IAG’s Battle For Croatia

Croatia has long been a Star Alliance stronghold, but IAG is now challenging this. British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus have all been on an expansion spree in the country over the past few years. Let’s take a look at what they have done so far, and how this battle will continue.

IAG Results
Iberia and British Airways are heavily stepping up their presence in Croatia. Photo: Curimedia via Wikimedia

British Airways battles for Zagreb

In Croatia’s capital Zagreb, British Airways is looking to edge out Croatia Airlines from the London-Zagreb market. Croatia Airlines used to fly to London Heathrow from Zagreb nine times weekly. But ever since it sold five of its nine Heathrow slots to Delta in 2019, this has been reduced to four weekly flights.

In response, British Airways has increased seat capacity on the route every year since.

Summer 2020 is set to see the most significant expansion so far, which might prove fatal for Croatia Airlines on the London-Zagreb route. British Airways will increase the route frequency from daily to 11 weekly, and it will operate the Airbus A320 on every occasion, up from an A319/A320 mix.

Furthermore, British Airways flights from London Heathrow to Zagreb are now scheduled in the afternoons, to better feed its trans-continental network, but also its domestic services.

The increased frequency and the better scheduling is expected to capture much of the market between the Croatian capital, and its wider catchment area, the British and Irish airports. Previously, this market was most accessible via Star Alliance hubs of Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna, which Croatia Airlines feeds with its Lufthansa Group partners from Zagreb as many as 14 times daily.

Simple Flying reviewed Croatia Airlines’s Heathrow – Zagreb service last year.

Dubrovnik is targeted by both BA and Vueling

In Dubrovnik, British Airways is one of only seven airlines to fly year-round. It has already edged out Croatia Airlines on the route to London completely, and now competes only with easyJet, TUI and Jet2.

Another of only seven airlines to serve Dubrovnik year-round is Vueling, from Rome and Barcelona. Vueling and Croatia Airlines are the only two airlines to fly more than one year-round route out of Dubrovnik. Vueling’s Dubrovnik-Rome route is code-shared by Qatar Airways.

British Airways, London Heathrow, New Routes
British Airways is in the midst of a significant expansion in Croatia. Photo: Tom Boon, Simple Flying

Split is a British Airways stronghold too

In Croatia’s second-largest city of Split, British Airways has built its dominance against any other European legacy carrier. It benefits in two ways here: firstly, the strong origin and destination demand from London, and secondly, its international network with which it feeds services to Split.

British Airways has significantly increased its offering from Split in the last two years. In 2019 it launched flights from London City to Split, which it now flies three times weekly.

This year it will also be flying 10 times weekly to Split from Heathrow. On Fridays and Saturdays, a British Airways Airbus A319 will stay overnight in Split. This is so that it may depart early morning on Saturdays and Sundays, and in doing so connect onto a whole range of British Airways’s long-haul flights of the morning departure wave.

Aer Lingus has built itself a tight grip on the market from Ireland to the Croatian coast. Photo: Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus and Vueling

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus is keeping a tight grip on the market between Ireland and the Croatian coast. It flies to Split from Dublin four times weekly, from May until October.

In Dubrovnik, Aer Lingus flies daily between May and September from Dublin, and it operates another seasonal service, out of Cork, up to three times weekly.

The Irish airline also flies to the Istrian airport of Pula, also on the Croatian coast, up to three times weekly. British Airways flies from Pula too.

At the same time, Vueling recently began selling tickets for flights between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Dubrovnik. It is a route clearly designed to spoil the market share of Croatia Airlines of Star Alliance, and Air France of SkyTeam.

Iberia in all of Croatia

Iberia had a huge expansion in Croatia in 2019 for the second year in a row, as Simple Flying reported at the time. This is set to continue.

For the first time, this winter Iberia has been connecting Zagreb with Madrid year-round. In the summer it flies as many as 13 weekly flights, with which it serves not only the demand between Spain and Croatia, but also beyond through its extensive connections into North and South America.

This summer Iberia will also be flying up to seven times weekly to Split, and its subsidiary Iberia Express will fly twice weekly to the coastal town of Zadar.

Iberia will also be flying up to 14 times weekly to Dubrovnik. This service is code-shared by American Airlines, which itself launched flights to Dubrovnik last year for the first time.

British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines now offer almost hourly connections to Dubrovnik in the peak summer months. This is all in hopes of tightening the grip on the transatlantic market, which is slipping through the fingers of Croatia Airlines and its Star Alliance partners.

A tightened grip

Iberia, together with Aer Lingus and British Airways, now offers a highly competitive range of flights across all of Croatia’s coastal airports. The vast majority of these routes have only been launched in the last few years. This is part of a wider trend of aviation growth in Croatia, which follows the country’s accession to the European Union in 2013.

The scheduling of flights, especially in its revised form for summer 2020, is very clearly timed to connect onto various IAG international services.

The mix of airlines used also allows IAG to cater for price-sensitive point to point demand, with the likes of Vueling but also British Airways itself through the use of Gatwick as the choice of airport for Dubrovnik flights as opposed to Heathrow for the Split flights.

The primary target in this battle is Star Alliance, and especially the Lufthansa Group. Croatia Airlines flies from almost all Croatian airports to at least one European Star Alliance hub. This is almost always Frankfurt, but sometimes also Munich. In all cases, flights are code-shared by Lufthansa, but also often Air Canada, Air India, Singapore Airlines, Asiana Airlines and United too.

With its stronghold market of Croatia being so heavily disrupted, Star Alliance airlines might have to respond soon. Given that the home airline Croatia Airlines is stagnating, it will be interesting to see how.