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New kid on the block LEVEL is the latest carrier to join the long-haul low cost market. Stephanie Taylor analyses the airline’s strategy in comparison to that of reigning Norwegian

On 1 June 2017, the newest member of the International Airlines Group (IAG), LEVEL, took to the skies, following its launch in March.


Operating four routes from its base at Barcelona-El Prat Airport – to Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Oakland and Punta Cana – using two new Airbus A330 aircraft, LEVEL has already exercised options for three further A330-200s, which will be delivered during summer 2018. 


The airline has created 250 jobs in Barcelona, but for the moment LEVEL is operating under Iberia’s AOC. IAG opted not to reveal any figures for LEVEL in its 2017 half-year report, with Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh simply stating, “Sales continue to be well ahead of our expectations.”


These ticket sales can be charted however, and on 18 March 2017, LEVEL revealed on Twitter that during its first day of sales, 52,000 tickets were purchased. Three weeks later, on 11 April, the carrier tweeted that ticket sales had nearly doubled at 100,000 sold. Further, on 1 June, when LEVEL’s first flight took off from Barcelona to Los Angeles, the press release revealed that the figure was now 134,000, and at the time of writing, IAG claims LEVEL has seen “more than 160,000 tickets sold since its launch in March.”  


This steady growth is an indicator that there is a market for LEVEL’s services, especially since it doesn’t seem to be affecting the success of its competitors – Norwegian’s long-haul operations marked a 96% load factor in June compared to a network-wide load factor of 94%.


LEVEL beat Norwegian to Buenos Aires after commencing three times-weekly flights from Barcelona on 17 June. On 20 July, LEVEL announced it was increasing the frequency of its Barcelona-Buenos Aires route from three to five times-weekly from 29 October this year.


Norwegian, on the other hand, is planning to introduce flights between London Gatwick and the Argentinian capital from February 2018. Buenos Aires will be Norwegian’s first South American destination and marks its eleventh long-haul service from London Gatwick. 


LEVEL is also going head-to-head with Norwegian on its Oakland and Los Angeles routes, to which the latter has a thrice-weekly and daily service from London Gatwick respectively.


So what’s the difference between their offerings?

While Norwegians Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 economy class cabins are nine-abreast in a 3+3+3 configuration, LEVELs Airbus A330s are eight abreast in a 2+4+2 layout. 


LEVEL can seat 293 passengers in economy with a 30in seat pitch and 21 in premium economy with a 37in seat pitch. According to SeatGuru, Norwegian’s 787-8s seat 32 passengers in premium economy and 259 in economy, while its 787-9 aircraft feature 35 premium and 309 economy seats. Both types offer a 31-32in pitch in economy and a 46in pitch in premium economy. 


The two airlines each offer seatback in-flight entertainment, a power socket and a USB port at each seat, but LEVEL is the only one to offer in-flight wifi (for a fee). 


LEVEL’s Panasonic in-flight entertainment and connectivity system was fitted by UK-based company Black Swan Data in just 12 weeks. Corinne Tulk, LEVEL’s Account Director at Black Swan Data, explains, “We integrated their connectivity solution and IAG’s chosen payment provider to fulfil the end-to-end customer journey, giving LEVEL a holistic view of usage through automated reports providing insights and metrics.” >>

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