Ben Lowry: The arrival of Norwegian could be a breakthrough for Aldergrove

Norwegian Air, Boeing 737 MAX aircraft
Norwegian Air, Boeing 737 MAX aircraft

Months ago I had not even heard of Norwegian Air.

But when I travelled to America for the presidential election I quickly found that it had some of the best one-way fares – and that it offered various options from London Gatwick to several airports in the United States.

The obvious beauty of a one-way fare is that you can keep open your travel options if you are unaware exactly from where and when you will be returning.

As recently as 20 years ago one-way fares were almost impossible to buy unless you were prepared to pay much more than the cheapest return deals.

For example, I flew out to California a couple of summers in the early 1990s for around £300 return. A one-way would have cost about £800.

It was a mad system.

Budget airlines have shattered all that. My single on Norwegian from Gatwick to Orlando cost £179 all-in.

As it happens, my movements in America were such that Norwegian also offered by far the best return option – my return was from San Juan (Puerto Rico) to Gatwick and cost £151 all-in.

The total transatlantic fare for two separately booked single tickets was £330 including taxes – and the tickets were both booked online and close to the travel date.

The airline is one of the best that I have used.

It is budget but not threadbare. The planes were new, and clean and pleasant but you have to pay for every single extra including a checked bag.

This suits a traveller like me who wants to go no frills and spend money at the destination, not en route.

I often bring a single carry-on bag, that is filled to capacity.

This reduces the amount of junk you are carrying around and on Norwegian it saves you £50 per transatlantic return (for which you can easily buy a hotel room in the US, if you are staying outside a city centre).

On the outbound to Orlando I did not realise I could not buy a hot meal on the plane without pre-ordering and had to make do with snacks.

On the return I was prepared and ate a feast in the airport before boarding. That saves on the £25 cost of the pre-ordered meal.

By travelling carefully with Norwegian (no meal and no checked bag) you save £100 per round trip across the Atlantic.

So the arrival of Norwegian is particularly sweet for budget travellers based in Ulster.

But it is good for Northern Ireland as a whole.

I would hope that an airline that seems to be so well run will survive as an entity because they are set a benchmark for the industry.

But it also seems to be the first time that a dynamic new airline has tried to make use of our geographical position as one of the closest places in Europe to north America.

Aldergrove is such an obvious hub.

I have written on this page before about my belief that a lack of vision among policy makers has missed the opportunity to make Belfast International a single airport hub for Northern Ireland, with two motorways converging on the site that facilitate good onward connections to all the main points in Ulster.

Then we might have an airport to rival Dublin, Europe’s fastest growing in 2016.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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