After the demise of Air Berlin and Niki, the European LCC market has heated up with more competition.
LEVEL, part of the IAG Group, is the newest low-cost airline start-up in Europe, launching operations in June 2017.
I flew with them at the end of August to Vienna and back from London-Gatwick (LGW). Here is my review of the experience I had, as I try to find out what makes them stand out from the rest.
Before I start, there was one reason I booked to fly with LEVEL. It was purely the cost.
I still can’t believe this, but my flights cost 1 cent each way. It seriously did cost a cent, which is unheard of.
The reason for the flights costing so low is slightly understandable, and LEVEL’s brief history sort of explains it.
LEVEL was only started in June 2017. They were initially operating long-haul flights using Airbus A330-200s, which were handled by Iberia following the fall of Air Berlin in October, and Niki in December 2017. LEVEL acquired some of their Airbus A321s, with which they launched their first regional operations.
The A321s do bear LEVEL branding but are, in fact, operated by Anisec—a new IAG subsidiary.
Basically, LEVEL is just a brand name on planes and all their flights are operated by other airlines. A good example of this is Open Skies of France. It was recently taken over by the LEVEL brand, with their Boeing 757/767s being phased out and replaced with A330-200s.
LEVEL announced all these new Vienna flights at the end of June 2018, with the first one starting just 20 days later, on the 17th of July 2018.
Right at the start of July, they had a flash sale of 50,000 seats costing just 1 cent each way. Talk about poaching and penetrating the market…
That’s one way to certainly fill flights. All seats sold out within 3 hours.
Traveling through London Gatwick
Let’s begin. I had to fly down from Glasgow to catch this flight. I flew down with easyjet onboard an Airbus A319. The flight got in an hour late and was mostly uneventful, apart from a go-around on the first landing attempt. This was due to an aircraft being on the runway.
One thing I will say is easyjet’s A319s need some serious cabin upgrades, they are really outdated compared to the A320s, and most certainly not the cleanest.
easyjet uses the North Terminal at LGW following a massive terminal switch, as they previously used the south.
The transfer between the Terminals was fairly straight-forward. There is a train that runs every two minutes between them and it takes just 30 seconds from one to another.
I had an hour to wait before going through security, so I decided to do some plane spotting from one of the car parks. Do note that this spot is strictly for photography only, as London Gatwick is an airport that’s very tight, security wise.
I’ve included a selection of photos below with some of the different aircraft I saw over the hour I was there.
Before I walked through security, I had a quick look at the LEVEL check-in area from above. It looked pretty busy.
I checked-In online the day before the flight and had my boarding pass on my phone. The security was easy enough and I was through into the departures area within 10 minutes.
Immediately, I noticed a problem. There was a massive lack of windows and it was packed. This was anticipated, as a lot of the Long-Haul flights were departing around the time of my flight.
I grabbed some lunch at Wagamama’s, then headed to my gate. The lack of windows was really noticeable throughout the airport.
It made this part of the terminal feel dark and gloomy. At least in the main departures area, it was really bright despite the lack of windows.
The flight number for today’s flight is VK4051 and the gate is number 13.
A London-Gatwick trademark is chaotic boarding. Basically, the majority of the gates are boarding pens, which are very disorganized, to say the least.
LEVEL has a boarding sequence at Gatwick, and it’s based on where passengers are sitting on the plane.
Airport staff called for those seated from row 22 to the back of the plane to board first, but everyone else got up anyways. These boarding sequences are very disorganised.
After 10 minutes of waiting, I finally boarded the plane. My plane was OE-LCR, a 3-year-old Airbus A321.
The cabin was very bright and modern, and still had remnants of its previous operators, Niki & Air Berlin with seats and the bulkhead carrying Niki’s former logo on them.
During Winter 2018/2019, LEVEL is supposed to be updating the cabin with its own seats and configuration.
My seat for today’s flight is 9A, with a perfect view of the engine. Personally, I prefer engine view seats over wing view seats. LEVELs A321s all features CFM56 engines. Interestingly, the rest of the IAG Group uses IAE engines on their A321s.
The flight time for todays flight is just under 2 hours.
We pushed back 10 minutes behind schedule however, we skipped all the queues and departed off runway 26L in no time. The spool up was phenomenal, even-though the climb-out was a bit bumpy.
The seats were comfortable with great legroom, I even had a whole row to myself, which was an added bonus. I do really hope LEVEL retain the same legroom, with their cabin reconfiguration.
On all but one of LEVEL’s A321s, there are also USB charging ports under the seats. Four USB ports per row. They are at the bottom of the Window and Aisle seats. This is something else I hope is retained.
In the seat pocked it had all the usual bits and bobs you would exspect, but I noticed something else: there was a card which showed all of their routes from Vienna.
It also had a Slogan saying “A new airline for a new generation.” Having that card in their seat pocket was a nice addition, because it can easily give a passenger ideas on where to travel next.
Their cabin and USB ports are the only aspects I would say LEVEL stood out with, in a good way. Their onboard menu, well that’s another story.
The selection was poor, with some extreme prices. British Airways have been put to shame in terms of onboard menu prices. The food that was on offer did look pretty good, I will admit.
So for research purposes, I decided to buy an Apple Crumble and a can of Cola. The onboard price for soft drinks was reasonable, but the crumble certainly was not. A nice touch to the Cola was that the flight attendant added a slice of lemon to it.
The crumble did taste really good, but it was tiny and what made it worse, was its ludicrous price of €5. I definitely don’t recommend buying it. Even though in the picture it looks big, the inside of it was half the size and the base wasn’t deep.
The crew onboard were friendly and helpful. They were just getting on with their job. No complaints.
The flight was fairly smooth and, before I knew it, descent had commenced. Due to Vienna’s proximity to Bratislava, it could be seen in the distance. The weather in Austria was certainly warm.
We landed 20 minutes ahead of schedule. A quick Taxi to a remote stand and it was time to deboard.
Since it was a remote stand, the buses arrived shortly after the engines shut-down. As I deboarded, I thanked the crew and took a few quick photos as I walked down the steps.
Now it was time to explore Vienna, with a bit of Plane Spotting in the mix as well.
The return flight wasn’t any different apart from I was sat towards the back of the Plane. I was also onboard the only aircraft which had USB ports, but featured reclinable seats.
I took full advantage of this. The aircraft that doesn’t have USB ports, has no Sharklets as well. It is considerably older, too. The A321 in question is OE-LCF, which is 15.5 Years Old.
My overall verdict on my flights is that LEVEL is no different to any other LCC. They don’t offer anything that makes them stand out from all the others. They are just another airline, trying to get a piece of the pie.
I won’t be going out my way to fly with LEVEL again. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend them.
If you’re looking for a good onboard menu, then don’t fly with LEVEL. Try flying airBaltic, for instance.
If you are just looking to get from A to B, and if the price is right, then I definitely would recommend flying with them as their flights were on-time and the flight attendants very friendly.
Remember that, with LEVEL, all you get is what you pay for: a seat on a plane. That’s the main purpose of an LCC, and LEVEL does it almost to perfection.
One area of improvement for LEVEL has to be its menu. The poor selection and expensive prices do need adjusting. For a two-hour sector, the options were alright, but for anything longer there needs to be more on offer.
Overall, I did enjoy my little trip to Vienna and hope to return again in the future.