Thursday, November 30, 2017

New budget carrier Level expands to NYC, Boston with $149 flights to Europe

This image, provided by the International Airlines Group (IAG), shows the paint scheme planned for the company's start-up budget airline: Level.
(Photo: International Airlines Group (IAG))

Level, the long-haul budget airline launched by British Airways’ parent company, will make Paris its second European base. At the same time, British Airways' said it will pull the plug on its higher-end OpenSkies brand that had offered New York flights from Paris.

At Level, the carrier will add non-stop flights from Paris Orly Airport to both Newark Liberty and Montreal, offering fares as low as $149 each way. In addition to the New York and Montreal routes, Level will fly from Paris Orly to the French Caribbean destinations of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Level also announced it will begin flying to Boston from its existing hub in Barcelona, also with fares starting at $149 each way.

Level’s North American flights will be flown on Airbus A330-200 aircraft that seat 293 passengers in standard coach and 21 in premium economy. Level's four weekly Newark flights begin Sept. 4 while three weekly flights from Montreal start July 2. The Boston-Barcelona service begins March 28, with a maximum of three weekly flights during the peak summer schedule.

The new routes mark the first expansion of Level, a standalone budget unit launched in June by the International Airlines Group (IAG) that counts British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling among its holdings.

“LEVEL’s Barcelona operation has been an incredible success,” IAG CEO Willie Walsh said in a statement. IAG uses all capital letters in its branding for Level.

“Customers love it and LEVEL will be profitable this year,” Walsh added. “Barcelona was always a first step and today we’re delighted to launch flights from our second European city with four exciting new routes from Paris.”

IAG is looking to Level to help it compete with a new wave of upstart European low-cost carriers – notably Norwegian Air, which has expanded with great speed in the U.S. market. Norwegian has added dozens of new routes between Europe and the USA, including some from London – the key market for IAG’s British Airways. Norwegian’s fares on its routes from the U.S. Northeast have occasionally dropped below $70 one way for flights to Ireland and the United Kingdom.

But the growth of Level in Paris also appears to spell the end of British Airways’ OpenSkies unit that currently offers flights between Paris and New York on planes configured mostly with business-class and premium-economy seating. OpenSkies’ Boeing 757 and 767 planes include only a few rows of standard coach seating.

Now, IAG has announced the attempt to operate an airline skewed toward higher-end seating will end by the third quarter of 2018.

“The OpenSkies brand will cease to operate at the end of next summer and all its staff will operate LEVEL flights,” IAG said in its statement.

As for IAG's battle against Norwegian, press reports out this week suggest the company is closing to securing a number of landing slots that now-defunct Monarch Airlines held at London's Gatwick Airport. Gatwick has become one of Norwegian's busiest hubs, including for flights to the United States.

With those slots, analysts suggested IAG could choose to strengthen Level as it continues to push back against Norwegian.

“To date (IAG) has been taking the fight to Norwegian at Gatwick using its BA brand... Level could offer an alternative brand in this battle,” the Ireland-based analyst firm Goodbody said in a research note quoted by Reuters.

“IAG would be substantially strengthening its hand by further segmenting its offering on North Atlantic routes out of Gatwick, with this seen as potentially posing a serious challenge to Norwegian long-haul ambitions," the note added.

The discontinuation of OpenSkies' flights from JFK also raises the prospects of what British Airways might do with its slots there.

For now, "it’s too early to say," an IAG spokeswoman said when asked what British Airways might do with them. For now, OpenSkies JFK flights will continue through summer 2018.

(Ben Mutzabaugh - Today in the Sky / USA Today)

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