LEVEL Is Moving From OAK To SFO

Filed Under: Iberia

LEVEL is IAG’s new longhaul, low cost carrier. Arguably the biggest challenge faced by full service airlines nowadays is the increasing popularity of low cost carriers. IAG (the parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia, among others) has tackled this trend in a few ways:

LEVEL’s first longhaul routes were from Barcelona to Los Angeles and Oakland. Since then they’ve expanded to Boston and Buenos Aires. Furthermore they’re adding flights out of Paris as well, including to Montreal, Newark, Guadeloupe, and Martinique (in the process they’re discontinuing the OpenSkies brand).

While not that huge of a deal, LEVEL has announced a change that I find interesting.

As of October 28, 2018, LEVEL will be switching their Bay Area flights from Oakland (OAK) to San Francisco (SFO). The flight will continue to operate twice weekly, and will have the following schedule:

IB2621 Barcelona to San Francisco departing 1:30PM arriving 5:15PM
IB2622 San Francisco to Barcelona departing 7:15PM arriving 3:50PM (+1 day)

Oakland is the airport that has become most popular with low cost carriers. For example, all of Norwegian’s Bay Area operations are out of Oakland. Yet somehow IAG airlines seem to be shying away from the airport.

Not only is LEVEL pulling out of Oakland, but as of October British Airways is canceling their flight between London Gatwick and Oakland. Initially it seemed like this would be a permanent cancelation, though as it turns out they’ll resume this flight next spring, though with reduced frequencies.

What could their motivations be with these changes? Presumably there are some advantages to flying out of Oakland:

  • The fees for an airline to operate out of OAK are lower
  • The airport isn’t as congested as SFO

There are also some advantages to SFO, though:

  • The airport has better name recognition, especially among foreign travelers
  • In general there are synergies/cost savings from consolidating operations among flights at one airport (however, that may not be the case here — presumably LEVEL uses contract staff at Oakland, and they may continue to do that at SFO, as contract staff may be cheaper than using their own British Airways staff)

My guess here is that LEVEL thinks the lack of name recognition of Oakland may be hurting the route (either in terms of load factors, or in terms of their ability to charge as much as possible). Those living in the Bay Area are likely to check all Bay Area airports when searching flights, and I know some people even prefer OAK (it all depends on where you are). At the same time, if you just go to Google Flights and enter “BCN” to “SFO,” options out of Oakland won’t show up.

What do you make of LEVEL switching operations from OAK to SFO? What do you think their motivation is?

  1. Yes, name recognition is important. I remember once, while living on the East Coast, I had a road trip that ended in Anaheim, and I booked my return flight from LAX even though I was well aware of John Wayne Airport — it just wasn’t on my mind at the time I booked the flight.

  2. Could be that the horrendous customs lines (1 or 2 cpb agents for 400 pax) at OAK were a factor.

    Lower inbound (BCN-OAK) vs outbound load factors would support the theory that European travelers weren’t recognizing OAK well enough. Anyone have iata data? Somehow I don’t think this is the cause, though.

    As an Oakland resident I try to avoid SFO as much as possible, but there does seem to be a trend with IAG – pulling the OAK BA flight and now this one. Would be really interested to know what’s driving this.

  3. Name recognition only. Although that can be solved by using San Francisco/Oakland or something like that. The other thing is Oakland is one of those areas that has a bad rep. When I lived in the bay area, it was my preferred airport, little to no weather related delays, long wide runways, and easy to get in and out of.

  4. My guess is that a foreign leisure carrier such as Level figures its passengers prefer to fly directly to an airport with the San Francisco name, although travel time from downtown SF to both airports is roughly the same.

    I live in Oakland and have watched major domestic airline after major domestic airline abandon service to OAK — some of us remember when United flew nonstop from OAK to DEN, ORD, and IAD as well as to numerous SoCal airports. When jetBlue started, they established Oakland as their major bay area airport but after several years decided to move most of their operations to SFO.

    Meanwhile Southwest has set up a fortress operation at OAK They even abandoned SFO for many years because of the congestion and weather conditions. Go figure.

  5. In Europe, Ryanair has got away with rebranding lesser known airports with major city names. They land at all sorts of obscure (cheap) airports but call it by the major city nearby their pax really want to get to, eg Berlin-Halle. They have been criticised by the media and legacy rivals for this but most pax seem willing to endure a longish coach/train ride if the total cost is lower than rival legacy.

    LEVEL could have tried branding OAK as San Francisco-Oakland.

    Anyway, if you want to know the reason for the shift, why not ask?

  6. The name would make sense. In Orlando, you have Orlando International Airport (MCO) with most flights, and then theirs also an Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) which hosts low cost carriers (like Allegiant, TUI, etc.) which recently changed its name for the same reason.

    It also could be that they can’t fill their flights because of Norwegian and have a better shot at SFO.

  7. Question for the experts: Do you have access to lounges and other oneworld emerald benefits when flying LEVEL??

  8. OAK is fine for domestic flights, but I’ve heard customs and immigration is very slow. They have had so few international flights (e.g. Southwest to Mexico) maybe they’re not really set up to handle more intl arrivals efficiently? IIRC there was a press release within the past year saying they were expanding the facilities and would soon be able to handle more than 300 passengers per hour through immigration.

  9. Norwegian’s website already calls OAK “Oakland-San Francisco”. The Bay Area really needs a catch all airport code for SFO, OAK, SJC the way that NYC and LON work for those areas.

  10. Well I heard from a reputable source that the reason they moved is that Alex Cruz intends to fly them to the Bay Area next year and that his destination is in San Francisco proper.
    This source said that he does not like traveling on long bridges or under large bodies of water on trains. Of course driving from OAK to San Fran through the South Bay to avoid bridges and underwater trains would take far too much time.
    The only real practical solution was for Alex Cruz to move the whole base of operations from OAK to SFO.
    Who would have thought that such genius existed on this planet?

  11. OAK international arrivals expansion opened recently and it’s a nice modern facility that can now handle two widebody arrivals at once. They probably secured gate space at SFO and figured better to fly there with no competition than competing with Norwegian at OAK. Not surprising and not a huge loss for OAK at only two flights a week. Norwegian still flies there 5x weekly.

  12. This is disappointing as I love the availability of international flights from OAK. Have come in international to OAK 3x and customs wasn’t lengthy. I’d rather hop OAK-LAX for an international departure than go to SFO because of the high probability of a ground transit delay (car traffic or BART) or runway/weather delay. I agree a unified code like NYC to cover all 3 airports could be very helpful, though might end up with some confused tourists. Lack of connection options is the only thing that makes sense to me behind this shift.

  13. “OAK is fine for domestic flights, but I’ve heard customs and immigration is very slow. They have had so few international flights (e.g. Southwest to Mexico) maybe they’re not really set up to handle more intl arrivals efficiently? IIRC there was a press release within the past year saying they were expanding the facilities and would soon be able to handle more than 300 passengers per hour through immigration.”

    300 pax per hour? I saw more efficiency in Siem Reap.

  14. Iberia recently started operations on the MAD-SFO route. I would assume that they will better coordinate their schedules and operation if they are both in SFO rather than OAK (neither of them operates daily).

  15. This is disappointing, as OAK is our home airport and it’s a bear to get to SFO. We flew back to OAK from Gatwick last weekend on BA, and didn’t even need to stand in line for a Global Entry kiosk. Customs was painless, too. (Gatwick, on the other hand, was a mess!)

  16. @JinBCN – thanks. Even though we can’t see the loads for Level only, it looks like they’ve increased slightly. But overall, OAK is lower vs. the 89% loads for Level’s LAX route and other US destinations (except PHL and AA’s JFK flight). It’s entirely possible that IAG wanted SFO outright (not “San Francisco-Oakland”) for name recognition to boost the loads. But, these aren’t bad loads – the flight is doing much, much better than BA’s OAK-LGW route, and I’m not convinced that the loads are the driving factor.

    As other commenters here have suggested, perhaps IAG wanted to consolidate operations (BA 2x daily, IB 3x weekly, Aer Lingus 1x daily) at SFO to shave down costs. Doubtful better connections at SFO were a big factor, and it seems that OAK is addressing the customs/immingrations issues. Perhaps this was a tactical response? Rather than compete head to head with Norwegian on OAK-BCN, Level is trying to appeal to Norwegian or other budget-conscious travelers who want to fly from SFO.

  17. @Fred M – I suspect you were thinking of (Frankfurt)-Hahn which is indeed outrageous misnaming, being 120km from Frankfurt.
    Torp, 110km from Oslo, is similar.

    Even Ryanair don’t call Leipzig-Halle part of Berlin!

  18. Bye-bye Open Skies. At the end of May, one of their B757 (F-HAVI) was put in storage in Texas.

  19. While some smaller places may be ok with changing the name of an airport, Oakland is a decent sized city in a much bigger metropolitan area with its own sports teams. Its like calling Newark, New York. Its not a Hahn or Beauvais to San Francisco. And tbt, its probably faster on BART or via a road to downtown than it is from SFO.

    I remember not that long ago (6-7 years) I used to be able to search for SFX or something like that and it was all San Francisco bay area. Anyone else remember this? Would help Oakland get some more traffic. Its such a better airport to fly out of, much less crowded, laid back and very seldom is there actual traffic on approach. Also, if you have time you can pop over and see the flying boat used in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s pretty cool.

  20. Bagoly, yes, I was trying to recall a UK tabloid article on Ryanair’s optimistic destination names. Can’t remember which it was now, but one airport was even in a different European country from the intended destination city.

    Nonetheless I hear good reports of Ryanair, especially their punctuality and relatively new planes.

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