I came to London for our Shift event this week, flying with Norwegian Airlines for the first time. It was also my best flight, from a digital user experience standpoint.
I have never gotten any kind of reward from an airline. I’m disloyal and looking for a deal, so rather than accumulate any significant points on one airline, I’ve got a smattering of points from all of them.
ClickZ‘s Shift event debuts this week and I came over to London for it, on a brand new carrier: Norwegian Airlines. My first flight with Norwegian may have been the best one of my life, an accolade I generally reserve for any flight where I don’t have to sit next to anyone.
I had a seatmate – ugh, I know – but it was still a totally pleasant experience. The airplane was outfitted with cushiony headrests and flat, sleek windows; it’s amazing how much easier it is to fall asleep when there isn’t a hard, pointy windowframe digging into your head. Beyond that, there was also quite a bit of cool digital stuff going on.
1. Sunglasses at night
Those flat, sleek windows don’t have shades. Instead, there’s an electronic dimming feature known as “sunglasses mode,” which allows you to determine how much light you see.
My flight was overnight so at some point during my nap, the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean. It was a little jarring to look around the plane and see that one window would be a pale blue while its next door neighbor was deep purple, but it was nice that there were choices in between pitch black and blinding.
Because of the deep blue twilight when I took this picture, it’s hard to make out the dial, which has five different settings. Look straight down from the wing.
2. Mood lighting
Similarly, the Dreamliner’s cabin also had a spectrum of lighting options past the typical “on” and “off.” The soft LED lighting gave the plane the illusion of being roomier. But more than that, it also mitigated jet lag.
There’s a correlation between daylight and how much melatonin our bodies produce, which is part of why traveling throws us out of whack so much. Norwegian’s mood lighting changes gradually, with the color temperature designed to emulate sunrises and sunsets.
I think there’s something to that. I’m certainly tired this afternoon, but not deeply exhausted and/or homicidal the way I was that time I had a 2 a.m. flight home from Las Vegas.
3. Text reminders
Mobile boarding passes are hardly unique to Norwegian Airlines, but its execution was different. I tried to check into my flight Sunday afternoon, but couldn’t figure out how, so I just never bothered.
It seems that Norwegian doesn’t make you check in, assuming that everyone is going to do it (everyone is, right?). The airline texted me four hours before my flight with a link to my boarding pass that I never actually requested.
The process was much more seamless, eliminating some of the more annoying aspects of checking. You don’t have to register on the airline’s website or go through your email to figure out your booking number.
4. Advanced touchscreen
Remember when the iPhone started getting big, and everyone was oohing and ahhing over the sophisticated touchscreen? This was my first time experiencing that kind of screen on a plane. It makes it easier to look at the entertainment options, but it also takes the maps to the next level.
I like to know my flight’s progress all times – What are we flying over? How long until we get there? – and Norwegian’s maps, in addition to being highly zoomable, have a lot of variety. You can even choose your vantage point, and see what the flight looks like from the pilot’s eyes.
Like a child, I spent a lot of time playing with the maps’ various settings. They also have a version for actual children; if we have any Ukrainian readers out there, can you let us know what that animal is?
5. In-flight ecommerce
Norwegian Airlines doesn’t offer WiFi on trans-Atlantic flights and for many travelers, that’s likely the longest they typically go without using their smartphones. They still can, but it’s not the same without Internet access.
The TV screens built into each set basically serve as your smartphone for the duration of the flight, since they allow you to do just about anything – including charge your actual smartphone. You can control your reading light and summon a flight attendant. You can watch TV, play games and order food.
You can also legitimately go shopping, treating the plane as an ecommerce platform. The duty free catalog is connected, which means that over the past few decades, we have evolved from smoking cigarettes on planes to buying them with a single click.
6. In-flight education
There are a ton of movies available – including some odd-but-welcome choices, like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – but there are quite a few helpful educational tools for travelers, as well.
As the plane started descending, some pop-ups came on the screen, offering tips on things to do in London. More importantly, on an international flight where some people may not be seasoned travelers, Norwegian also provided a video explaining the customs process.
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