This is my first trip report ever. Please read it completely because even though it´s one of the longest reports you will ever read, at the same time it´s an amazing one in my opinion. I have crossed the Atlantic about 60 or 70 times but this trip has been an uncommon one and I want to share my experience with you so...sit down, relax, and enjoy the report!!!
All kinds of comments are welcome after you read the story.
Well, I think this has been the most incredible trip I´ve ever had since the day I decided to take it. It all started in May 3rd while flying onboard IB6274 (Airbus A340-300 EC
-GJT “Rosa Chacel”) from Chicago O´Hare to Madrid. I was reading the newspaper when I saw a big advertisement announcing great fares on Iberia´s flights for tickets purchased between May 1st ad 7th. I didn´t think it twice and as soon as we landed at Madrid I made my reservation and paid for the ticket the following day. The route was MAD
, departing in June 4th and returning to Madrid on June 12th (arriving on the 13th)...the fare...incredible!!
Why Guatemala??...easy: I lived there during almost 5 years for matters of work and I have very good friends there. Besides, one of my very best friends was flying from Dusseldorf to Guatemala (via Madrid) on the same date, so It was a good chance to take advantage of the great fare and at the same time being with my friend on the same aircraft.
The day of the trip I had to wake up early. I had to drive about 140 km. (87 miles) from my house to Madrid and I wanted to get there before the rush hour to avoid the huge traffic jams that take place every morning...even though I left from home at 5:15 a.m. and drove pretty fast (160-170 km/h or 100-106 mph) all the way to Madrid I wasn´t able to avoid the morning traffic. I didn´t want to take the normal motorway into Madrid (A-5) so I took the new R-5 in order to save more time thus avoiding the areas of Alcorcón, Móstoles, Arroyomolinos, San José de Valderas and others. Everything was going O.K. until I reached the M-40 motorway...I was stuck there in the middle of hell at 6:00 a.m.. At that moment I was just about 15 km away from the airport, but it took me another 75 minutes to get there.
I finally arrived at Barajas airport and went straight to the long term parking area to leave my car there for the following 9 days. I paid in advance and took the free shuttle to the terminals (my flight was leaving from Terminal 1).
It was about 8:00 a.m. by then so, after all, I managed to get to the airport 4 hours before the departure of my flight. I went to the Iberia check in area and when I said I was flying to Guatemala they told me to wait in front of the counter for a couple of minutes. I knew what the reason was...my luggage had to be searched because the flight to GUA
goes through Miami (IB´s “famous” MIA
hub). A security agent (Prosegur) came to the counter and asked me to follow him to the searching area with my luggage (I had to go through this too when I went to Chicago the previous month so I was expecting it). Once we got there I was asked to give my ticket and passport to a police officer (National Police this time) and they put all my luggage on the x-ray machine. After that they asked me to completely empty the contents of my suitcases showing every single item I was carrying. After placing all the stuff back in it´s place they checked-in my luggage and gave me my boarding pass in that place (there were about 5 or 6 Iberia staff members there for that purpose). They excused themselves for this searching procedure but explained that it´s a requirement of U.S. authorities.
It was about 8:45a.m. so I had plenty of time to spend until meeting with my friend who was coming from Dusseldorf (10:15 a.m.). I bought a couple of aviation magazines and went to the “Cafeteria Neptuno” to take breakfast...I was suprised when I saw that part of the cafeteria has been transformed into a corridor that takes you to a “hidden” new check in area...looks a little “improvised” to me but it´s O.K.
I went thorugh passport/security controls at 10:00 a.m. and went to the boarding area where I was supposed to meet my friend. The flight was leaving from gate A4
so I just went to the nearest smoking area or “punto de fumadores” and had a cigarette while waiting. Our aircraft was already sitting at the gate and it was EC
“Cervantes”...I was surpised when I saw the aircraft as it was a B742 instead of the B743 that was scheduled. Patrick finally arrived and we went to the duty free shops because he wanted to buy some jewelry and gifts for his girlfriend (they got engaged recently BTW).
The boarding time came and I was surprised again when I saw that the flight was not even close to full. According to the purser, 290 passengers were onboard...not that much for a 747.
Boeing 747-256B EC
290 passengers on board (72% full)
Flight time: 8 hrs. 40 mins.
Departure time: 12:15 p.m.
Seat: 26A (later changed to row 40 as I could have free seats next to me)
Boarding was quickly carried out and once on board I went to my seat (26A). Once all the passengers were on their seats and the doors were closed I asked the purser if I could take another seat (I had two people sitting next to me and there were plenty of seats available). Pushback was 5 minutes ahead of schedule and the safety video was shown while the four JT9D engines were being started. We were instructed to taxi to RWY 36L as usual and while taxiing, the pilot (Capt. Robles) told us we were number 8 for take off.
Many people laughed when the Captain applied full power for take off because an american passenger shouted “hey people!! Feel the power!!...and since the A/C was not completely full, the take off felt really powerful for a 742. After about 40 seconds we were airborne and climbing strong for about 5 or 6 more seconds. Crew then decreased the angle a little bit so we could gain more airspeed and to proceed with the instructions given by Madrid controllers. We had mild turbulence during the entire climbing phase until we reached FL200 with a “weird” sudden drop when we were just about 600 ft above the ground. Finally we leveled at FL340 and had a really smooth ride until approaching the Miami Area. Headsets and newspapers were distributed by the cabin crew members.
I wanted to keep an eye on every single detail regarding the service, crew attitude, on time performance, cabin comfort and aircraft condition and here are my numbers for this flight:
Cabin crew: 7/10
Cabin comfort: 6/10
Aircraft condition: 7/10
On time performance: 10/10
Average rating: 7.16/10
Food was very good, basically the first meal we recieved after taking off from Madrid. When the flight attendant asked me what did I prefer (Chicken or Paella) I smiled and said “I won´t be mad if I can choose both of them”...she smiled too and replied “O.K. then...there you go!! and gave me both Chicken and Paella!!!
The second meal was served before arriving at MIA
and it was good too (Stuffed turkey breast and salad). During the flight, you could go to the galleys and ask for beverages, peanuts and even small ham&cheese sandwiches...I had a couple of beers and 1 coke.
The IFE...well, I am not one of those PTV fans who want to get them even for a 30 minute flight, so I am happy with a couple of good movies and a good audio program.
3 movies were shown on the main screen (Starsky & Hutch and I don´t remember the other two). The audio program was good, mostly channels 6 & 8, with a very good hit list.
The cabin crew was polite and professional. The purser was a really efficient man. I chatted with him for about 15 minutes during on-board sales and he was a very kind person. On the other hand, there was a flight attendant that was really, really, really rude (just her...the rest of the crew members were fine). One passenger asked her for a newspaper and she yelled: “are you blind?? Don´t you see I am giving newspapers to passengers sitting in other area?? During the meal service she gave chicken to a passenger and when she asked her for paella, she yelled again “you eat what I give you, period!! If you don´t like it, don´t eat it!! Finally she was rude even with me and in that moment I jumped from my seat...I got mad after seeing the way she treated some of the passengers and myself. I asked her “what the hell is the problem with you?? If you have a problem, stay at home and don´t come here with that “dogface”...”barking” to the people. After saying that, I went straight to the purser and kindly explained him the situation. Other flight attendants listened to my conversation and agreed with me that this was not appropriate and that the behaviour of that single flight attendant was completely out of place. The purser later had a few words with her and she was re-assigned to a different part of the aircraft. With the exception of that crew member, the rest of the flight attendants were nice, kind and very professional.
About the aircraft condition, all I can say is that it looked in good shape for being a 24 years old airplane. The lavatories were very clean, the passenger cabin looked well kept and it was really clean on the inside (floors, seats, walls). On the outside, it is important to mention that Iberia´s 747 fleet is kept very clean on the outside...not like the A340 fleet!!
The cabin comfort...it´s not outstanding, but it was good enough for me. Maybe the seat pitch was tight, but not too different from other airlines.
On time performance...10/10...no additional comment on that...just excellent.
Descent from FL370 started about 25 minutes before landing and as we approached the Miami area we entered bad weather. Capt. Robles told that everybody had to be with their seatbelts securely fastened as it was going to be a rough descent and that “the aircraft was the only object that should be flying, not the passengers”...some people laughed with that one. As the pilot said, the descent became more and more turbulent as we were approaching the airport and you could see that we were flying in heavy rain, lots of lightnings and a very dark sky. Finally we had a hard touchdown and taxied to gate E23. The first step of the flight was over and it was time to say goodbye to the good old “Cervantes”.
We went through immigration and security controls (a total pain BTW) before going to the boarding area to catch the flight to Guatemala. I saw our A319, parked at gate E25 and it was EC
-HGR “Ribeira Sacra”. There were only about 60 pax for this flight so boarding was carried out without any problem. My seat was 9C
and once on board I was really surprised with the amount of legroom...1000 times better than the B742 and much better than any other seat pitch that I´ve experienced before in any other airline in economy class. I am not exactly a tall person (179 cms) but I had at least 15 cms of space in front of my knees, so a 190-195 cms person wouldn´t have any problem to fit in there and would still have more than a couple of inches of space...I could even cross my legs!
Back to the trip, by the time we were cleared for departure and the aircraft was pushed back from the gate, a really huge storm was above us and we could see out of the windows that there was an amazing amount of water falling down with strong gusts of wind. As the flight was just about 50% full we had left the gate about 15 minutes before the scheduled time, but it didn´t help, as the pilot told us that traffic had been stopped due to the big storm. At that moment we were number 3 for take off and as the minutes passed we could see the big line of aircraft that was growing behind us. After 40 minutes we were finally cleared for take off. Initial climb was really steep and as we gained altitude we entered the cloud layer which was a “terrible experience” for those who don´t like to fly due to really heavy turbulence... Captain Fernández took the microphone and told us that the weather was going to be bad during the entire flight and apologized in case the drink/meal service couldn´t be served due to flight conditions.
About 1 hour later the conditions had improved a little, so we were able to recieve our meals and beverages excepting hot coffee/tea. We got something that looked like a Club Sandwich (it wasn´t bad) and the drink of our choice as usual...I had red wine.
We had the typical IB
IFE for short haul flights: Candid Camera videos and short documentaries about some Spanish regions mixed with other short contents. Audio programs were the same as in the B742. Cabin crew members were Miami-based and they were not Spanish...the only Spanish crew members were the pilot and co-pilot. BTW, cabin crew members were not as friendly as I expected them to be.
After 1 hour and 50 minutes of flight we started our descent to Guatemala City. Surprisingly the descent and approach were really smooth despite of the dark sky that could be seen out of the window. The Captain performed a VOR DME1 approach to RWY 01 and we made a perfect landing at “La Aurora” airport with only a 10 minute delay.
My numbers for this flight
Airbus A319 EC
-HGR “Ribeira Sacra”
About 60 pax on board (48%)
Flight time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Cabin crew: 5/10
Cabin Comfort: 9/10
Aircraft Condition: 9/10
On time performance: 9/10
Average rating: 7.17 / 10
The flight was over and we went into the terminal. Guatemala airport is small and used to be a dirty uncomfortable place, but some improvements can be seen now. We were welcomed by a clean, well lit baggage claim area and a very decent arrivals hall, with some hotel reservations counters and car rental offices. Flat plasma TV
monitors could be seen in many parts of the terminal, some of them giving flight information and some others showing local TV
programs...it´s an improvement. Some friends were there to pick me up...the trip was over until the return date.
I had a bad surprise when I opened my suitcases. The locks were O.K. and there wasn´t anything strange until I opened them and I found a note from the T.S.A. inside each one of them saying that my luggage had been opened and searched “for my own convenience”...the contents of of both suitcases had been completely scrambled...for my own convenience???? Come on!!...no further comments on that.
Well, this has been the first part of my report. I hope it hasn´t been too boring for you as the second part will be even longer!!
Your comments are welcome.
Stay tuned for part 2, it will be ready in a couple of days!!
Regards to all.