Flight Review: Iberia A330-300 Business Class New York – Madrid

by on October 10, 2013 · 7 comments

in Iberia, Trip Reports

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Last week I went to Madrid for a few days to surprise my friend Lori for her 30th birthday. I had found a fare from Berlin to New York on Air Berlin with a return to Madrid on October 1 (I already had this surprise trip in mind!) on Iberia. I purchased the roundtrip ticket on for a total of $2,476 – not the least expensive, but still about half the price a transatlantic business class ticket normally goes for, and a good fare towards helping me requalify for American AAdvantage Executive Platinum.

Not only that, but this was a great excuse to try out Iberia’s new business class aboard one of the airline’s new A330-300’s.

Now, I’ll be honest and say that I had low expectations because Iberia doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation when it comes to service. I’ve also tried out the other main Spanish competition on JFK-MAD competitor, Air Europa, in business class, which was a less-than-stellar experience. However, everything about the experience went pretty smoothly (with the exception of meal service – see below!).

Al Aeropuerto

Check-in was a breeze and a friend who had purchased an economy tickets was able to upgrade to business at the counter by paying $471, which is actually pretty rare based on my research. There’s very little information out there on how this happens and how much you can expect to pay, so stay tuned for a future post on it.

My Iberia business class ticket got me access to the British Airways Terraces business class lounge, however because I’m an American Airlines Executive Platinum (Oneworld Emerald), I had the option of also using the Galleries first class lounge next door. British Airways also has the Concorde Room at JFK, but that’s reserved for British Airways first class passengers.

The beverage area in the BA Galleries lounge.

The beverage area in the BA Galleries lounge.

The Galleries lounge is quieter and more “exclusive”, but the offerings are inferior to Terraces. I was there at about 4pm and the food spread was sad, with a few finger sandwiches and vegetables.

An uninspiring spread in the lounge.

An uninspiring spread in the lounge.

Over in the Terraces business class lounge, the space is much brighter and larger with an Elemis Spa where short treatments are free for BA premium passengers.

BA first class flyers get free Elemis treatments.

BA first class flyers get free Elemis treatments.

Bienvenido A Bordo

Boarding was quick – one might almost say brusque – and the fight attendants in business class were pretty short with passengers. There was no “Hello, how are you? Thank you for flying, would you like a pre-departure drink”, but to be honest I’ve grown accustomed to only having really focused service in international first class these days.

Iberia debuted its new business class seats aboard an order of 8 new A330-300’s, which it started taking delivery of back in February (the airline’s 18 A340’s will be retrofitted with the new seats throughout the year). The first route these new planes were deployed on was the Miami-Madrid back in March and Madrid to New York JFK in May.

A view of the business class cabin.

A view of the business class cabin.

The new seats are called Business Plus and recline to a fully horizontal 180 degrees (compared to 170 in the old business class). The seats are rigid pods configured in a 1 x 2 x 1 arrangement sort of like Delta’s BusinessElite cabin or Alitalia’s new Magnifica class, and each seat has direct aisle access with a row of single seats running down either side of the cabin and two seats forming the middle row alternating with the seats next to each other and the seats separated by wider armrests that accommodate the row behind’s foot wells. I liked the overall look of them with silver chrome finishes and gray cushions – minimalist but nice.

A shot of the upright seat.

A shot of the upright seat.

There are 36 seats – so nine rows of four seats each – seven in the front cabin and two in a smaller back cabin that I was in and which I preferred because it was quieter and more private. It is to the right of the entry door so coach passengers walk past you, but the rest of the experience feels nicely exclusive.

Iberia claims they extend to about 80 inches when fully reclined, but I definitely did not fit and I’d say it was closer to 6’4″ (76″) if I had to guess.

The personal monitors were pretty cool.

The personal monitors were pretty cool.

Each seat has a personal 15.4-inch monitor as part of its entertainment system and what’s cool is that, as opposed to older models – even touchscreen ones where you can make all your selections on the screen itself – this one has smartphone-like swipeability so you can scroll through screens and selections.There is also a 4.2-inch touchscreen remote with a virtual keyboard and which should eventually function as a telephone with the ability to make calls and text. The airline also plans to add WiFi to all long-haul flights- it is a tease because when scrolling through the menu, it says “Connect to the internet”, but nothing happens when you do. I asked the flight attendant about wi-fi and she shrugged and said “sometime in the future- sorry”.

A seat in lie-flat position.

A seat in lie-flat position.

Unfortunately, the entertainment options were a bit odd and included a whole Star Trek library, and my IFE system was on the fritz so they had to restart it several times. Luckily for my friend, they can restart individiual systems, so I didn’t inconvenience any others with my technical issues.

I took a quick look at the plane specs and even economy class on these new jets got a big overhaul from Iberia’s tired old product with each seat having its own 9-inch touchscreen seatback entertainment system and measuring up at 18.1 inches wide. Each also has a connection port for Apple devices and a USB port and there are universal adapter sockets throughout the cabin as well.

The flight itself was pleasant. I thought the new seats were comfortable –still a little tight for me, but they had lots of little storage compartments and although I was seated in the center row, I was in one of the rows where the two seats were separated from each other by the wider armrests, so I still felt like I had a decent amount of privacy although you are a little exposed on the aisle and feel it when people walk past. The other option is to sit in one of the two-seaters where the armrests are on the outside, but then it can feel like you’re right on top of your neighbor and if you’re next to a stranger, that could get awkward. I guess it’s just a matter of taste.

Bartering for Butter

The meal service was actually my least favorite part of the flight for a change. The purser was a no-nonsense woman who surveyed the cabin with an iPad logging in people’s meal choices. Unfortunately there were no printed menus and none available to look at and the only choice I got was, “pork or fish,” and that was it. No explanation.

I also asked for some butter with my appetizer’s hot roll and she told me that they don’t serve butter in Spain because it’s unhealthy and that I should just use olive oil. Look, I get that it might be healthier, but I wasn’t asking her for personal diet advice! She finally came back with a single packet of butter and said it was from my breakfast (but wait, I didn’t think they served butter in Spain!) and I could have it now or with breakfast, but that that was it – each passenger just had one pat of butter for the flight and it was all pre-assigned. It started to get ridiculous, but I just took the butter and sent her on her way!

Meal service started with nuts and olives.

Meal service started with nuts and olives.

Meal service started about 90 minutes into the flight with green olives and almonds along with a selection of Spanish wines (I chose a red Rioja).

Salad with smoked salmon and a selection of cheeses.

Salad with smoked salmon and a selection of cheeses.

Then there was a salad of endive with smoked salmon and cheese.

Shrimp and potatoes in 'American Sauce'

Shrimp and potatoes in ‘American Sauce’

For the main course, I selected the shrimp in “American sauce,” which just meant butter, lemon and onions, with potatoes, which was fine enough but not great and not great to look at. Then for dessert, I had the chocolate ice cream with white and dark chocolate and toffee chips.

Chocolate Ice cream Dessert

The meal was good – not great, but good and better than the meal I had on American on my return flight.

By this time it was getting kind of late, so I unpacked the amenity kit to prepare for bed. It contained the usual toiletries including toothbrush and toothpaste, footies, ear plugs, eye mask and comb plus lip balm, hand moisturizer and iblue face cream, which was a nice touch.

Iberia Amenity Kit

I reclined my seat to fully lie flat and pulled on the light duvet and got a couple hours of sleep. The seat was comfortable, but as I said, a little confining for me since I didn’t quite fit into the lie-flat position and having to stick my feet in a foot well is always a bit of a challenge. Still, I got comfortable by bending my knees and got a little rest before landing and it was a lot more comfortable than Air Berlin.

The other issue I had with this seat is that it’s right on the aisle so whenever anyone walked by, they brush past you and you feel exposed. It would have been nicer to have a little more separation from the thoroughfare, though I did feel like I had a decent amount of privacy in the seat while I was up and eating, watching movies, etc.

Ready for bed!

Ready for bed!

All in all, this changes how I view flying Iberia transatlantic. Whereas before I’d avoid it at all costs to fly American’s new 777-300ER or British Airways, I would now choose this above BA and American’s old angled lie-flat business class, and not having to fly through London on a Oneworld carrier means potentially saving hundreds if not thousands of dollars in taxes and surcharges – especially since you can transfer British Airways Avios to Iberia instantly at 1:1 and redeem on Iberia that way.

Iberia availability is also listed on ExpertFlyer so you can set alerts, though I’ve found them to be fickle and as I mentioned, I was actually able to do a paid upgrade at check-in at the airport because no award seats had opened up.

I plan to try it out again, but in the meantime, I’d recommend it to other flyers looking to get to Europe on Oneworld.

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  • Eddie

    As you surely know, Iberia’s been experiencing a lot of changes after “partnering” with British (in quotes because most Spanish people seem to feel Iberia got the short end of the stick)– from changes in some of their routes to a new layout of their website and the planes they fly. It was really good to get your input on this flight since I’m a semi-regular JFK-MAD flyer. I suspect that a year or so down the line, if you take this same flight, you’ll probably note even more changes.

    Like you said, Iberia is way preferable to Air Europa, though interestingly, they’ve just overtaken Iberia in terms of number of Spanish passengers that flew with them. People must prefer the 2 bags, or the usually cheaper AE flights.

  • joe_l

    It is very true that serving butter with lunch or dinner is “not done” in Spain. It is only consumed for breakfast, or for the “merienda”, the afternoon equivalent of the English tea time. In fact, it is extremely rare to find a restaurant in Spain that serves butter with either lunch or dinner, as they always do in the US, except some restaurants catering to tourists, or if they want to be a little different. At best, as the flight attendant correctly stated, since olive oil is a staple at mealtime on all Spanish tables, some people may choose to use it with their bread, but that is not done everywhere; it happens more often in some specific Spanish regions, such as in Andalusia or in Catalonia, where they serve it with tomato to spread. In fact, I have seen Iberia sometimes offering olive oil and a little pack of tomato spread for the bread. But never butter for lunch. Only for breakfast.

  • Willy

    I took this flight in July and found the seat tight as well and I’m not as tall as you. The footwell is quite tight. I was also in the mini cabin and liked it though the flight was lightly loaded so being in the main forward cabin wouldn’t have been bad either. I don’t understand why Iberia didn’t take advantage of the extra space in the bulkhead (and last rows) to provide those seats with more leg/elbow room. Poor implementation I thought.

    I was not satisfied with the meal service at all. Took waaaaaay too long for beverage and dinner to start finish out of NY. Especially on the short redeye to MAD out of JFK. The food wasn’t especially good either. The wines were nice though.

  • Bryan

    What is the longest route that IB flies?

  • joeypore

    Your comment about noticing that only the best service is reserved for First… I couldn’t agree more. I flew so much of AA F on my international long hauls, that when I finally flew J on the 777-300 ER to try out the product, I found a lot of little touches missing. Still not going to complain though… being able to sleep still trumps it all.

  • Bill

    TPG — if you liked Iberia’s IFE, you should see the new one on Virgin Atlantic! It’s really pretty incredible. If I recall, you can even use the remote to call another seat on the plane.

  • Baldo

    Madrid to Santiago de Chile, 13.30h flight.

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