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Flying Iberia`s newest A330-200 from Madrid to Havana

MADRID - Iberia operates a first-rate hub terminal in Madrid Barajas, with plenty of capacity. The Spanish national carrier offers a formidable route network focusing on routes from Europe to Central and South America. Since recently it also flies again to Tokyo, Shanghai and Johannesburg, as well as to other destinations in Africa and North America.

In spite of these assets, Iberia so far was not really a favorite choice of global business travellers, because its reputation both in hardware and service quality was just not convincing enough.

SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621, © Andreas Spaeth

Iberia has pulled through an impressive turnaround since a near-bankruptcy in 2013, now flying under the roof of IAG alongside British Airways. This is outwardly visible through its new corporate identity, which, however, I find excessively boring and non-descript. A modernization of its iconic earlier branding, focusing on the Spanish royal crown, would have been much more to the point than the uninspired identity now, lacking all visual warmth and connection with Spain.

Flight Report
Airline
Iberia
Aircraft Type
Airbus A330-200
Registration
EC-MKI
Cabin
Business Class
Date
June 16th 2016
Route
Madrid - Havanna
Flight
IB6621
Of course more important for the customer is the appearance on board, and this has been changed from the ground up. "We had to raise the bar and achieve consistency", says Customer Director Carolina Sandra Martinoli in Madrid, "we came a long way, the feedback has improved a lot, but there is still much to do."

Iberia currently deploys three different aircraft types on long haul routes, 17 middle-aged Airbus A340-600s, eight A330-300s as well as the newest arrivals four A330-200s. The remaining A340-300s are exiting the fleet until October. All other cabins are supposed to be on the same, modern level. Besides the current, much improved cabin product in Business and Economy, Iberia is especially proud about its new culture of punctuality, "that is very important for us and now deeply embedded", says Martinoli.

Madrid Barajas, early afternoon, I am through the slightly hidden security lane for premium passengers in no time and make my way to the basement. From here, the automatic people mover trains are departing to the satellite terminal, from where my flight to Havana is supposed to leave at 16.30.

After arrival at the satellite shock strikes: Endless queues in front of immigration, just three lanes are open, of course here, there is no fast lane. At some point, after endless minutes, a further lane is opened, but the initially very favorable impression of Barajas is spoilt.

SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621, © Andreas Spaeth

I proceed to the "Sala VIP Velázquez", the Iberia lounge. It is huge, big glass fronts enable panoramic views of the apron. I could stay here for hours. Fortunately, there is enough reading material also in English and German, something that was missing before.

The food offerings are plentiful, at several counters wines can be tasted that are also served on board. Even a sommelier is said to make his rounds, but didn't see him. Spaniards are rightly proud of their Cava sparkling wines. But disappointment awaits: Equal to its European Business Class, Iberia just serves a much too sweet, low quality "Semi Seco" bubbly here, embarrassing for a wine country and its probably most important airport lounge.

It's not far to my boarding gate, as a Business Class passenger I can glide through the crush and board at once. The forward cabin of the brand new A330-200 named "Puerto Rico", delivered only in late April, somehow seems familiar to me. No wonder, as Iberia utilizes the same Solstys seats as, in different colors, Air Berlin, Etihad and Alitalia do as well. In this version, the cabin is just furnished with 19 seats in Business Plus, as Iberia calls its premium product.

SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621, © Andreas Spaeth

The configuration is 1-2-1, where the window seats in rows 2 and 4 are surely the best choice for single travellers, because their table consoles shield them well towards the aisle, and they allow for good outside views at the same time. That's why I'm happy to sit in 4L, the last seat on the right side. In the unevenly-numbered rows, the single seats are open towards the aisle and offer much less privacy, also both middle seats are located so close to each other that strangers might get more cozy than desirable.

Takeoff to Havana is delayed, as a few passengers don't appear and their luggage has to be offloaded. With about 40 minutes delay, things get moving, after water, juice or now a superbly "brut" Cava has been served. After takeoff, one can follow the flight on an interactive screen, changing the angle with some finger movements, like on a smartphone or tablet.

The Panasonic X-IFE system is en vogue with many other airlines as well, therefore distinctive features are a bit rare at Iberia, in terms of seats as well as in IFE. And unfortunately the headsets are of mediocre quality, I have mine changed once, but still, but still audio indulgence is a different thing.

SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621, © Andreas Spaeth

The crew is friendly and efficient, also an improvement, because Iberia's inconsistent service mentality was always one of its weak points. Apparently intensive crew training has left its mark. As aperitif I have another glass of the palate-pleasing Cava "Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva", and it remains a mystery why Iberia, always claiming to pursue product consistency, doesn't serve the same kind on its European routes and in the lounges.

The drinks come here with a choice of nuts or filled olives served from a big bowl, I request both. The olives are a simple way to transport anyone to Spain, a kind of comfort snack other airlines should take up as well.

The menu cards for food and wines are nicely presented, the food menu promising "Mediterranean flavour". I don't consider, however, the selection of main dishes to be very imaginative, even though it consists of chicken filled with foie gras. The starters, no choice here, served on a tray, are so Mediterranean in fact that they offer tomatoes in three variants and olive oil instead of butter.

But that the Gazpacho, this stimulating cold tomato soup, is sputtered from a tetra pack container into the bowl by the flight attendant is really off-putting and lacking any style. It's still tasty, and the smoked cod is OK, but the one tiny piece of cheese appears narrow-minded, when on other airlines, huge cheese boards are paraded on the trolley.

SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 (© Andreas Spaeth)
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 (© Andreas Spaeth)
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 (© Andreas Spaeth)
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 (© Andreas Spaeth)
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 (© Andreas Spaeth)
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 (© Andreas Spaeth)
Photo Spread: SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621 - Catering

Exactly 81 minutes after takeoff, this is a day flight, the main course is served: The vegetarian menu option, which I chose, cheese-filled pasta with crushed tomato, is not particularly innovative and tastes fairly average. To go with it, I barely manage to drink a glass of very good 2015 white Rioja, because all of a sudden and totally unwarranted, the crew rushes things. Already twelve (!) minutes after serving the main course, they deliver desert.

There is a choice of mango cake or ice cream of lactose-free tigernut milk, called Horchata in Spanish. I am curious enough to try it, but unfortunately, the ice cream is almost tasteless, the waffle crumble on top is the best about it. After this menu, I am fairly disappointed by Iberia's culinary performance.

I'm reconciled before landing by slices of unbeatable Ibérico ham, served alongside tomato-olive oil puree and bread, which leave a superb taste after a long flight. Good, simple produce is often better than trying to imitate star chef cuisine.

Impressive connectivity

I still have to positively mention the online access on board. In Iberia's newest A330-200s a fast Ku band connection is available. Business Class guests receive a voucher for 30 minutes of free use, and when asking nicely, one can get a second one. One hour costs 8.95 Euros, for a maximum of 80MB, the whole flight including up to 400MB costs 29.99 Euros, a decent deal. And the connection is extremely fast, impressive.

SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621
SpaethFlies: Iberia 6621, © Andreas Spaeth

On top, Iberia does a great job on its web portal, the best I have seen so far at any airline, to explain what amount of data enables the user to do what online. Well done! Finally, there is time for a short nap before landing. For a man of 1.88 meters, like me, length and width of the bed are not limitless, but sufficient, at least lying on the side or curling up a bit.

Verdict

Its new Business product secures Iberia a place among the ranks of quality carriers. Altogether a huge improvement compared to some years ago, especially business travelers should now count on Iberia as a serious alternative. Even though there is room for improvement in details, such as quality of food and service delivery.

Andreas Spaeth


Andreas Spaeth flies. Very frequently. On PaxEx.com one of the leading European aviation journalists shares his personal passenger experiences traveling around the globe.

Follow Andreas on his Twitter @SpaethFlies.

© Andreas Spaeth | Abb.: Andreas Spaeth | Jul 21, 2016 10:40


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