Seating is bright red and in the shape of the word HOLA.

How Iberia is transforming its product with subtle statements

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundIn recent years, Iberia has been modernising its fleet, uniforms, hard product and onboard service in a bid to take its place amongst the pantheon of flag carriers known at a global level. Runway Girl Network sat down with the Spanish airline’s director of customer experience, Melanie Berry, to discuss how this journey has progressed and how Iberia, founded in 1927, is endeavoring to do its legacy justice. 

Subtle but important changes are evident throughout the onboard experience. Arguably a stuffy and formal airline in the past, the carrier now tries to bring joy to passengers, offering fun and quippy inflight entertainment content including, for example, a Cruise Control collection on board, highlighting the superstar’s impressive body of work.

Crew members have also altered their approach. In previous years, name tags would use only their last names, making it feel less personalised. “How can you build a connection with someone if you don’t know their name,” Berry asked rhetorically. 

The Iberia welcome screen is displayed on the embedded IFE. It says "Hola"

The IFE graphics are fun and bold, and signal that Iberia wants you to enjoy your experience. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

There is a newfound friendliness in the air, expressed further in Spanish through the greeting of “Que Tal?” during boarding (the carrier has dispensed with the formal register). This helps to build an intimate connection with passengers.

From a design perspective, Iberia has embraced a bold but playful font. Spanish words, nestled into public spaces, are easily understandable to American and European passengers.

Lounge seating is bright red and in the shape of the word HOLA.

Design statements like this lounge offer a tantalising glimpse of Iberia’s potential to stand out. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

Iberia’s dining has also seen a metamorphosis. The carrier has worked with caterer Do&Co since 2019, experimenting with traditional Spanish cuisine whilst also ensuring that it meets international tastes. Gambas (big juicy shrimp) are in; octopus is out.

During a recent Iberia A350 flight from Madrid to Buenos Aires, your author was particularly impressed with the fish offerings on board, as well as the elaborate aperitif service, bringing Spanish culture into a familiar meal service.

A display of various snacks and drinks on the aircraft table, including Spanish favorites like olives and Manchego cheese.

I didn’t know that Spanish people enjoy sherry before dinner, but it’s a charming ritual. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

Iberia has taken things in a different direction in the cabin, too. Whilst mood lighting and honeymoon seating pairs will be nothing new to RGN readers, there is a level of ingenuity to how the carrier is applying new ideas. Take the humble mattress topper. Whilst Iberia’s choice of CMF (colour, materials finish) for interiors is rather staid, the carrier has devised an ingenious multipurpose soft-product offering for business class passengers.

On boarding, passengers are greeted by their bedding as well as a cylindrical cushion, which can be used as back support, leg support, or just as an additional cushion. And then, when it’s time to sleep off the cava, the cushion can be simply unrolled into a full topper for the seat that neatly tucks over the headrest.

Iberia beige Business Class Seat adorned with a pillow, cushion and mattress topper.

The innovative mattress topper is unfortunately lost in the gloom of the cabin. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

Your author unrolled the mattress topper and then rerolled it during different phases of my 12-hour Madrid-Buenos Aires flight. Importantly, this amenity features easily recyclable paper covers, rather than plastic wrapping. 

The Iberia mattress topper is sitting rolled up on a passenger's knees

The instructions on the recycled packaging just feels clever. I was very impressed by such a small thing.  Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

It must be said that Iberia has gone to great lengths to improve its core product and service, but as mentioned, the onboard CMF feels slightly sanitised and, perhaps, an overcorrection.

Rotation

Berry stressed that the changes are based on passenger feedback and surveys, but a touch more vision would be welcome here, something Iberia does demonstrate with its employee uniforms.

Iberia’s latest uniform is an eye-catching blend of bold colours, intriguing shapes and exotic additions like zips along the sleeves. It immediately looks distinctive, Spanish, and exciting, but also looks out of place in the beige and brown interiors of the carrier’s eurowhite-liveried A350s.

A bit more of that Spanish flair in Iberia’s newly-refined offering would help it cement the legacy of this nearly-100 year old airline. 

Two female crew members are modeling Iberia's new uniforms on the runway

Iberia’s uniform, designed by Teresa Helbig in 2020, brings flair and elegance to a still-professional vision. Image: Iberia

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Featured image credited to Fintan Horan-Stear