What happens when a plane configured for short haul travel finds itself flying across the North Atlantic? Atlantic Airways’ new service between the Faroe Islands and New York brings huge potential for travelers looking to easily move between the two markets. But it also delivers an interesting hybrid service model, definitely not a fully unbundled LCC, but also still enough ancillary options along the way to hint at that option.
The carrier’s inaugural flight from Vagar to New York-Stewart on an A320neo presented an opportunity to sample the offering, and have some fun along the way.
Economy class only, and plenty of it
Most of Atlantic Airways’ routes are between two and three hours long, connecting the Faroe Islands to larger cities in Northern Europe. With that configuration came some cabin design choices that fare better for short-haul comfort. Atlantic Airways chose Recaro‘s 3530swift economy class seats for its fleet, for example. It is not the thinnest, lightest slimline model, but it also is not the more robust design Recaro offers on its “comfort line” for longer flights.
The adjustable headrests and integrated tablet holders are nice wins for the passenger experience. With the USB-A power and integrated tablet holders the seats do offer some additional comfort. Atlantic Airways CEO Johanna Bergi, who was also on the inaugural trip, spins the fuel efficiency angle on this decision, but the thinner seat padding becomes noticeable as the flight wears on.
The carrier also chose to only offer an economy class cabin on board. As Bergi explained, “We’re a small country, where everyone knows everyone else. We did not think it made sense to have different classes of service to separate our people that way.” And for most shorter routes, especially when competing against European carriers which offer a blocked middle seat in their premium cabin, the cabin layout is no big deal. Will it matter when competing against airlines crossing the Atlantic? Especially when not pricing as a discount operation?
For the longer flights to the USA the short runway at Vagar means the aircraft must trade off passenger payload for fuel. As a result, westbound flights to the United States are expected to operate with 40-50 seats blocked on any given trip. This means most passengers will have an empty middle seat in their row unless they choose not to.
The shape of Recaro’s 3530s does offer some relief for knees on board, making the 31″ pitch layout reasonably spaced. But for those who want a bit more space the exit rows on the A320neo – row 11 does not recline and 12 does recline – offer a few extra inches.
Also of note, the airline charges for advance seat selection, one of a few areas where the experience trends more towards the unbundled, low cost carrier model.
Snacks and drinks, for a fee
With a seven(ish) hour flight snacks and drinks are a much more important part of the passenger experience. For Atlantic Airways that is a paid offering, even on the longer trips. More critically, the food must be ordered 24 hours or more in advance. The company sent multiple emails reminders about the preorder requirement but, alas, each time it did not accurately reflect that I had already ordered the meal.
For passengers who do not order the 149 DKK (~$22) meal package (it includes two meals), some small snacks are available to purchase on board. Options to buy fresh food prior to departure at either Vagar or Stewart are somewhat limited as well. I quite enjoyed the first meal. Some of my travel companions who were less keen on cold fish or mayo-based spreads felt differently. The second meal was less compelling, though I had a sandwich I’d picked up from the Paname Cafe in Torshavn earlier that day to keep me from getting hangry late in the flight.
Soft drinks and alcohol also come with a cost, though on the inaugural they were offered complimentary to travelers. Complimentary water, coffee, and tea were regularly offered throughout the flight.
Charging for meals likely is motivated by a combination of revenue and space on board. The rear galley in particular is configured with less stowage space than an aircraft that would typically operate the longer services. It does have ovens for heating up meals, but both options from the paid menu were served cold on the NY-bound inaugural. Eastbound appears to have hot meals, as does the kids’ option, so the ovens do get some use.
Entertainment, and eventually connectivity, on board
Atlantic Airways is a long-time customer of AirFi, deploying the wireless inflight entertainment service on board. The system offers more than 50 movie titles, plus TV shows and some YouTube shorts as well. A handful of games and a moving map round out that platform, at least for now.
One challenge experienced on the longer trip was that the AirFi boxes ran low on battery power, which eventually affected their Wi-Fi signal on board. Atlantic Airways will likely need to ensure that the systems are fully charged at boarding rather than using ones that perhaps have made an additional trip earlier in the day (the aircraft made a Barcelona turn, which would’ve added 5ish hours of usage that day, for example).
Battery anxiety should disappear soon, however, as the carrier shifts to a powered installation model for the AirFi system. That is tied to its plans to activate the AirFi LEO messaging and connectivity offering.
Atlantic Airways was the launch customer for the system, back in October 2018. It has since reiterated its commitment several times, including the CEO saying so during the inaugural trip.
But the program, most recently expected to go live in Q2 of this year hit further delays. A redesign of the on-board hardware layout necessitated additional engineering work and approvals. AirFi remains confident in the program and that installs are coming, just as soon as the paperwork is sorted.
Overall, the experience was fine. Certainly it came with a bit of extra fun and excitement because this was the inaugural. But the offering is perfectly serviceable for that route. Knowing that there are going to be plenty of empty middle seats certainly helps take the edge off. And, at the end of the day, it is a (probably) more affordable and faster route to and from the Faroe Islands. That’s a very nice win for passengers.
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