Iberia Celebrates 75 Years of Service Between Europe and Latin America
On September 22, 1946, an Iberia DC-4 departed Madrid’s Barajas Airport bound for Buenos Aires, establishing regular service between Europe and Latin America. The flight lasted just over two days with 36 flight hours and stops in Villa Cisneros, Natal and Rio de Janeiro.
On Monday (September 20, 2021), Iberia announced the launch of their 75th anniversary celebration of service between Europe and Latin America. Today, the airline will hold an event at Casa de América, which will be attended by the Secretary of State for Ibero-America and representatives from the embassies in the region and from the City of Madrid, as well as Latin American culture and sport personalities. Iberia will also premier the trailer for the documentary “Volando” (Flying), an anthem to Iberia’s team members and the Airbus A350 which will be presented at the Platinum Awards of Ibero-American Cinema.
Trailer for Iberia's Documentary "Volando" (Flying) - Courtesy Iberia
Additionally, Iberia and the EFE Agency will inaugurate a photo the exhibition at Casa de América today, celebrating Iberia’s 75 years of flight between Europe and Latin America. The exhibition will be open Monday to Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and an Saturdays until 3:00 p.m. through September 27, 2021 (admission is free).
In January 1945, with WWII still in progress, Iberia signed a contract with the Douglas Aircraft Company for the purchase of three new DC-4 Skymasters for $400,000 each on deferred payment terms. The aircraft acquisition was part of the company’s plan to expand internationally, thereby allowing the company to generate income in foreign currency, which was necessary for the acquiring airplanes, engines and spare parts. Iberia’s first flight between Europe and Latin America departed Madrid’s Barajas Airport on September 22, 1946. After departing Madrid, the Douglas DC-4 made interim stops at Villa Cisneros, Natal and Rio de Janeiro, before arriving in Buenos Aires after just over two days of travel and 36 flight hours.
The expedition flight was formed by company President, Jesús Rubio Paz, Managing Director, César Gómez Lucía and the General Director of Civil Aviation, Juan Bono, and a commission from Spain’s Ministry of Commerce. Although the inaugural flight didn’t include revenue passengers, a total of 28 people were aboard, including Iberia sales and maintenance personnel.
After calling on Cisneros on the shores of the Saharan desert, the flight continued throughout the night until landing at 9:00 a.m. (local time) in Natal, Brazil, where bureaucratic problems delayed the flight for nearly 24 hours. At dawn the next morning, the aircraft took off for Rio de Janeiro for an unscheduled stop, which was forced by authorities to clarify doubts regarding the following flight on the regular line. The flight landed at Morón Airport in Buenos Aires on the afternoon of September 25, 1946, after just over two days of travel and 36 flight hours.
The expedition remained in Argentina until October 8th to ensure the signing of agreements to establish the line. A group of Argentine authorities and guests made the return trip to Spain which had stopovers in Recife (Brazil) and Villa Cisneros, where they rested for the night on October 9th. The flight landed at Madrid’s Barajas Airport on the morning of October 10, 1946.
The route (line 1215), was officially established on October 15, 1946 to operate every ten days, expanding to weekly service by 1948. The first passenger revenue flight was commanded by pilots José María Ansaldo and Fernando Rein Loring, two historical figures in Spanish commercial aviation. Taking off from Barajas Airport at noon on Saturday, the flight made stopovers in Villa Cisneros and Natal, Brazil, where it arrived at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning. A shed was set up so guests could attend Sunday Mass after the Pope granted the authority at the request of the bishops of Madrid-Alcalá and Natal, with the crew serving as altar boys.
From Natal, the DC-4 journey then called on Montevideo, before arriving in Buenos Aires on Sunday afternoon. The return trip departed on Mondays following the same route. On Tuesday night, the crew rested in Villa Cisneros, with the flight arriving in Madrid on Wednesday afternoon. Although the DC-4 had a capacity for 44 seats, it was configured with only 24 seats, with the rest of the space used for four bunks and seats for crew rest. The original ticket price was 7,250 pesetas or USD $659 at the exchange rate of the time. Iberia later replaced the Villa Cisneros stopover with the Island of SAL (Cape Verde), shortening the transatlantic segment of the flight. The route was very well received in Spain, Uruguay and Argentina, and by 1946 commanded an average load factor of 90 percent.
Iberia Celebrates 75 Years of Service Between Europe and Latin America - Photo Gallery Courtesy of Iberia
In 1957, Iberia replaced the DC-4 on transatlantic routes with the Lockheed Super Constellation. The aircraft could accommodate 74 passengers with 14 in First Class and 60 in Tourist Class. First Class was located in the rear of the aircraft which offered less noise and vibration, as well as two unfolding beds, isolated from the aisle with curtains, and a lounge section featuring two facing armchairs and folding tables. The Super Constellations were followed by Douglas DC-8s in the 1960s, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10s in the 1970s, later Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s, and now Airbus A350s.
Iberia’s first hostesses joined the airline in 1946 and the first four ladies chosen for the position included Pilar Mascías, Marichín Ruiz, María José Ugarte and Ana Marsans. During the trip, the hostesses distributed safety pamphlets, maintained security, helped instill confidence in guests and provided flight information. They also served food in small cardboard boxes such as fried chicken, a Spanish omelette, hard-boiled egg or chocolates. Meals were completed with an assortment of beverages including coffee, which was served in porcelain cups. As bread was so scarce in Madrid at the time, Iberia employees had to visit nearby towns to purchase the aircraft’s provisions.
Although Iberia hostesses did not initially have a uniform, they later had two – a white suit made from parachute fabric for summer and a navy blue suit for the rest of the year. Both included a Saharan jacket with four pockets, a long skirt and a hat. Iberia’s first male steward, Fernando Castillo, joined the airline in 1947. Prior to joining Iberia, Mr. Castillo worked as a waiter in a luxury restaurant in Madrid.