- Credit Card Compare’s Christelle Baudrin-Amroyal returned to Paris on budget airline LEVEL (which came as a surprise).
- Get the low-down on the cost, extra costs, and whether it was worth it.
- Learn about the extraordinary in-flight ‘entertainment’.
- Airline: LEVEL (budget carrier owned by IAG, holding company of British Airways and Iberia)
- Flight number: IB 2602
- Route: Buenos Aires (EZE) to Paris (CDG) via Barcelona (BCN)
- Duration: 12 hours 30 minutes for EZE–BCN, plus 2 hours for BCN–CDG
- Cabin: Economy Class
- When: 8th April 2019
- Cost: €350 + €176 for non-included essential extras
- Aircraft: Airbus 330-200
- Seat number: 40A
- Overnight flight: Yes
- Meal included: Only as extra paid option
- Amenity kit provided: Only as an extra paid option, including cushion and blanket
- Headphones provided: Only as extra paid option
- Pyjamas provided: No
- Inflight Wi-Fi: Yes
- Baggage: Up to 10kg cabin baggage included, but checked baggage is an extra paid option
Booking the flight
When I booked my flight, four months in advance, I believed that I would be flying with Iberia, Spain’s flagship carrier. It has a good reputation, and flight IB 2602 appeared to offer the best combination of quality, price and flight duration for this leg of my journey.
There was nothing during the online booking process (on the Iberia website) to suggest that it was not a standard Iberia flight (with what appeared to be an Iberia flight number), although in hindsight both the price (€350, about AU$565) and the lack of included checked baggage could have been indications that all was not what it seemed.
I went back online two days before the flight to check in and pay for checked baggage. Seat selection cost me €15 (AU$24), but I was happy to secure a window seat well away from the toilets. But for some reason I wasn’t able to use the online checked baggage option (€45 per 23kg bag) and was told I would have to pay at the airport (€50/AU$81 per bag).
At the airport
There was only a 10-minute queue for bag drop-off, which was good (because there were about 100 people in the queue for those who hadn’t already checked in online) but it all went downhill from there.
Nasty Surprise No. 1: The flight is not operated by Iberia but by their budget carrier, LEVEL. There’s no food included in the price, so I’ll have to buy it on board.
Nasty surprise No 2: The desk attendant claims to be unable to print my boarding pass for the Barcelona-Paris segment. I’ve had problems with missing boarding passes before, when in transit, so I’m prepared to insist, especially when I realise she’s just being lazy. In the end I get my boarding pass.
Nasty Surprise No. 3: The charge of €50 per checked bag is for each flight segment. So I’ll have to pay €50 for Buenos Aires to Barcelona, and a further €50 for Barcelona to Paris, a total of AU$162, even though I didn’t book the trip segments separately. The additional cost for seat selection and baggage has now added 33% to my original fare amount.
Nasty Surprise No. 4: They pressure me to make the payment because they want to close the flight, but they don’t take Mastercard at the desk. As a result, I have to go to the airline office to pay, risking the flight closing and leaving without me. This has to be the worst customer service I have ever experienced.
Boarding the plane
Boarding is a quick and easy process. Could it be that everything will be fine from now on?
The cabin layout is 2-3-2, and I have a window seat, so only one neighbour. The seat is comfortable (for such a low-cost airline), the legroom is OK, and there’s an adjustable headrest. All is well until the person in front of me reclines his seat, and there goes my legroom.
I’m reminded once again that this is a no-frills flight when I have to pay €16 (AU$25) for a cushion, blanket and amenity kit. The joys of flying low-cost!
Long-winded pilot cuts short my sleeping time
Did he miss his calling as a tour guide? It seemed like it, when the pilot rattled on for 10 minutes, beginning with the information that we left five minutes late as a result of a problem with the refuelling process – so comforting, not a bit scary. Help!
He continued with a list of all the cities we would pass over in Uruguay and Brazil, and the size of the Atlantic Ocean and why it takes so long to cross, with a nod to all its islands that we were never likely to visit. Then it was on to all the cities we would fly over in Africa and Spain. Once it was over (in Spanish) I was ready to sleep, but it began all over again, in English this time.
I appreciated the transparency about the fuel problem (sort of) and the travel monologue was quite cute, but why go on so long? I just wanted to sleep and forget about my experiences at the airport. The lights did go out quite quickly once the 20-minute talk was over, and since the cabin was quite small and quiet, I was able to sleep a bit, until . . .
Let’s not miss an opportunity to sell food
Just because there’s no food included in the price it doesn’t mean they don’t want to sell you any. There had already been a snack sales service before lights out, and just when I was trying to adjust my body clock to sleeping time in Europe, they turned on the lights again to sell more food.
It’s possible to pre-book food service for €35 (AU$56), up to 24 hours before the flight, but I wasn’t able to do this since I didn’t know I would be flying with LEVEL.
Snacks and drinks start at €3.50, and the snacks looked more appetising than the meal offerings – penne bolognese or chicken curry for €7-€10. I chose to fill up on snacks and was able to pay with my leftover pesos.
At least the entertainment was free – once you’d paid for headphones or brought your own. The screen was a decent size and there was a good multilingual (English, Spanish, French) selection of awards-nominated movies. I was happy to find ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ among the TV programs, and there were plenty of options for kids.
The screen could also be used to order food, headphones and the comfort/amenity kit. Our chatty pilot also delivered another soliloquy – entertaining if you were awake, if you were trying to sleep, not so much.
In transit in Barcelona
Immigration and security in Barcelona were, fortunately, very efficient. It’s a huge airport, with all shops already open at 6am.
The boarding gate for my last leg was easy to find, and we took off on time. The whole process was smooth, but only because of my insistence on getting the boarding pass printed in Buenos Aires. Other unfortunate passengers, without boarding passes, were stranded on the airside of immigration, and had to ask immigration staff to call the airline so that they could get passes.
Barcelona to Paris
I slept, so can’t tell you anything. Sorry!
Would I book Iberia again?
Probably not, because I felt that I had been cheated during the booking process. There was no clear indication that I was actually purchasing a fare on a low-cost carrier, and once the cost of all the ‘extras’ was added in, the price of the fare was actually 50% higher than I expected.
Would I fly with LEVEL again?
Yes, as long as I’m making an informed decision to purchase a cheaper fare. The seats are quite comfy (despite the disappearing legroom when the seat in front is reclined) and the small cabin was quiet during the whole flight.
And the garrulous pilot is provided at no extra charge!