How Spain’s Iberia became the world’s most punctual airline

Ninety-two percent of carrier’s flights were on time in February, according to Flightstats

Cristina Delgado
Passengers watch an Iberia plane.
Passengers watch an Iberia plane.Álvaro García

Iberia was the world’s most punctual airline in February, according to international air statistics monitor Flightstats.

More than 92 percent of the Spanish carrier’s flights were found to be on time that month; back in 2009 the figure stood at just 55 percent.

When it comes to carrier brands, the company continues to regularly rank among the top three global airlines, while its affiliate Iberia Express is number one among low-cost carriers.

Iberia has made punctuality one of the priorities of its restructuring program

While Iberia officials have put punctuality at the center of the airline’s restructuring program, there are other factors weighing in the firm’s favor.

Its main hub, Madrid-Barajas airport, has an excess of capacity and the airline has reduced its operations over the years – though it has now begun reopening some of the international routes it had previously given up. Its connections at busy-but-jammed airports, such as London-Heathrow, are also limited.

After several turbulent years, Iberia also now seems to have smoothed over most of the internal labor problems that were primarily caused when pilots went on strike to protest the creation of Iberia Express.

According to Flightstats, one of the biggest leaders in flight data services offered to consumers, Iberia scheduled 13,010 flights during February. Of that number, 92.33 percent were on time while 7.67 percent were delayed for some reason or another.

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OAG, another passenger aviation monitor, placed Iberia as the fourth-most punctual carrier in the world last year, while Flightstats ranked it third and first for punctuality in January and February of this year, respectively.

Its affiliate partner British Airways took the 29th ranking in January and 24th place the following month.

Comparing operations between Iberia and British Airways, there are clear factors as to why the Spanish airline has garnered such high rankings. In February, Iberia’s main hub, the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, operated 25,516 flights – 34 percent less than during the same month in 2008, after the airport had been expanded with the opening of its Terminal 4 two years earlier.

As one Spanish pilot explained, there is little air traffic, especially in the mornings when the long waits on the runways are less frequent.

In contrast, British Airways’s main hub, London Heathrow, operates an average 40,000 flights a month. All of the flight windows for departures and landings are filled, which means that if one carrier is late, it can have a knock-on effect that forces everyone else to reschedule their flights.

Little air traffic in the mornings means long runway waits are less frequent, says one pilot

Iberia’s president Luis Gallego explained last month to a group of managers that one of the priorities under the airline’s restructuring program was to ensure that all flights were on time.

“We have never seen punctuality statistics at Iberia like those we are seeing now,” he said. “The commitment by employees has been essential.”

Over the past few years, Iberia has been immersed in a complex labor dispute that began in part with the creation of low-cost carrier Iberia Express. A final agreement was reached in February 2014.

At the same time under the restructuring, the company laid off around 3,800 workers and has plans to let go an additional 1,670 employees, which will be done progressively up until 2017 with Iberia allowing volunteers to take company payoff packages.

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