Norwegian Airlines adopts the Ryanair model

In September we took an impromptu trip to Ireland, partially to take advantage of the Labor Day weekend and to visit my aunt and uncle. The other factor was the price: $304 round-trip, per person, though it came with a catch: the flight was from Stewart Airport near Newburgh, NY, roughly 1.5 hours northwest of the city.

This is a change from the usual Norwegian Airlines flights from JFK. Norwegian generally has flights that are sold individually and cost from $150-300 each way. When we traveled to Europe last year, this is what allowed us to fly round-trip from NYC for around $530! We thought it couldn’t get any more affordable than that. We were wrong.

The Ryanair model

In flying from Stewart, Norwegian apparently has decided to adopt what I call the Ryanair model, which involves flying from a small, underutilized airport near a major city. Flying from a smaller airport allows for lower ticket prices, but then there’s the issue of getting there. My first experience of this strange trade-off was flying into Paris-Beauvais, which appeared to be a World War II-era airfield situated in the middle of a tiny village. Paris was nowhere to be seen. Luckily, Ryanair runs a shuttle service to the city.

In Europe, this model works because the history of wars throughout the 20th century has left the continent littered with military airfields. It has never been adopted to intercontinental travel, to my knowledge, until now.

Stewart Airport incidentally started its life during World War II as Stewart Army Airfield outside Newburgh, NY, the closest airfield to the US Military Academy at West Point.

Does it work? Yes.

Is it worth trekking to Upstate New York to save a few bucks on a flight? Well, I would say yes, for the following reasons:

  • It’s roughly half the price. When we checked, it was $300 vs. $600 for a similar flight from JFK.
  • Shuttle service is provided. Norwegian has contracted with Coach USA (i.e. Megabus) to offer a direct bus from Midtown Manhattan to the airport. It’s timed to get you there with plenty of time to spare and costs $20 each way, which is less than taking the train and a cab, which is another option. If the flight is late on the return, the bus will wait for you, since it’s specifically for Norwegian passengers.
  • Less chaotic check-in. Picking up international flight tickets at JFK often resembles a Depression-era run on the bank. When we flew to Copenhagen, we spent nearly 1.5 hours in line with roughly 250 fellow passengers. It was pure chaos. The desks at Stewart were still understaffed, but we arrived early on the shuttle and had a 15-minute wait for our tickets.
  • Reasonable scheduling. Flights are scheduled for overnight travel, departing at 9pm or so, which allows leaving in the afternoon to catch the flight after a full day of work. We don’t want to lose a travel day by flying east in the morning! On the way back, flights leave in the afternoon, getting you safely home by evening.
  • Customs in Ireland. Much like the process on flights to the US that connect via Canada, arrivals go through US customs in Ireland before departure on the return flight. There was no line. Avoiding customs in JFK was an amazing and unexpected perk.

Once you add it all up, flying via Stewart is roughly the same amount of time investment and way less stressful. If you’re driving from Upstate, Northeastern Pennsylvania or Northern New Jersey, you also have it made, since you can avoid all the traffic.

Not so great stuff

The timing of everything was pretty well done, with plenty of time for potential delays, though the few annoying parts had to do with waiting.

  • Traffic. On the departure, the shuttle to the airport got stuck in traffic. Still, we arrived at roughly 6:30 for a 9pm flight.
  • Waiting for the bus to depart. On the return, our flight got in very early, roughly 30-45 minutes. The bus, however, left at the scheduled time, which resulted in us waiting in line outside.
  • Understaffed check-in. This didn’t affect us, since we got in so early, but the check-in desk had a line snaking across the airport waiting to get their seat assignments. Still, everyone got through security before the flight departed. Notably, in JFK this same issue is amplified.

Where they fly

Flights from Stewart are mainly to Ireland and the UK, as well as Bergen, Norway. Dublin is an excellent jumping-off point for a trip around Europe because it’s home to so many discount carriers. Also, given Norwegian’s pricing per leg, you can always fly in to Ireland and return to the US from somewhere else, like Copenhagen or London.

Flight prices are very cheap now that it’s cold and dark in Europe and prices stay under $200 each way through April or May. You can book now through October 2018 on Norwegian.com.

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