Throughout this year, I have embarked on a quest to sample every major low-cost airline in Europe. Previously, I have flown with Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air & Norwegian – though there was one notable exception: Vueling. I reviewed Vueling’s new ‘Space Plus’ seats on the airline’s Manchester-Barcelona route to find out how Spain’s largest budget airline compared with the competition.
Vueling 8749: Manchester (MAN)-Barcelona El-Prat (BCN)
Aircraft: Airbus A320SL, EC-LVS
Seat: 2A (Space Plus)
EC-LVS would take me from Manchester to Barcelona that day; an Airbus A320, fitted with emission-reducing sharklets, that has flown with Vueling for 5 ½ years (barring a brief stint with Jetstar Pacific in 2016).
My aircraft was one of 114 in Vueling’s fleet – comprised of Airbus A319s, A320s, A321s and A320neos. Currently, Vueling operates just three Airbus A320neo aircraft, with 44 further examples on order. My Airbus A320 was configured with 180 seats in a single-class configuration, with Vueling’s more spacious seats in a sub-section at the front of the cabin, marked by a ‘Priority’ divider behind the seats in row 4.
After arriving at Gate 44 in Manchester 15 minutes behind schedule, getting the flight pushed back on-time would be a challenge. This was not helped by the fact that the boarding pass scanners at Manchester were dysfunctional, meaning that all passengers had to wait for traditional boarding cards to be printed. Additionally, minutes prior to boarding, it became apparent that the doors to the front hold of the aircraft were broken – all checked luggage would have to be stored in the rear holds of the aircraft. This meant that all passengers seated in rows 28-31 had to have their seats reallocated at the gate, causing further confusion and chaos. However, all of this was handled professionally, and the flight pushed back just 20 minutes behind schedule – an impressive fact given the challenging circumstances.
Once onboard, I settled into my allocated seat: 2A. Rows 1-4 are marketed as ‘Space’ seats.
Rows 2-4, specifically, offer 10% more legroom than other rows on the aircraft and can be paid for onboard for just €15. If purchased prior to departure, these seats include priority boarding in addition to more space – allowing me to comfortable work throughout the flight with a large laptop. This new concept replaced Vueling’s previous answer to Business Class – ‘Excellence’ where the middle seat in the first row was blocked, allowing for a 2-2 configuration.
The new ‘Space Plus’ offering is more affordable and accessible to Economy Class travellers and still offers significantly more comfort. For a low-cost carrier, it is refreshing to see an airline allocate more real estate to comfort rather than profit, available at a reasonable additional fee.
The option of selecting roomier seats, including priority boarding, is a fantastic initiative, and I would recommend them to anybody considering flying with Vueling.
If these seats are not available, the exit rows (12 and 14) can be reserved for the same price and offer 20% more legroom.
In terms of pricing, Vueling follows the ‘pay for what you need’ model. This allows customers to fly for less and only pay for the amenities they want. If a passenger, chose a ‘TimeFlex’ fare with an extra-legroom seat, the Vueling experience is akin to or better than that of almost any legacy airline across Europe. When comparing Vueling with other low-cost airlines across Europe, it is important to note that extra fees for luxuries like selecting your own seat or checking in luggage were inexpensive and the baggage allowance of 23kg was very generous.
The slimline Recaro seats were sufficiently comfortable, and were well padded, offering a good amount of recline. To provide more legroom for passengers, the lower seatback pocket has been removed and replaced with a literature pocket behind the tray table at eye level. Also provided was a coat-hook at each seat. It would be good to see Vueling take steps to install power-ports at each seat in the future allowing every customer to stay powered-up on the go. As our lives our increasingly conducted online too, Vueling could install Wi-Fi on newly delivered aircraft – catching up with competitors like Norwegian who are already rolling out the technology.
As part of this change, Vueling also introduced two new fares designed to meet the needs of the modern traveller: ‘Timeflex’ and ‘Family’. The airline’s new Timeflex fare offers priority check-in, fast-track security, priority boarding and free seat selection in standard seats, all in addition to flight time and date flexibility.
The Family fare type includes a dedicated check-in area at Barcelona, 1 checked luggage bag free of charge (with an allowance of 23kg), priority boarding with children under 2 and guaranteed seats together onboard.
This sort of innovation in air travel is something to be commended – making the entire experience easier for families travelling together and business people who frequent airports.
Vueling’s onboard menu was equally impressive. In addition to the conventional buy-on-board options, Vueling offered an ‘Iberic Box’ containing Gourmet Iberian Ham and Breadsticks – a nice touch that alludes to Vueling’s Spanish roots, proving that any trip starts onboard the aircraft.
The Gourmet Snack Box contained dark chocolate, rosemary crackers, chickpea hummus, olives, dried fruit and nuts for €7,50, with the option of adding wine for €12,50.
On my flight, I chose Vueling’s Nachos which come complete with Tomato Salsa in a handy travel box. As with almost all low-cost airlines, no beverages or snacks were complementary – if you don’t want to break the bank onboard, you may want to buy ahead of your flight at the airport. My seat neighbour did exactly that and when the cabin manager, Lela, observed my neighbour about to eat an airport-bought meal deal, she offered a napkin. This was a pleasant touch, showing that personable service doesn’t cost anything.
The crew on both of my flights with Vueling were amiable and warm. Throughout the flight, they made very little interaction with the passengers, closing the curtains frequently at the front of the aircraft – creating a sense that they were unapproachable. When they did interact with passengers, however, they offered a smile, with quick and efficient service. This said, the entire Vueling experience, including comfort and crew, was clearly more polished than many of Vueling’s no-frills competitors.
The Bottom Line:
When looking at Vueling through a low-cost airline lens, it is clear that the airline is innovative, polished and convenient. Vueling’s ‘Space Plus’ seats mean that enjoying extra comfort onboard is easy and affordable and their ‘Family’ fare type is something I would like to see more airlines replicate. Additionally, Vueling offers an unprecedented network across the length and breadth of Spain, easily accessible from its UK gateways in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester & Edinburgh. Whilst there is some way to go before Vueling achieves a ‘Best Low-Cost Airline’ award, I would recommend Spain’s largest budget airline without hesitation.
Disclaimer: This flight was provided by Vueling. All opinions expressed are my own.