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International Airlines Group likely has no choice but to try to take on Norwegian in London, Barcelona and elsewhere. The company likely learned its lesson from Ryanair and EasyJet.

In a bid to thwart discounter Norwegian Air, International Airlines Group, parent of British Airways and three other European airlines, plans to launch its own long-haul, low-cost haul flights from Barcelona starting in June.

The news comes roughly four months after Norwegian announced its own expansion from Barcelona, with new flights to Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Newark Liberty and Oakland beginning in June.

International Airlines Group, known as IAG, is sharing few details. But it said in a statement that it will start small, with only two Airbus A330 aircraft. It also said the low cost operation may fly to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Chile, Havana and Tokyo.

IAG also did not say what airline would fly the routes. In addition to British Airways, the company owns Ireland’s Aer Lingus and two carriers in Spain — Iberia and Vueling. IAG said it might fly from Barcelona under one of its existing brands, or it might create a new one.

IAG has already made moves to try to thwart Norwegian at London Gatwick. British Airways recently said it would launch its own flights from Gatwick to Oakland and Fort Lauderdale, two cities already served by Norwegian. But instead of creating a new airline to fly those routes, British Airways will simply use its regular jets, configured with more seats than usual. The planes will have business class, but not first class.

This strategy could be different, and it’s possible IAG will create its own independent low cost airline. It is likely that whatever airline flies from Barcelona would be similar to Norwegian, and might even charge for baggage and food, as the upstart carrier does.

IAG owns the largest low-cost carrier at Barcelona. It’s Vueling, a 12-year-old airline with a a short-haul model similar to Ryanair and EasyJet. But while Vueling might seem the most likely airline to fly the new routes, IAG CEO Willie Walsh told Skift late last year that Vueling executives didn’t want their airline to want to fly long haul.

“When we’ve looked at doing some long-haul flying with Vueling, we’ve concluded that it’s probably not the right thing to do,” Walsh said in November. “We could do it, but we think there’s other options available to us.”

Still, Vueling should be helpful to whatever airline flies the long-haul, because IAG expects Vueling to help feed connecting passengers to the flights. Vueling accounts for one-third of all seats from Barcelona and in the summer serves more than 120 destinations, according to CAPA, an aviation analysis firm. Norwegian only has 4.1 percent of all seats in Barcelona, so it will be relying on local passengers, rather than connections, to fill its flights.

In a recent note, CAPA said IAG should be able to succeed with its new Barcelona long-haul operation.

“By establishing long haul low cost operations at Barcelona IAG can try to dampen the competitive impact that Norwegian might have on its long haul networks via its hub operations, while also tapping into latent demand for direct services to/from Barcelona without competing head-on with one of its own airlines,” CAPA said.

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Tags: british airways, International Airlines Group, norwegian air

Photo credit: International Airlines Group is planning to start low cost, long haul flights from Barcelona. But it is unlikely Vueling, which is based in Barcelona, will fly the routes. Vueling / Vueling

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