In 2017, a new budget airline called LEVEL took its inaugural flight from Barcelona to Los Angeles. It’s owned and operated by IAG (the same company behind British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, and others) and is based in Barcelona. The early impression from flight experts like the team at The Points Guy weren’t great — even for a budget airline — but just over a year into the company’s short life, LEVEL is hitting its stride.
Like many late-20s professionals, I’ve been experiencing the newfound joys of healthcare, independence, and a steady cash flow, the latter of which tends to be predominantly spent on travel. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good deal, though, which led me to a one-way ticket through LEVEL from New York City to Paris for $133. At first I was a bit skeptical, but hell, I usually spend more than that going out for a few cocktails and a mediocre meal in Manhattan.
I’m no stranger to the many low-cost airlines that’ve hit the market over the last 10 years, including Norwegian, XL Airways, and WOW. I’m also familiar with the recent collapse of Primera Air, which abruptly shut down and left numerous customers out a flight and a refund. So, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. But Paris is always a good idea.
As with most low-cost airlines, a seat on LEVEL doesn’t include much. Unlike XL, which offers you a meal and a checked bag for free, meals and checked bags with LEVEL will cost you extra. However, if you travel light and stock up on food and water beforehand (who wants those oversalted, dehydrating in-flight meals anyway?), then buying a basic seat on LEVEL is just the ticket. Choosing your seat will also run you an additional charge.
When it comes to comfort it’s not plush, but everything from the seats to the leg room is pretty standard. In-flight entertainment is provided, including movies, music, and games. If you’d rather handle your own entertainment, LEVEL makes it easy to download some movies on Netflix thanks to USB charging ports near every seat.
The boarding process took slightly longer than usual, which seems to be a common complaint about the airline. On the plus side, my flight and the flights of a number of other people who left reviews online landed prior to schedule. The crew was friendly and helpful in my experience, ensuring that everyone’s bags had a place to be stowed. Each time an attendant was called in my surrounding area, someone was there to respond to it within a matter of minutes.
While it’s new, it’s not too new. Many of the negative reviews are from the first year of LEVEL’s existence and are mostly complaints about rude staff and extra charges they didn’t know were coming like extra baggage, food, and drink fees, as well as additional charges for headphones, blankets, and pillows. However, in the airline’s defense, these additional charges are clearly stated on the website prior to booking. Other reviewers gave a low rating because they booked through Iberia’s website thinking it would earn the same airline points that Iberia does (it doesn’t).
At the time of writing, LEVEL has 1,023 reviews on TripAdvisor with a three out of five rating, which is standard for a transatlantic budget airline. It’s a half point higher than XL and the same rating as WOW. It’s half a point lower than Norwegian, although things aren’t looking too hot for that particular budget airline after a late December announcement of imminent bankruptcy and then an announcement a week later about extensive cost cutting to save the company. Another advantage LEVEL has is the number of flights to Paris per week on offer.
The key to making a flight on LEVEL worth it is to come prepared. Water, food, entertainment — grab it all before boarding. Budget airlines are for getting to your destination for a low cost and no frills, and, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. With LEVEL, I was pleasantly surprised, and I’m planning to use the airline again to revisit Europe — for a slightly higher price of $162 one way this time.