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, 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.