Iberia changes include boost in U.S. service

MADRID -- Spanish carrier Iberia, the only foreign airline with a U.S. hub (in Miami), plans to expand its transatlantic capacity and replace its long-haul fleet this year when it moves to a two-class configuration.

The airline, which offers two flights daily from Miami and one each from Chicago and New York, will boost service from the U.S. by 13% in 2004, said Jose Alvarado, Iberia's general manager in Miami.

That will continue a recovery trend begun last year, when Iberia increased capacity from Miami and New York and still saw load factors from the U.S. rise; in fact, in August, the carrier recorded its highest overall load factors ever.

"We're going to end up something like only 3% down compared with 2002, so we're doing fairly well in the U.S.," Alvarado said. "This wasn't one of our best years, but it wasn't tragic."

Iberia posted a $139 million profit in the third quarter, down "only" 13% from 2002, he added.

"And we foresee a profit for 2003, in a year [in which] everyone else has seen negative numbers," Alvarado said.

Iberia, which has turned a profit the last six years -- a feat Alvarado attributes to aggressive cost-cutting and market maneuverability -- hopes to increase savings by replacing older, gas-guzzling 747 jumbos with Airbus A340-300s and 600s on long-haul routes.

Clients flying Iberia to Spain can expect more entertainment options: Alvarado said business- and first-class passengers will have up to 17 video channels as well as e-mail and text messaging. Sometime in 2004, the two front cabins will merge into one "business-first" class, featuring roomier, flat sleeper seats and enhanced in-flight amenities.

At the same time, Iberia is experimenting with inflight service changes, such as paid meals, on European routes also served by low-cost competitors.

From its hub in Miami, Iberia offers flights to Cancun, Mexico; El Salvador; Guatemala; Nicaragua; Costa Rica; Panama; and Honduras.

Thanks to "fifth-freedom" rights, Iberia can sell seats to U.S. clients on all Central American flights, with the exception of Cancun and El Salvador.

Alvarado said Iberia is still "very committed" to working with U.S. travel agencies, through which it receives some 80% of its U.S. bookings. To wit, Iberia will continue the agent incentive plan it introduced last January following the move to zero commissions.

Interested retailers must send their agency information and IATA number by e-mail to [email protected] or by fax to (305) 262-6480.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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