In 2018 and beyond, we are really entering into an golden age of transatlantic flights. With a seemingly endless array of new airlines popping up, prices will continue to test new lows and travelers win for once. Norwegian Airlines started the “budget” trend with sub $500 USD fares to Scandinavia and the UK. Norwegian has since expanded extensively and numerous other long distance budget airlines have since pushed into the Fray including Primera, WOWAir, XL Airways, Level Airlines, and more.
I recently took one of the inaugural flights on Level Airlines from New York-Newark to Paris Orly. I paid €140 for a one way flight and have seen round trip flights for under €300 . Finding sub $400 USD round trip flights to Europe is no longer the exception but the norm now. Normally, I never pay for my flights but instead use my points and miles that I’ve accrued through extensive travel hacking. but these flights were so cheap I didn’t even bother with my points.
What is Level Airlines?
Level Airlines is part of the IAG network that consists of Oneworld airlines like British Airways and Iberia. Level Airlines was formed in response to low-cost airlines Norwegian eating into IAG’s full-service business (yay competition, now can we please get some in the US domestic market?). It’s been around for a few years mostly dabbling in intra-EU flights before jumping into the transatlantic game last year. They are operated by Iberia for flights to Spain and Openskies for flights to Paris Orly.
Level currently flies from Los Angeles & SFO to Barcelona, and Newark to Paris & Madrid for its transatlantic routes with more routes in the pipeline. Prices are incredibly cheap and €300 flights can easily be found.
I was booking a trip to Dakhla to go kitesurfing with a stopover in Paris to go to the Champagne wine making region. Flights from NYC to Casablanca to Dakhla seemed liked the best bet for $900. But I decided to check for flights to Paris as it is a big hub for flights into Morocco. I looked for one way flights to start and found a slew of airlines including Primera, Norwegian, XL Airways, and Level.
Price of flights on Level
Level had the cheapest prices at €140 with other airlines not that much more expensive. I’d never heard of the airline before but as an adventurous guy, I decided what the hell and booked it. The added benefit of Level is that they fly into Orly, which is a smaller and much more convenient airport than Charles De Gaulle.
I mean come on! €140 ($160) for a 7 hour flight to Paris? That is a steal! Flights from Newark leave at 10:40pm and leave Paris to Newark at 6:15pm. The flights are 3-4x a week and there doesn’t seem to be a consistent schedule yet. Flights range in price from €120 one way to €250 . There was plenty of availability for the lower end prices when I looked.
When Level started flying in the USA in 2017, they had many booking interface confusions but no longer. Their website is very easy to use and booking was a breeze. The interface is easy to use and Visa, Mastercard, and AMEX are all accepted.
As is the case with all other low-cost airlines, the fare paid includes the flight with a carry on. Checked bags, seat selection, in-flight meals are all extra and some of the prices were pretty outrageous (€35 for a meal, and €50 for checked bags). Thankfully, I abide by the never check a bag rule and eat at the lounge beforehand which has served me very well in my travels.
Check in Process
Located in Newark’s International Terminal B, Level Airlines is located on the top floor near the British Airway counter. They have their own counters with 6 booths. I came early just in case something went wrong as this was one of their flights. Can never be too safe after all. I was in line for maybe 10 minutes before checking in and getting my boarding pass.
There is an also an option to check in online before the flight but it kept asking me to choose a seat, which means I would have to pay for seat selection. I wasn’t keen to spend €25 on selecting a seat so I skipped the online check in.
Like all low-cost carriers, Level has strict baggage requirements. For carry on, the limit is 10 kg for the carry on and a personal item. I’ve seen stricter requirements before and it really just depends on the agent you get on any specific night. As I was only taking a large-ish backpack, the agents didn’t even ask me to weigh anything. I’m pretty sure it was over 10 kg but it was not an issue.
Going to the Arts & Lounge at Newark Terminal B
It was over two hours until my flight so I killed time at the Arts & Lounge which is located before security. Newark doesn’t have good lounge options in general, but I actually don’t mind the Arts & Lounge. It’s not going to change anyone’s life, but it is totally acceptable for a Priority Pass lounge. I drank copious amounts of red wine in anticipation of the worst. As it was a redeye flight on an airline I had never flown before, I figured lots of red wine would somewhat help with falling asleep.
Note that there are loads of redeye flights to Europe out of Newark in this terminal so between the hours of 8-11pm, expect long lines.
The Airplane and Boarding
I met some interesting people at the lounge. Their full-service Delta flight to Paris with no reasoning was canceled that evening and they ended up booking flights on Level. They had no idea Level was a low-cost airline or that it was flying a brand new route. We had one too many red-wines and didn’t even leave the lounge until 1 hour before the flight.
Going through security was excessively long because all the other airlines fly out of this terminal (and there is no precheck) and it was 10:20 when I got the gate (B68). It was almost done boarding so I have no insight to add about the boarding process but I assume it was fine.
We were all seated just before the estimated 10:40pm departure time. Because Newark is a consistent disaster, we were fore-warned that we could be taxiing for awhile. We ended up lifting off just before 11pm which I would consider a big win!
The airplane itself
Level uses the new Airbus A330s on this flight with a 2-4-2 row configuration. I was very pleasantly surprised at how nice the aircraft was. It’s brand new and I felt at ease. The seats are comfortable enough with ample padding.
I loved the adjustable headrest with the sleek Level logo. I also really liked how the headrest molds to your head, keeping it firmly in place so your head isn’t bobbing all over the place when you’re asleep. This is something I’ve never seen before. The seats also recline to a comfortable angle, more so than many of the full-service airlines I’ve flown on in fact.
The seats were a bit on the narrow side but the flight was not full so it was just me and another girl in the middle row of 4 seats. Leg space is on the tighter side but I’ve seen worse. I am 6′ tall with wide shoulders and it was at the cusp of what I would consider comfortable but it was enough space where I wasn’t in pain.
In Flight Entertainment System
There is also an entertainment system in every seat. Nice, big vibrant screens with a modern interface. They had the latest movies and TV shows for free and I didn’t even have to wait until takeoff. I ended up watching the new Star Wars Han Solo movie (decent). There is also an innovative ordering system on these tablets where you could store your payment information and purchase food, drinks, headphones, charging banks, wifi, and other things of actual use.
The entertainment system has a slot for a USB cord to charge your phone (which is ALWAYS appreciated) but I didn’t see any power outlets for a laptop (although I wasn’t looking very hard).
With Level’s low prices, modern entertainment system and safety videos, it’s no surprise that most of my flight was filled with millennials. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight where I felt like everyone on the flight to be younger than me. It’s not a surprise that Level is targeting the budget concious travel-saavy millennial and Gen Z crowd.
In the end, you’d think you’d be sacrificing comfort in droves with such low prices but like I’ve had with Norwegian, it simply isn’t the case.
The Crew And Service
I’ve been on many low cost airlines in Europe where the crew might as well not be there. They seemed even less enthused than the passengers that were slugging through the journey. I never got that impression from Level Airlines. The flight attendants were nice and always had a smile.
As it is a low-cost airline, they are not walking the aisles constantly serving out food and refreshing your drinks but that’s not what this flight is for anyway. When I wanted a cup of water, I got exactly that which to be honest is all I need on a flight anyway. I came well prepared with my own snacks.
I’m probably easier to impress than most of the divas flying the skies these days. I just need a flight where I can get water, where the flight attendants seem like they enjoy their jobs in some capacity, and where I have an acceptable amount of space. Above all, I understand that I am flying a low-cost airline, and I know what to expect.
Final Impressions of Level Airlines
All in all, I would rate my experience of Level Airlines positively. The aircrafts are brand new and they did a good job retrofitting them. The flight attendants were friendly and the entertainment system will keep anyone occupied for this 6.5 hour flight. Level has had some time to perfect their craft and it really showed here. Whatever problems they had from their inaugural flights are no longer.
I hope they can keep up the service quality as time goes on. I will most definitely fly Level again for what will now be a cheap and quick jaunt to Paris or Madrid.
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