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Iberia is taking the lead on something other than management-labor conflict.
The Spanish airline has emerged from a rocky few years and is now showing other airlines how to use technology to provide a seamless passenger experience with its proprietary Ágora platform.
Released in Madrid Barajas airport as a test deployment, the success of the multi-app, multi-service, integrated hardware, cross-platform system has been so successful that the airline already foresees deployment at Spain’s major airports.
Industry insiders at the Passenger Terminal Expo agree that Iberia is not only up to something different, but also something very special.
After merging with British Airways in 2011, Iberia’s finances suffered from a combination of stiff competition from low-cost carriers in the market, as well as from Spain’s strong network of high-speed trains. Labor troubles plagued Iberia, as well as Spain’s deep recession which has resulted in significant unemployment (reported as 26.03% as of the fourth quarter of 2013 by the Spanish EPA, and 56.1% youth unemployment reported by the European Parliament).
In October of 2013, Willie Walsh, chief executive of Iberia’s parent International Airlines Group (IAG), told Reuters that he projected a return to profit for Iberia in 2014, after a restructuring program for the airline which cost IAG 700 million euros. For their part, Iberia seems determined to prove Walsh is right. Walsh states in IAG’s release of Group consolidated results as of December 2013:
“Iberia has made huge progress on cost control as its restructuring takes shape and great credit should be given to all those involved. It has reduced its losses in the year, reporting an operating loss of €166 million.”
The Agora Experience
Ágora goes beyond its electronic check-in terminals hosted by virtual check-in representatives. It includes tech enhancements to the airlines’ internal processes and customer touch points.
Customer touch-point terminals are located throughout Terminal 4 of Barajas airport (where Iberia has first launched Ágora) so that customers can find the information they want when they need it. Iberia introduced eVoucher systems, so that passengers can have electronic vouchers for hotels and restaurants downloaded to their PEDs.
Their “smart-scale” systems, allow passengers checking in luggage at the self-service points to check their luggage with measures displayed relative to the specific baggage allowance of their ticket. Thanks to the Ágora initiatives, passengers can print their luggage tags at home, further expediting their self-service checking process.
Dimitris Bountollos, Director of Customer Experience, credits Aena Aeropuertos for their support of the new-technology initiatives at Barajas, and indicates that their collaboration will continue as the platform is deployed to other Spanish airports in coming years.
As an example of Aena’s own contributions to passenger experience enhancement, Bountollos tells us that Aena reprogrammed elevators at the terminal with smart logic variable timing corresponding to traffic flow, which reduces delays.
For its part, Iberia has considered all technological interfaces and focused on enhancing UX on each of them. As Bountollos tells us, Iberia has the mantra: “one click more, one customer less.” Iberia’s focus is on simplification of interface, ensuring their applications are intuitive and can be used on-the-go; and that services are personalized to the passenger needs through intelligent design.
This philosophy has been applied to passenger’s PED interface as well, as the airline has released a suite of apps for various travel services which allows passengers to access their immediate requirements, without having to navigate through complex menus for a single function.
This month, the airline also announced a cooperation with Samsung to implement new NFC (near field communication) technology present on Samsung devices which allow passengers to download and store their boarding pass on their SIM card, so that it can be read even when the phone is switched off.
Once on board, the seamless service experience continues, as Francisca Patilla, Chief Product Design and Services Manager at Iberia explains. “We want to ensure the onboard experience is the closest thing to being at home,” she tells us. For Iberia’s passengers, feeling at home means feeling connected as well as entertained.
Beyond redesigning their cabin for enhanced comfort, Iberia has ensured that the IFE interface is intuitive, and loaded with content. They also provide broadband WiFi service and in-seat universal chargers, as well as USB ports for passengers who prefer to watch their own PED content on the large IFE screens mounted on all seats. Iberia’s pilots are equipped with electronic flight bags.
Upon landing at Barajas Terminal 4, baggage claim has also been enhanced by Ágora, with more efficient baggage handling supported by tech-enabled employees, live baggage tracking in process, and a tracking system for special-handling items which gives passengers minute by minute status of their sensitive freight. Iberia have even implemented a “Find-Me” service on their website for items left onboard, which allows passengers to find their missing items and coordinate with the airline to have them sent home.
Through their Ágora program, and their various other passenger experience improvements, Iberia have aligned themselves with the values of Marca España. When we asked Bountollos about this, he highlighted that excellence in gastronomy is also one of Spain’s unique brand qualities, and that Iberia is the largest restaurant in Spain, so they have also focused on reflecting this unique gastronomy in their inflight meals.
It sounds very appetizing, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as British Airways might say.
The low-cost carriers are still there, as are the high-speed trains. The Spanish are notoriously hard on their national brands, when they disappoint, and Iberia must focus on pleasing them as well as the many international passengers who have mixed emotions about the airline. Still, Iberia is gaining recognition for its efforts, and has received a number of awards for its efforts, including the Future Travel Experience 2013 award for Best Check-In Intitiative.
Despite the best intentions of Brand España, and a headline grabbing statement from Florentino Pérez, President of ACS and Real Madrid, this January, that the Spanish economy had “markedly improved in the past year,” there is still a way to go before Spain’s economy could be considered healthy. It’s not Greece, but it’s not Britain either.