My Thoughts on Domestic Air Travel in Spain

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I’ve been in Spain for the past couple days and while this  isn’t my first time,  I have to say I’m pretty impressed with their style of travel. The facilities at  at Madrid’s new Terminal 4 and at Barcelona, were stunning. Spacious and well-designed with lots of nice shops and restaurants. In both airports, there were  well-dressed airport representatives directing people and answering any questions. It was a stark contrast to most over-crowded and dumpy US airports.

Some other things I really liked:
1) Flying Spanair, the kiosks actually printed your luggage tag, so you could do it yourself – pretty nifty.
2) The airlines seem to be further ahead than their US counterparts on technology. Lots of people use mobile boarding passes, which can also be a bad thing, which I’ll point out below.
3) Boarding is regimented and the gate agents actually enforce priority boarding. I saw someone try to board with a coworker who had elite status and he was promptly denied entrance. When he tried to cut in the front of the line, the agent sternly told him to go to the back of the line.
4) Carry-on luggage was STRICTLY enforced. See below, because I actually dislike how over the top strict it was. But, in general, I do like how they handle oversize carry-ons before people board, which made the boarding process on the plane much more enjoyable and there were no gate-checked bags due to lack of overhead storage.
5) Security was a breeze and you don’t have to take your shoes off (I know this is the case in almost every country besides the US, but it’s still a fun novelty)
6) Our friends picked us up at Madrid airport and they were allowed to wait curbside at the departures level without harrassment from security officials. It was nice to get off a long flight and have your friends there, since my Verizon iPhone did not work in Spain, which I knew about, but was hoping otherwise.
7) I was quite flattered by my boarding pass. Apparently I’m a big deal in Spain…

The things I didn’t like:
1) Mobile boarding passes are not efficient. I saw numerous gate agents and security officials struggling to get them to scan. While it only added 10 seconds to the process, multiply that by a lot of people and you have a pretty serious impact on your departure time.
2) My partner’s Tumi rollerboard, which has never been denied in the US, was checked (for free) at the gate and tagged to baggage claim, which added on a solid 30 minutes since his bag was one of the last to come out. My bag, which is a Tumi T-Tech 19″ (I think) which has never been an issue anywhere in the world, barely fit in the cardboard cutout. While I think its smart to police carry-ons at the gate, this added time to boarding, because my bag wasn’t checked until my boarding pass was swiped.
3) I’m not sure if these were isolated incidents, but people clapped upon landing each flight (and once on takeoff). Not the biggest deal in the world, but I found it to be kind of weird. I know this happens in the US sometimes (especially on flights to Orlando), but I found it peculiar that it happened on two intra-Spain 40 minute flights that were mostly business travelers.
4) No free beverage service. Granted it was only a 40 minute flight, but bottled water was Euro 2.50!
5) They board in two zones – first the rear of the aircraft and then the front. A la Southwest, people lined up 45 minutes prior to boarding, which perplexed me since there was assigned seating and overhead space was carefully controlled. It was gate lice central!

Overall, technology and following the rules were the theme of the trip, but I have to say both flights were delayed 20 minutes due to extended boarding, so I’m not sure if they have it down 100%. If there’s anything that I’m envious of, it’s their facilities. I’ll post more photos once I’m back stateside tomorrow.

To come: My review of AA 757 Business Class, Review of Le Meridien Barcelona Junior Suite, Review of Westin Palace Madrid Junior Suite with Balcony and my thoughts on Madrid in general. I absolutely love this city – everything from the people, food, and overall culture. I’m going to miss my daily siestas!

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