When a press release from Spanish airline Iberia arrived in my inbox trumpeting tapas as its latest passenger experience innovation, my mind went to Meryl Streep.
“Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking,” drawls the iconic fashion editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, with Streep’s portrayal dripping with deadpan sarcasm.
Wrote Spain’s national airline: “Spanish “Tapas” on Iberia flights: exquisite Iberian cold cuts and cheeses for Business passengers on domestic flights”.
Really? It took Iberia that long to do tapas on a plane?
“In summer, Iberia carries the largest number of customers of different nationalities, and this year the airline is seizing the opportunity to familiarise them with Spanish gastronomy,” says the airline.
But it is hard to think of many European travelers heading to or from Spain who would not be familiar with the small-plate-and-a-drink culture of tapas.
Indeed, it’s hard to find a European low-cost carrier that doesn’t take advantage of the fact that many tapas items are shelf-stable, long-life options that don’t need refrigeration. It’s equally hard to find one not serving Spanish wine, especially in the red department.
So I delved further into the release and accompanying image to see whether Iberia was doing something really interesting: a chef partnership for cool, crisp, fresh summery tapas?
A rotating set of regional specialties introducing the ‘customers of different nationalities’ to the wide variety of different cuisines across Spain, like Swiss does with its canton-by-canton menus?
An introduction to exciting selections from one of the lesser known wine regions of Spain, which number nearly four dozen, like Qantas?
I looked at the picture — it is not, I must say, an especially professionally taken shot, from a cheap Xiaomi phone according to the metadata — to discover a few bits of dried sausage, a couple of slices of cheese, some mini-breadsticks and a mini-bottle of red Rioja. Oh, and a moist towelette.
Even the promise from Iberia is more interesting if not especially well translated: “business passenger on domestic flights are now served chilled sherry with “tapas” of cold cuts, cured sausage, and the best regional cheeses.” [sic]
“Meat tapas,” Iberia promises, “will feature salchichon and fuet (peppery pork salamis), spicy chorizo pork sausage, lomo (cured pork loin), and cecina (thin salt beef slices). Cheeses include are the ever popular manchego, and the distinctive Basque Idiazábal, the Minorcan Mahón, the Canary Island Majorero, etc. The offering will always be different on outbound and inbound Madrid flights.” [sic]
Indeed, those would be an improvement. But even then, Iberia is playing catch-up with its low-cost carrier competition — and not just with its own LCC stablemate Vueling, which offers the Iberic Box featuring jamón Iberico that I can personally confirm is delicious with its premium red, the same level of Rioja as Iberia offers.
But LCCs across Europe offer the meat-n-cheese tapas as standard. A quick browse of menus shows something similar to what Iberia’s showing from easyJet, Norwegian, Transavia and others.
Why not something more exciting, more unusual from Iberia, showcasing the less standard type of classic tapas? What about pickled banderillas or mini-frittata-style tortillas?
Could a single tray of heat-on-board items like empanadillas pastries, tender croquetas or albondigas meatballs not be warmed in the aircraft ovens?
Spain has some of the best restaurants and chefs in the world, so why not something regional, something modern, something to make passengers decide to delve further into the culinary art of tapas?
More than anything else, it’s disappointing that Iberia just doesn’t seem to have bothered.