Scandinavian Adventure: The Norwegian Boeing 787-900

When I first stumbled upon a $298 round trip ticket between Boston and Oslo back in January 2016, I had no hesitation booking it. After all, it was roughly the same price as time taking a flight lesson in a Cessna 172, and I was much more eager to try the Boeing 787-800, known as the “Dreamliner.” I ended up taking a trip to Oslo in which I arrived and returned on the same day, as those flights ran once weekly, and that I didn’t want to spend vacation time on this particular trip. Though I had an absolute blast, I decided that I’d never do a one-day Europe trip again on my own volition, as I was extremely tired upon arriving home. Thus, I determined that any future trip would have to involve at least one night in Europe to ensure that I’d be rested and able to enjoy the experience more.

This past spring, I was looking at Google Flights, as I often do during lunch. This time, however, I was looking to see what kind of trips were available that would allow me to spend a night at my destination. As it were, Norwegian Air Shuttle had a round trip between Boston and Copenhagen going for $247.20, which I decided was simply too good of an opportunity to pass up. Particularly, this interested me, as it was to be operated both ways by Norwegian’s Boeing 787-900 — a type that I’d flown on once, with Hainan Airlines on my flight to Beijing. That time, however, it was a day-of-flight equipment swap, whereas this occasion I was scheduled to fly on it both ways. Both the 787-8 and 787-9 are fantastic, but I definitely preferred the latter, so I was very eager to book.

Even paying an extra $90 to reserve window seats for both ways, the amount totaled an extremely reasonable $337.20. I booked the ticket for this short vacation, flying out Tuesday, October 24, and returning Thursday, October 26. And since I had some time between jobs, it turns out I didn’t even need to take vacation — meaning that I would be able to sleep plenty after returning on Thursday night.

October 24, 2017

I hadn’t flown in quite some time when I left home on this particular day. Unlike most times I’ve gone to Logan, I took the Red Line from my apartment near Kendall Square to South Station, where I caught the Silver Line to the airport.

After using one of the self-check machines to print my boarding pass, I got through security without incident. I even managed to relax a bit before boarding Norwegian 787-9 G-CJUL, a plane with British author Roald Dahl — one of my favorite authors as a child — on the tail.

Not a great capture, but here is Norwegian 787-9 G-CJUL parked at the gate at Logan.

While I knew I’d be sitting relatively close to the front of the aircraft in Seat 7A, I hadn’t been able to get a good read on just how far forward that would be. Usually, I consult YouTube clips, searching “[X seat] + [Y airline] + [Z plane],” mainly to see where in relation to the engine I’m going to be sitting, as sitting in front of the engine can provide one with exposure to The Buzzsaw Effect. For some reason, I couldn’t find any results for videos with that seat location, nor my return spot in Seat 6J.

The end of the jet bridge obstructed my view, so I couldn’t immediately tell where the engine was. When the boarding door was closed and bridge was disconnected, however, I was happy to see that I’d secured some prime real estate in front of the behemoth Rolls-Royce Trent 1000.

After an uneventful taxi, we rolled right onto Runway 22R and, almost immediately, began our takeoff roll. Within around 5,000 feet, we were airborne — short, by comparison, to the takeoff distance for most transatlantic flights.

As with the majority of departures from both Runway 22R and 22L, we made a left turn almost immediately after takeoff in order to comply with noise abatement procedures (due south of Logan is densely-populated South Boston). From there, we turned north on the LBSTSA5 departure, before flying over Southern Maine en route to waypoint TAFFY, located in New Brunswick. Of course, it was late at night (and cloudy), so there was not much to see, but I still enjoyed flying over my old stomping grounds.

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Somewhere over Maine.

The ride was mostly smooth, albeit in the dark. Towards the end of the flight, the sun started to come out — at first, it was just a flicker of light, but then a deluge of rays which illuminated the engine in illustrious fashion.

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Morning glow.

As expected, I was able to get a number of shots of the Trent 1000 turbine, which is mightily impressive both in terms of sight and sound. Below, a nice view of the nose cone and its “bird of prey” lines.

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Over the clouds before beginning our descent.

As we began our descent into Copenhagen, it was evident that the clear skies we were experiencing over the Atlantic weren’t going to be visible from the ground, as Scandinavia was covered by a thick blanket of clouds. And though we only broke out of the clouds slightly above the visibility minimums, the landing on Runway 22L at Kastrup was about as smooth as could’ve been hoped for. From there, it was a short taxi to the terminal, where we were able to disembark the aircraft in relatively uneventful fashion, and I got through passport control without even a stamp (the officer scanned my passport and said “thank you,” and that was it).

Norwegian 787-9 G-CJUL following arrival in Copenhagen.

October 26, 2017

Following around 27 hours exploring Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden, I boarded a train bound for Kastrup to begin my journey home. Security went by easily enough, but I ended up getting quite a bit of grief from the passport control officer, who was indignant that I hadn’t received an entry stamp. I told him that I figured simply getting a scan of my passport was standard procedure, as I’d never been to Denmark before. He understood, and let me go, but told me that I should ask for a stamp when entering countries within the Schengen Area, as the Area apparently has a strict policy that visitors without a visa can’t stay more than 90 days, so an entry stamp is important. Duly noted.

Norwegian 787-9 G-CJUL parked at the gate at Kastrup, with Roald Dahl very much visible.

After about five minutes, two security officers told us we had to leave the lounge. I was a bit miffed as to why we were required to do this, but it soon became evident — we had to go through another layer of border security before entering the lounge to get on the plane. This time, border control officials asked us what we did, where we were from, why we were in Denmark, and a whole host of other questions — inquiries that would usually be performed upon entering a given country, not leaving. Regardless, we got on the plane a short while later, and pushed back quickly.

Looking out at the impressive engine from Seat 6J.

I enjoyed the takeoff on the way over, but this one was significantly better. After pulling onto Runway 22R, there was a short spool-up, when the engine goes from idle (or near-idle) to a significantly higher level of thrust. To some, it might sound like full power, but it’s not even close — takeoff thrust usually takes a further adjustment of power (and a couple more seconds) to set in. Though the Trent 1000 is a pretty quiet engine comparatively speaking, it can still produce a distinctive, incredible buzzsaw sound, which was extremely audible on this takeoff.

Following that impressive climbout, we flew off into what seemed to be eternal afternoon. Having taken off from Copenhagen at 5:37 p.m. local time, we were set to arrive in Boston around 7:20 p.m. local time. I ended up sleeping for a few hours — I wasn’t as well-rested as anticipated, as I stayed up late the night before and got up early to go explore Copenhagen — and woke up with about two hours left in the flight.

The Trent 1000 powering us at high altitude.

With the sky growing dark and the clouds appearing under us (and even above us, a rarity at 30 to 40 thousand feet), the captain announced that we were to begin our descent for landing. He mentioned something about the weather in Boston having changed since leaving Copenhagen, which I feared meant he was about to say we’d be diverting. However, he continued on to say only that we might have to land on a shorter runway (I figured it would be Runway 27, since winds were forecast to be out of the west). No bother, then — I can deal with a short landing.

The descent took place mostly in the dark, before we broke out of the clouds probably around 1,000 feet above sea level. As we passed by Winthrop, I could tell we were in for a Runway 27 landing.

Just after I had processed that we were over land, the plane slammed onto Runway 27 as the captain had anticipated. And while the average traveler might think a rough landing is caused by a lack of execution from the pilot, there’s often legitimate reason.

When runways are wet — as they would’ve been on this particular day — a landing that’s too soft can result in potentially catastrophic hydroplaning, making it imperative to “stick” the landing. Moreover, Runway 9/27 is only 7,001 feet — for reference, that’s almost 200 feet shorter than Runway 11/29 at the Portland Jetport, which I always considered to be “short” — so pilots don’t have the luxury of being able to “float” over the threshold and in for a smooth landing within the touchdown zone (roughly the first 3,000 feet of the runway). Rather, they must get the plane on the runway as quick as practical in order to ensure the largest amount of potential braking distance. There are numerous other reasons, too, but those are two of the most common — and the most relevant to this situation.

Norwegian G-CJUL arriving back at Logan.

Surprisingly, our taxi to the gate and procession through customs went by quickly. As it were, I got home around 8:30 p.m., and proceeded to fall asleep a short time after.

Overall Reflections

Once again, I found that Norwegian lived up to my expectations. To be sure, I recognize that they are a somewhat controversial carrier within the United States, and I can certainly understand why some might not be huge fans. I’m not suggesting that it’s my favorite carrier (that honor goes to British Airways), nor objectively the best service I’ve ever encountered (that honor goes to Hainan). Moreover, I’m a pretty unique case among transatlantic travelers: I would rather get a meal at an airport restaurant before flying than buy a meal on the plane, and I rarely bring luggage large enough that needs to be checked, so those are two services that Norwegian charges ancillary fees for that I don’t need.

That said, I think that — objectively — I’ve had good experiences with Norwegian. Both trips have involved trips on brand new 787 Dreamliners, which feature seatback TVs that are extremely easy to use. I also found that the leather seats on Norwegian’s 787s were, in my opinion, more comfortable than the fabric seats on Hainan’s 787s (although Hainan’s class of service is definitely the best I’ve experienced). And, for those who aren’t aviation anoraks, the courteous crew, comparatively quiet volume (in relation to other jet aircraft), and large windows with electrochromic capabilities were factors that led to a superior, more comfortable experience. Perhaps the quality of the experience has a lot to do with the caliber and age of the plane, but it’s ultimately the airline that buys, operates, and maintains the aircraft — and Norwegian has done really well on that front, which has led me to be satisfied with the flights I’ve taken with them.