Over the last few months, we’ve flown on a lot of budget airlines. Although they get a lot of bad press, I am grateful for their existence and thankful that they make travel affordable. Despite my gratitude, there is no denying the stress and frustration that can come with most budget airlines. When my wife told me we were flying on a new budget airline called Level, I braced for the chaos that was sure to ensue. I immediately started a list in my head to capture all the things that were about to go wrong or so I thought.
The Ticket Counter (Online check-in is not an option)
When we arrived at the ticketing counter in Barcelona, the Level attendants provided some pre-flight entertainment. We watched as each employee wandered about desperately trying to figure out what to do next as the line of weary travelers grew longer and longer.
After a painful 45 min. wait, we were finally called up to the counter to collect our tickets. As a reward for our patience, we won a whole row to ourselves (seats A & C). My wife also earned an additional security screening at the gate.
Boarding At The Gate
If you’ve ever flown a budget airline, you know exactly how wild boarding can be. Civility goes out the window, and it’s every man, woman, and child for themselves. Seriously, it’s common for families to be separated as travelers fight to reach a gate agent. There’s never really a line, it’s more of a swarm. Like ants climbing on top of one another pushing their way to the front of the line in hopes of reaching their assigned seats first.
It’s not perfect, but Level may be on to something
Rather than inviting passengers to participate in a warped version of Hunger Games just to board, why not let passengers start lining up as soon as they arrive. They are going to do it anyway. Right? At first, it seemed odd. It was more than an hour before our flight was scheduled to begin boarding, yet we’re already in line at the gate. Good thing we used the restrooms ahead of time. In front of the Level gate, there is a queue of 4 lines individually labeled: Premium, Group 1&2, Group 3 and Group 4. Although space varies, each queue holds about 15 passengers before the lines merge into one. At the point where the lines join there are attendants checking tickets and directing passengers to the appropriate line. I must admit, I was a little annoyed at first, but in comparison to our previous budget flights, this wasn’t half bad. At the very least I took comfort in knowing there was some organization. As an added bonus the queues helped to pace traffic onto the jetbridge. This way travelers can avoid the headache of hurrying up to wait.
Seating & Storage
Unlike most budget airlines the seating was spacious and reclined to a comfortable level. I’m a big guy (6ft, 270lbs) and was able to sit comfortably with limited fidgeting. The highlight of the flight though is the headrests. To reduce bulk while traveling, we both decided to leave our travel pillows at home. Even though we learned to live with the neck pains that comes from sleep bobbing (that’s the weird head bobbing thing you do when you’re exhausted), Level’s headrests are so flexible, you can easily make a seatbelt for your head. It sounds weird, but I promise it’s comforting.
The overhead storage is smaller in depth than most airlines, which means almost any hardshell carry-ons need to be loaded lengthwise to fit.
In-flight Service & Entertainment
In-flight service is always a gamble in Economy. Regardless of the airline, sometimes you’re treated like royalty, while other times a lowly peasant. On this flight, the service level was well above average. Each attendant was courteous and earned extra points in my book, by enforcing the rule of placing all seats in the upright position during food service. It’s hard to enjoy a snack while the person in front of you is sleeping in your lap.
As far as entertainment, the bar is set pretty low. As long as there’s a screen and a plug for headphones, I’m good. Level had both. As an added bonus, most of the shows offered included English subtitles. This came in handy since I could only find my Apple headphones (honestly, I get upset at Apple every time for changing the design. Was there not a better solution?)
Remember Why You’re Traveling
Budget airlines serve one purpose, to offer affordable transportation. They make travel possible by providing the bare essentials and charging for everything else. Level is one of the many European budget airlines making travel a little more attainable. Your experience is entirely based on your expectations and perceptions. I’ve lost track of the number of different airlines we’ve flown on but have learned a valuable lesson. Unlike most things in life budget airlines are more about the final destination than the journey.
I would love to hear from you. What’s been your most memorable or positive experience flying on a budget airline?
Traveling internationally soon? Be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Surviv a Long Haul Flight.