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.

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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 Europa, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Zürich to Madrid

Airline: Air Europa
Aircraft: Embraer 195
From: Zürich
To: Madrid Barajas
Departure: 18:51
Arrival:
20:36
Flight time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Seat:
14D, aisle seat on the emergency exit

Check-in

At 16:54 I catch the train back to Zürich airport and make my way to Check-In 2, row 3, which is where Swissport has its counters for the smaller airlines like Air Baltic, Air Malta and Air Europa.

There‘s nobody else checking-in right now, so I‘m seen to straight away. And then from there I head for security, which is just as quiet.

The Lounge

Air Europa uses the Dnata lounge in Zürich, located towards the end of the airside centre, near the B pier. The lounge is completely packed and there‘s hardly any room to sit.

Eventually, I find a place to settle and get myself some food. The selection in the lounge is good, with a choice of salads, soup and a pasta dish to choose from.

Boarding

Considering they‘re a handling agent, boarding an aircraft is something Swissport doesn‘t do very well at all. An announcement is made that boarding will be by zones, starting with zone 1. only, no further announcement is made, resulting in the inevitable scrum by passengers. In fact, boarding is utter chaos and the original two queues expand quickly into a riot-scale pushing and shoving extravaganza.

The Cabin

Eventually though, I make it onto the plane and settle into my seat on the emergency exit.

Again, the seat pitch on the exit row is great. I also think Air Euopa have better padding on their seats in the Embraer than KLM, Air France or Helvetic.

The Crew

There are three crew in the cabin. As I don‘t make any purchases from the inflight menu, my interaction with them is limited. But the safety briefing they give is professional.

The flight itself is very bumpy for most of the journey. To the extent that even the crew had to be seated. Which is good, because the rocking puts me right off to sleep!

Arrival

We land slightly head of schedule. In Madrid Air Europa operates out of Terminal 3, which has its own metro station. Public transport in Madrid is quite cheap. Although you need to purchase a supplement for journeys to and from the airport.

Easyjet, Airbus A 320: Madrid to Basel

I spend a lovely day at the Campo Juan Carlos, a large park close to the exposition area of Madrid and easily accessible by metro.

Just after 14h I return to the metro station and make my way back to the airport. The stop for terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5 is the next one from Feria de Madrid.
My flight to Basel will be checking in and boarding from Terminal 1, which is the longest distance away from the metro station and probably explains why it is home to all the low cost carriers and Turkish Airlines.
On my way there, I spot this old DC-9/32 which appears to have been turned into art. I‘m surprised to see the aircraft still has its engines mounted.
Easyjet seem to have their own operation here in Madrid. Apart from their own dedicated check-in counters, they also seem to have their own fleet of ramp vehicles. And the rampers are all dressed in Easyjet uniforms too.
I really don‘t mind flying Easyjet once I get on the plane. But the getting on the plane is unnecesarily tedious, because we‘re boarding in increments.
The inbound from Basel has only just touched down, and already the outbound is showing up as ‚last call‘…
When boarding eventually does start, they allow us to proceed to the entrance of the airbridge, but no further, because the arriving passengers are still deplaning. Meanwhile, the rest of us wait.
Once that‘s done, they let us proced to the entrance to the plane. And there we wait again while they clean up the cabin.
A pair of young girls come on and inform the purser that one of them has a ‚really, really, really acute‘ allergy against garlic, apples and mushrooms. And apparently even the smell could be lethal. So the cabin crew make an announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating any of those during the flight. Because even the smell ‚could be dangerous’. Quite frankly, I suspect the bimbo airhead had an unspectacular holiday in Spain and figured she’d try something different on the return flight to make herself a bit more interesting. All three allergies really do exist, but you actually have to eat the stuff to get a reaction…
The leg space on the first row is good. And it‘s kind of nice that they introduced a bulkhead. So at least you‘re not completely exposed to the elements if you‘re seated on the first row.
The flight is uneventful and calm. I order a drink from the on board bistro for EUR2.50 for a large can.
We reach Basel after a flight time of 1 hour and 55 minutes. The airport isn‘t busy at all, and 10 minutes after landing, I‘m already sitting on the bus on my way home.

Easyjet really is quite okay if you ignore the boarding experience, which I find unpleasant and unnecessarily so. I also think the limitations of the low cost model are beginning to show. The old legacy carriers have clearly done their homework, and you can purchase just about anything as an ancillary service nowadays. But on a low cost carrier, that is only possible up to a point. For example, if I purchase an upgrade on Swiss or KLM, that automatically comes with the priority check-in, fast track security, lounge access, better seat pitch and an empty middle seat.

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.

British Airways, Club Class – Boeing B 777-200: Madrid to London Heathrow

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Transfer in Madrid Barajas

My flight from Jerez comes to a standstill on stand K103, which is the one but last stand on the north side of Madrid’s terminal 4. My onward connection will be departing from gate S35 in the satellite terminal across the apron. The satellite is connected to the main terminal building by light railway, which makes the journey in about five minutes.

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The only problem though, is that there is a passport check once you get to the other side. And there are people everywhere. It looks as though half of Latin America has decided to congregrate in Madrid’s T4S. It’s round about this time that I start to wonder about the things I do just to fly on a particular aircraft. I could have taken the Iberia flight from Madrid back to Basel – no hassle, non non-Schengen. But no, I had to go with the mighty tripple seven.

There are separate counters for Schengen passport holders, but even this queue is endless, which is hardly surprising given that most of the people in the queue have probably never heard of Schengen. But anyway, eventually it takes me 20 minutes just to reach the head of the queue.

Boarding

When I finally arrive at the gate, the flight is already in the final stages of preparation for departure. I take the stairs down to the ground floor to catch the bus to the aircraft, only to find it is nearly empty. Eventually, we make our way across the apron. Me and the remaining five passengers.

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Still, one has to look on the bright side: it’s not every day that you get to board a wide-body on a remote stand…

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The Cabin

The British Airways cabin is rather unique, with half the seats facing towards the rear of the aircraft and the other half facing forward. The nice thing about this is that if, like me, you like airplanes (you may have guessed), you have a good view of the wing and engines, without having to contort to look back. The window seats are all rear facing.

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Other than that, I really don’t like BA’s long-haul seat. First of all, where other carriers are moving to four seats abreast in their Business Class cabins, British Airways managed to squeeze in a staggering eight seats. The upshot being that there is little to no storage space once you’re in the seat. There is a drawer at floor level, but this is so small that even my 15’ MacBook won’t fit. Also, the seat is fairly low and not particularly convenient to get out of, especially for elderly or less mobile persons. I could go on about all the things I don’t like about this seat and cabin configuration. Suffice to say it is quite apparent that BA’s hardware in Business Class is designed for mass production rather than quality.

Apart from all that, this particular aircraft is also in exceptionally bad condition. There are bits hanging from the ceiling where the panelling has not been properly mounted and the seat and floor are quite simply filthy with old dirt. I don’t mean the kind of oops-we-forgot-to-vacuum dirt but rather the biohazard variety that comes from years of neglect.

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The crew seems friendly enough. I suppose it’s a question of personal preference whether a person uses make-up or not. But I also think it’s a thin line between looking well turned-out and looking like a total slapper. Strangely enough, many British females tends to overdo the make-up and end up falling into the latter category.

We move off stand slightly behind schedule and taxi out to runway 36L for departure. It’s a lovely day for flying and despite the fact that the airport is very busy this time of day, our wait is not too long.

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The fight time is announced as one hour and fifty-five minutes.

The Meal

The service begins with the distribution of those flimsy little hot towels. After that, drinks are served with a small packet of cashew nuts.

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BA recently introduced a new meal concept on its European Business Class product, which essentially means they’re trying to reduce costs further by offering less food. And what a sad meal it is! There is a choice between a cheese and beef panino and a chicken and potato salad.

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I decide to go with the beef and cheese panino. The crew hands me the tray, on which there is one plate with two panini and another with dessert. I really have to say this must be one of the most unattractive looking meal trays I’ve ever seen on a Business Class flight. I fully appreciate that all airlines need to reduce their costs to survive, but does that really mean serving meals with such an apparent lack of attention to detail?

By the time the tray is removed, we’re still forty minutes out of Heathrow. I ask the crew if perhaps I might have a cup of coffee, which is apparently not something they want to encourage. Grudgingly, one of them eventually brings me a cup and plonks is on my tray table. Charming, I’m sure…

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Arrival

Surprisingly, we’re not sent into a holding, which makes a nice change from what normally happens at Heathrow. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we’re running late. Our approach brings us in from the east, right over the city, and I am reminded of just how much I really love London. I think I should plan for a visit some time soon. But maybe not necessarily on BA…

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We park on a remote stand. But apparently, the ground services were not expecting us. There are no busses to bring passengers to the terminal. Eventually, after ten minutes on the stand without anything much happening, one lonely bus eventually does pull up next to the aircraft. I’m just not quite sure they’ll manage to fit in all the passengers of a full triple seven into one standard size bus though…

Conclusion

The problem with large airlines like British Airways or Lufthansa is that their home markets are huge and can be relied on. As such, they don’t really have an incentive to do better. Because unlike me, most people will prefer to take a direct flight over an connection via another hub. And it shows. The hardware of BA’s product is old, worn and unattractive. The service and the food are bland and boring.

But apart from all that, I also think there has been a continuous deterioration in standards recently and I cannot help but feel that British Airways is going to the dogs.

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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Mamà Framboise, Madrid

Mamà Framboise is a confiserie and patisserie with various shops scattered around Madrid. I visited the one in the Recoleto quarter of the city, which is located on the ground floor of a mall just off the surprisingly named Plaza Margaret Thatcher (Say what?)

The service concept is a bit strange, mainly because the staff are all too busy to explain properly. But it’s still worth it. First you have to wait to be assigned a table by one of the waiting staff. Once you have a table, you can then go back to the entrance and queue at the counter to place your order and pay. The food will then be brought to your table. The queues can be rather long, but they tend to move quickly. Besides, the delicacies they serve are, in my humble opinion, well worth the wait.

I went with the Tiramisù and the Blueberry Cheesecake, both of which were sinfully good and oh so tasty. The cheesecake was filled with fresh blueberries and the combination of coffee and chocolate in the Tiramisù was heavenly.

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My partner went with the Chocolate Sacher and Caramel, both of which were also very good.

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www.mamaframboise.com