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

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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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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SERVICE
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!

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, 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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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.

CABIN & SEAT
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.

SERVICE & 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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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
Priority Boarding:
Well, kind of…
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?

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

SERVICE
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 MEAL
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.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.
Meal:

  • A plate with a piece of cheese, pata negra and a pastry filled with tuna.
  • 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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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.