More, Please: A Review of Air Europa's 787-8 in Economy From Bogotá to Madrid
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[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="71" ground-experience="5" cabin-seat="18" amens-ife="10" food-bev="18" service="20" pros="Nice new Dreamliner, high-quality food and a good IFE system." cons="Though the food was good, there wasn't enough of it, and no individual air vents." /]
As part of a continent-hopping weekend that brought me to Europe, South America, back to Europe and then finally home to New York in just four days, I'd booked a round-trip ticket on the Spanish carrier Air Europa to test out its 787-8 Dreamliner in both business class and economy on long-haul flights.
I really enjoyed my flight with Air Europa in business class between Madrid, Spain (MAD), and Bogotá, Colombia (BOG), and even though I knew I'd be far less comfortable in economy on the red-eye flight back from BOG to MAD, I was still excited to see if the airline could replicate some of the fun and quirky aspects that stood out in business class, but in the back of the bus.
When I set out to book this trip, I knew that I wanted to review Air Europa in both classes of service, and was open to both the destination and other flights to position me wherever I needed to be. We noticed that there were reasonably priced fares that included a segment in business and in coach from Madrid to Bogotá and Lima, Peru (LIM). I’d been to Peru before, so I decided that I’d spend the weekend in Bogotá. Then, to position, I thought I'd book tickets that would allow for more reviews to happen, so I ended up making things a lot more interesting by booking three separate tickets to allow for all of this:
- A round-trip, economy ticket from New York-JFK to MAD (already flown) and then from MAD to Paris (CDG) to New York-JFK (upcoming, and review coming soon)
- A round-trip ticket between MAD and BOG with one segment in biz and one in coach (already flown)
- A round-trip, business-class ticket from MAD-CDG-JFK (already flown, and review coming soon) and then from JFK-MAD (upcoming, and review also coming soon)
As Air Europa is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, a good place to start searching for award flights is Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue program, which is probably the best engine for searching SkyTeam availability. However, FlyingBlue doesn’t maintain an award chart, meaning you can’t count on redeeming miles at a fixed rate for flights. I did a search on the site for some of Air Europa’s flights between its base in Madrid and the US cities it serves (New York and Miami) and found one-way coach tickets for as little as 21,000 miles. You can expect to pay around $100 in taxes and fees when you book award tickets through Flying Blue.
The benefit of booking through Flying Blue, of course, is how easy it is to amass miles in the program. It’s a transfer partner of all three major transferable points currencies — American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou — so even if you don’t have enough points in one account, you can combine points from the various accounts in order to acquire the Flying Blue miles necessary for booking the flight you want. If you’re short miles in any of these accounts, you could apply for a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is offering 100,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.
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Since we paid cash for this ticket, I was eager to add my Delta SkyMiles number to the reservation so that I could earn Medallion Qualifying Miles and Medallion Qualifying Dollars for my trip. But I made a critical error. I booked my round-trip Air Europa ticket without double-checking which fare classes I was purchasing, and when I called Delta after noticing I earned zero miles for the trip, I was kindly informed that the business segment had booked into the O class, and economy into the P, meaning I wasn’t eligible to earn any miles at all for the trip.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Ground Experience" tpg-rating="5" tpg-rating-max="10" tail="EC-MIG" age="3" departure="22" departure-2="02" duration="08" duration-2="57" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
My flight was scheduled to depart at 9:35pm, so I got in an Uber at the Four Seasons Casa Medina in Bogotá just after 7pm and arrived with a full two hours before my flight. As I soon found out, that was a great move on my part. The airport experience turned out to be quite a bit better than normal.
I'd heard good things about the city's El Dorado International Airport, but I was really impressed in person. The terminal looked brand-new, had soaring ceilings and glass walls and plenty of good signage.
I also loved that the airport employed the same lush touches that I found throughout the city and in my hotel.
I made my way to the small Air Europa check-in section at the end of the terminal building and entered the SkyPriority line, to which I had access thanks to my Diamond status with Delta, even though I was flying economy.
This is where things took a turn for the worse, though it wasn't necessarily the fault of the airline or the airport but rather my craziness. When I handed over my passport and my boarding pass, I was immediately met with uncertain looks. The agent started asking me questions about my trip, specifically why I had come from Spain just two days prior and was already going back, and then how much time I was spending in Madrid. When I told them that I was heading to New York not even a full day after landing, they were even more confused and asked to see the ticket for the Air France flight that would take me from Madrid to New York via Paris.
I tried to explain that I was flying because I love to fly -- and for the miles, of course -- but since we were conversing in Spanish, some of this got lost in translation. After quite a bit of back and forth (and a lot of me stumbling over Spanish words), I was on my way.
But there was one more snafu -- the immigration officer in Bogotá asked me if I had a second passport as I was getting my exit stamp. It may have been completely unrelated, but I was rattled from my check-in experience, so that threw me off guard even more. However, it all ended fine, and I was finally airside.
I frankly hadn't considered looking for a Priority Pass lounge because I don't include lounges as part of my judgment of an economy flight, but when I passed the gleaming entrance for the El Dorado Lounge, I couldn't pass up the prospect of a free glass of wine or two ... or three.
I still won't be including my fairly brief visit to this lounge in my score of this section, but I still think it's worth talking about, as it's one of the most unique Priority Pass lounges I've visited, hands down.
It took the El Dorado theme very seriously -- the space itself was on the dark side, but the walls were wood and adorned with gold accents, and the ceiling had gold-colored lighting features. One wall was constructed with faux rocks -- clearly an homage to the mythical city of gold that still has a strong influence in Colombia today.
There were plenty of places to sit, and plenty of food. I chose a few dishes from the hot buffet and sat down at a table so that I could work before boarding. The food was quite good, though I had a lot of trouble connecting to the Wi-Fi network, so I ended up tethering to my phone.
On my way out of the lounge, I discovered that it had two unique areas: a children's playroom that honestly looked like a creepy haunted forest to me, and a basketball simulator. Well, OK then!
I made my way to the gate, which was very close to the lounge, and waited for boarding. The process began about 20 minutes behind schedule and was generally disorganized.
Had I not had the check-in and immigration issues, I would have rated this ground experience a lot higher, since the airport itself really was a great facility. However, it took quite a long time to sort my issues at check-in, so it definitely detracted from the experience. This experience was fairly unique, obviously, and unless you're doing a similarly crazy itinerary, you likely won't have these kinds of issues.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="18" tpg-rating-max="25" configuration="3" configuration-2="3" configuration-3="3" width="17" pitch="31" lavs="6" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Once I was on board, I found my seat, 17K, a window seat toward the front of the economy cabin. Before I got on the plane, I was hoping I'd have at least one empty seat next to me, since the flight over to Bogotá was fairly empty. Those hopes were quickly dashed, though, as two people were already occupying the seats next to mine.
Air Europa's 787-8s have 276 seats, arranged in the Dreamliner's typical 3-3-3 layout. Each seat is a tight 17 inches wide, and legroom is an equally tight 31 inches. Seat width in coach is pretty much standard across all operators of the 787, but legroom, also known as seat pitch, is very much the decision of each individual airline.
On my flight, each seat was upholstered in light blue fabric and had a light blue leather headrest with adjustable wings -- these proved critical for sleeping.
Besides looking out the window, of course, I choose window seats so that I can rest my head on the fuselage in order to be more comfortable while sleeping. What I forgot, though, was that pesky armrest on the window side of the seat. I really wish airlines would allow these to be raised -- it would make the window seats even better than they already are.
There were six lavatories available to economy passengers, though these were toward the back of the plane, so many economy passengers went toward the front to use one of the business-class restrooms. No one seemed to care.
I found the cabin to be clean and fresh overall -- and it should have been, given this bird was only 3 years old. It was a pretty standard hard product. I was still able to sleep for several hours on the flight, which I considered a success.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="10" tpg-rating-max="15" movies="47" tv-shows="22" live-tv="No" tailcam="No" headphones="Yes" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Waiting at each seat upon boarding were a pillow that was on the small side and a blanket that actually felt like real fleece. The pillow would have been more useful had it been about triple the size, but I liked the blanket quite a bit ... until I overheated midflight due to the lack of individual air vents in the cabin.
There was no amenity kit to speak of, and the only other amenity offered was a pair of earbuds, which I purchased for 3 euros ($3.35) -- I only had my AirPods with me, which obviously didn't plug in to the plane's IFE system.
On my business-class flight two days prior, I found that I quite liked the IFE system, though the selection of movies was on the sparse side and the Wi-Fi situation was frustrating. Since this flight was a red-eye, though, I wasn't going to purchase Wi-Fi, and I really only had to find one movie to keep me occupied, which I did.
I watched a movie about Juan José Hidalgo, the founder of Air Europa, and his family, many of whom work at the airline today. It traced the history of the airline from its humble origins to today, when it flies Dreamliners across the Atlantic.
Before I fell asleep, I played around with the IFE's map features and stumbled upon a map that highlighted Air Europa's destinations and had a little blurb of information on each city. I found this to be a fun feature to play with. I liked reading what the airline had to say about each of the cities it serves.
Just like in business class, the IFE system was intuitive and modern, though I do think that the airline could beef up its movie selection.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="18" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-meal="2" meals-purchase="No" comp-alcohol="Yes" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
In business class, Air Europa frankly blew me away with the food on offer. Could it do the same in economy?
Well, no, not really. Meal service started quickly after takeoff, which I appreciated, as I was trying to maximize sleep. There was no menu distributed in economy, so I had to make a choice on the spot -- not something I'm great at. Two flight attendants appeared at the front of the economy cabin and started moving down the aisle, with one serving beverages and the other food.
I placed my drink order first -- I was excited to see that there was a large bottle of Fanta orange soda on the cart, so I couldn't resist ordering a glass of that, along with water.
Next came the main event. The flight attendant asked if I wanted pasta or chicken. I decided to try the chicken. It was served with carrots and rice and actually tasted like ... real food! I enjoyed the main entree but was left wanting a little bit more on the rest of the tray. The meal was served with just a small roll and a flan-like dessert. It was all actually tasty, but I definitely would have liked something more -- perhaps a salad or cheese and crackers, like many other airlines offer. Or both!
The next meal was served when we were about 90 minutes away from Madrid, and there was no choice for this meal. The same two flight attendants set up their carts at the front of the aisle once again and began making their way down. I asked for another glass of water, along with an orange juice. Then I was handed a ham-and-cheese sandwich on a croissant. It wasn't particularly memorable by any means, but I definitely appreciated having a hot breakfast. It was far better than the sugary muffin you receive on so many other airlines in coach.
While I enjoyed my meals and found them to be of high quality, I just wished that the dinner service had more -- it was a pretty long flight, so having a bit more on the tray would have kept passengers satisfied for longer.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="20" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" blurb="Though there weren't many chances to interact with the crew, it was pleasant when I did." /]
Predictably, I didn't interact much with the flight attendants, given that I was sitting in economy. However, every time I asked a question or was served something, I was met with a smile and friendly demeanor. It seems that Air Europa flight attendants enjoy their jobs and truly strive to provide good service to passengers.
I don't have high expectations for the economy flight experience in general, but Air Europa definitely met them. Its Dreamliners are fresh, modern and allow passengers to arrive at their destination more refreshed and less jet-lagged than other aircraft types, thanks to higher cabin pressure and moisture. The IFE system was solid, though the movie selection could be expanded. And the food was on the better end of the economy spectrum, but I just wanted a little bit more.
At the end of the day, I wouldn't hesitate at all to fly Air Europa again -- I just need to make sure I'll actually earn miles for my trip next time.
All images by the author.