Norwegian Air Shuttle is one of the world’s largest low-cost airlines, providing service to 152 destinations in 40 countries across 5 continents. NAS operates short- and long-haul flights out of its primary hub in Oslo, Norway, and from operating bases in other countries including Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In this article, I will share what I have learned about wheelchair assistance on Norwegian Air and the airline’s treatment of passengers with disabilities.
Norwegian is a low-cost carrier
Founded in 1993 as a domestic airline in Norway, NAS repositioned as a regional low-cost carrier in 2002. Since that time, Norwegian Air has grown to become one of the world’s largest budget airlines, carrying more than 33 million passengers in 2017. Together with its subsidiaries Norwegian Air Argentina, Norwegian Air International, Norwegian Air Long Haul, Norwegian Air Sweden and Norwegian Air UK, NAS maintains a fleet of 163 aircraft and serves 152 destinations worldwide.
Norwegian offers extremely competitive fares, but there are strings attached. Amenities like seat selection, checked luggage, carry-on bags, food and drinks all require payment of additional fees. The low-cost “LowFare” tickets are truly barebones and only guarantee that you will have a seat on the airplane (assigned at the airport).
Before purchasing a ticket from Norwegian, it is important to research what’s included and what isn’t. While traveling on low-cost carriers can bring significant savings, you don’t want to be blindsided by unexpected fees.
Norwegian operates two different types of services: regional short-haul flights (i.e. London to Berlin) and long-haul international flights (i.e. New York to Paris). Short-haul flights have only one class of service, while many long-haul flights offer premium economy in addition to coach class. Within each class of service, there are multiple fare types available for purchase, each with a different range of benefits.
The following fare packages are available on the single class short-haul flights:
The no-frills LowFare is the lowest-priced fare. It provides a confirmed spot on the airplane, but your seat will be assigned at check-in. LowFare+ costs a bit more, but includes seat selection and one checked bag. The Flex fare is the most expensive, but includes seat selection, two checked bags and is fully refundable should your plans change.
The same fare packages are offered on international long-haul flights in the economy cabin:
Note that regardless of which fare package you select, carry-on baggage is limited to one bag weighing 10 kilograms (22 pounds) or less. More details on baggage fees is provided later in this article—make sure to read it closely.
On long-haul international flights operated using the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, Norwegian Air offers a premium economy cabin. The fare packages offered in that cabin are described below:
The non-refundable Premium fare includes a carry-on of up to 10 kg, 2 checked bags, seat reservation, meals and fast-track security at select airports. The PremiumFlex package is fully refundable, offers a boost in max carry-on baggage weight to 15 kg and provides for lounge access in select airports.
Baggage Allowances & Fees
You’ll get the best deal on checked baggage by purchasing it online during booking. Depending on the length of your flight, your first checked bag will cost between $13 and $50. A second checked bags can be purchased for between $22 and $90. For more information on how much bags cost on a particular flight, see the checked baggage fee chart on Norwegian’s website. Baggage fees apply to only a single flight, so the cost of checking a bag on a connecting itinerary is potentially double the fees described above.
Purchasing checked baggage at the airport is quite a bit more expensive, based on the following schedule:
- Domestic — $65 USD
- International — $100 USD
- Domestic/domestic — $130 USD
- Domestic/international — $165 USD
- International/international — $200 USD
To understand just how bad of an idea it is to purchase checked baggage at the airport, let’s take the Los Angeles to London flight as an example. Purchasing in advance online will cost $50, but at the airport it’s $100. That’s an extra $50 to check the same bag. Don’t do that to yourself.
The maximum weight for a checked bag is 20 kg (44 lbs.), whether it is included with your fare type, purchased online or at the airport.
If you exceed this weight, you will be charged an excess baggage fee of $15 USD per kilogram (approx. 2.2 pounds) per flight. Also note that Norwegian will not accept any bags that weigh more than 32 kg, and excess baggage charges will apply to any passenger checking more than two bags.
Mobility Equipment Allowance
Wheelchairs and mobility aids fly free on Norwegian and do not count against your checked baggage allowance. Norwegian states the following:
- If you’re travelling to/from the U.S., you can bring an unlimited number of mobility aids or wheelchairs for your personal use.
- If you’re travelling to/from any other country aside from the U.S., you can bring up to two mobility aids or wheelchairs for your personal use.
Norwegian states that wheelchairs must not exceed 140 x 114 x 85 cm (L x W x H), with a maximum weight of 200 kg on flights to/from destinations other than the United States. When traveling with an electric wheelchair, be sure to review this table of airplane cargo door dimensions to ensure your wheelchair will fit and can be safely transported in an upright position.
Requesting Wheelchair Assistance on Norwegian Air
The easiest way to request wheelchair assistance on Norwegian Air is during online booking. The following screenshots were taken when I booked a flight from Providence, Rhode Island to Dublin, Ireland and will guide you through the process of requesting disability assistance.
After you’ve started your search from the Norwegian Air homepage, you’ll be presented with a list of flights and fare types to choose from. As there was only one flight from Providence to Dublin, I had only one choice — shown in the screenshot above. I chose the cheapest fare, known as the LowFare, which cost only $103.80.
If you will require a wheelchair or other special assistance during your flight, check the box next to “I require special assistance on my flight.”
Once that’s selected, proceed by clicking the button marked “Start reservation.”
The next step in the booking process is seat selection. On this particular flight, the cost of reserving a seat ranged from $11 to $31. Norwegian advises travelers with disabilities that they need not pay for a seat reservation during booking:
It’s not necessary for you to reserve a seat when making a booking if you request special assistance. We’ll assign you a suitable seat free of charge when you check in at the airport, based on the type of assistance you require.
They state the following about seats assigned to people with disabilities:
- You’ll be seated close to the toilets.
- Your seat will have movable armrests.
- If you’re travelling with a safety assistant, you’ll be seated together.
If there is a particular seat you would like to guarantee, you are free to reserve one during booking. I decided to chance it, and was surprised/delighted when the gate agent gave me an entire row to myself. It made for a much more comfortable trip across the Atlantic!
Prior to entering your payment information, you’ll be directed to a form that allows you to specify the type of assistance you will require. From a drop-down menu, you select from a list of airline special service request codes (SSRs) that best identify your assistance needs. Since I require assistance all the way to my seat on the airplane, I chose the WCHC SSR code.
The form unfortunately does not allow passengers to provide any information about their mobility devices, so it is important to do this after you have made your flight booking. To alert the airline about your wheelchair (manual or powered) or any other mobility equipment, call the Norwegian Air contact center at +1 (800) 357-4159. For a list of international telephone numbers, click here.
Wheelchair Assistance at the Airport
Norwegian Air passengers with disabilities are assisted from the check-in desk to baggage claim, at all points throughout the journey. Here’s what you need to know about the process.
Lines for check-in can be long, so passengers are advised to arrive to the airport at least 3 hours before departure. When I flew Norwegian from Providence, the lines were fairly short and I was able to reach an agent in about 15 minutes.
I requested a seat by the window and was accommodated without any trouble. The agent told me that she would try to block off the seats next to me, which I appreciated.
Make sure to pay very close attention the bag size and weight limits, as agents were weighing each bag (including carry-ons). Many passengers had to produce a credit card and pay exorbitant fees because they had not taken Norwegian’s baggage policy seriously. Don’t let that happen to you!
Preboarding on Norwegian Air
Upon arriving to the gate, I told one of the gate agents that I wished to preboard the aircraft. This was honored, and the assistance contractors were extremely helpful in helping me transfer and board using the aisle chair. The gate agents made sure that I was situated in my seat before allowing any other passengers to board. I was very pleased with the preboarding process from start to finish. It maintained my dignity and was ACAA compliant.
My wheelchair was gate-checked in Providence without argument, and returned to me inside the AmbuLift in Dublin. No arguing or begging was necessary and it seemed like standard procedure at both airports.
While things may not be as easy at every airport Norwegian flies to, the process went off without a hitch on my journey.
Norwegian Air Fleet — Airplane Accessibility
The Norwegian Air fleet consists of two different types of aircraft, the single aisle Boeing 737 and dual-aisle Boeing 787 Dreamliner. There are major differences in their features and amenities, so read on to discover the differences.
Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 MAX 8
While the Boeing 737 is primarily used on short-haul flights within Europe, the new Boeing 737 MAX 8 model is capable of some intercontinental/transatlantic routes, including the Providence to Dublin flight that I took.
Norwegian’s Boeing 737 aircraft are arranged in an all economy class 3-3 seating configuration. The bulkhead and exit row seats provide the most leg room (up to 38 inches on the MAX 8 model), but all other rows offer 29 to 31 inches of pitch. The seats are 17.2 inches wide.
seat row was pretty far back (I think it was row 24), but I didn’t feel overly cramped when sitting upright in my seat. What I did notice was the lack of seat comfort—there was less padding than on other airlines. This is unfortunately a trend sweeping many airlines, including legacy operators like American Airlines. If possible, it may be wise to sit on your wheelchair cushion.
There are no wheelchair accessible lavatories on Norwegian’s Boeing 737 aircraft. The carrier does keep an aisle chair onboard, however.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is one of my favorite aircraft models to fly due to its lower cabin pressure—it’s much more comfortable. The 787 has become the backbone of Norwegian’s long-haul operation, connecting its European hubs with Asia and the Americas.
Norwegian offers a Premium Cabin on its Dreamliner aircraft. These cabins consist of 32 to 56 larger and more comfortable recliner seats in a 2-3-2 arrangement.
Seats in the Premium cabin are similar to those offered in Premium Economy on other airlines. They each have a foot/leg rest and a personal in-flight entertainment screen. The seats unfortunately have fixed/immovable armrests.
Economy class on Norwegian’s Boeing 787 aircraft is arranged in a 3-3-3 seating configuration. The seats are 17.2 inches wide and offer between 31 and 32 inches of pitch.
Each seat has a personal entertainment screen that is activated by touch. The in-flight entertainment system offers access to a library of movies, TV shows and children’s programming. There is a USB port for charging electronics at every seat.
Wheelchair Accessible Lavatory
Norwegian says the following about accessible bathrooms on their Boeing 787 fleet:
On our flights to and from the U.S., Thailand, Argentina, Brazil operated by the Dreamliner, the aircraft has one fully wheelchair accessible toilet.
Fully wheelchair accessible may be a stretch, but it is similar to the lavatory pictured below (from another airline’s Dreamliner):
The accessible bathroom is formed by collapsing the wall between two standard lavatories. Flight attendants will assist passengers with disabilities to the accessible lavatory using the onboard aisle chair, but no assistance is provided beyond that.
Treatment of Wheelchairs and Mobility Equipment
Although my travel experience with Norwegian is limited, they did safely transport my wheelchair from Providence to Dublin without issue.
If you are concerned about damage to your wheelchair, you can rest easy on non-stop flights to/from the United States, as they are covered by the Air Carrier Access Act. The ACAA demands that carriers pay 100% of all wheelchair repair or replacement costs arising from any damage that they cause.
On flights not involving the USA, the much more limited Montreal Convention would apply, which limits carrier liability to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights (SDR), the equivalent of about $1,571 USD.
When Norwegian Air damaged fellow accessible travel blogger Jeanne Allen’s wheelchair, they sent a technician to meet her in Oslo, Norway. She posted on Facebook about the ordeal and was pleased to have a quick resolution.
Low-cost carriers like Norwegian have made international air travel accessible to millions of travelers who might not otherwise have been able to afford it. I paid $100 for a one-way ticket from the United States to Ireland. Play by Norwegian’s baggage rules and you too can enjoy air travel for cheap.
On the flip side, Norwegian is operating intercontinental flights on Boeing 737s without an accessible lavatory. The USDOT needs to catch up and require that all airplanes have a loo that is accessible to people with disabilities. While I survived the six-hour overnight flight from Providence to Dublin, that was luck. Norwegian has a few flights without an accessible toilet that last more than 7 hours (they aren’t the only airline doing this). Add in the time spent preboarding and waiting for assistance on arrival and passengers like me are going 8 or 9 hours without a bathroom. That’s not OK and airlines should do better.
Would I fly Norwegian again? Yes, but on the Boeing 787 with an accessible toilet.
Featured image courtesy Norwegian Air.
Have you flown Norwegian Air? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments below!