Air Nostrum, Business Class – CRJ-1000: Madrid to Basel

Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-1000, operated by Air Nostrum
From: Madrid Barajas
To: Basel Mulhouse
Departure: 10h16
Arrival:
12h29
Flight time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Seat:
3F, window seat

Getting to the Airport

The 7 Islas Hotel is located just off the Gran Via in the centre of Madrid. I exit the hotel just after 7h00 in the morning and walk five minutes to Tribunal metro station.

From there I take the metro line 10 to Nuevos Ministerios, which is two stops away. And then from there I catch the metro line 8 to Terminal 4. The metro service starts at 06hoo in the morning, with trains running every eight minutes.

Check-in

At Terminal 4 I take the lift three floors up from the metro station to departures on level 2. Iberia Business Class counters are located on rows 780 to 799.

There is a dedicated security checkpoint for Business Class passengers, which is completely segregated from the other passengers and very efficient.

The Lounge

The Iberia Business Class lounge is hard to miss as you exit from security. The lounge is enormous and offers a wide range of seating options. It‘s a very nice looking lounge. As for food options though, it‘s a bit of a let down and only has very limited choices.

Boarding

Terminal 4 is huge, and recently the airport authority was given planning permission to expand this already vast facility. My flight is boarding from gate K95, at the north end of the terminal, which is equivalent to Amsterdam’s Fokker farm.

The Cabin

I must say, I really dislike the Bombardier CRJ1000, because it’s such a badly designed aircraft and from the passenger’s perspective, it’s just narrow, tight and unpleasant.

On the starboard side there is a row one, right behind the lavatory. On the port side though, row 2 is the bulkhead row. According to the seat map when I checked in, there’s one person on row 1, two on row 2 – one on either side – and one person – that would be me – on row three on the starboard side.

Just before the doors close, a middle aged gentleman and his son appear from behind the cabin divider and park themselves on 3A and 3C and I have the sneaking suspicion the shouldn’t actually be sitting there. The doors close and the crew go through their routine duties, with the passenger address and then the safety briefing.

The Crew

Unfortunately, for messrs father and son, the flight attendant notices something’s amisss and checks the flight manifest to figure out what it is. Of course it doesn’t take very long for her to realise that there are two passengers too many sitting in the Business Class section.

Sometimes the stupidity of humanity can be interesting to watch. If perhaps also a tad pathetic at times. The flight attendant asks the father what his assigned seat number is, to which he replies that he doesn’t know. So she then asks to see his boarding pass, only to find he should have been seated on row 16. When she explains this to him, he tells her he knows but suffers from an acute case of claustrophobia, which is of course made worse by sitting on row 16 and having to look all the way down this long metal tube.

But the flight attendant obviously has been doing this for a while, so she very sweetly explains just how bad she feels for him, and that he will have to move nonetheless once the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off. So there you have it kids, don’t lie. It doesn’t pay off. You only end up looking like a dick in front of your son, at an age when he already thinks you’re nothing short of embarrssing anyway.

We take off towards the north. I’ll say this though about the CRJ1000: when you’re sitting up front, it really is very quiet and there’s something quite poetic climbing out of the vast expanse of the flat landscape around Madrid.

The Meal

No sooner has the seat belt sign been turned off, the crew are released to start their service, which begins with a glass of orange juice, followed by an unscented hot towel. One of the cabin crew comes through the cabin asking what we’d like for brunch. There is a choice between a melted cheese and ham sandwich and a tortilla.

The tray is served with the hot meal, a bowl of fruit and the cutlery on it. My first impression is that the tray looks very empty. But then the crew come though the cabin with warm bread and shortly after make a second round offering croissants and chocolate doughnuts.

The hot meal consists of a warm tortilla, spinach, pumpkin and a sausage.

To drink with the meal I ask for a coffee and some sparkling water. I’m surprised when the cabin crew brings me a half-litre bottle and leaves it there for me.

Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight reading with the warm glow of the morning sun on my face. Eventually we make our approach into Basel from the south. But the clouds are very low today, so that we’re already more or less past the city before we actually break through the cloud.

Our flight comes to an end on the non-Schengen side of the terminal. However, we are then bussed to the other side, which is also non-Schengen but for flights arriving from countries which would actually be in the Schengen area if France so much as respect the Schengen agreement. Every time I pass through Basel, they’ve thought up something new to make the process even more convoluted and complicated…

At least the airport isn’t too busy, so there’s next to no queue for immigration and my suitcase arrives quickly.

I now have three days in the office before I’ll be gone for a while… stay tuned.

Air Nostrum, Business Class – Bombardier CRJ1000: Madrid to Casablanca

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Introduction

It’s Wednesday morning and we’re running a day late, which means we’re going to miss the start of the user group meeting in Mohammedia. On a positive note though, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day here in Madrid.

We take the Hilton airport shuttle at 08h00, which get us to terminal 4 around ten minutes later.

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Check-in

There is a separate check-in area for Business Class passengers. The nice thing about Madrid’s terminal 4 is that no matter what time of day you come here, there never seems to be anyone there. And today is no different.

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There is a dedicated fast track for security for Business Class passengers.

The Lounge

As our flight is operating to a non-Schengen country, the flight will be departing from the satellite terminal, which can only be reached as a passenger by airside metro. The journey across will take a little more than five minutes.

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The entrance to the lounge is literally in the middle of the duty free shop, which as good a place as any I guess.

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I think the only thing one can criticise about this lounge is that it has no toilets and showers. Other than that though, I think this is really one of the nicest lounges I’ve ever been to. Of course it helps that, like the rest of the terminal, the place is more or less deserted. But even so, the lounge has a very elegant, understated look and feel and the light filtering in through the blinds casts some nice shadows across the otherwise bright space.

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The food and drinks options are also very good and the way everything is presented is simple but nice.

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Boarding

We leave the lounge about ten minutes before boarding should be begin. But by the time we reach the gate just a few minutes later, the status of the flight is already ‘gate closing’. We head through the gate and then downstairs to where a bus is waiting to bring us to our aircraft. And then we wait.

At this point I should perhaps comment that I’ve never been on a flight with Iberia which did not include Spaniards bitching about the sad state of their national airline. It seems to be a bit of a national sport and I’m not even quite sure why. And this flight is no different. All of a sudden, a young man steps outside and starts complaining to the bus driver about how scandalous it is to keep us waiting in such a tight bus (this guy has obviously never experienced rush hour on the Central line…).

In any case, eventually we drive off and a short while later our bus pulls up in front of our aircraft for today’s flight, a Bombardier CRJ1000 of Air Nostrum.

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The Cabin

I have already commented a few times that I really, really do not like the CRJ series of aircraft. I find them very cramped and uncomfortable. But fortunately, this aircraft has some decent seats with a good enough amount of padding to be comfortable.

The seating configuration is 2 + 2 throughout, even in Business Class. Initially, I’m sitting next to the wiry R., who has managed to snag the window. But once boarding is completed, the cabin attendant himself comes to point out to me that I may shift to the other side of the aisle, where both seats are still empty.

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The Crew

The cabin crew consists of a young male and a young female flight attendant. The male is really good at his job. He’s personable and tries to anticipate any wishes his passengers may have. The young lady is okay, but I think she might improve if she were less focussed on looking pretty.

While we’re still on the ground the crew pass through the cabin with a good selection of Spanish and international newspapers and distribute pre-packed scented towels.

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The Meal

I think the meal service on Air Nostrum is probably better than the one you get on Iberia. The breakfast consists of a bowl of fruit, gazpacho soup and a choice of either toast with olive oil and cheese or a ham and cheese quiche. The crew also pass through the cabin twice with the breadbasket.

For the main dish I go with the toast and cheese, which is simple but nice. My first choice from the breadbasket is a nice big croissant. The second time they pass through the cabin, I have the other pastry, which is filled with some sort of vanilla cream and is also excellent.

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Shortly after the trays have been removed, the strait of Gibraltar comes into view. And I must say, it really is quite a sight to behold. It also makes you realise just how close Europe really is to Africa.

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We cross into Africa and I’m surprised by how lush and green everything looks! I must admit I was kind of expecting desert all the way… Eventually we start our descent, flying over vast stretches of farmland.

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Arrival

Eventually we land in Casablanca more or less on time. The airport is fairly busy and as a result, it takes us a whole hour of queueing at passport control before we are finally allowed into the country. You need to complete an embarkation card to enter, but nobody will bother to tell you that in advance and the signposting is non-existent.

Iberia, Business Class, Airbus A 319: Zürich to Madrid

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Introduction

I’m now into my fourth week of travel and in looks like this is going to be another one of those trips…: I’m on my way to Casablanca for the user group meeting. But because I’m teaching until 13h30 on Tuesdays and the meeting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, my choices for flights are somewhat limited. Which is why, initially, I booked myself on an Air France service from Zürich via Paris. With that I would leave at 15h00 after teaching and would arrive in Casablanca at 21h35, so not too late. But then of course, Air France decided to go on strike…

Initially, I was rebooked by Air France on a Lufthansa service via Frankfurt, with a departure from Zürich at 20h00. The only problem with that though, is that the flight doesn’t arrive in Casablanca until 00h35, by which time the car rental office in Casablanca is already closed. So I had to come up with another option quickly…

And so I find myself on a late Tuesday afternoon on my way to Zürich airport.

Check-in

Iberia checks in at Check-in 2 in Zürich and the carrier has its own dedicated counters which are, I think, manned by DNATA staff. I’ve already checked in using the app, but my luggage is heavy with all the documents I’m carting around. So I figure it will be more pleasant to check it in. The check-in agent kindly labels the case to Madrid only, seeing as I’m going to have to spend the night there, and then wishes me a pleasant journey.

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Airside

I’m travelling with the wiry R. on this trip, who clearly has a bit of a sweet tooth and is a bit of a culinary snob. And so we forfeit the comfort of the Aspire lounge in favour of the Sprüngli Café behind security and indulge in a milky coffee and a truffe du jour. Which is, admittedly, very good for the taste buds but not so good for the waste line.

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The two following pictures were taken from the airside sports bar, which has an open terrace that lets you get up quite close to the aircraft.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from gate B33. The B concourse is quite busy at this time of the day. There’s a slight delay to start boarding, apparently because the aircraft already arrived from Madrid behind schedule.

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The Cabin

I’m seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side. Row 2 is also the bulkhead row on this side of the aircraft. On the port side though, the bulkhead is row 1. Seating on this aircraft is in your standard 2 + 2 Recaro Slimline configuration, with the middle seat on a row of three left empty. The cabin looks rather drab, in varying shades of a rather boring grey colour. The cabin isn’t really all that clean either. And it’s not the type of new ‘sorry, we’re in a hurry so we didn’t clean the cabin’ dirt, but rather the type of old crusty muck that comes from years of neglect. The seat pitch is good though.

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The Crew

I wouldn’t go so far and say the crew are friendly, but they’re polite, helpful and very professional. They also adhere to the defined service process, which I think is rather nice.

There are no welcome drinks or towels before departure. The only thing the crew distribute on the ground are the Spanish and foreign language newspaper.

The flight time is announced as two hours.

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The Meal

As soon as the crew is released after take-off, one of the flight attendants comes through the cabin taking orders for dinner. There is a choice of pasta with salmon or stuffed chicken breast with green beans. I go with the latter option.

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The meal is not that bad actually. The tray contains the hot meal, a green salad with dressing, a plate of cheese and a tub of yoghurt for dessert. Bread and butter are served separately from a basket.

The salad hasn’t gone completely limp and the hot meal has a rich creamy sauce. The chicken breast is filled with some type of cream cheese, apricots and olives – which work surprisingly well together.

To drink I have a Coke Zero. Once I’m done with the meal, the flight attendant removes my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to have. So I order a coffee, which is served with a small piece of pretty decent chocolate.

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Arrival

Our descent into Madrid is very atmospheric, with the setting sun putting on a spectacular show of colours.

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Eventually we land in Madrid at 21h15, slight behind schedule. Iberia calls Terminal 4 home, which I still find quite a spectacular construction! The building is massive and the design is modern and elegant. It’s also very empty!

Getting to the Hotel

In Madrid I’ll be staying at the Madrid Airport Hilton. It’s quite a bit away from Terminal 4, but there is a regular complimentary shuttle bus that takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.

Iberia, Economy Class – Airbus A 319: Jerez to Madrid

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Getting to the Airport

After two months on the ground, I finally resumed my travels last Friday with a flight from Zürich to Madrid and then from there on to Jerez, where I gave a presentation on the implementation of the ICAO language proficiency requirements and the need to also assess native speakers of English.

I wouldn’t have minded staying a little longer, the weather in Jerez was lovely. But alas, tomorrow I shall already be underway for my next trip. So I really should be heading home.

In Jerez I’m staying at the Hotel Casa Grande, which is right in the centre of town overlooking a quaint little square.

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The taxi picks me up outside the hotel just after eight in the morning. The journey to the airport takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, depending on the level of insane Spanish driving that you encounter, and will set you back about EUR20. There are busses to and from the airport too, and there is even a railway station opposite the terminal. But both the busses and trains are infrequent and the schedule is not always convenient.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in using the Iberia app, the reliability of which is a bit of a hit or miss affair – but mostly miss. In the name of investigative blogging (yeah, right…), I nonetheless check out the departures area, to find that Iberia has two counters open for its flights to Madrid: one counter for regular passengers and another for Business Class passengers and status holders.

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The terminal is an interesting building that looks more like a railway station, with a high ceiling and a mezzanine floor overlooking the check-in hall.

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Boarding

Security is swift and efficient. Once you’re airside, there are five departure gates. There is also a small café and of course a duty free shop. And that’s just about it really. There is no lounge, so I’m roughing it in the common gate area and hoping I won’t catch anything…

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Just after nine in the morning the gate agent appears. Is that blue make-up she’s wearing? I thought that had gone out of fashion when ABBA broke up many moons ago. I really make my best effort to supress a laugh when I see her, because she looks and behaves just like that woman from Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. You know, the one with the wingtip spectacles that’s just come out of the asylum.

Her face, the gate agent’s that is, is set in a perpetual pout and she’s squinting her heavily made-up eyes as though she can barely see a thing. Boarding starts somewhat unceremoniously when she yells out to the public at large ‘Madrid, embarque passajeros de priority’. Looks like we’re boarding.

Aaaand, jackpot! Jerez does not have airbridges, so we’re having to walk across the apron to our aircraft and board using the stairs. Cool! It’s a shame the sun is directly facing, but I think I still manage to take a few good photos of my chariot to Madrid.

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The Cabin

I am seated on 10F, which is a window seat on the emergency exit of the A 319. This aircraft looks slightly different from the A 319 on my flight from Zürich. First of all, where that aircraft had the typical Recaro slimline seat most European carriers seem to favour these days, this model has the same type of seat as Air France. The cabin divider is also different.

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The legroom is good on the emergency exit. The only drawback is that the armrests on the emergency exit row are shorter. As such, they’re just a bit too short to be able to comfortably rest your arm on them.

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The Crew

The crew consists of a female purser in her mid-fifties, I should think, and two young men that look, quite frankly, as though they’ve never previously seen the inside of an airplane and don’t exactly instil confidence. Also, their English is atrocious, verging on non-existent.

Just past our scheduled departure time at 09h30, the captain comes on the blower to announce a slight delay, which is caused by a minor technical issue the ground engineer needs to sign off first. But the delay drags on and eventually we depart 45 minutes behind schedule.

The Non-Meal

Iberia has been offering buy on board service for a while now. On short flights such as this (one hour), they don’t even bother to bring out the trolley and all items have to be ordered using the call button for the cabin crew.

I’ve never liked the concept of buy on board, but so far I’ve never really been able to explain, rationally, why that is. It’s not the money I think. It just never really felt right. On this flight though, I think it finally dawns on me what it is exactly that bothers me. Or rather what it is about full-service airlines that I prefer: the on board service, is, quite simply, the only opportunity the airline gets to interact with its customers. And that is the only thing they can leverage to set themselves apart. Even if you only get a packet of stale biscuits. There is always some interaction with the crew and, by extension, the brand. But on a buy on board airline, the interaction only becomes possible once, or if, the customer decides to make a purchase.

And this flight is a good example of that. The seat is in the same boring grey you get on Lufthansa, for example, and apart from the inflight magazine and the crew’s uniform, there is nothing in the cabin that might indicate to you that this is an Iberia aircraft or that you’re going to enjoy the typical Iberia experience.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful and eventually we land in Barajas just after 11h20.

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By the time we come to a stop at our assigned stand, it’s already 11h30. I now have fifty minutes to make my onward connection.

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Iberia, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Madrid to Basel inaugural flight

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Date: 26 March 2017
Departure: 16:00
Arrival: 18:00
Flight time: 2 hours
Aircraft: A 319
Seat: 3D, aisle seat on the third row

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Introduction

No sooner have I completed my homework for this week it’s already time to head back home to Basel to get ready for my trip to Luxembourg tomorrow. I check out of the hotel and walk the short distance to Atocha station. Part of the road has been closed off for traffic, and there are families with kids running around where usually the cars are stuck in traffic. It’s still quite fresh here in Madrid, nonetheless it certainly feels as though spring is just round the corner.

Getting to the Airport

If you’re flying from Terminal 4 at Madrid Barajas, your best bet by public transport is the Cercania line C1, which runs from Atocha station to Terminal 4. The journey takes just under 30 minutes and will set you back EUR2.60 for a oneway ticket.

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Check-in

I checked in for the flight yesterday evening using the Iberia app, which is quite erratic in its behaviour. But eventually I manage and find myself assigned to 4F, a window seat, which is fortunate seeing as this will be the inaugural flight to Basel and I’m kind of hoping for a water canon salute.

The terminal has a nice airy feel, which is achieved partly by the very high ceiling that is designed to give the impression of waves on the sea, and partly by the fact that the facility is indeed more or less deserted. Where is everyone?

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Incidentally, there is a fast track for security if you have status or if you’re in Business Class. Just follow the signs marked Fast Track VIP.

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The Iberia Dali Business Class Lounge

Terminal 4 is dedicated to the Oneworld alliance carriers and a few others. My flight will be leaving from the satellite, which also has a few Schengen gates. However, be warned that there is absolutely nothing at all in the Schengen part of the satellite – no shops and no lounge. So it’s best not to journey across to the facility too early.

The lounge is spacious and offers ample seating opportunities. There is a quiet area with day beds and there are also showers in addition to the toilets, which are very clean.

The food selection is good, but not quite as nice and extensive as in the non-Schengen lounge. Admittedly, the presentation could be improved – all the dishes are served in these rather ugly plastic containers. But the quality of the food is good.

Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge.

Boarding

The flight to Basel is boarding from gate M28 according to the flight information displays. However, at some point an announcement is made that for some reason there has been a gate change and the flight to Basel will now be leaving from M49. Only thing is, M49 is occupied by the flight to Munich. Eventually though, the whole thing is sorted, and apparently Munich is boarding from M51 right next door.

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Boarding is by areas and the first passengers invited to board the aircraft are Business Class and status holders.

The Cabin

Well, well, well! There seems to have been an aircraft change. And what a pleasant surprise it has turned out to be. Instead of an Airbus A 319 with the usual European style Business Class cabin with the middle seat empty, this aircraft has its own dedicated Business Class cabin with amazingly plush seats in a 2 + 2 configuration.

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Admittedly, the finish of the seat is not particularly nice but the seat is certainly comfortable. I suspect that this must be one of those aircraft Iberia normally sends on some of its long thin routes.

Storage space is good, but there are no power plugs and there is no inflight entertainment system either.

There are four rows of Business Class and every seat is taken, which is rather surprising given that this is the inaugural flight.

The Crew

The crew are a nice, friendly bunch, but for some reasons they’re totally stressed out during boarding. But once the flight eventually gets underway on time, they seem to calm down.

The service begins with the distribution of Spanish and English language newspapers.

The Meal

Iberia may have just restored my faith in European Business Class!

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The meal is rather nice and the purser working the Business Class cabin does an excellent job of making passengers feel comfortable. The service and food have a rather nice and decidedly Spanish feel.

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Arrival

After a flight time of roughly two hours we start our descent into Basel. The captain informs us that there will be a water canon salute to celebrate the inauguration. And what a grand show it is! It’s a nice sunny day in Basel, and as we glide down onto the runway, I can see spotters lining the perimeter fence to watch us coming in. The water canon salute is simply cool and as we disembark, every passenger is handed a goody bag with souvenirs of both Iberia and the Euroairport to mark the occasion.

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Conclusion

All in all, I really enjoyed this flight. I think the standard on Iberia is very good and the crew were all just so nice. Easyjet already operates on the Madrid-Basel route. But I think if they’re not careful, Iberia may end up giving them quite a run for their money. Terminal 4 in Barajas is far superior to the terminal Easyjet uses. Add to that the fact that as an Executive Club member flying Iberia gives you access to fast track immigration and security and lounge access, and it seems like a done deal.

Iberia Express, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Palma to Madrid

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Date: 19 June 2016
From: Palma
To: Madrid
Departure: 18:05
Arrival: 19:00
Flight time: 55 minutes
Seat: 1D, aisle seat on the starboard side

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Introduction

I spend Sunday morning enjoying an expansive and leisurely breakfast first, followed by a lazy swim around the pool, which I have all to myself at this time of day.

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Getting to the Airport

Check-out is a noon. I still have a few hours to kill before I have to be back at the airport. So I decide to go up into the mountains to San Salvador near Felanitx, a monastery perched high up on a hill slightly more than 500 metres above sea level. The road leading up to San Salvador has a gradient of more than 6%, which makes it a popular excursion for cyclist.

The view from the top is simply amazing and there is a constant breeze, which makes a welcome change from the heat below. There is also a café that is worth mentioning. Perhaps not necessarily because of the food and drinks – which are okay – but because of the rather breath taking view you have in the loo (No, that is not a sexual innuendo).

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From San Salvador it will take you roughly fifty minutes in good traffic to reach the airport.

Check-in

Location: Upper level of the terminal.
Facilities: Web check-in. Check-in at the airport is only possible at the counter. There are no self-service machines.
Counters: 52 to 68.

By the time I reach the airport and drop off the car, it is just gone 15h15, so I have a bit more than two hours before departure. There are two open counters and one them is a dedicated check-in line for what Iberia calls ‘Priority’ passengers. There is one person ahead of me in the priority line and a short queue of passengers waiting in the normal Economy Class queue. The guy at the head of that queue informs me that ‘no, you wait, my turn’. He then goes on to elaborate how unfair it is of me to jump the queue when he has been waiting there for an eternity (two minutes…). I start explaining that it is fair because I am quite willing to pay to avoid the queues at check-in or at security. But then I figure my Spanish is about as awful as his English and just let him go first.

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From check-in I head one floor up to security. There is a fast track available for Iberia’s priority passengers, so the process is fairly swift and painless. From there I head for the lounge.

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The Lounge

Location: Near gate D88 on the D concourse.
Type of Lounge:
Sala VIP Formentor – contractor lounge operated by AENA – the airport authority.
Facilities:
Newspapers and magazines. Toilets are available in the lounge but there are no showers.
Catering: The usual selection of hot and cold drinks. There is also a small selection of Spanish snacks.
Internet:
Wifi is available, the password can be obtained at reception.

The lounge is surprisingly large. It is also rather empty, which can be expected I guess, given that Palma is mostly a leisure destination and most of the operators are either low-cost carriers or charter airlines.

Boarding

I think this is the first time I really get the full on low-cost experience. What complete and utter chaos. My boarding pass tells me that boarding will start at 17:05 for a 17:35 departure. But the departure screens shows boarding as starting at 16h50 from gate D88. Only when I get there, the flight shown is a Vueling flight to Barcelona and the aircraft parked outside belongs to SWISS.

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Eventually, after more or less all passengers on the flight to Madrid go and check with the gate agent, an announcement is made to inform us that the flight will be departing from gate D90. So we all move over that way. I get the impression some people think they better hurry before the plane leaves without them. Only when we get to D90, the flight showing up there is the Lufthansa evening service to Frankfurt.

Eventually, the gate agents manage to catch up and are none the wiser about our departure gate. But then we look outside and see an Iberia Express pulling up on the stand at D90 so we all figure this will probably be right.

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As soon as the airbridge is connected to the aircraft, boarding for the flight to Madrid begins. In my innocence I start to wonder if perhaps the flight has arrived empty. Of course not. The entrance to the airbridge is closed off and the passengers from the inbound service have only just started disembarking. Actually it is rather funny to see the faces of some of the arriving passengers, clearly they are not expecting the whole of the return flight to be waiting for them as a welcoming committee as they step off the plane.

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And then, as soon as the last of the arriving passengers has stepped off the airbridge and into the terminal, boarding for the return flight begins. Is this what a cow feels like on its way to the slaughter house?

The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 in Business Class, with the middle seat left empty.
Seat: Iberia has a total of 38 Airbus A 320s, 19 of which are operated under the Iberia Express brand. The Iberia Express models have a seating capacity of 177. There are three rows of Business Class with a total of twelve seats, nine of which are occupied on this flight.
Pitch: 31 to 28 inches. The seating pitch starts at 31 inches on the first row and then gradually decreases to 28 inches towards the back.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: None.
Audio and Video: Wifi inflight entertainment, which works rather well actually.

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The first thing that strikes me as I take in my surroundings, is the design and colouring of the wall panelling, which looks vaguely familiar and certainly feels like a blast from the past. It takes me a moment but eventually I get there. This is the same scheme Swissair had in the cabin of its aircraft, with faded pink shades of swish. What I do not know, is if this aircraft previously flew with Swissair, or if what Swissair had was a standard design that could be ordered with the aircraft off the shelf from Airbus.

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Other than that, seating looks like your bog standard slimline Recaro seat. But at least they do give you pillows in Business Class…

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com

The Crew

The crew on the flight are not overly friendly, but they are okay. I am assuming there are four crew on the aircraft, although I only ever see the same two, and they are obviously totally stressed out. They are trying to work as fast as possible to get the passengers settled quickly. But all they really achieve is to completely stress out themselves and the passengers.

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The Snack

Welcome drink: No.
Towel before the meal: No. But you get one after the meal, and with good reason.
Pre-meal drink:
Freshly squeezed orange juice.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.

  1. A plate with a piece of cheese, pata negra and a pastry filled with tuna.
  2. Sparkling water.

Before take-off the crew’s only interaction with the passengers is to ask if they would like a paper. That’s it. But then after take-off the mad rush begins. There are only nine passenger in the forward cabin. But with a flight time of only 55 minutes to Madrid, the crew are obviously nervous about starting the service as soon as possible. Once the seatbelt sign goes off, the crew pass through the cabin with glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. So far so good.

But then one of the crew comes to remove my glass and asks me ‘would you like a drink’ –  and I am left wondering what that was supposed to be that she has just cleared away? Much to my surprise though, it turns out that a small snack is offered, even on such a short leg, and what she means is: what shall I be drinking with the meal?

When the plate arrives, I am rather pleasantly surprised. Of course it is just a small snack, but this will do nicely until we get to Madrid. If only. If only I knew how I am supposed to eat this without cutlery. Even now, as I write this, I am not sure if the passengers are really meant to eat the food with their fingers or if the crew forgot. At least they have the decency to distribute packed refreshing towels after the meal for you to clean your hands.

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Arrival

Our arrival into Madrid is fairly unspectacular and only a bit bumpy. All Iberia and OneWorld flight arrive and depart in the spectacular Terminal 4. As I make my way to the baggage claim I keep stopping the marvel at the ceiling.

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Getting to the Hotel

In Madrid I will be staying at the Hilton Airport. There is a free shuttle bus to the hotel, which serves all terminals. At Terminal 4 you need to go up one floor and then across a walkway to reach the platforms from where all the busses leave.

Iberia, Business Class – A 340-600: London Heathrow to Madrid

Introduction

When British Airways and Iberia announced their intention to tie the knot a few years back, I simply didn’t get it. And I suspect I probably was not the only one. The smart and successful British Airways merging with the hopeless mess they call Iberia. So far I’ve only ever tried Iberia in Economy Class and to be honest, they have yet to impress me. High time therefore, to give them a spin in Business Class. I will even be so kind and gracious and give them a bit of a head start. Rather than try Iberia on a ‘normal’ European route, I’ve selected the 18h40 departure from Heathrow to Madrid. This flight is operated by an A 340-600 and thus promises a level of comfort that a narrow-body simply cannot match. So off we go. Iberia, do your worst!

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Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Airbus A 340-600
From: London Heathrow T5C
To: Madrid T4S
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 3A, window on the left side of the aircraft
Date: 28 March 2013

Transfer in London Heathrow

I’m already in Heathrow actually. I arrived here on a KLM flight from Amsterdam. Heathrow is such a large place that it actually takes me over an hour to make the transfer from T4 to T5.

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I’ve just passed security, which took ages. But I have only myself to blame for that. I forgot to remove my Kindle from my case and subsequently ended up having to unpack every thing and repack it again. I have just over two hours before my flight leaves for Madrid. But what to do? I’m feeling a bit peckish. I could go to the lounge obviously, and get myself something to eat and drink there. But if I do that, I’ll miss my bird arriving and I may not get a chance to take another picture of her. It will be dark by the time we get to Madrid. So eventually I decide to go for a meal at Wagamama. I like their food and from the restaurant I have a good overview of what’s going on in and around T5. I’m all set.

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I’m just waiting for my passion fruit cheesecake to arrive when suddenly I see the reflection in the window of something big and yellow. And sure enough, shortly afterwards the mighty A 340-600 comes into view and graciously glides down onto runway 09L. For some reason I was expecting the aircraft to use one of the gates at the main building of T5. It only occurs to me as I watch her taxi back towards the terminal that the A 340-600 may perhaps be too long to use one of the stands there. And indeed, eventually the aircraft comes to a halt at T5C, the second one of the two satellites.

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Boarding

Just before six I pay the bill at the Wagamama and make my way to the gate at C61. To do that I must first take a lift down into the basement of T5 and from there catch the automated shuttle. The shuttle calls briefly at the B satellite before continuing to the C satellite, the terminus station.

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As I arrive at the gate they’re pre-boarding families with children, of which there seem to be quite a few on today’s flight. Next up, is the boarding call for Business Class passengers and frequent flyers with status. I am impressed by how strict the BA ground crew enforce the boarding process.

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It’s quite a trek from the exit of the building to the door of the aircraft. At least I get some excellent views of aircraft approaching and landing on 09L. Eventually, I reach the door and I am greeted by no less than three male flight attendants. They seem friendly enough.

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The Cabin

First surprise: the cabin looks rather nice. Admittedly the seat is not necessarily state of the art anymore. It’s what I would term something from the first generation of hard shell Business Class seats. But still, the seat has a nice finish with leather (Or is it just plastic?) on the armrests and around the frame of the seat. More importantly though, when extended into a bed, it is indeed fully flat, horizontal and has a good height above the floor. Would I be willing to undertake a long-haul flight in this seat? Yes actually, I think so and I would probably sleep like a baby.

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It is also worth pointing out that the aircraft as different luggage bins over the central row of seats. Instead of simply having a lid that opens upwards, the bins in the middle move down when opened, just like the ones used on the B 777 or the B 747.

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This is all wrong you know. I was expecting to not like anything at all about this flight!

Departure is pretty much on time. It’s just before 19h00 and I am starting to feel tired. After all, it’s been a long day for me. I arrived in Amsterdam from Montreal at 07h50. Although I managed to sleep very well, the flight was simply not long enough to get some decent rest. And then I spent the morning walking around Amsterdam before returning to the airport in the afternoon to catch the flight to Heathrow. So it’s hardly surprising that the unthinkable happens. For the very first time in my life, physical exhaustion gets in the way of my passion (That sounds so much better than obsession…) for flying. I nod off and actually miss our take-off roll – the best part of the flight. We go thundering down the runway and I’m happily dreaming away. One moment we’re moving backwards as we push back onto the taxiway, the next thing I become aware of is the flight attendant placing a menu on my armrest in preparation for the meal. I realise we’re already airborne. Well, at least I didn’t miss the food!

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The Crew

How many flight attendants are there up front anyway? There are two ladies working my aisle. One of them is young, friendly and efficient, while the other is middle-aged, very friendly and takes things at a much more leisurely, pleasant pace. Two middle-aged men are serving the other aisle. And then there’s another guy, I think he’s probably the purser, working the galley.

The Meal

So what’s for dinner?

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As I already mentioned, Iberia still have menus in Business Class. Even on short-haul flights. Of course that should hardly make a difference, but still I think it’s a nice touch. Today we have:

  1. Salad of fresh leaves with zucchini, carrot and raisins with a balsamico vinaigrette.
  2. A choice of cheese battered chicken breast or baked merluza with citrus and tarragon.
  3. Goat cheese with blueberries.
  4. Tiramisu with red fruits cake.
  5. Assorted breadbasket with extra-virgin olive oil.

From a glance at the menu it looks as though the salad and the chicken/fish are two separate dishes. But in actual fact it is merely of question of having a warm item added to the plate with the salad. I opt for the chicken breast. The meal if perfectly adequate for a flight time of only two hours and the taste isn’t bad either. The crew do two bread rounds.

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The only thing that is really vile is the dessert, the Tiramisu. Words cannot describe this abomination of artificial cream, artificial fruit flavour and probably also artificial bits of fruit.

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And then the trays are removed. Coffee and tea are served on a small, flat dish. The crew proactively offer spirits to go along with that. As a rule I don’t drink on a plane so I stick to coffee and a glass of water.

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Arrival

And then comes the moment for me to give the seat a trial run. I’m exhausted and really need to get some forty winks. But again, my rest is but a short one as our mighty aircraft soon dips its nose and we begin our descent into Madrid. It’s rather cool of Iberia to keep the tail camera on for the approach. It’s dark by the time we reach Madrid so the runway is easily made out in the dark. Some passengers express their surprise as they notice that, although we’re moving in the general direction of the runway, the nose of the aircraft is in fact pointing in a slightly different direction. I think it’s called a cross-wind component.

I only take one last picture as we disembark.

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Madrid’s T4 is certainly impressive but I am simply too tired to care. I’ll take some pictures of the airport on my way back to Frankfurt in a few days.

We dock at the satellite. From our arrival gate it’s a walk of about five minutes to immigration. From there you take two sets of escalators down into the basement and then from there an automated shuttle to the main terminal. The shuttle journey is surprisingly long. Once I reach the main building I head for the Renfe station – the Spanish railways company. The journey from the airport to Atocha station takes about thirty minutes to complete and costs EUR2.50.

I will spend the night at the Radisson Blue close to Atocha station. Tomorrow I will catch a train and spend Easter in Toledo.

Conclusion

What can I say? I was really not expecting anything much from Iberia other than horrible service, bad food and worn hardware. But in fact Iberia exceeded my expectations. The seat was comfortable enough, the crew were polite and friendly and the food was okay, save for the dessert. Having said that, the whole experience was certainly not outstanding and seemed somehow very old-fashioned to me. So perhaps it is just too easy to simply say that Iberia is a horrible airline with bad service. Perhaps it might be more appropriate to say that Iberia is an airline with a product and service that are simply not competitive anymore.