LEVEL, never heard of them, a quick google reveals a low-cost airline, owned by IAG (the umbrella company of BA and Iberia), flying long haul.
I love a bargain, 9 hours flying from a foreign airport, Paris to a country that had never been on my radar to visit, Martinique. There and back for £145 ish… SOLD!
A few days out from flying, I start to do more digging into Level, the more you read, the worse it gets. Feeling cold on your flight? A blanket will be €6. Hungry, of course you are, it’s a 9-hour flight, that will be another €6.50 minimum for a sandwich. Basically, anything you can think of is an optional extra with a price tag attached. They even charge €5 for a pair of headphones. Safe to say, the day of the flight I was dreading it.
Flying hand luggage only meant I had the option of checking in online or going via the bag drop counter. I will always wait until last to check in with low-cost carriers. My theory being, the airline will put you in poor seats from the get-go in the hope that you will then pay for better seats either with extra legroom, by a window or an aisle. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t really pan out like it normally does due to it being a full flight (2 empty seats). Hey at least I didn’t have to drop any bags off when checking in at the airport, that queue was huge.
When speaking to the check-in agent, he informed me that the boarding time was printed incorrectly on my ticket. It originally said I was boarding at 15:45 for a flight that was due to take off at 16:25. Boarding 40 mins before take off is pretty normal, however, the check-in agent said we would be boarding at 15:00. After taking what would seem to be an eternity going through security I decided to head straight to the gate as I only had 15 mins before boarding. No lounge to take the edge off a 9-hour economy flight.
Or herding the cattle? First thing you’ll notice is group boarding, some major airlines haven’t even implemented this. 15:00 rolls on and I ask at the gate what time they think we’ll be boarding. The pilots aren’t there and neither is the crew. Instead of queuing I head to the lounge as I know that I have a good 30 mins from when the crew turn up to when we will start to board. Psych! The only lounge that is available is an Air France lounge which no one on our flight would have access to. The lounge we would have access to with the likes of DragonPass, Priority Pass, et al is before the passport control we had already been through. You aren’t allowed to go back. DICKS!
15:45 finally rolls around and it’s time to board. Being at the front of the queue in group one, I was under the impression I’d be pre-boarding to get some images of the cabin, nope. I am walked straight past the airbridge, down some stairs and loaded onto a bus. The bus gets flooded with passengers and we are driven for a good 10 minutes to where the plane is parked. We then have to wait for a further 20 minutes, still crammed on the bus, until we can board. Eugh, first impressions are far worse than I was initially dreading. It’s full Ryanair spec of cattle herding.
Now that I had finally boarded, what a nice plane. Clean, warm and bright, laid out like every other airline in a 2-4-2 formation. What will separate it from most airlines however is business class, or lack of.
293 economy seats and 21 Premium Economy seats mean they can fly an extra 80+ passengers over the likes of Qatar who offer first class and 35+ passengers over Iberia who offer a business class seat, both on the same aircraft.
- Row 4 – are all prime seats that you are wanting to try and get. The bulkhead row which means plenty of legroom but you’re also in your own little cabin.
- 7 – A, C, J, L – Exit row seats so plenty of legroom. Unlike some planes, the door doesn’t restrict legroom.
- 9 – D, E, G, H – The bulkhead of the main cabin, plenty of legroom however due to them being a basinet seat you may have a screaming child next to you.
- Row 28 – is the bulkhead of the rear cabin so extra legroom.
- Seat 39H – This one gets its own mention. It’s a seat where the middle row cuts down to 3 due to the aircraft getting narrower. As such you have a lot of free space to your right where another seat should be.
Never has such a plain looking seat been so deceiving. Everything that had happened previous to boarding the flight was left at the door. The comfort was far greater than you’d expect for a low fare carrier, probably out doing BA if I’m honest. Granted with BA and most major airlines you get an extra inch of legroom but it didn’t really feel cramped. If you are wanting better though, onboard you can upgrade to Premium economy for €150
12H was my seat, no window view for me which I was and still am gutted about given the views I could see out of the window. After a few hours into the flight, I swapped with the person in 12G to see what it would be like in the middle. Apart from gaining an armrest (the passengers in the middle get the armrests because the people on the ends have the aisle which is a fair solution, general etiquette when flying), there was pretty much no difference so remained there for the rest of the flight.
I don’t mean the female in seat 13J kicking off and giving a load of abuse to the passenger in seat 12J for reclining her seat?!?! as amusing as that was… No, I’m talking about the screen you’ll have your peepers glued to for hours.
It’s a good screen, that coming from a digital photographer should carry some weight. The size is fairly large considering the distance you are away from it and it also offers some tilt for that inevitable moment the person in front reclines. The touch screen is as responsive as your phone with the only thing letting it down is the content. There’s a handful of blockbuster movies then it tails off. The same on the music front, nowhere near the selection you get on major airlines. On the plus side though, you don’t need a funky adapter for your headphones and the USB works for both playing media and also charging.
As I alluded to earlier, on long flights, unless you have packed your own food you’re going to be making a purchase. I do believe you can add a meal package onto your flight as a chargeable extra but after seeing what was delivered to others, lets just say it’s not Do&Co.
Catfished! as soon as the packaging was removed I was livid. from something that looked good and wasn’t out of the realm of being served to the above… The top layer or 2 I may as well have been breaking teeth on raw pasta. I then discovered the bottom half of the pasta was actually fairly nice as that’s where the oil was. Hindsight being 20/20 I should have shaken the packaging for an even coat, who in their right mind would think of that though. For €12.50 you get the main meal which is of decent portion size, a packet of crisps or a KitKat and a drink.
Seldom do I connect to WiFi on planes, even when it’s free. I’m certainly not going to pay for it. When I’m in the air, that’s my time, no emails, Whatsapp’s or anything, just whatever I want to do without interruption from the outside world.
In short, it’s Ryanair’s business model but long haul. If you like the model of super cheap flights and going hand luggage only, it’s highly recommended. Afterall you can spruce it up with DragonPass/Priority Pass which can help take the edge off it. If that’s not your jam, stick with the main carriers. I can say my 9-hour flight from ORY-FDF was far more comfortable than my 11 hour BA flight to LAX 2 weeks ago. They have plenty of kinks to work out with tech and on the ground staff but the flights are good.