Served With a Side of Apathy: Iberia (A350) in Business From New York to Madrid
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Since I'm based in Madrid, I've flown numerous times with Spain's flag carrier Iberia. I typically fly both long- and short-haul in economy but have the occasional jaunt in business or premium economy. Iberia's hard product is generally nice, with poor to average service and organization. In other words, when it comes to Iberia, nothing stands out as spectacular.
My most recent trip to test the A350 from New York-JFK to Madrid (MAD) in business class was no different from my past experiences: a solid average. Read on to find out where the airline took things up a notch and what still needs improvement.
TPG's JT Genter already reviewed economy class between Madrid and JFK on the A350, so I was tasked with reviewing premium economy in one direction and business class the other way. Because of a last-minute aircraft swap in Madrid on my outbound journey, this was the first time I'd actually stepped foot inside the new aircraft.
I booked my ticket with The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to take advantage of the card's 5x bonus category on flights purchased directly through the airline or with Amex Travel. I got a pretty good deal on a mixed-cabin itinerary — $2,402 for a round-trip ticket with the outbound leg in premium economy and the return in business.
I banked the miles to American Airlines, as I was trying to maintain my Gold status. The one-way trip earned me 5,384 elite qualifying miles and 898 elite qualifying dollars, bumping me close to maintaining my elite status for 2019.
Check-in was relatively uneventful — a blessing at JFK. I didn't have to wait at all in the priority line for check-in, and I was able to check two bags, get my boarding pass and continue on through security in relatively little time.
I then headed to the British Airways business-class lounge at JFK. The lounge was undergoing renovations, which didn't bother me, but in general, the lounge looked pretty tired. The seats were worn and old, and the food offerings were items like sandwiches, nuts, fruit and soup.
The was a full bar, though, complete with several different options for wine, beer and liquor.
I headed to Gate 6, just a short walk away, a few minutes before boarding started. I noticed there were many wheelchair passengers, so the general boarding process started a little bit late we waited for all the wheelchairs to be taken back off the plane before all passengers could board.
Although I was one of the first passengers to board, I was surprised to see that the business-class cabin was already half full — many of the wheelchair passengers must have been sitting in business, which unfortunately made it a bit tricky to get a lot of cabin photos since so many people were already in the cabin.
All passengers boarded through the same forward door, which meant that everyone that was seated in premium or economy turned right and passed through the biz cabin before finding their seats. Only Spanish newspapers were available when FAs brought around the cart, so I selected El Pais. One FA recognized me as a frequent flyer, asking if I had recently been on another flight she was working (I was), and we had a brief conversation. That was definitely a high point of the service aspect of this flight!
Cabin and Seat
The very gray business-class cabin is home to 32 lie-flat seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. My seat was 2A, a solo seat on the port side of the cabin. Every other seat was closer to the window, with the others nearer to the aisle.
I was happy to have a window-adjacent seat, as it was further from the aisle and meant I had more privacy. For a nonsuite business-class seat, it felt fairly private, especially when flat.
If you're traveling alone in the middle section of two seats, you'll want to select the even rows, as you'll have more privacy from the passenger next to you. If you're traveling as a couple, on the other hand, select the odd rows so you'll be closer together.
My seat had a small space on the floor to my right for my bag and shoes, but I had to climb over it every time I wanted to get out. Had I selected the aisle-adjacent seat, the bag would have been on the inside and I wouldn't need to maneuver around it when I got up. But I preferred the privacy.
The seat was operated by controls on the side, which gave me different options all the way from an upright seat to fully lie-flat and everywhere in between. When turned into a bed, the seat was comfortable, with a medium-size pillow and lightweight blanket, but for anyone much taller than me (or with large feet) I think it would be a tight squeeze. The end where my feet went was significantly smaller, shrinking the further back you went. Like I said, for my 5 feet, 2 inch frame it wasn't an issue, but for TPG himself, at 6 feet, 7 inches, I'm not sure it would work.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Each business seat came with noise-canceling headphones and a tray table that popped down from the seatback. The way the tray table came down, I could swivel it closer or further away, meaning I had a little bit of extra space if I wanted to keep it down but still move around.
The IFE screens were enormous, but the selections were the same as in premium economy and economy.
I had already watched a couple movies on my previous flight to NYC, and unfortunately nothing had changed when September turned to October, so I mainly used the screen to watch the map, which I find relaxing and interesting while on planes. I knew I'd already caught up on the TV episodes, because Iberia had just two episodes for many popular TV shows.
The screens were operated by touch and by remote control.
The seats also had two USB ports and a regular EU/US outlet. Wi-Fi was available on the plane, but I didn't use it.
The amenity kit was more substantial than the one I received in premium economy — it also included a facial spray and lip balm from Germaine de Capuccini, one of my favorite European skincare brands.
Besides this, the amenity kid had a toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, socks, an eye mask and, hooray, another '80s-inspired hair tie in that familiar large, bright red, neoprene case. (I'd already gotten a similar one on my way to JFK in premium economy.) I did appreciate the added skincare amenities, but red neoprene case looked tacky, especially compared to Delta's Tumi hard case.
Two lavatories were at the front of the business cabin, and you had to walk through the galley to get to the one on the port side. The one on the starboard of the cabin was more comfortable to access for passengers.
Both were new and relatively clean.
Overall I found the seat to do its job (to keep me comfortable!) well, though it won't be winning any awards any time soon...
Food and Beverage
Before takeoff, I was offered either juice or water (no alcohol was served on the ground.) After we departed, I was given a menu which laid out the meal service.
For an appetizer, I was served an apple-and-nut salad, brie cheese and smoked salmon, which was tasty. The greens were fresh, and the brie cheese and salmon were both flavorful.
I rarely see fish options on planes, especially outside of Asia, and I usually like to try it to see if it's any good (it almost never is). So, I selected the mahi mahi in butter sauce with spinach and mushrooms rather than the chicken or pasta. Sadly, but somewhat unsurprisingly, the fish was dry, and the spinach was soggy.
Thankfully, it's hard to mess up Spanish wine — my 2013 Crianza Rioja was delicious. One thing Iberia usually gets right is the wine selection.
Dessert was choice of cake or ice cream. The cake tasted like a Hostess cupcake, but not as good.
I did appreciate the tea menu, from which I selected chamomile. I was also offered a chocolate.
Although the food menu said snacks were available, no one ever came around to offer me a snack, though to be fair I also didn't ask for anything.
At one point during the flight, we hit light turbulence, and I pressed the call button to see if I could get a juice, as I was feeling a little woozy. The flight attendants weren't restricted to their seats and were walking around, but it still took about 15 minutes for one to come over. I mentioned to her I wasn't feeling well and asked for a sugary juice. Another 15 minutes later, it was plopped on my table. While I didn't need to be coddled for feeling a little dizzy, I was surprised at the cold treatment. So sorry to have interrupted your busy day, señora. I hope I never feel really sick on Iberia flight — I'm not sure the FAs would care much at all.
Breakfast was disappointing — it just consisted of bread and yogurt. I was hoping for a hot dish, like eggs. The croissant wasn't fresh at all. The "fresh, seasonal" fruit was hard and flavorless.
All of my food was served with a side of apathy, an art that the airline's flight attendants seem to have perfected. I've come to expect this in Iberia economy and assumed things might be a little better in business, but no, not really. Despite the fact that one FA actually recognized me as a frequent flyer, the service, in typical Iberia fashion, remained remarkably average — just like the flight in general.
All in all, I can't complain, as my flight was fine and I was able to sleep in my lie-flat seat. I would definitely fly this product again if I got a very good deal, but in most cases I'd rather grab an economy deal and save up both points and cash for a splurge on a Middle Eastern carrier or to fly business class on a longer route. If I feel like treating myself on another Iberia flight, though, premium economy will do the trick. Overall, the hard product on Iberia's A350 is wholly adequate for a long-haul flight, but the carrier could stand to improve its food, service and general demeanor, which would make the experience a lot more pleasant for passengers who've spent a lot on the ticket.
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