Flight Review: Iberia A330-300 Business Class New York – Madrid
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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 AA.com 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!).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 about 90 minutes into the flight with green olives and almonds along with a selection of Spanish wines (I chose a red Rioja).
Then there was a salad of endive with smoked salmon and cheese.
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.
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.
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.
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.