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Chaos and Comfort: Iberia (A340-600) in Premium Economy From Madrid to New York

Oct. 05, 2018
13 min read
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Let me just start off by saying that this review was supposed to be of Iberia's premium economy service on its still-new A350 aircraft, which flies between Madrid and New York-JFK. But after a long, disorganized and stressful delay, the aircraft was switched to the A340-600. So, instead of getting to review the shiny new 350, I am telling you all about what it was like to fly the much older A340-600 in the Turista Premium cabin — was it worth all the pre-flight drama?


Since TPG's JT Genter already reviewed economy class between Madrid (MAD) and JFK on Iberia's A350, the goal was for me to tackle both premium economy and business (stay tuned for that review) on a recent trip to NYC.

After some searching, I found a solid deal — $2,402 for a round-trip flight with one segment in premium economy and one in business class. I jumped on this fare and booked with The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to earn 5x points (12,010 in this case) on the price of the ticket. After I booked, I paid $33 extra to select an aisle seat.

I credited this flight to American Airlines, as I'm attempting to maintain my Gold status. This segment earned me 5,384 elite qualifying miles (EQMs), 718 elite qualifying dollars (EQDs) and 3,589 redeemable miles plus a bonus of 1,436 miles for being a Gold member.

Check-in and Lounge

I was able to check in via the priority line in Madrid's Terminal 4, which was quick and easy. I breezed through security and popped in to the Priority Pass Sala VIP to have a snack before the flight. I actually thought that my check-in experience seemed quicker and easier than normal, not realizing that this was too good to be true — it was the calm before the storm.

I normally wait until boarding to leave the lounge, but I'd promised some friends I'd pick them up some vino tinto from duty free, so I left early in order to give myself ample time to shop, knowing that my gate was a long walk away and I'd have to go through more security before having access to the gate because I was headed to the US.

After I purchased wine (yes, I probably went a little overboard), it was 3:15pm, and I noticed that my flight still had no gate assigned to it, which should have been the first indication that something wasn't quite right. Desk agents told me the flight was delayed until 5pm (it was supposed to leave at 4:10pm). They also told me which gate I should head toward. I found it odd that, though the info desk was able to provide this info, it would continue to be unavailable on the board for at least 20 more minutes.

I considered going back to the lounge but figured that if the plane were really leaving at 5pm, I might as well just get to the gate (huge error, I'd later realize).

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At 5pm, we were still waiting to board. No one from Iberia was even at the gate. At 5:25pm, the departure was changed to 5:20pm. Passengers were getting restless, and no one was available to ask for information. Finally, at 6:02pm, the gate was changed, and the departure time on the screen was changed ... to 6pm. Come on, Iberia.

After two more gate changes, Iberia representatives arrived at the gate and said the flight was delayed and that there was an aircraft change. Still, no other announcements were made, and passengers were getting upset, especially English speakers who felt they weren't getting proper information. At 7pm, there were two more gate changes, and the departure changed to 7pm on the departure board — that clearly wasn't happening.

Many passengers were getting text messages and emails saying their seats had changed, and they swarmed the representatives, who still refrained from making an official announcement. Finally, around 7:20pm (more than three hours past the original flight departure time), the staff said over the loudspeaker that the aircraft would be changed due to technical problems, and that many passengers would be getting seat changes. I was able to confirm with an Iberia staff member that there was premium economy on this version of the A340 and that my seat wouldn't change.

Two passengers I met were both priority flyers who had paid for aisle seats in economy and had been switched to middle seats. When they went to ask if this could be remedied, the overwhelmed Iberia agents weren't friendly. The passengers were told they could reclaim after the fact. A few other Iberia flights had been canceled earlier that day, and tensions were high.

Obviously, delays happen, and while I certainly don't want to fly on a plane with a technical issue, the delay should have been properly announced in both languages with correct information put up on the screen. Also, I would have appreciated a drink or snack voucher for a four-and-a-half-hour delay.

I tweeted at Iberia about the delay. Two days after the flight, I received a generic, unhelpful response, saying that it was sorry for the delay, but could it help me with anything else?

Finally at about 7:50pm, the boarding process began. As a Oneworld priority flyer, I was able to board first. People had been lining up for hours, so many were already waiting in the lines assigned to their group numbers. We were taken by bus to the A340, which looked pretty vintage to me. I was asked by an elderly woman to help her carry her bag and if she could lean on me walking up the stairs, so I couldn't snap a photo of the outside of the plane. I found my seat, and the plane finally took off at 8:38pm.

Cabin and Seat

This version of the A340-600 had 36 seats in business, 23 seats in Turista Premium and 296 seats in economy. The flight was completely full, thanks to the previous cancellations.

I was surprised to see the premium economy cabin looked very new, despite the fact that the plane itself definitely wasn't. Right away, I could tell that the seats were a nice step-up from your average economy seat on a widebody aircraft.

Considering they had 37 inches of pitch (compared to 31 in economy) and 19 inches of width (compared to 18 inches in economy) and much more legroom, it seemed I'd be flying in (some sort of) style.

The premium economy seats were also separated into their own private cabin. The configuration was 2-3-2 (compared to 2-4-2 in economy). Each seat had a footrest, an adjustable headrest and its own charger (both USB and Europe/US outlets).

The seats seemed bulkier and more substantial than regular economy, and the tray tables flipped out of the armrest. I was comfortable in the seats for the duration of the flight and had enough space.

When the passenger front of me reclined all the way back, I didn't get claustrophobic, and I was able to straighten my legs almost completely through the footrest and under the seat in front of me (I do have short legs, but this was great), even when I stored my bag under the seat.

FAs came over before takeoff to offer orange juice and water, but no Champagne, unfortunately.

I was given an amenity kit, though it was in a rather tacky neoprene case. I found a toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, socks, an eye mask and a weird, '80s-inspired, Iberia-themed hair tie. Ironically enough, despite how ugly the case was, I actually plan to reuse it, as it turned out to be ideal for holding a number of things, like glasses, charging cables, etc.

Each seat came with a pillow and a blanket, both which felt slightly more substantial than what I usually have in economy. The red pillowcase was definitely softer and fancier.

Another notable perk that came with the premium-economy experience was noise-canceling headphones, which worked well. They had a double prong, but I also plugged one of of those prongs into my phone at one point to listen to music, and it actually worked.

The IFE touchscreens were large and new, and responded well to both touch and the remote. I started off tapping the screen, but once I reclined my seat, it was a little too far to reach, so I used the remote instead.

The selection of movies and music could definitely have been bigger (the system had about 15 to 20 new releases, many of them action flicks), but I did find a few movies and TV shows I wanted to watch. The airline only provided a couple of episodes for each show, so you couldn't really binge. Was it that hard to add a few more episodes of "Friends"?

Wi-Fi was available but at a high price (starting at $5 for 4 MB), so I didn't bother to test it out. At first, neither charging port in my row worked, but then a passenger in the row in front of me complained, and the FA said she'd turn them all on. Sure enough, the charging ports worked shortly after that complaint.

The premium-economy section had one dedicated lavatory, but passengers on my side of the plane had to cross the galley to get to it. SeatGuru reviews mentioned that the seats on my side (I had 14C) might be bothered by the proximity to the galley, and the light was a little annoying. But it was better to be on my side, because the other side was busier with the lavatory and the galley. It's better to select the A and C seats and be closer to the front.

The bathroom was of average size and wasn't exceptionally clean, but it was fine for the duration of the flight.

Food and Beverage

What I couldn't seem to figure out was if dinner for premium economy passengers was noticeably different than an economy dinner. The food was packaged the same, and although we were served before economy, I didn't notice any difference at first. There were no printed menus and no explanation of what each dish included.

I selected chicken instead of pasta and was pleasantly surprised to see what looked like a nicely grilled chicken breast in a light, cheesy sauce with roasted tomatoes and potatoes. The chicken was tender, the sauce was savory and the tomatoes were juicy. There was a small green-bean salad that seemed fairly fresh. Dessert was a crumbly cake — just average — and the white-bread roll was hard. The main course was actually good, but it could've done better on the sides, dessert and presentation.

An hour and a half before landing, a snack was served — a croque monsieur on this flight. It was fine but very heavy, and not at all what I was in the mood to eat. This second service also came with a yogurt and a Kit Kat bar, as well as the full selection of beverages. When heavy turbulence hit shortly after, I regretted my choice to eat part of the cheesy sandwich. Because of the turbulence, the pre-landing tea and coffee service didn't happen, since we were going to land shortly after that was supposed to end.

Overall, service was what I always get with Iberia (I've flown the airline over 50 times around the world): clipped, concise and neither helpful nor unhelpful. No complaints, but no praise either. Iberia FAs have perfected the art of average.

Overall Impression

While I find Iberia to be a disorganized airline with poor service in general (especially on the ground), I felt that the premium-economy hard product to be comfortable for a long-haul flight on the A340-600. While there is still room for growth (especially in terms of the IFE, cuisine and service), what really matters is the added comfort the seats provided for me, allowing me to sleep and stretch out. If I had the extra cash to spend, I would absolutely consider forking over the extra $500 or $600 for these seats, especially if I were able to fly on the new A350. Would you?