KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 01, 2017 4:57 am

Image

BACKGROUND

LEVEL, the new LCC spinoff of Iberia recently started non-stop flights between Barcelona and Oakland. Their fares in peak summer tourist season were nowhere near the $149 inaugural offer, but still significantly cheaper than other options, and the desire to try out a brand new airline made me decide to go with them.

Booking the flight was pretty straightforward. Well, sort of. Although LEVEL has their own website, the booking process is handled by Iberia. Once the flight was booked, Iberia offered the option to pre-book a seat in advance. Almost all the seats cost extra, and I found a great Exit row window seat for $37 so booked it and got a confirmation receipt in my email- SEAT 28L. EXIT ROW. $37.00. All good, right? Wrong!

Few days later while checking my credit card statement, I found out Iberia charged me $75 for the seat without informing me, after sending a confirmation receipt for $37! I would have never found this out had I not gone through my card statement! This was the start of a long annoying process-
1. I immediately called up LEVEL's Customer Service number who shrugged off all responsibility and told me to file a complaint with Iberia using their online form
2. I filled out Iberia's complaint form, and waited and waited. No response at all for one week
3. I tweeted to @flywithlevelEN about this and waited. No response from them at all. Social media PR fail for an airline that promises to be "fresh and young"!
4. A week later, I tweeted the same thing to @Iberia_en and they at least responded promptly with vague PR sweet-talk and promise of following up. Several tweets later, they concluded they can only respond to tweets, but not resolve any actual issues
5. A full 21 days and several tweets later, Iberia's formal complaint department responded, in which they basically said "Yes, our system screwed this up, but we cannot offer you any refunds. Try filing a new complaint AFTER your flight." Yo what the what?

At this point I had already realized one thing- if something were to go wrong with my flight, this is an airline that will NOT take care of you, so just hope everything works out as planned. Luckily, I booked using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card and filed a complaint for the wrong charges with the bank and they will most likely refund me the excess amount charged.

BEFORE THE FLIGHT

24 hours before the flight, I try to check-in online on LEVEL's site on my phone, but it directs me to Iberia. Well, no big deal. So, I enter all the details and click "Check In" and get an error pop-up "Incorrect Address". There is one small problem though- the entire check-in form does not have an address field shown anywhere! I give up, but decide to try once more, this time from a desktop and find out the culprit- Iberia's fancy-but-not-so-fancy check-in form has an "Address" field that pops up after you fill half the details, and this thing works only on desktop browsers! Oh well, at least I got the boarding pass in PDF and Apple Wallet formats.

LEVEL, like Iberia, operates out of the new giant Terminal 1 of Barcelona El Prat (BCN). Despite the modern looks, the terminal is a complete madhouse. All passengers for all gates have to go through one security checkpoint, and post security join a long winding queue for passport control, which at one point splits into two with 8 counters on the left and 8 on the right. There is no staff or signs directing the traffic flow, so you just have to go by your gut instincts. Thankfully the lines move pretty fast and I am directed to the E gates on the top floor in one corner of the terminal.

I had not pre-booked meals for two reasons- first, I was not sure if the meals would be worth the extra $37, and more importantly, their meal pre-book page does not offer any vegetarian options. So, I had planned to stock up on food from the airport post-security, but turns out our side of the terminal has only one restaurant with a long queue and two vending machines. I am at the gate area by 13.15 for a 14.20 departure, which I feel is quite early, but boy am I wrong! The gate display says "IB 2621 OAKLAND BOARDING BEGINS 12.50". What?! Who starts boarding a full ONE AND HALF HOUR before departure time? Well, they have not really started boarding but a serpentine queue of 100+ passengers has formed snaking across the terminal. I manage to get at least a bottle of lemonade from the vending machine as my "food" for the flight, and decide to sit down rather than joining the conga line. At about 13.20 the gate agent announces "Boarding Group 1". My boarding pass says Group 2 so I wait. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, no more announcements but the line is slowly progressing, so I go to the gate and ask which group is boarding. The agent nonchalantly replies "Anyone". Oh great! The group numbers mean nothing, it's a free for all!

Our plane is parked at a gate with views blocked by the jetways but I take a brief glimpse and do not see any plane in the LEVEL livery there! Instead there is a plane in Iberia livery! Turns out the scheduled plane for our flight had gone kaput so they had borrowed an Iberia A332 to operate today's flight! There goes my chance to actually getting to try out the LEVEL on-board product. The borrowed plane also means seat configuration has gone for a toss, and with less seats than LEVEL's LCC configuration, several confirmed passengers are now being put on standby, who are all understandably angry. I scan my boarding pass and the scanner beeps DENIED. Uh oh. I am taken aside by one of the gate agents who informs me my seat has been reassigned. Thankfully Iberia/LEVEL had taken the effort to make sure passengers who paid for Exit rows get Exit row seats in the new configuration. Phew. However, they have no more boarding passes at the gate, so the agent writes "28L" on a piece of paper, tears it off and hands it over to me. This is my new "boarding pass". Truly putting the "low cost" in LCC!

Image
My "low cost" boarding pass

FLIGHT DETAILS

Date: 30-07-2017
Flight number: IB 2621
Aircraft: A330-200 (Iberia livery)
Flight time: 12hr 10min

THE FLIGHT

Due to the plane swap, the onboard product is a hodge-podge of two different brands. The IFE screens, bulkheads and safety cards say Iberia but the food menus and cabin crew uniform is LEVEL. From the pictures I have seen of LEVEL planes, the seats looked identical between the two airlines. Once the boarding is complete, the crew is confused whether to do a manual safety briefing or play the video, so they first do it manually, but then also turn on the video which nobody knows how to stop! In the chaos, we have pushed back, taxied to the runway and gotten clearance to takeoff too! Both crew members supposed to take jumpseats in front of my exit do not realize this, and end up running up the aisle to take their jumpseats while the takeoff roll is already going on!

The meal service begins an hour into the flight, with two crew members serving all those passengers who had pre-ordered their meals. After they are done, another crew guy rolls a cart down the aisle without saying a word. Is he rearranging stuff? Is this the "buy onboard" phase of the service? You'd never know unless you flagged him down and asked! So I did just that and turns out yes, that silent walk is indeed their BOB service. I buy a couscous salad which is served cold and tastes decent and not bad for 8 Euros. The drinks are a bit steeply priced with even a cup of coffee costing 3.5 Euros! Even water is not free as per the menu, with a 500ml bottle priced at 2.5 Euros, but I guess the crew realizes this is a bit too cruel even by LCC standards for a 13 hour flight, so they quietly leave a big bottle of water and some cups in the rear galley so passengers who want to be hydrated without breaking bank can walk back and get their fix.

The flight itself is quite uneventful. The Iberia IFE has decent collection of movies and TV shows but sadly this being a new LEVEL route, the moving map is confused and does not show anything for the entire duration. There are no earphones provided, nor are there any pillows or blankets (all these items can be purchased for an additional fee). About two hours prior to landing, a second meal service is done, and again the BOB guy does not say a single word unless you specifically flag him down. I get an omelet sandwich on baguette and a coffee for 11 Euros, ending my "meals" for $19 total. Not bad, I think. Despite starting 30 minutes late, we arrive Oakland 10 minutes before scheduled arrival time and have to wait on the apron for 15 minutes until one of the few widebody-capable gates at OAK can open up.

CONCLUSION

It is pretty clear Iberia jumped the gun the launched LEVEL in plenty of haste just so that they can get into the BCN-OAK market before Norwegian started the same route weeks later, but in their hurry they have created an airline that is unprofessional and half-baked. I had a hearty laugh after landing at OAK, looking at the giant signs inside the terminal put up by the airport that says "NON STOP TO BARCELONA" and lists only Norwegian as the option, not LEVEL! Ha, so much for being first! Needless to say, I am not going to be eager to give LEVEL my business again unless they are the only option or significantly cheaper than others to justify the annoyances.
 
AR385
Posts: 6813
Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2003 8:25 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 01, 2017 8:42 pm

It is realy not my intention to come off sounding like a jerk, but, you get what you pay for. I have a profound dislike for IB, given constant bad experiences in cabin service, ground service, their call centers, generally rude and indifferent staff in all aspects of the customer experience. When I read that initially LEVEL was going to be essentially operated by IB, I decided that if I ever flew them, it would be when they get their own AOC.

Good report though, pretty detailed. Thank you.
 
theobcman
Posts: 428
Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2010 11:16 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 01, 2017 8:48 pm

Have read good & bad about LEVEL. I would be prepared to give them a go.

Any cabin pictures ?
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 01, 2017 9:26 pm

AR385 wrote:
It is realy not my intention to come off sounding like a jerk, but, you get what you pay for. I have a profound dislike for IB, given constant bad experiences in cabin service, ground service, their call centers, generally rude and indifferent staff in all aspects of the customer experience. When I read that initially LEVEL was going to be essentially operated by IB, I decided that if I ever flew them, it would be when they get their own AOC.


I did not have high expectations to begin with, but a credit card fraud (giving receipt for $37 but charging $75 to the card without informing) was not something I was expecting out of any airline, LCC or not.

Also, I have never flown IB, so I have no idea if they have a history of poor service on ground and in the air. Well, now I know I guess.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 01, 2017 9:27 pm

theobcman wrote:
Any cabin pictures ?


Sorry I did not take any cabin pictures, but it was exactly identical as this picture I found from a Google search-

Image
 
jeffrey1970
Posts: 1356
Joined: Sat Apr 07, 2001 1:41 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:23 am

That is strange and unprofessional that the F/A just pushed the BoB cart down the isle without saying anything. As far as everything else maybe they have some hiccups since they are just starting out. I pray that things improve.
God bless through Jesus, Jeff
 
TW870
Posts: 619
Joined: Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:01 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 02, 2017 3:15 am

Awesome report with great detail about the specific features of the long haul LCC service. The most troubling point you raise is about how difficult it is to get in touch with a real person when customer service problems occur. I recently flew DL from BCN-JFK, and even though I am sure it was more expensive (I paid $1400US for MSP-MAD, BCN-MSP round trip), it was so convenient to have everything, from my exit row seat to my food and drinks, rolled into the price. I agree with your read of El Prat overall, although it is an absolutely gorgeous terminal. The food options are far too minimal. I just transited Schipol, and although it is far less impressive structurally, the food options are fantastic compared to El Prat. There is plenty of space at BCN, and they need to add in some more features for passengers. Anyway, thanks for the report!
 
User avatar
FlyRow
Posts: 75
Joined: Mon Mar 21, 2016 10:05 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 02, 2017 1:56 pm

Sounds pretty low-level to me this madneess. Joon/Level... this has to stop.
Thanks for the report though!
F70-F100-RJ85-RJ70-E190-319-320-321-733-734-735-737-738-752-753-763-764-772-744-380
 
User avatar
eastafspot
Posts: 993
Joined: Tue Jan 29, 2008 5:19 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 02, 2017 3:04 pm

Thank you for sharing this first TR about Level!
Probably some teething issues made this experience truly low cost style to say the least!
If the rock bottom fares are right, they may become an excellent option.
Fly with Air Burundi, Air Tanzania, Air Uganda, Kenya Airways and Rwandair...Jumuiya ya Afrika mashariki
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 02, 2017 4:16 pm

eastafspot wrote:
If the rock bottom fares are right, they may become an excellent option.


At least I did not pay "rock bottom" fares for this mess. My one-way BCN-OAK ticket was $650, which is a lot for an LCC, but considering this was peak summer tourist season, other options to SFO were close to $1000. If they offer a $200 fare across the pond, I will take all their issues, shut up and endure the flight with a few drinks.
 
Cointrin330
Posts: 319
Joined: Sat Jul 16, 2016 12:23 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:24 am

Airlines within airlines generally don't work and I don't put much faith in this. Seems like Level was a rushed response, not a strategic think, in terms of responding to Norwegian. If they are subbing in Iberia aircraft, handling the bookings, etc...there has to be hidden costs to IAG that it can't control. The industry is littered with failed attempts of this sort, though not on the scale of an intercontinental low cost competitor but look to further than Shuttle By United, Metrojet (USAir), Song (Delta), Delta Express, Go (BA), and you get the picture.
 
User avatar
aerdingus
Posts: 2671
Joined: Tue Dec 05, 2006 8:58 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:42 am

Oh my god...all the way from BCN to OAK...no way I could do this.
Thanks for taking one for the team and writing the report! :lol:
2017: DUB LTN DUB FR B737
Orbis MD10
Booked: DUB STN GRO STN DUB FR B737
 
debonair
Posts: 2951
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2004 10:50 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Thu Aug 03, 2017 1:42 pm

jeffrey1970 wrote:
That is strange and unprofessional that the F/A just pushed the BoB cart down the isle without saying anything. As far as everything else maybe they have some hiccups since they are just starting out. I pray that things improve.


Nope, I am sure there are some other reasons behind, as IBERIA shorthaul flights are all BOB and the crews are well trained. In my opinion, it's a "wildcat strike" by IBERIA staff. Their union agreed a deal with IAG/IBERIA operating these low cost flights - but the employees are fearing a much wider LEVEL operation, if this model is successful. So, nobody is behind this airline, not to mention on the customer side - they just do the bare minimum.
 
11725Flyer
Posts: 785
Joined: Mon May 30, 2016 4:51 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Thu Aug 03, 2017 7:59 pm

I literally laughed out loud at the boarding pass picture. Thanks for sharing your trip with us!
 
User avatar
CollegeAviator
Posts: 170
Joined: Thu Oct 13, 2016 2:55 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Thu Aug 03, 2017 8:55 pm

Very interesting report!
I try to keep a collection of my boarding passes, but wow I would've lost a LEVEL boarding pass easily, LOL!
What was the original aircraft scheduled for the flight? I might've missed this..
Thanks for sharing!
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:14 am

CollegeAviator wrote:
I try to keep a collection of my boarding passes, but wow I would've lost a LEVEL boarding pass easily, LOL!
What was the original aircraft scheduled for the flight? I might've missed this.


I have my special LEVEL boarding pass safely saved so far, but I don't know how long it will stay!

Just saw another thread in General Discussions about a LEVEL A332 diverting to SLC due to engine trouble and chilling out there for 6 days. That was supposed to be my original aircraft, but since it decided to vacation in Utah, I got to fly on an Iberia A332 in "full-service" configuration.
 
ba319-131
Posts: 8191
Joined: Sat Jan 13, 2001 1:27 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Fri Aug 04, 2017 7:01 pm

Good read, thanks for sharing.

Sure sounds a mess, though I guess you get what you pay for. I'd never fly Level. Or Norwegian long haul..

If you want to travel on the cheap fine, just don't expect d cent service or service recovery when things go wrong.
111,732,3,4,5,7,8,BBJ,741,742,743,744,752,762,763,764,772,77L,773,77W,L15,D10,30,40,AB3,AB6,A312.313,319,320,321,332,333
 
penguins
Posts: 420
Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2010 9:52 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Sat Aug 05, 2017 6:16 am

Is making water only available for purchase for 13 hours legal?
 
AndrewJM70
Posts: 26
Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2016 1:08 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 08, 2017 7:58 am

What an utterly dreadful airline by the sounds of things. However, no surprise really. Combine the attitude of Iberia with the penny-pinching of IAG and this is exactly what you can expect. So much for young and fresh!
 
User avatar
vhtje
Posts: 620
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 12:40 pm

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Tue Aug 08, 2017 9:48 am

Wow, what a mess.

Thank you for posting the TR. One question: did the aircraft have a business class cabin, and was it occupied for the flight? Presumably they put the Premium Economy passengers in the business class seats?
I only turn left when boarding aircraft. Well, mostly. All right, sometimes. OH OKAY - rarely.
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 09, 2017 1:33 am

penguins wrote:
Is making water only available for purchase for 13 hours legal?


Maybe that is why the crew quietly left a big bottle of water open with some cups in the rear galley. So if someone complains they can say "We had free water available, the passenger did not take advantage of it!"
 
KiloRomeoDelta
Topic Author
Posts: 143
Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2012 12:40 am

Re: BCN-OAK on LEVEL - Putting the Lows in Low Cost Carrier

Wed Aug 09, 2017 1:35 am

vhtje wrote:
One question: did the aircraft have a business class cabin, and was it occupied for the flight? Presumably they put the Premium Economy passengers in the business class seats?


Yes! The pax who had purchased Premium Economy got an awesome upgrade with lie-flat business seats for a 13 hour flight!

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider], Google Feedfetcher and 2 guests

Popular Searches On Airliners.net

Top Photos of Last:   24 Hours  •  48 Hours  •  7 Days  •  30 Days  •  180 Days  •  365 Days  •  All Time

Military Aircraft Every type from fighters to helicopters from air forces around the globe

Classic Airliners Props and jets from the good old days

Flight Decks Views from inside the cockpit

Aircraft Cabins Passenger cabin shots showing seat arrangements as well as cargo aircraft interior

Cargo Aircraft Pictures of great freighter aircraft

Government Aircraft Aircraft flying government officials

Helicopters Our large helicopter section. Both military and civil versions

Blimps / Airships Everything from the Goodyear blimp to the Zeppelin

Night Photos Beautiful shots taken while the sun is below the horizon

Accidents Accident, incident and crash related photos

Air to Air Photos taken by airborne photographers of airborne aircraft

Special Paint Schemes Aircraft painted in beautiful and original liveries

Airport Overviews Airport overviews from the air or ground

Tails and Winglets Tail and Winglet closeups with beautiful airline logos