LEVEL launched with big plans in early 2017 and I was curious to see how this low-cost long-haul airline would shape up for this review. LEVEL has been drawing most of its resources from BA and Iberia and is just emancipating itself.
I had booked my ticket for just $149 on the day tickets became available; for my dates, Norwegian was at $450 one-way! LEVEL started out with a number of seats for $99/$149 for every flight when they opened up reservations and this was less than what I would have paid for an American Business Class award in fuel surcharges on Iberia.
With my reservation on Orbitz, I had gotten a seat reservation as well. There was some back and forth including about luggage but Orbitz did send me an email warning that luggage was not included despite my reservation saying so. LEVEL had used the Iberia GDS access and in a GDS seat assignment, food and baggage are not sold separately.
I tried to use the Iberia online check-in as LEVEL does not offer online check-in with your confirmation code but it kept throwing up an error during the process. When we arrived at the airport, I tried the kiosk check-in and VOILA it would print my boarding pass but the seat assignment from my Orbitz reservation was gone. I lined up at check-in and the agent mentioned that he had seen that issue before but if he was to move our seats he could not waive the charge. He apologized profusely but said it was out of his hands and mentioned that the sales office would be able to help.
The sales office/customer service were not having any of it; they barely replied to me and said that these seats were ‘tentatively assigned by Orbitz’ which needed a payment on the LEVEL website within 24 hours. After that, it would be canceled. This might be the policy now but at the time of booking, LEVEL did NOT even have a website! The supervisor wasn’t in any better mood and mumbled a few words in Spanish and walked away. Two (separate) middle seats at the back it was for us.
We proceeded to immigration and security which had long lines and took a good 30 minutes to clear. Departure time was at 2PM and boarding was scheduled to start at 1PM, which seemed excessive. The D and E areas of Barcelona Terminal 1 are not connected to the rest of the terminal (the terminal primarily serves Schengen customers). There is a duty-free, one (!) coffee shop and one McDonald’s. That’s a tiny amount of food and beverage for the many low-cost hungry fliers.
Thankfully, there is a very good Priority Pass lounge (Sala VIP Miro) that is well-stocked with drinks, cold food (think custom sandwiches) and snacks. The lounge was properly crowded but seemed well-run.
We walked over to boarding and it was chaotic, with 300 passengers snaking all over the terminal and a single person manning the boarding pass scanner (plus two more doing the ‘document check’). We returned 20 minutes later and boarding was less than 20% done. What a mess!
Eventually, we were able to board the refurbished A330-200. Given how new it is, it looked in great condition, with brand new slimline seats.
What was strange, though, was how much the bathrooms between the two big economy sections intruded into the aisle. I could not fit through walking forwards but needed to go sideways. I can’t believe the FAA would approve that!
We swapped seats to be able to sit together in row 43 (yes, the last row) which thankfully had reclining seats as well.
The seat pitch seemed pretty decent at 31 inches. These slimline seats have some advantages! The top of the seat has the entertainment system, which has lots of new movies and TV shows. I found dozens of movies I could (re)watch.
Amazingly, though, the IFE has no map functionality; it shows flight data but no map! That was a surprise.
I did not try out the WiFi, which seemed pretty expensive for the usage limited in MB AND time. The system to pay for items is odd and relies on your device to pick up a code that you see on the system in front of you. It never worked for me, though you can just call a flight attendant who can run the charge manually.
As I usually bring my own food, I hadn’t purchased any for this flight. After about an hour, food service would roll through for anyone who had purchased food and there was a good amount of snacks available to buy.
The flight attendants seemed genuinely friendly and ready to make LEVEL a success (BA must have sold it well to the united flight attendants) and many seemed surprisingly senior (I had expected a ‘fresher’ crew).
The flight attendants set up a hot/cold water station right behind us, so we were never out of water at least.
With a storm still off the US East Coast, our pilot chose a route straight north over Iceland and a northerly crossing of Greenland before going south.
We arrived almost one hour before our scheduled arrival time in Oakland but had to wait sitting on the ground a full hour for a gate. Oakland Airport is really feeling the strain from the constant Norwegian growth.
In sum, I liked the modern cabin with its wonderful entertainment product. The price of $99/$149 is fantastic and even with Norwegian is hard to get, especially during busy travel days. That’s where my praise ends…
The booking/seat assignment system is plain broken and Iberia staff could not be meaner. A quick supervisor waiver code could have solved all of this in seconds. This section of Barcelona Airport is miserable and the boarding process is extra-crowded and hapless. At the same price, I’d go with Norwegian for their great operations and similar onboard product. LEVEL needs to be better (or much cheaper) than Norwegian long-term to matter – just copying them and keeping the issues with staff and organization will not be good enough.
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