monster airports like Frankfurt to make through connections to other European destinations. More non-stops, from Las Vegas to Oslo and Stockholm, will commence Oct. 31, and from Dec. 3, direct service from JFK to the French Caribbean (specifically, the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique) will put more winter vacation destinations within reach. Clearly, Norwegian is going places.

For more information on Norwegian Air Shuttle, visit norwegian.com.

Follow the writer at twitter.com/TGi24.

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