Air Europa, Business Class – Boeing B787-8: Madrid to Athens

Getting to Madrid Barajas Terminal 2

The entrance to the Plaza de España metro station is located just a few steps away from the main entrance to the hotel. The ticket to the airport, including the surcharge, is EUR4.90 for a oneway for one person. The journey time, including changing trains at Nuevos Ministerios, is about 45 minutes.

I alight at the stop for terminals 1,2 and 3 and make the long schlepp to the check-in area.

Check-in

Air Europa checks in at Terminal 2.

There are two counters open for Business Class passengers. However, I think this is only the check-in for European or Schengen flights. I’ve already checked in online, so I can bypass the counters and head straight for the fast track for security, which is empty.

The AENA Puerta del Sol lounge

Air Europa no longer has its own lounges at Madrid. What used to be their lounge on the E concourse has now become the AENA Puerta del Sol lounge, operated by the Madrid airport authority.

Which also means that the place is rather busy when I get there, and all the window seats with their fabulous views of the apron are taken. The buffet in the lounge only serves cold snacks.

Boarding

Our flight arrives late on its previous flight from New York, it taxies past the lounge on its way to the gate. Boarding is a complete mess. There are two lanes – one for Economy Class passengers, and another for passengers needing assistance, families travelling with their satanic brood and SkyPriority passengers. Boarding starts about forty minutes late, and there are no announcements by the staff and the departure screen at the gate is not updated either.

When eventually boarding does begin, there’s another hold up because the obnoxious, entitled hipster parent of one of the little demons is refusing to have the stroller put in the hold.

The cabin

The cabin looks nice, especially with the mood lighting. As we enter, I take a quick photo of the Economy Class section, which looks quite spacious.

The Business Class seat is rather old fashioned. There are 22 seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration. The seat is fully lie-flat, but it’s not very long. I would also recommend taking your shoes off before lying down. I wear a size 46 and couldn’t fit my feet in the little cubby with my shoes still on.

There isn’t a lot of storage space either. To be precise, the storage space available is in odd places and not very conveniently located. Furthermore, all the storage areas are marked with “Do not use during take-off, taxi or landing” stickers.

The inflight entertainment has touch screens.

Other than that, the seat is very grimey. There’s old dirt and pieces of food in the cracks and the off white of the seat looks greasy in places.

The service

The service start with still water or orange juice being served as a welcome drink. Sure, the plastic cups are probably not the height of sophistication. But at least we get a drink, which is more than I can say for my previous flight with Iberia.

In addition, the crew pass through the cabin with complimentary wifi codes (which don’t work) and earphones.

As we taxi out, I notice two Airbus A 380s of BA parked up for long-term storage. The photo is a bit grainy. But judging from the state they’re in, I’m guessing it’ll take quite a lot of work to make those two aircraft airworthy again…

Eventually we take off in a southeasterly direction and then turn towards Barcelona, from where we start our Mediterranean crossing. The route takes us over Sardinia and Italy, and then over the Adriatic into the Balkans. The flight time is three hours.

The meal

There are no menus, and from what I can tell there is also no meal choice on this flight. The main dish is tortellini filled with mushrooms and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, melted cheese and cranberries. Although my partner’s dish is missing the cranberries.

There is also a small salad of something, which mainly tastes of artificial basil.

There is butter and a small triangle of La Vache Qui Rit cheese, which I always hated as a kid and still don’t like much. There are also crackers and two rolls of bread.

After the meal, coffee is served in cardboard cups. And it really is quite horrific coffee. I also think that on a flight of three hours it would not have been too much to ask to have a proper cup.

When the cabin crew comes to remove my tray, I feel just a wee bit like Oliver Twist as I inquire if there’s any dessert at all. The cabin crew looks at me with rather unconvincing surprise and tells me she’ll check and be right back. At this point I’m expecting her to return and tell me that catering forgot to load dessert. However, much to my surprise she returns with a bowl of dessert that she miraculously produced out of nowhere. With that, she gives me a wooden stirring stick to eat the piece of cake. It’s roughly around now that I start to suspect the good lady is trying to take the piss. I shouldn’t have bothered…

Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, until eventually our aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent into Athens.

We land and then taxi to our parking stand on the satellite pier. This is my first time using the satellite here in Athens. On my previous visits it was not open. From the pier there’s a very long underground passage to the main terminal.

Conclusion

I used to enjoy flying Air Europa. Their catering was innovative and the crews always seemed warm and sincere. But the cost cutting over the last two years appears to have taken its toll on the airline. The catering on this flight was… meh, and the crews have basically stopped caring. Shortly I’ll be travelling to South America. I had looked at Air Europa too for my trip. Now I’m kind of relieved I didn’t book them in the end.

Madrid – rooftop brunch at El Eden, RIU Plaza de España Hotel

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays you can book a rooftop brunch at the El Eden restaurant on the 26th floor of the RIU Plaza de España Hotel, with commanding views of the city. The venue is very popular, so bookings need to be made well in advance, especially if you’re a large group.

The brunch includes a selection of yoghurts, fruit salad, Iberico ham, Manchego cheese, tomato and avocado pastes, croissants, a bread basket and preserves.

In addition, you can also order a main dish, in case you still haven’t had enough… I had the tortilla with cheese, onion, feta and smoked salmon.

Once you’re done, you can also go up one floor to the outdoor rooftop bar. As far as I know, guests of the hotel have free access, but visitors have to pay to access the outside area.

RIU Hotel Plaza de España, Madrid

The RIU Hotel Plaza de España takes its name from the square in the heart of Madrid that it overlooks. It is situated in walking distance to the Palacio Real, the Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Sol.

The building has had turbulent history. Construction of the Edificio España, as the building is officially known, started in 1948 and finished in 1953. Since then it has been sold, threatened with demolition, sold again and then immediately re-sold…

Today the property belongs to the RIU group of hotels, who have invested a lot of time and money in doing it up. As you can see in the photos, the hotel is enormous. As such, it’s impossible for it to be intimate. Nonetheless, I think they’ve done a really good job with it, and part of that is certainly due to the exceptional staff they have at the hotel. They’re proactive in handling guests and crowds, so that even when it’s busy, you never have to wait for long to be seen to.

I booked a suite on the tenth floor, with a balcony overlooking the Plaza de España. The rooms is very comfortable, and despite the fact that it overlooks a busy square in the centre of Madrid, the noise from the traffic below cannot be heard inside the room.

The view from the tenth floor is brilliant, and in the evenings when the temperature cools down, you can just spend hours out there, watching the world go by…

… or watching the city awaken in the early morning. Although, this being Madrid, up until seven in the morning the impression is that the city is only just starting to go to bed from the night before!

Oh yes, and the breakfast is something to behold, because it’s enormous and serves an excellent array of local Spanish dishes as well as anything else you might just have a hankering for. The hotel is also excellent for public transport, there’s an entrance to the metro just a few metres away from the hotel.

I really enjoyed my stay at the hotel, because it was just very relaxing, and the view from the balcony was just so cool. Having said that, if you’re going to stay at this hotel, I would really recommend that you pay a little extra for a room looking out over the square.

Iberia, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: London Heathrow to Madrid Barajas

I know this is the old logo, but the new one is just so boring…

Catching the new Elizabeth Line to Heathrow

Just a few weeks ago, London opened parts of its new Elizabeth line, which runs from the East to the West of London and its suburbs. The trains also run to Heathrow, providing a viable and very attractive alternative to the outrageously priced Heathrow Express. Together with the Piccadilly tube line, there are now three options to get to Heathrow by public transport. The Heathrow Express is the fastest, and runs from Paddington to the airport in about fifteen minutes. The Elizabeth Line is much cheaper, but takes about thirty minutes to make the journey – if it goes according to plan. The tube is clearly the cheapest option but takes for ever!

In the end, so did my trip to Heathrow too. I depart from Paddington on the 15h47 train bound for Heathrow’s T4. The ticket costs GBP7.50. I’ll need to change trains at the T1-3 station for a train bound for T5. Only, when we reach Hayes & Harrington, where the line branches off to the airport, passengers are informed that the train will not be able make it to Heathrow. So instead, we should wait for the second train on the next platform, which will then run to T5.

So we all move to the next platform where soon enough the train pulls into the station. It runs nonstop to the station at T1-3. Only, when we get there, another announcement is made to inform passengers that there’s been a change of plan, and therefore, our train will now be running to T4 instead of T5. For the latter, passengers should wait on the same platform for the next train to arrive in ten minutes.

Eventually, the trip from Paddington to Heathrow’s T5 takes me over an hour.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online, so there’s no need for me to stop at a counter and I can head straight for the fast track for security. It’s Friday evening, which would normally be a busy time to travel. But Heathrow is eerily quiet. There are a lot of aircraft movements outside, but it certainly doesn’t look as though they’re very full, with so few passengers in the terminal.

Security is painless. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through so quickly at Heathrow!

My flight will be departing from the C satellite of T5, which means I’m going to have to take the shuttle train or walk – which I’m not sure I would recommend. It’s not a very nice walk.

The lounge in T5C is still closed, so passengers are adivsed to use the lounge in T5B, which is even quieter than the main terminal.

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The British Airways lounge is not much better either. Where is everybody? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this place so quiet.

I don’t actually have all that much time to spare. By the time I sit down in the lounge with a glass of sparkling water, it’s already coming up to six in the evening.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 18h05. However, given that I still need to get from T5B to T5C, the displays are all already showing the flight as Boarding. The process starts with group 1, which is all Business Class passengers. Which is all the same, because the A 350 taking me to Madrid is parked in such an awkward location that it’s impossible to get a clean shot of the aircraft.

As I pass the gate, the agent informs me I’ll need to wear a face mask for the duration of my stay onboard.

The cabin & seat

I’m a big fan of the A 350. It’s such an elegant looking bird. It’s also very quiet and comfortable inside. Flying a wide-body on a short intra-European sector is always nice, too.

The Business Class section is located between the L1 and L2 doors. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. The single seats on the even numbered rows are the window (A) seats, and offer much more privacy than the single seats in the unevenly numbered rows, which are the aisle (C) seats.

The seat offers good storage space.

The inflight entertainment system is operated either from a hand-held device, or you can use the touch screen to operate it.

We taxi out with a delay of about 30 minutes, due to them having to offload the suitcases of passengers that never made it onto the flight. Our flight time is announced at two hours.

The meal

While we’re on the ground there are no welcome drinks or anything. The only interaction with the crew is when they distribute the menus.

After take-off, the service quickly begins. I go with the vegetarian dish, and I must say I’m quite surprised with the quantity and the quality, especially of the main dish.

I also admit though that I don’t touch the shrimp. With the meal, the crew make two rounds with the bread basket, which is offered together with olive oil.

The dessert is very good.

To finish the meal, the crew pass through the cockpit with small pieces of dark chocolate, which is incredibly rich.

Service

The service on this flight is what I would describe as typically Spanish. The crew are business friendly. They are helpful and they do their job in a professional and efficient manner. The food service is well paced. Other than that though, there is zero interaction. No smiles, nothing.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Madrid at 22h11, only slightly behind schedule. Our arrival brings us in right over the centre of Madrid. Once we land, we quickly taxi to our stand on the satellite terminal. From there I need to catch the train to the main terminal.

There is a health screening for passengers arriving from non-Schengen countries, and that includes Britain. Other than that, Madrid seems even quieter than London.

Getting into Madrid

To get into Madrid I first catch the line number 10 to Nuevos Ministerios and then the line 8 to Plaza de España, where my hotel is. If you’re travelling from the new terminal at Madrid, there is a supplement to pay which is automatically added to your ticket.

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 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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