This review is by regular contributor Jason. You can follow Jason on Instagram here @planejayds
Iberia/Aer Lingus .
In this post:
When you tell someone you are about to embark on a long-haul flight with Iberia, the reaction will often be a raised eyebrow and ‘good luck’. Spain is well known for its friendly people and great food, but their national carrier is often associated with the opposite. Prior to this trip, I had only flown Iberia once before albeit on a short two-hour flight from Madrid to London. On that flight, the staff lived up to the Iberia stereotype of being anything but customer-focused so I was curious to see whether a long-haul flight would be any better. An early winter escape to somewhere sunny was in order and after patiently waiting for a deal to appear one came up for Miami. The flights were ticketed by Iberia from Dublin via Madrid although the first sector from the Emerald Isle to Iberia’s hub would be operated by Aer Lingus and the return sector by American (review to come).
IAG is the common owner of Iberia, BA and Aer Lingus, and you would think there would be a seamless experience when one trip involves touch points between these carriers. This is very much not the case despite the three being in a happy family for years now. On this trip my ticket was issued by (and the long-haul sector operated by) Iberia, the connecting flight from Dublin to Madrid was operated by my little sister Aer Lingus, and my frequent flyer status belongs to big sister BA. When I booked directly with Iberia.com I was only able to choose seats for the Iberia-operated flight.
I tried using the Iberia PNR to select seats on aerlingus.com but it did not work. When I messaged Iberia on Messenger, they provided me with a different PNR to manage my booking on the Aer Lingus website but still no joy. So, I reached out to Aer Lingus on Messenger, and they were able to locate my booking but advised I would not be able to manage it online myself. Additionally. despite Iberia showing the class on the Aer Lingus flight as ‘Business Class’, Aer Lingus advised me it was in fact economy although they did allocate me seats at least. Aer Lingus does offer a quasi-premium product called ‘Aer Space’ but I seemingly did not qualify for that. And then there’s the fact that although BA and Iberia are part of Oneworld Aer Lingus is not, which impacts on lounge access and the ability to earn Avios and Tier Points on every sector.
Manchester is home, and I avoid my local airport at all costs, so drove to the much more flyer-friendly Liverpool Airport for my quick £30 Ryanair hop over to Dublin and stayed the night at a Dublin airport hotel. Despite them being both about as basic as can be I really enjoy both Liverpool Airport and Ryanair for short hops – I know what to expect, and they deliver on it, and both have always been operationally robust for me. They know their market, and they serve it well.
Although I wasn’t able to manage my booking on the Aer Lingus website or app, I was able to check in online. Oddly however, I could not receive my boarding pass on my phone; the only option was for me to print it out, which I did at home.
I arrived at Terminal 2 of Dublin Airport just before 5 am for the scheduled 6:20 am departure and this was my first time at this particular terminal. On its website, Aer Lingus says ‘T2 is a truly stunning terminal that brings you the ultimate in design, light and comfort, not to mention the best services, shops, and restaurants’. I am not quite sure which other airport terminals they are comparing to with this bold statement, but Aer Lingus’ home did not impress me.
The security wait was around fifteen minutes and airside there was a reasonable amount of retail outlets and dining options. The problem was the queues for every single café or eatery was enormous. Not because of the sheer number of passengers, but more due to the sheer lack of staff. Peak hour Starbucks just past security – two staff in total. No problem, there is another venue, ‘Café bar’ with a shorter queue. ONE solitary staff member there. Yes, taking orders, preparing coffees, and pouring pints. Obviously, the queue was moving at a snail’s pace and not being familiar with the airport and knowing how far away gates etc are I abandoned my quest for one of the small great pleasures in life – my morning coffee.
Another oddity with the IAG family of airlines is the Aer Lingus lounge situation. Same owners, so should be a definite yes? No. With no OneWorld membership, Aer Lingus sits outside the lounge agreement however there are complicated exceptions to this if flying on some Aer Lingus flights to the UK just to muddy the situation a little bit more! Despite my Iberia itinerary saying the Dublin – Madrid sector was ‘business, ’ Aer Lingus insisted it was Economy and as I planned my arrival at the airport to have a minimum amount of time hanging about, I wasn’t going to argue the point.
I followed the signs to my departure gate which ended up being a bus gate. The bus takes you to a kind of satellite terminal where a number of aircraft are parked off-stand which you then walk to. As your flight is called you walk to the aircraft, but this involves crossing a fairly busy airside road, so you are lined up and marshalled across in little groups. It was all very bizarre.
Dublin To Madrid – 2hr5min – A320
Although the flight boarded, and the door closed on time an unwelcome announcement was made by the Captain – there was a flat tyre that had to be changed, and this would take 30-40 minutes. I wasn’t exactly panicking at this stage, but I knew with a scheduled 1hr40min transit time in Madrid, the connection would be tight.
I am a typical Virgo – plan plan plan – and so was straight onto Expertflyer on my phone to see what other potential options we would have to get to Miami if we missed our flight. There was a later Iberia flight, although that had zero availability in Business and as I searched other Iberia routes to the US it was not looking good; there was zero Business availability showing to New York, Chicago, and Dallas. We finally ended up pushing back at 7:15 am, and I was a little more relaxed when I checked the Flightradar24 app and saw that the ETD of my Iberia flight to Miami was showing as 11:58 versus the scheduled 11:40. Experience has taught me that in situations like this, every little minute counts!
The Aer Lingus flight to Madrid was standard euro buy on board, and I was still on my quest to get a coffee. This just did not seem to be my day – after the crew were offering items for sale to the row in front of me, it became quite turbulent, and the captain announced service would have to be suspended. I FINALLY got my coffee half an hour before landing in Madrid HOORAY.
We landed in Madrid and were on stand at 10:55 am, leaving us 45 minutes, which made me feel quite confident. My confidence was further boosted upon the discovery that we had arrived at the S gates of terminal 4, which is the same sub-terminal our Miami flight would be departing. Terminal 4 at Madrid is massive and usually involves a shuttle train ride to the long-haul S gates, which are fairly far from the main terminal but as luck would have it today, we simply got off our Aer Lingus flight, walked about 50 metres, went back through security (no queue) and emerged exactly where we needed to be, S gates.
In fact, I was SO confident that we were in good time for our flight that as we passed the Iberia Lounge, I thought I would run in for literally two minutes and grab a few pictures for this review, by this time, it was just after 11:00 am. As the lounge staff member scanned my boarding pass, she gave the news ‘You have been offloaded from the flight’. She added that boarding had only just started so go straight to the gate. We RAN to gate S49 and indeed, the flight had just started boarding.
We joined the priority queue, and when our boarding passes were scanned, the expected ‘beeeeep’ and a red light appeared, and we were directed to an agent. We had been offloaded from the flight as they did not think we would make the connection based on the arrival time of our Aer Lingus flight. There was much tapping away and two new boarding passes printed out, crisis averted. But then I looked at the boarding passes, I noticed we had been moved from our assigned seats of 5C and 6A (solo seats by the window one in front of the other) to 4D and 6H, which are aisle seats and obviously not together. I asked what happened to our original seats in the past thirty minutes and I received a shoulder shrug of indifference. Anyway, we were on the flight which was the important thing. It wasn’t until I landed in Miami that I discovered that Iberia had rebooked us in Madrid – Boston – Miami, and the devil part of me was a little miffed I ran like Mo Farah to make my booked flight as if I had just gone with being offloaded and rebooked, we would have been entitled to over a thousand euros in delay compensation. Eh ho. Anyway, back to the Iberia flight.
Madrid To Miami – A330 – Seats 6D And 6H
Our flight today was to be operated by one of Iberia’s A330’s which is the workhorse of their long-haul fleet with twenty-four of the type although the A350 fleet is quickly catching up (currently twenty). I had flown on this aircraft type before in business class albeit on a short-haul flight to London, which it pops up on daily and I remembered how drab the cabins were. They just have a very ‘factory standard’ feel about them. There is no mood lighting, for example, the colour palette is dull with beige, brown and grey, and the bulkheads are bare, no customisation at all, no Iberia logo to be seen. You would have absolutely zero idea what airline you were on if someone blindfolded you, walked you onto the aircraft and then removed the blindfold.
The Purser greeted us at the door and directed us left into the business class cabin that occupied the entire area between doors one and two and it seemed we weren’t the only ones that had been separated. Business Class was completely full, but with both Fernando and I allocated different aisle seats I was quietly confident that one of our neighbours who would also likely be travelling solo, would gladly swap. Before Fernando had even sat down in 4D, the chap in 4A asked if Fernando could swap with his wife, who was in 2D as they had been separated.
Overhearing this, I quickly asked the lady sat next to me in 6D if she would be able to swap to 2D, allowing the lady in 2D to move to 4D and Fernando to move into 6D near me. The lady in 6D was over the moon as her partner was sat in (you guessed it), 2G and they, too, had been separated. Just how Iberia manages to make such a mess of seat allocation, I will never know.
Waiting at my seat were the noise-cancelling headphones, washbag and bedding, which consisted of a good-sized pillow, comfortable duvet, and a mattress topper. There were two toilets, one at the front and one behind business class.
The newest business class product complete with private doors is starting to be rolled out on some of their newest A350’s but the bulk of the long-haul fleet, including all A330’s has the Stelia Solstys seat, which can also be found on several other carriers, including Air France, Thai Airways and more. All seats convert to a fully flat bed and have direct aisle access and it is a staggered configuration. The Iberia A330-300 has 29 seats in total arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.
A, C, J and L seats are all window seats however A and L seats are closer to the window with the side table on the aisle offering the most privacy. C and J seats are also solo seats by the window, but the side table is on the window side and the seat itself more exposed to the aisle. Middle seats are lettered D, E, G and H and again, these are staggered. E and G seats are ‘honeymoon seats’ perfect for couples as the seats are close together with the side tables on the aisle side of each. D and H seats have both side tables in the middle, so are better if you are unable to nab one of the single seats by the window are travelling solo.
The disadvantage to these seats is they are exposed to the aisle traffic. The seat isn’t particularly wide in full bed mode, but I have also had narrower and as one of the side armrests can be pushed all the way down it wasn’t too bad. You can place shoes or a small handbag underneath the area that your legs rest on when in bed mode and there were two small shelves that could accommodate a specs case or such. The seat could be controlled by the push buttons into pre-set modes of relax, dining or flatbed. There was a universal plug for charging as well as a USB point.
I was curious to see how the service would be on Iberia, which has a certain **cough cough** reputation when it comes to their staff. I have to say I found the three cabin crew and the Purser who looked after us in Business Class to be very good. The lady who mainly worked my side, Monica and the Purser Archilles were exceptionally polite and professional.
Monica welcomed me onboard, introduced herself, and also presented the menu and wine list for the flight (note this is also available online to view in Manage My Booking, although you cannot pre-order).
She returned shortly after with a choice of Cava, OJ or water and being in holiday mode it was one of the rare times I had a real drink although I know many others would not entertain anything other than champagne at this point of the business class experience.
I will just mention here two apps I never travel without – Flightradar24 and Expertflyer. For those that are ‘huh?’ Expertflyer is a paid service that comes in very handy when things go pear shaped and you want to find alternative routing options proactively. Flightradar24 is completely free and is a godsend. It provides up to the minute flight information and crucially, allows you to find out which aircraft is operating your flight, where that aircraft is flying in from and where it currently is.
I don’t know how FlightRadar24 does it, but they seem to know more than the airlines themselves. Whilst on the ground in Dublin although Iberia continued to display ‘on time’ for the Miami flight Flightradar24 showed a delay of 18 minutes with a departure time of 11:58. And guess what time the aircraft door closed on the Miami flight? 11:58, to the minute as Flightradar predicted. At 12:11 we were airborne.
IFE and Wi-Fi
The screen measures, not being the newest of products the resolution may not be as crisp as some screens out there, but was still very good. The content was very good, with dozens of new releases and hundreds of TV shows. There was also a 3D map feature.
Most Iberia aircraft also feature Wi-Fi, although an announcement was made at the beginning of the flight that it would be unavailable.
It functioned perfectly normally during the flight, however. Iberia promotes free Wi-Fi for business class passengers but don’t get too excited, the freebie only extends as far as messaging (which many airlines now offer all customers for free anyway). There were also browse and stream options, which ranged from €5.99 for an hour up to €24.99 for an entire flight. I purchased a one-hour pass, and it worked well and had good speeds.
There was little activity until 40 minutes into the flight when the crew came around with hot towels. The Purser came around and introduced himself and welcomed me as ‘a very good client of BA’. He was a really personable guy and asked me how my Aer Lingus flight was from Dublin (I’m guessing he had this info on his hand-held device), and when I said it was ‘ok’ he replied that ‘well, this flight will be much better’. He also took my main course order for lunch.
The drinks cart then made an appearance, and although I rarely drink alcohol, I decided to join the other half in a glass of Eldoze Syrah. The wine was served in a nice full-sized stemmed wine glass and there was a choice of bar snack – the usual almonds, olives, or Manchego cheese.
Momentarily indecisive, Monica suggested she plate me a little mix of the three, which I graciously accepted. Top-ups followed and then the meal service begun. The meal service was conducted by Trolly, which helped make it a more efficient process and the starter was offered along with a choice of bread and another top-up of wine and water.
I had chosen the salmon, which was delicious and quite similar to what I had experienced onboard BA before. As they both use the excellent Do&Co for their catering this is not surprising.
The BA similarities continued when my main course choice of beef cheeks arrived. I know BA cops a lot of slack for this particular meal featuring so often on their menu, but I think it is a good, safe choice for airline food. As Iberia (like BA) reheats the meal in its entirety in a casserole dish instead of heating the components separately and then plating them as some airlines do in business, beef cheeks are a perfect choice to put on the menu as the dish retains it’s moisture and doesn’t dry out like a fillet would. It may not win any awards for presentation, but I always find it tasty and tender. Drinks and top-ups were proactively offered at many stages during the service.
The main was cleared, and cheese, dessert and hot drinks were offered. The Wi-Fi came in handy at this point as it allowed me to google was ‘Sacher Cake’ was, and I was able to come to the informed choice of cheese. The cheese selection was all Spanish varieties, and although I enjoyed the cheese, I wish there were some actual crackers to go with it instead of the small pack of breadsticks that are served, which you can not actually put the cheese onto.
The service was concluded with a bottle of water and a chocolate bar, and the lights were dimmed two hours after taking off which is a good pace of service for a 9-hour daylight lunch flight. With the 4 am wake-up call that morning and bearing in mind it would only be early afternoon when we would touch down in Miami, I thought it would be a good idea to get a bit of shut-eye. I found the bedding on Iberia to be top-notch, including a comforter to smooth out the lumps and bumps of the seat in bed mode, a large duvet and pillow.
The seat in bed mode did feel quite narrow, and my seat was quite exposed to the aisle. I nodded off for a couple of hours waking up four and a half hours before we were due to touch down. I popped up to the forward galley to use the loo and also requested an espresso from the crew member on duty there who happily obliged. There was a little area in the forward galley with a basket with some crisps and chocolate bars in it, but nothing more substantial like a sandwich or such was available if you became peckish or chose to skip the first meal.
The second service started an hour and twenty minutes before arrival and there was a cold (‘Russian salad’) or hot (gnocchi in tomato sauce) option I chose the cold option, and whilst pretty sparse, it hit the spot. I don’t think I have ever been on a flight where the same variety of cheese was featured three times – first with my aperitif, then as part of my post-meal cheese plate and now a component of my Russian salad. Drinks were served with the meal, and I just had some water and coffee.
Iberia definitely has a certain reputation when it comes to the customer mentality of their staff, and I experienced that on the only other Iberia flight I had been on which was a short haul from Madrid to London where the ground staff and crew ticked every box in the ‘I hate my job and I hate the public’ survey. This flight, however I was pleasantly surprised. The ground staff resolved the offloading incident with the minimum amount of fuss. The crew on board in business were pretty good but both the Purser and Monica, I would rate as excellent. My view towards the onboard experience at Iberia seemed to have shifted until just before landing I witnessed one of those infamous Iberia scenarios you hear people talk about.
I was waiting to use the bathroom at the back of the business class cabin (where a galley divides Business and Premium Economy) so was privy to a bit of an altercation in premium economy. A gentleman was sat in the front row of Premium Economy and had self-catered for his pre-arrival meal had the packaging of an empty salad taking up most of his table. He also had his laptop out trying to make some room for it. There were two crew stood right in front of him in the galley chatting, and the passenger politely asked one of them if she would mind removing his used items.
The crew member very rudely replied ‘no, I am busy’ and then proceeded to walk past the passenger halfway down the aisle to do nothing but turn around and walk back past the same passenger (and his uncollected salad remains) to the galley and continued her personal conversation with her colleague. The passenger understandably became very annoyed, stood up, took his own rubbish to the galley, slammed it on the side and made a rude remark. I was gobsmacked. A completely avoidable situation and an incredibly unprofessional staff member.
Iberia Lounge Madrid
Having obviously missed the opportunity to review the Iberia Lounge on the outbound flight, I was fortunately able to spend some time there during my transit on the way home. Iberia operates two lounges at their main hub, the Iberia Premium Lounge Dali in the main terminal 4 concourse and the Iberia Premium Lounge Vasquez at the S gates. As the S gates handle nearly all of the long-haul departures it is usually deemed the better of the two lounges. Fortunately, short-haul flights to non-Schengen destinations usually depart S gates also including our Iberia Express flight to Dublin.
Entry to the lounge can be easily missed as the entrance is literally midway through one of those windy paths through the main S gate Duty-Free store. The lounge does not open until 6 am, which seems a little late considering there are flights departing from the terminal from 6:50 am. We had landed on an American Airlines flight from Miami and reached the lounge around 5:45 am, and there were already a handful of passengers waiting for the lounge to open.
Once entering, our boarding passes were scanned, and we passed through to the main lounge. The lounge is aesthetically pleasing with lots of Iberia red, modern and very well maintained. It also has a lot of natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the aircraft action outside.
The lounge is essentially one large rectangular room with an entry point midway, and whether you turn left or right there were fairly identical options – an assortment of seating and a well-stocked buffet at either end.
At the far end of the right-hand side, beyond the buffet, there was a bar that I imagine is tended at later hours of the day. In the same space the bar occupies at the opposite end is a pre-flight dining area that only opens for late-night departures to Latin America. There are also a few stations around the lounge with some beverages and coffee machines.
Breakfast was on offer during our early morning visit, and it was a decent spread of hot and cold items. The cold items included fruit, yoghurt, cereals, breads and pastries, and the hot items were scrambled eggs, sausages, and bacon.
There were also some fresh juices and an assortment of smoothies. I checked out the buffet at the other end, and it was identical. The lounge stayed pleasantly quiet for the hour and a bit we were there, and the Wi-Fi was speedy.
Madrid to Dublin – Iberia Express Business Class.
Our return flight to Dublin was operated by Iberia Express, which is a fully-owned subsidiary of Iberia and operates some of their short-haul flights. Iberia Express doesn’t fly daily to Dublin, hence the Aer Lingus codeshare on the outbound. Visibly, you could board an Iberia Express aircraft and not notice it wasn’t Iberia Mainline unless you were eagle-eyed. The livery is the same except for the word Express following Iberia on the fuselage and the cabin crew uniform was slightly different. Business Class is offered on Iberia Express flights, and the catering provided seemed to be a premium level, certainly as good as I have received on a BA flight to Madrid.
The whole Avios and tier point situation, however, is also complicated when flying Iberia Express. You will only earn Avios or Tier points if your ticket is booked via Iberia or BA and your booked flights show an IB codeshare flight number. If you book your flight directly via the dedicated Iberia Express website, the flight number will have the airline’s I2 code, and you will not receive tier points or Avios.
Overall, I enjoyed my flights with Iberia and Iberia Express. I found the inflight service in business class above average, food and wine was good and the Iberia Lounge at Madrid to be a pleasant experience. I just wish the mish-mash of the IAG member airlines could be better aligned to create a more seamless and less confusing experience for customers. Would I fly to Iberia again? Absolutely, in business class. Having witnessed the unpleasant altercation between passenger and crew in Premium Economy, I’m not quite sure the service mentality has changed much for customers in the other cabins.