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Air Europa Business Class Review JFK-MAD: My Very Low Expectations Were…Met

by on July 5, 2011 · 43 comments

in Air Europa, American Express, Delta, Priority Pass, Trip Reports

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For my summer Delta Skymiles award to Spain and Mauritius, I decided to start the trip off with a brand new carrier: Air Europa. If you’ve never heard of them, well, that’s pretty normal. They are a Madrid-based Skyteam carrier that has limited transatlantic service from Madrid to New York JFK and Miami.

My Reasoning

As I wrote about on Sunday, I love all things Madrid, so I decided it would be a fun way to start my trip and get me prepared for 12 days in Spain before continuing on to Mauritius. Delta also had low level award availability for JFK to Madrid on their lie-flat 767-400 aircraft, but since I recently flew their 777LR from Los Angeles to Haneda (and loved it), I decided I’d try something different, even though I knew the physical seat on Air Europa would be much less comfortable and the only things I’ve read in the limited online reviews available is that Air Europa is … well, let’s just say they’re not a top-tier carrier. Oh the things I do for good blog fodder! Bear with me as I relate my mediocre flight experience, and let me know if you’ve had similar experiences.

One of the great things about Air Europa is that they have pretty incredible award availability. You can check it using Expertflyer.com and I’ve found that they have 4+ seats available almost every day on many of their routes. Since all partner award availability is at the low level, this is a great way to get cheap Delta awards (100,000 miles for business class roundtrip to Europe, 60,000 for coach - even during peak seasons). However, there is a fuel surcharge, so expect to pay roughly $200 in fees for an Air Europa transatlantic award versus about $50 on Delta. If you have the option, definitely choose Delta.

Air Europa is based out of terminal 4 at JFK, which is one of my favorite airline terminals. Its not my favorite because it’s the most cutting edge, but I love it because it’s the quintessential international terminal serving all sorts of exotic carriers including Air India, El Al, Are Lingus, Aerosvit, Royal Air Maroc, Singapore, Royal Jordanian, Avianca, Etihad, KLM, Uzbekistan Airways, South African, and more. There’s just something about entering the huge terminal and spotting the groups of different passengers huddling together – I always try to figure out which airlines each group of people is flying.

Quite the electic mix of airlines at JFK Terminal 4

I also like the Oasis Lounge, which offers speculator plane watching and pretty decent food and beverages. As an Air Europa business class customer I was given a paper invitation, but I also had free entry for having a Priority Pass Select membership, courtesy of my American Express Platinum Card.

How It All Started

However, before I hit the lounge I checked-in, which began my  (head-scratching) experience as an Air Europa “premium” passenger. There were no clearly marked business class check-in lines, but when I handed the security agent at the entrance of the check-in line my passport, she asked if I was business class and let me through a closed-off line to a poorly marked business class check-in counter. The single agent was working hard checking two passengers in and I waited for about 10 minutes as most coach passengers got checked in more quickly than me. That always bothers me and I had a similar experience with Cathay Pacific at Vancouver recently (a full trip report on that experience to come). What is the point of a “premium” check-in lane if it takes longer to check in than any other lane?

Once I finally got to the agent, I asked him to seat me in a seat that preferably had no one next to it (if possible) and in the center row. For overnight red-eyes, I like sitting in the two-seat middle section so I don’t have to climb over anyone to use the restroom. The agent played dumb and told me it was a packed flight, when I knew otherwise, but I let it go. He did mention row 4 was empty, but that was generally for company VIPs and friends of the pilot. Seriously? I ended up with an aisle seat in row 3′s middle section and went on my way to the Oasis Lounge.

The Oasis Lounge

The only issue with the Oasis Lounge is that it’s at the far left corner of Terminal 4 and it’s located land-side, which means you need to go through security to get to your flight. While T4 security is usually under control (and they do have a premium lane which is usually policed), it always makes me nervous to cut it close. I’d much rather have a lounge that is plane-side, so you can leave with just enough time to board your plane. I got some light snacks and worked on some blog posts, before giving myself about 50 minutes until departure to leave for the gate. I saw huge security lines and started to get nervous, but in the end I used the premium line to the far left and got through with plenty of time.

Great views of the runway from the Oasis Lounge

Decent warm food--usually an Indian and Middle Eastern dish - this time Tandoori chicken on the bone and mixed veggies with another tray of jasmine rice

Decent salad bar with self-serve bar and good variety of snacks

I Board

I had plenty of time because the plane, which was supposed to leave at 10:05pm, wouldn’t start boarding until about 9:55pm. When boarding did commence, I was one of the first to board so I could snap some pictures since there are hardly any reports on the internet of Air Europa.

The Air Europa A330 Waiting patiently at the gate

My first impression of the coach cabin on their A330 aircraft was that it looked pretty nice. Almost immediately, though, an angry flight attendant charged at me and yelled at me for taking a photograph. Wow, what a nice way to be welcomed on board! I know some airlines have that policy, but I’ve never personally run into it. I think it’s ridiculous and it didn’t stop me from taking more pictures, because frankly that was the entire reason why I was taking this flight, so I’d rather be kicked off and change my ticket (thanks to free Diamond award changes) than to be forced to fly a bad airline and not be able to blog about it with pictures.

Crisp, clean coach cabin

Luckily the militant/having-a-bad-day flight attendant was “servicing” coach, so we had no other run-ins and no other flight attendant seemed to care about me taking pictures, though they were MIA for most of the flight, so they probably just didn’t see.

The business class cabin was somewhat dated, though also clean. The seats are similar to the angled lie-flats on Air France and Delta’s 747/A330 old World Business Class product. Not the newest seats, but better than cradle style super-old schools seats. Once I was seated, it was a good 20 minutes until a flight attendant spoke to me – or anyone else in business class. They seemed to be preparing the galley, and when a businessman asked the purser why we were late boarding, she just brushed him off and said “We will make it up in the air, sir.” The man didn’t seem happy with that answer, but let it slide.

Rows 3 and 4 in the Air Europa A330 Business Class Cabin

Seat controls

The Flight Begins

As the boarding doors were being closed, pre-departure beverages were offered – either orange juice or water. I asked for champagne and the friendly flight attendant said “Sure!” and went to the galley. That was, until the purser, who must have sensed something happening, accosted me and asked what I ordered. When she found out the other flight attendant was going to get me champagne, she darted to the galley and put the kibosh on my order. Apparently they aren’t allowed to serve alcohol until at cruise altitude. Now, I know there are rules about duty free/ liquor on the ground, but every airline I’ve been on in business/first offers a cocktail on the ground. Apparently not Air Europa.

I took a moment to look around, and noted that the business class cabin was probably 40% full, and the entire row 4 was empty. I guess the pilot didn’t have any friends flying that day.

Once airborne, it took about 30 minutes for the flight attendants to emerge. Their first order of business was distributing customs forms. Seriously–couldn’t that wait until prior to landing? Another 20 minutes passed and dinner service started. While I was waiting, I tried using the in-flight entertainment system, but it was not functioning–it was only an Air Europa commercial on repeat.

When I asked the flight attendant she stated they hadn’t turned it on yet, because they hadn’t handed out headphones yet. Soon thereafter I got a flimsy pair of non-noise canceling headphones that were reminiscent of the headphones that came with Walkmen in the early ’90s. No thanks, I’ll use my Bose (which also have the adapter, so you could have turned the IFE on an hour earlier). Once the system was turned on, they had a total of just 8 new-release movies to choose from. That didn’t bother me too much because I don’t tend to watch movies on the east-bound red-eye to Europe, but if I’d had a bout of insomnia, it would have been a bad situation.

Cheap headphones

I got handed an amenity kit by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (unique Spanish fashion designer), which was basic at best. The lotion and toothpaste did not have a brand – instead they just listed a factory address in China. Seriously.

Fun looking, but poor quality amenity kit

On the Menu

After the headphones, I finally got a look at the menu, which seemed interesting enough. 90% of American would probably be repulsed at the thought of a White Anchovy Filet and Worcestershire sauce salad, but I thought that was pretty cool – at a very minimum, it would be a unique dining experience at 40,000 feet.

I ended up selecting the fish option which was “Emperor,” which I had never heard of, but I believe is a snapper (though someone please correct me if I’m wrong).

Dinner Menu

Cheese, Dessert and Breakfast items. "Vegetal omelette" anyone?

The starter was nuts in a bag and kettle-cooked potato chips in a cup. I started with a glass of Cava, which tasted very sweet and cheap, so I switched to their marquee red, which was a 2008 Montebaco Crianza (Tempranillo grapes), which was actually pretty decent. The funny thing about the wine menu was that the main push was to get you to sign up for their wine club. The price of the cava was 6 bottles for 46 euros. I know that some of the best wines are not expensive, but $11 bubbly is pretty embarrassing for business class (in my humble opinion). Beyond the pricing, there were only 4 wines to chose from: The 2008 Montebaco Crianza, a 2008 Becquer Rioja (also Tempranillo), a 2010 Emina Verdejo from Rueda and the 2010 Parxet Brut Reserva Cava.

Wine list or ad for a wine club? Both!

Starters - chips, nuts and cheap Cava

The first course was a medley of Serrano ham (my favorite), anchovies with chicory, and gazpacho from a carton poured directly at your seat. I love ham, so that was good. I personally wasn’t in the mood for anchovies, so I passed on the salad, and the gazpacho was actually tasty and fresh. Not so bad.

Ham, anchovies and gazpacho ... not your typical first course

Then came the entrees and I had chosen the fish, which looked nice and meaty. I had the choice of either carbonara or lemon sauce and I chose the latter, which ended up being really nice with the fish and risotto. Overall, the main course was actually very good – meaty, fresh (at least for airplane food) and not too salty, which is always a feat.

The main course...a nicely done fish and risotto with veggies in a light lemon cream sauce

Bedtime

I had popped half a Lunesta at the beginning of the meal, and I started to get pretty drowsy by the end of the entree so I skipped dessert (though I took a picture of the tiramisu for the report) and made my bed using some extra pillows and blankets from surrounding empty seats. The seat turned into an angled lie-flat, so it was not the most comfortable, but the Lunesta did its trick and I was in la-la land before I knew it. I ended up waking up about 20 minutes before landing, so I missed breakfast as well, which is fine with me, because I generally hate airline breakfasts.

Tiramisu...okay, fine, I did take a bite and it was decent.

Bedtime with mini pillows and two fleece blankets

Landing was smooth and I was one of the first people off the plane and through customs in less than a minute (by the way Madrid customs is consistently the most laid back immigration/custom process – I love it). However, that didn’t matter because my “priority tagged” checked bag was one of the last to come off the belt, which was just one last annoying way to end my experience with Air Europa. I guess based on how many horror stories with lost bags, I should just be happy I ended up getting my bag with nothing stolen out of it. In fact, when I told my Spanish friends I flew Air Europa, they said they were known for being bare bones, but allowed 2 checked bags (versus one on Iberia) so that’s why they had a loyal following.

The Verdict

So in the end Air Europa was indeed no-frills, but it did the trick – it got me from point A to point B in safety and in relative comfort. Now that I’ve crossed them off the list, I’ll probably never fly them again, but if I was in a jam and it was either fly them in business class or any other carrier in coach, I’d go Air Europa. Let’s hope I’m never in that situation!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Alanc

    Great post. And I agree completely about Terminal 4 and the Oasis lounge (I was there Saturday night and I think it was the same tandoori chicken and veggies, by the way). Makes it hard to relax in the lounge when you’re calculating how much time you need to get through security (though, the business/first line does speed things up, mostly). What’s particularly annoying is that once you get to the gate (at least the “A” gates; I don’t think I’ve ever flown from the “B” side), the seating at most is ridiculously sparse (maybe 40 seats for a 767 flight). So you can either hang in the lounge and worry about screening time, or you can go through screening earlier and stand at the gate. You really can see the pre-9-11 design priorities at work in Terminal 4: Maximize time/spend at the shops/restaurants and minimize time at the gate. Whole new world now . . . alas.

  • Anonymous

    All of the quotes I am reading in my head as air quotes that you do with your fingers and giggling. I wouldn’t have guessed to be all warm and fuzzy, but sometimes the no photographs thing is ridic– it’s not like you were trying to catch Beyonce snoozing in First Class. And the chips, Cava and nuts food porn shot screams “Klassy” with a capital “K.” Great post– I love guessing where all the passengers are flying too. People watching is nice thing to do at airports.

  • Phil

    Thanks for flying them, so we don’t have to! :)

  • Anonymous

    It’s my pleasure.. now lets just hope I never have to fly them again!

  • Anonymous

    I understand if an airline has a no-photo policy, but don’t charge at a customer and yell at them. Tres un-klassy!

  • Anonymous

    I agree- the actual terminal has almost no seating. I tried to kill time by buying duty free stuff, but they had cut off sales for my flight because everything (including nonalcohol) had to be delivered. Oh well, at least it was fun to people watch!

  • Alanc

    That is the cool thing about Terminal 4. You really see such diverse groups of people — particularly flight crews in sometimes rather exotic uniforms. It’s a bit like entering a time machine — seeing what flying was like 40 years ago — putting back a bit of the glamour. Then, of course, you get to the gate — and back to reality.

  • JohnnieD

    We flew last April MAD-BCN on Air Europa in coach. Their coach product was just like any other coach product-crappy although we did score the exit row. I was wondering what the front of the plane was like and now I know so thanks for saving us the trouble………LOL….

  • David

    I love your blogs and I think you write a great, thorough product. However, as a primarily coach/economy traveler, it’s funny to read complaints about blankets & toothpaste not having a brand name, vip lines, cheap wines, etc… You’ve got to write for your market, but for me, I guess I’d rather take more free flights than be just a tad bit more comfortable and have name brand toothpaste for 8 hours of my life.

  • Anonymous

    To each their own when it comes down to how you travel. As a deal seeker I find business/first redemptions to be a much better value. For this trip, business class was only 50% more (120k vs 80) and I’m doing 20,000 miles (35 hours in the air). So for 50% more miles, I get a ticket that is 10x the price. Then again, I also create more miles and points every year than I can use so I have the luxury of spending those extra miles without thinking about it as limiting future travel.
    In any case, I have nothing against coach travel (I do it when I absolutely have to), but for the sake of business class reviews, I can’t simply say “it was so much better than coach!” because that would get old really quickly.

  • Anonymous

    I find it kind of hilarious how spoiled frequent flyers are. I guess if I was “addicted” to premium services, as you claim to be, I’d be more inclined to see things from your perspective. As is, I’d say this was first world whining at its best.

  • Anonymous

    Despite it being 10x the price, do you think you get 10x the quality? I agree with the original poster; sure it’s a deal to get a business class award flight for 60,000 miles to Europe. But I can get almost two in coach. And it’s a 9 hour flight, most of which you’ll spend asleep, do you really think it’s worth almost twice as much in miles, much less 10x as much in cash? I’ve flown first class (paid for by a client) and I really don’t think it’s worth it. Not even a little bit. But like you said, to each his own.

  • Anonymous

    When did I claim to be addicted to premium services? I fly coach a lot, including 3 times transatlantically in a one month period this March. At a core level, I love to travel and will do it whatever way I can. I’m 6’7″ so doing it in business class makes it better.

    The point of this post was to review Air Europa based on other carriers. It paled in comparison- I’m sorry you find it to be whining, but I guess you don’t understand the point of a review. If every food critic simply raved about the food they ate simply because they weren’t in starved sub-Saharan Africa, that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?

  • Anonymous

    I think the better comparison would be “is business class worth the 50% premium” and I would say absolutely yes for me. I’m 6’7″, so traveling 30 hours in coach internationally will wreck me. That being said, I’ll do it if the price is right, like when I did three one day runs to Stockholm and Copenhagen this March on $140 roundtrip Delta fares.

    There will always be people who are fine traveling in coach and those who want business class for one reason or another. I think this blog embraces everyone- I don’t care how you use your miles, but I will show you how I earn and redeem them to travel like I never thought possible (and usually thats redeeming for premium classes internationally).

  • Anonymous

    Your exact words were “frankly I have an addiction to business/first class”.

    You’re right though, this is a review and you are reviewing compared to other carriers. I should just not read these reviews, because they don’t apply to me and I should keep my opinions of how gauche they might seem to myself.

    I have found your website very useful, and I appreciate most of your posts.

  • Anonymous

    Definitely don’t keep your opinions to yourself- I personally enjoy this type of interaction. However, just be prepared for me to respond with my opinions, however different they may be :-)

  • David

    Wow! If I was 6’7″, I would probably hate coach. I’m 5’10″ and in shape, so my knees don’t even touch the seats in front of me in coach class.

    You are also right – based on how much the flights are, you do get more cpm out of your hard earned miles for business/first.. but for me, at 23 years old and single… I’m going to have to stick with quantity over quality. At least for now :)

  • Clara

    Can you use the Premium security line if you have the Priority Pass card BUT aren’t flying Business or First?

  • Anonymous

    Nope- Priority Pass is only for lounges, even though it sounds like an expedited security program!

  • Gabe

    You frequent flyer-obsessed people crack me up. The difference between an angled lie flat bed and a full lie flat bed in a noisy, thin-air cylinder is marginal at best, and you act like it’s the difference between a California king at the San Diego W and a cot in some shanty guesthouse in Tijuana. The tiramisu fell short of the delightful desert I had at the French Laundry? Wah wah…I’m never flying these guys again.

    Trip report fail. Maybe next time simply explain how Air Europa compares to the service of other airlines flying the route (not just mentioning that the seats are like AF/DL), and drop the pretentiousness.

  • Anonymous

    I guess I’ll just have to disagree that sleeping on a slant is marginal difference at best. I’m tall and I’ve flown on many angled and full lie-flat and it really makes a difference for me and most other frequent travelers (that I know) prefer full lie flat. I’m glad you don’t see a difference, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be noted.

    And as far as the food, if you read the review, I actually wrote that it was actually really good (and that I didn’t even really eat the Tiramasu) so I’m not sure where you’re getting your exaggerated scenario with The French Laundry.

    And for writing a trip review that only compares the flight versus the others on the route- thanks for the suggestion, but that’s just not my style. I write about my experiences as they happen, but if you do want to read about JFK-MAD on American, feel free to do so here: http://thepointsguy.com/2011/03/review-american-airlines-transatlantic-757-business-class-jfk-mad/ (PS AA’s lie-flats were much better than Air Europa’s angled!)

  • Potakas

    Thanks for doing this ;) Very nice report!

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  • PaulieV

    I’m impressed by your reasoned response to Gabe’s unfair and unfounded criticism. I enjoyed your review which in my mind was fair and measured and I’ll probably choose to avoid Air Europa unless I get a good points deal.

    For the record, I’ve stayed in the San Diego W and it was rubbish. On balance, I think I’d take Air Europa’s business class seat over the California King at the W.

    Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your post and value your advice.

    Thanks

  • FR

    As per your dinner, the fish they were taking about in the menu is “emperador” or “pez espada”, which in English is swordfish…or marlin…it is very common to have it in Spain, mainly in summer time where it is caught in the Mediterranean sea.

  • Talee Roberts

    I actually took this same flight about a year ago and I was pretty happy with Air Europa as well. The service was good and the plane was in good shape. I took them since I needed some more MQM’s for my DL status and they had a great ($1700 rt) business class fare from JFK -> MAD and then MAD -> LIN (code share on Alitalia business). I couldn’t beat that price for a decent ride across the pond and a boat load of MQM’s due to the 50% fare class bonus. I’d certainly rather fly AF, DL or BA, but if I had to choose a $5k round trip vs $1700 – it’s tough to pass up if and when I’m footing the bill.

  • George E

    I guess a $1500 business class ticket on Air Europa for a NYC – Rome flights (ONE WAY) trumps the same route on Delta for $6,500 ONE WAY. Thanks for the nice review.

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  • appstorechronicle

    I enjoyed your use of tone. Usually you write in a very upbeat tone, but to match the airline, you wrote in a sort of monotone variation as if to say that every thing was right on the line of average. Well done.

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  • Leonardo Cardone

    I wish I had read your experience a couple of months ago. I had the choice to either fly business class from Madrid to Lima with AirEuropa or with Iberia. I guess I have made the wrong one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.mccollum Ian McCollum

    6 euros for a bottle of cava will get you some great sparkling wine in Spain. Typically for any Spanish wines if you pay more than about 7 euros you are being ripped off. A daily drinker that runs 5 euros in Spain has the same flavor as a $35 bottle of California red. So they weren’t skimping on the wine, they were simply providing a typically Spanish selection at typically Spanish prices.

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  • PhilipC

    Curious to know how it turned out? Have AirEuropa improved at all??!

  • lola

    if they can work their flight attendant altitude, they might be decent airline

  • Helena

    just a last comment: the fish you were served is pez espada, or emperador, something similar to swordfish, only better

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  • Ace

    My step daughter is taking her first transatlan flight,san juan to madrid on Air Europa. Shes traveled domestically,but this will be a first. Article is helpful,in describing to a 18 y/old not all long haul flights are alike. Service matters.

  • Fernando Henrique Daquino Mach

    oh god. I`m always so glad to find your tripreports at google. Thanks :)

  • MIAFLY

    I think that your critic (Gabe) does not appreciate the price differential between Air Europa and other airlines. In December 2014 and return from MIA to LGW (via MAD) is costing less than $2000 in business class. Is it as good as Delta, BA or Virgin? No. Is it as convenient as flying direct? No. But it does represent a significant saving and offers a great deal more comfort than economy.

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