Competition for control of the low-cost routes between Spain and the Americas began on Thursday when Level, owned by Spanish flag carrier Iberia’s parent company IAG launched the first direct flights out of Barcelona airport to Los Angeles, beating its rival, Norwegian, which will begin operating flights to the same US city on Monday.
Level says it intends to offer more flights soon, while Norwegian has officially requested permission from the Argentinean authorities to begin operating services from Madrid and Barcelona to the South American country.
In September, Norwegian’s CEO Bjorn Kjos announced some 300,000 seats in the first year of operation from Barcelona’s El Prat airport – currently under fire over lengthy delays at passport control – to San Francisco, New York, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles using two Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners.
Norwegian’s boss has complained that flag carriers like Iberia benefit from protectionist measures
In March, after months of speculation, IAG, which also owns BA, low-cost airline Vueling and Air Lingus, launched Level, prompting comment that the move was more in response to Norwegian’s maneuver than to any belief in the viability of low-cost trans-Atlantic routes. Tickets were still available on Thursday morning at the lowest rate of €162, which only includes hand luggage. Seat selection, food and Wi-Fi are extra. Tickets are also available that match the options available on traditional long-haul flights, and at similar prices: €881.
Norwegian and Level offer minimal leg room: 78 centimeters on the former’s flights, and 76 on the latter’s. The flight to Los Angeles lasts more than 11 hours.
Level had announced tickets at a launch price of €99, without specifying how many would be on offer at that cost. The company will use two Airbus A330, each with 293 seats in Tourist class and 21 in Tourist Premium. Sources at the company say they are happy with ticket sales. For the moment, it will also offer flights to Buenos Aires, Punta Cana, and San Francisco, but IAG’s CEO, Willie Walsh, hasn’t ruled out other destinations.
Both Norwegian and Level offer minimal leg room only
Norwegian has announced an introductory offer of €174, but on Wednesday, the cheapest tickets were being sold at €269, with hand luggage only. As with Iberia’s Level, passengers wanting the options available on traditional trans-Atlantic routes will have to pay prices similar, or above, to those charged by the big airlines: €899, although that includes two suitcases in the hold, fast check-in and access to a VIP waiting room.
Norwegian’s boss has complained that flag carriers like Iberia benefit from protectionist measures. For example, an agreement between Argentina and Spain limits flights between the two countries to companies with headquarters in either nation. In response, Norwegian has created an Argentine affiliate and has begun hiring locally. In its first year of operations, it hopes to have four aircraft, allowing it to operate long-haul flights to Argentina from Barcelona, Madrid, and London Gatwick.
English version by Nick Lyne.