BY Edward Pizzarello for pizzainmotionThe Boeing 737 MAX is the next generation of Boeing’s very successful 737 line of planes. If you’ve flown more than once or twice, you’ve been on a 737 at some point. With almost 4,000 737 MAX planes ordered, we’ll be seeing a lot of this plane for the next few decades. I got a chance to tag along as Norwegian Air took delivery of their first 737 MAX 8.
We arrived at the Boeing Seattle Delivery Center to watch the plane get delivered to a proud group of Norwegian executives, including Bjorn Kjos, the long-time CEO and founder of Norwegian Air. Anders Lindstrom, Norwegian’s Director of Communications, USA greeted us and helped us prepare for the ribbon cutting of the double delivery.
Bjorn opened by talking about how the airline grew from just a few leased aircraft to over 100 by the end of the year, including filling out the 787 Dreamliner fleet to somewhere between 40 and 50 total planes. He heralded their model of flying affordably, driving down prices on the trans-Atlantic market. Bjorn glowingly spoke of the Boeing partnership, noting how critical the performance of planes like the 787 Dreamliner and 737 MAX is to the success of Norwegian Air.
Bjorn took time to recognize the fundraising efforts and auction winners that helped raise almost $25,000 for UNICEF, a charity very near to Norwegian Air’s heart.
A question from the audience referenced new Norwegian Air service between Seattle and London. Bjorn revealed plans to launch service between Oslo and Seattle and said that they’ll continue to add new routes as they receive more 737 MAX and 787 aircraft. He also revealed that Sir Freddie Laker will grace the tail of the first 737 MAX flight. Norwegian noted there will be 3 US aviation pioneers featured on future tail designs.
Bjorn made one comment that I found especially interesting. I won’t get the wording exactly right, but he explained that the economics of the 737 MAX allowed them to pass on savings to customers so they could offer flights from Europe to certain East Coast cities as low as $99 one-way. The key here for me is him acknowledging their effort to pass these savings on to customers. It’s such a different mentality than many publicly traded airlines, who are using comparable savings to increase profit at the expense of their customers.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Norwegian is running a charity. They need to be profitable as well. But, they appear to be crafting a model where they can consistently offer a decent product at rock-bottom prices. By filling virtually every seat (something they seem pretty darn good at) they can be profitable.
Boeing 737 MAX 8 First Look
The first thing I noticed about the MAX was that it carries the scalloped engine cowling of the 787 Dreamliner. The other notable difference from the exterior is the split winglet. The nose cone looks a little bit different, but that may just be my eye. Otherwise, the fuselage is substantially the same from a visual standpoint as many of the 737 frames flying today.
Let’s Get Going!
Inside The Boeing 737 MAX 8
After getting to walk around the plane a few times, it was time to board.
Look At That Seat Assignment!
Inside, it looks like…..a 737. The interior is pretty much the same as most newer 737s flying the skies now. The Norwegian configuration surprised me in one key detail. Given their low-cost roots, I figured they would put the “MAX” number of seats on the plane. However, Boeing lists the MAX 8 capacity at 200 seats. Norwegian is close, but only has 189 seats. I reached out to Anders to get some clarity. I like his reply:
Norwegian will not compromise on legroom and customer experience for profitability, like so many other airlines do.
He also shared an infographic about the Norwegian 737 MAX 8 which confirms, among other things, a 30″ seat pitch.
Seat pitch is a bit of an imperfect measurement with the new generation of seats. Due to carve-outs at the knees, a 30″ seat pitch can actually seem more like 32 or 33″. That’s probably part of the reason American Airlines tried to shrink seat pitch for some rows to 29″ on their upcoming 737 MAX order.
I found the resulting amount of legroom to be ample enough, though I’m only 5’9″. Since we had about 9 hours of flying to get to Oslo, I tried taking a nap part way through the flight. I definitely think the seats are better sitting upright than “lie-flat coach”! Taller folks may want to angle for an exit row. The legroom looked to be at least a few inches more.
I had friend and fellow blogger Melinda from Magic of Miles snap some pictures of me working on my laptop in 3 different positions. As you can see, the seat pitch still allowed me to work on my laptop, though it was tight when the seat in front of me was reclined.
Seems Just Fine With My Seat Upright As Well As Seat In Front
Gets A Bit Tighter With Seat In Front Reclined
A Bit More Comfortable When I Recline
Our northerly route took us over some pretty cool sights. Here’s a peek out the window as we passed over the top of Hudson Bay by the Northwest Passages.
The cockpit of the 737 MAX sees some big and small changes. For starters, there are two new larger monitors in addition to the ones already front and center for the pilots. This monitor design borrows from the 787 as you can see in the two photos below.
Boeing 737 Cockpit
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cockpit
During our conversation with the pilots, they noted that a number of additions to the 737 MAX had actually been introduced recently in newer 737NG deliveries. Those roll-outs by Boeing cut down the amount of certification time necessary for pilots transitioning from earlier versions of the 737.
WiFi Is Coming
Even though Norwegian offers Wifi on most of their planes, I wasn’t expecting us to have Wifi for our delivery flight. My understanding is that most airplanes don’t leave the factory with WiFi kits installed. The Wifi providers have their own installation procedures that are separate from Boeing’s delivery of a new airplane. I was a bit surprised to see the notable “hump” of the radome for WiFi on top of our plane. When I asked the folks from Norwegian, they noted they had the equipment installed to provide WiFi but were still negotiating final contracts for their 787 and 737 MAX fleet. They expect to have this resolved by the end of the year.
I have a bit of knowledge in this area, but I’m by no means an expert. What do you do when you have a question? You contact an expert. I pinged my friend Seth, who writes the Wandering Aramean blog and also writes for Runway Girl. He confirmed that Boeing now offers airlines the option of having Boeing install the radome during assembly. This represents a big upside for the airlines. Normally they to pick up a brand new plane and fly it somewhere else for WiFi install (and lose valuable days of service without paying passengers).
With Boeing offering to complete part of this process, airlines have a much smaller piece to accomplish on their own. Seth notes that this helps with certification and aircraft resale value. That means Boeing can afford to charge a premium for this service.
Landing In Oslo And The Final Two Pennies
The published range on the 737 MAX 8 is roughly 3,500nm. Our delivery flight was lightly loaded, with less than 50 passengers and few bags. I’m not sure exactly how much difference that makes in fuel. According to Flight Radar 24 (another thanks to Seth for helping me find this), we traveled about 4,500nm. The route was a northerly one, which saw us fly completely in daylight for the 9+ hours we were in the air. We took off at 1pm in Seattle and landed in Oslo just after 7am local time.
I talked to the pilots afterwards and they noted we had enough fuel left onboard to make it another 500-750nm. It’s safe to say the 737 MAX can cover the longest of the current routes Norwegian plans to use them on (Bergen to Stewart in upstate NY).
This was my first delivery flight, though not my first flight on Norwegian Air. I also rode one of their 737s from New York to Martinique for their inaugural flight of that service. The thing that both flights had in common were great crews who really seemed to enjoy their job. They joined the rest of us in celebrating the 737 MAX entering service for Norwegian Air. While 9 hours in coach isn’t necessarily my idea of a great time, I’m still pretty excited to have gotten the experience of a delivery flight. I’m not sure I’ll get that chance again.