At an airline like Iberia, with more than 90 years of history, saying goodbye to a model of aircraft is always a bittersweet experience. Bitter because we’ve been through a lot together and we always look back nostalgically on the good times we’ve had together, but sweet because it means a more modern fleet will take over to offer passengers a better flying experience, as is happening with the Airbus A350s that Iberia is bringing into service, a new generation that’s much more efficient, sustainable, and technologically advanced.
It was just over two weeks ago that an Iberia Airbus A340 made its last scheduled flight, when on 1 August the A340-600 christened Santiago Ramón y Cajal flew under captain Víctor Alegre from Quito to Madrid with nearly 300 passengers on board. It was a turning point we’d like to mark by looking back at some of the highlights of the A340’s history with us.
The aircraft started at Iberia in 1996 with great acclaim thanks to an unprecedented feat: its ability to fly the longest direct commercial flight ever, covering the 19,000 kilometres (KT miles) between the French city Bourget and New Zealand‘s largest, Auckland – and in what was then record time, just over 21 hours. This A340-300, the first four-engine model every manufactured by Airbus, was first put into service on the route to beautiful Gran Canaria and gradually went on to connect Madrid with destinations including Mexico City, Bogotá, New York City, and Santiago, Chile; this last became our longest flight – 13 hours – until we resumed our Tokyo route in 2017 (and it was also an A340 – specifically an A340-600 – which first inaugurated that new service to Japan, and the captain of that first flight, José María Ordovás, now tells us that “it’s an aircraft that we will miss greatly”).
There were also some memorable moments on board the A340. One that especially comes to mind is the birth of a baby, Juan Sebastián, during a Madrid-Bogotá flight in 1999. One of the flight attendants who was there, José Luis Larios, tells us “the delivery went very well, and all our passengers were emotional about it, including the members of a medical convention on their way home, and who assisted in the birth”. The A340 also flew solidarity missions to countries hit by natural disasters such sa Ecuador, Chile, and Haití, when the NGO Mano a Mano (Hand in Hand), created by Iberia crew members, sent 450.000 kilos (TK pounds) worth of humanitarian aid via Santo Domingo; the organisation’s vicepresident, Virginia Pombo, says she and her colleagues “will always treasure fond memories of this plane” because its large storage capacity made these aid flights possible.
And then of course there were many memorable moments surrounding great Spanish sporting achievements. One that tops the list is the Spanish national football side’s return from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. A highlight of that flight was when upon arrival in Madrid, team captain Iker Casillas and coach Vicente del Bosque hoisted the trophy on high the moment they appeared at the aircraft door, to the cheers of the entire country. Head flight attendant Pedro Fernández Ortega knew he was living a historic moment, and was “very emotional, because the Cup was coming home”.
It’s also well worth noting that women have played a great role in the history of the A340 at Iberia. For example, our fleet’s first 19 A340-300s were christened for famous Spanish women such as the great 19th-century Galician poet Rosalía de Castro; another Galician, María Pita, a heroine in the defence of A Coruña against a 16th-century English attack; and another heroine, resisting Napoleon‘s invading army in the early 19tth century, Agustina de Aragón (aka the Spanish Joan of Arc). This model was also the one used for Iberia’s first longhaul flight operated exclusively by women, from Madrid to São Paulo in 2014. Captain Mar Alguacil, proudly recalls that “when I informed the passengers of the special nature of this flight, applause and congratulations broke out, and there were a number of passengers who wanted to get a photo with us”. And she added, “what sticks with me about the A340 is its elegance”.
So this month we say goodbye to our Airbus A340 after 24 years living history together, and open the way to a new travelling companion. This is the A350 fleet, the most quiet planes on the market; equipped with the latest technology; with a cabin design which offers myriad advantages such as wider aisles, panoramic windows, larger overhead bins, and an air-circulation system – all of which promote greater inflight comfort. This aircraft is also more environmentally friendly, with systems designed to save petrtol and reduce emissions.
Thank you, A340, for allowing us for more than two decades to share unforgettable moments at your side, and welcome, A350 – we expect to continue to make plenty more history and memories in the years to come!