British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), launched its new low cost carrier called “Level” that will serve a number of transatlantic routes. This is IAG’s fifth major airline in addition to Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling and fits in line with what both Lufthansa and Qantas have done with Eurowings and JetStar respectively.
Level is expected to begin flights on June 1, 2017, and those flights will be serviced by two A330s, fitted with 293 economy seats and 21 premium economy seats. Interestingly, the flights will at least initially be serviced by staff from sister carrier, Iberia Airlines. In fact, bookings are currently made through Iberia’s online booking service (which I despise).
The current routes being offered are from Barcelona (BCN) to LAX, OAK, PUJ, and EZE, with flights departing two or three times a week. Barcelona is also the hub for IAG’s other low cost carrier, Vueling, which serves Europe and will be used in conjunction with Level to offer connecting flights throughout the continent. Combining forces with Vueling seems like it was a major part of IAG’s strategy and seems like it could be a great move as evidenced by the extensive European network of Vueling shown below.
Fares on Level from BCN to LAX are starting as low as $149 one-way and some sources have even spotted fares as cheap as $105 for the inaugural flight. Since Iberia’s search feature is currently not functioning properly, I can’t look up other rates but it will be interesting to see where they come out.
The economy section will be arranged in a 2-4-2 formation with each seat having a 10 inch personal TV for in-flight entertainment. Premium economy will be feature a 2-3-2 formation featuring 37 inches of leg room and will also come with 12-inch TV screens and noise-cancelling headphones.
Passengers in economy will have to pay for in-flight meals, in-flight entertainment, seat selection, and checked luggage. However, premium economy passengers will be allowed entitled to those items on a complimentary basis. All passengers will be allowed a carry-on and will also earn Avios on flights.
This is undoubtedly IAG’s response to the emerging scene of low cost carriers picking up transatlantic flights. Most notably, Norwegian Air and WOW Air based in Iceland are two competitors who have recently made a lot of noise with their cheap tickets across the pond. Norwegian Air currently offers a number of routes from London-Gatwick to major US cities, such as New York, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Oakland, and others.
Just last month in February, Norwegian Air had one-way routes to Europe for as cheap as $65, allowing folks to book roundtrips for $147 inclusive of all taxes and fees! Norwegian is also steadily expanding its transatlantic routes through many secondary airports located throughout the East Coast of the US this summer, such as PVD (Providence, Rhode Island) and SWF (New York). These flights route to European cities, such as Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, and Shannon.
And while the prices have gone up since the introductory rates offered, as of today, Norwegian Air is still offering roundtrips to Europe as low as $340. And many of their one ways are right in line with Level’s as evidenced by the one-way routes from London-Gatwick seen below.
Some of the new transatlantic Norwegian routes from the East Coast will be serviced by the new 737 MAX, however, which will not feature a premium economy section or even TV screens in the seats like Level will feature in its A330s. Thus, Level may be able to offer a much more comfortable experience even in standard economy if they tap into those routes in the future. (I should note that Norwegian flies the 787 on other routes and it doesn’t look that bad and premium economy even has more leg room than Level.)
It will be interesting to see how many more low cost carriers enter into the market in the near future, and ultimately, I’m wondering if and when “basic economy” fares will begin to factor into the transatlantic market.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.