On a warm and sunny evening in final days of Spring, I found myself hunched over a desk with a pile of documents relating to the late Korean director Shin Sang-ok and more specifically his classic 1961 film ‘The Houseguest and My Mother’ which I had been tasked with translating into English. As interesting as this film is, having made the most of such unusual weather in the UK, I had attended a barbeque that afternoon where the consumption of multiple tinnies had occurred. Subsequently I was feeling a little weary and my mind was beginning to wander away from the task at hand. As per usual, my procrastinations led me to Skyscanner to search for some cheap flights for a quick break in mid-June. Due to my limited time and budget, my destinations were pretty much limited those on the route networks of low cost carriers such as Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizz Air. However, after some searching I found some cheap combinations that would allow me to try some new aircraft types for me, such as SEN-MAN-PMI-LGW in which I would get to fly on one of Air Tanker’s Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft as well as a Boeing 757-300. I decided that in order to avoid making any mistakes, I would delay booking until the following morning. I then had a quick browse of Airliners.net, coming across a photograph of Iberia’s first Airbus A350 returning to Toulouse after its first test flight.
Given the fact that Iberia already operates one ‘heavy’ aircraft into Heathrow each day, I suspected that Heathrow would be a likely candidate for the aircraft’s initial crew familiarisation flights. After a quick search I found that as I had predicted, the aircraft would operate IB3166/7 for over the summer from the 20th of July until the 31st of August, replacing the usual Airbus A340-600 on this service. I was pleased to find that I was completely free on the date of the aircraft’s inaugural flight and I was happier and more surprised to find that this flight was incredibly affordable. I thus decided to book right away, travelling down to Madrid the evening before the flight on Iberia Express, paying a total of £98 including a seat reservation fee for the return journey. On a side note, as one would expect from a major airline, Iberia’s site was easy to use and the booking process was completed within a few short minutes. This was to be my second ever ride on an inaugural flight, my first being on Korean Air’s Boeing 787-9 the previous year. Needless to say, I was both very excited about my upcoming trip, but also wary of the fact that my ride on Iberia’s first Airbus A350 was dependent on the aircraft being delivered on time from Airbus – having witnessed Asiana change both the date and destination of the inaugural flight of their first A350 in 2017. That said, whilst an equipment change would have been disappointing, I certainly wouldn’t complain
too much about having to take an Airbus A340-600 on this short intra-Europe route.
Over the coming weeks, I eagerly followed the progress of F-WZNP as it underwent testing before being delivered to Iberia as EC-MXV on the 26th of June 2018 wearing the name of famous Spanish tenor, Plácido Domingo. Whilst the aircraft was not only special to Iberia for being the first of its type in their fleet, it also held some status at Airbus for being the first Airbus A350 to be delivered with the type’s slightly larger winglets and the first A350-900 with the ‘wing twist’. Assuming the aircraft wasn’t to enter service earlier than scheduled, things were looking like I would be on the inaugural flight of Iberia’s A350.
June passed quickly and before I knew it July was already with us. Much to every Brit’s surprise, we were enjoying (and pretty much still are) days of endless sunshine and daily highs in the mid-twenties, sometimes even encroaching on thirty degrees. In spite of the glorious weather, I had certainly not forgotten about my trip to very slightly warmer climes.
Despite not needing any sort of reminder, nine days before my trip I received an email from Iberia advising me to ‘enjoy the best experience by flying in an upper class’. By an upper class, I was curious as to whether this meant premium economy or business, assuming the low upgrade fee of only 48 EUR I assumed the former. I was thus pleasantly surprised to discover upon closer inspection that this was actually the fee to upgrade to business. Seeing the opportunity to fly in a premium cabin on a brand new aircraft for a relatively low cost I replied to this email straight away, however not wanting to sacrifice my window seat, I said I would only like to upgrade if a window seat was available. The following evening I received a call from a number in Madrid, knowing who it would be I answered right away and greeted in Spanish. Having not studied Spanish for over six years, my vocabulary was limited to basic pleasantries, certainly not enough to understand what the other person on the other end was saying. After asking the person on the other end of the line whether they spoke English during a slight pause in her speech, I received a reply of ‘Senor, English, no, no’ before the person on the other end continued speaking rapidly as if I understood every single word. This table tennis match of confusion continued for about five minutes before I was finally put on hold, five minutes of jazzy tunes later and I was put through to an English speaking service agent. Unlike the other staff member, he seemed to be pleasant enough and told me what I needed to know about the upgrade. Upon asking him whether there were any window seats left, he replied that there were none however window-aisle seats 7J and 8J remained available. Hoping that the view from seat 8J would be reasonable enough I opted for this seat and after giving the staff member my card details we parted ways. A few minutes later, the money was taken from my account and I received a new reservation by email.
After doing this, I used the Iberia site to have a look at my booking. Expecting to see a full business class cabin, I was pleased to see that there were still plenty of seats – mainly in the middle of the cabin still available. I guess that explains the cheap upgrade. Also, whilst it did not really matter for me, meals could not be selected prior to the flight, however I assume that had I had any special meal requests than a special meal would be provided following contact with Iberia.
Plenty of seats left in business!
Many would assume that the journey of a typical business class passenger typically starts with them leaving a luxurious five star hotel via their chauffeur driven Mercedes or perhaps exiting a boardroom on the top floors of a skyscraper after signing some multi-million dollar deal. However, the start of my day most certainly lacked such glamour and consisted of me leaving my keys on the desk of some air-condition lacking, dark and dingy back street dive hotel in the local town of Barajas just after 1000. With my room starting to get incredibly hot thanks to the bright morning sun and with incredibly slow wifi, I saw no reason to remain there instead opting to head to the airport early and wait for my flight in the lounge.
From my hotel, the walk to Barajas Metro station was quick and easy, taking no more than five minutes down the quiet residential streets of the town. After passing through the station’s glass entrance doors I headed down to the ticket hall, heading straight to a machine to add a ticket to my transport card. Despite the airport’s Terminal 4 only being located one stop away with a journey time of no more than a few minutes, the ticket costs a whopping 4.50 EUR made up of a 1.50 EUR fare and a 3.00 EUR airport charge. I can’t help but think that there must be a cheaper way of getting to the airport, perhaps by bus however given my lack of Spanish ability, lack of a SIM card that works in Spain and my hotel’s sporadic wifi I had no choice other than sticking to the metro. A couple of minutes after loading up my metro card, the train came hurtling into the station and joined only two other passengers, both Iberia cabin crew in boarding the train for the shorth one stop hop.
The quiet streets of Barajas
Waiting at the metro station
Once the short ride on the near empty metro train was over, I headed up from the platform to the main station area, passing through the ticket barriers and into the spacious atrium before pilling into a lift that would whisk us up to the check in hall on the second floor. Architecturally speaking, as airports go, Madrid Barajas’ Terminal 4 is one of the more interesting airport terminals in the world. Designed by architects Lamela, Rogers and Vidal in the early 21st century, opening its doors in 2006, the airport has a reputation for being modern, spacious and open, instantly recognisable due to its ‘wavy’ roof design. That morning, I did indeed find the terminal to be modern and open, but spacious not so much with crowds of passengers waiting at virtually every single check in desk in sight with plenty more travellers in long queues waiting to pass through security viewable in the distance. Fortunately however, lacking any checked in baggage I was able to check in using one of Iberia’s self-check in machines. After placing my passport on the scanner, my booking immediately came to the screen, after rejecting the option to add hold luggage for 35 EUR I printed off my flimsy boarding pass before heading to security.
The terminal’s famous ‘wavy’ roof
Iberia’s thankfully not so busy self-check in area
After profusely apologizing to a gent who asked me to withdraw 40 EUR from a cash machine, I arrived at the fast track security area. Like the main security lanes, a queue could be found here too however this consisted of only a few passengers (albeit a couple of families with pushchairs in tow) therefore it took a few minutes before I could pass through the security check.
In spite of the fact that the UK is not located within the EU Schengen area (sadly), the vast majority of Iberia’s flights between Madrid and the UK depart from Terminal 4 (the terminal dedicated to flights within the EU Schengen area). However, flight IB3166 departs from the terminal’s satellite building, Terminal 4S. Whilst I cannot confirm the official reason for this, I suspect this is because the flight is operated by Iberia’s widebody aircraft that spend the majority of the time flying to far flung destinations. Therefore, it would not make a great deal of sense to have one of these aircrafts arriving at Terminal 4S before being towed to Terminal 4 to operate the LHR service before being towed back to Terminal 4S after its arrival in Madrid that night. Whilst flying from the satellite terminal may be a pain for many a traveller, for numerous reasons, this would most definitely not be a problem for myself. Firstly, much of the traffic at Terminal 4 is made up of Iberia’s Airbus A320 Family aircraft whereas the spectrum of traffic at Terminal 4S is a little more diverse. Secondly, it is widely accepted that Iberia’s Velasquez lounge in Terminal 4S is far superior than their Terminal 4 lounge which lacks airside views and hot food offerings.
However, as previously mentioned, Terminal 4S can be a bit of a hassle for those travelling with heavy bags, those with young children or those in a hurry as getting there requires quite a long journey after passing through security in the main terminal. Once I passed through security I headed down a seemingly endless sequence of escalators down into the depths of the airport before arriving at the crowded train station. A few minutes later the train pulled into the station and within about a minute of the doors opening, the train was absolutely packed. We then sped off down the dark tunnels under the apron, a few taxiways and runway 18R/36L before arriving at Terminal 4S. Upon exiting the train, passengers travelling to the M gates are funnelled off however like myself, all passengers appeared to be heading to the S gates thus requiring a stop at immigration. Whilst there was no separate line provided for fast track passengers, having an EU passport I was able to skip the large queues somewhat thanks to the fact I could use the automated immigration machines. After walking straight up to one of these I stared at the screen to allow a quick and unflattering shot to be taken before the machine informed me to wait whilst extra checks were completed. About twenty seconds later the machine’s gates opened and I had left Spain, sort of.
Once through immigration, if one follows the obvious signs for the VIP lounge, they will likely be taken up some escalators and directed to the Neptuno Lounge. This is a lounge that can be accessed through payment, and I believe it may also be the lounge for those premium passengers not flying on a OneWorld airline (although I may be wrong). Instead, if heading to Iberia’s Velasquez Lounge, follow the path through duty free and you should come across a large Iberia logo and a set of frosted glass doors. Upon entering the lounge I handed over my boarding pass to one of the lounge’s receptionists who handed it back to me a few seconds later with no dialogue whatsoever.
No prizes for guessing who this lounge belongs to
Immediately after entering I was faced with a lounge packed to the brim with passengers, free seats were hard to come by and empty tables were disappointingly covered in rubbish. After walking around for a few minutes, I was finally able to find a nice spot with a good view of the apron as well as arrivals on runways 18L and 18R as well as departures from runway 14L. Having skipped breakfast that morning, by the time I found a spot I was eager to try the lounge’s food offerings and so after dropping off my stuff I headed to one of the lounge’s two buffet areas. At that time in the late morning the selection of hot food at the buffet consisted of bacon, Spanish omelette and mushrooms whilst the cold food consisted of a salad bar and a selection of sandwiches. Desert was provided in the form of mini tubs of Haagen Dazs caramel, strawberries and cream and cookies and cream ice cream. Whilst a range of snacks were on offer for those wanting something a little lighter. In terms of drinks, a wide range of soft drinks were on offer as well as a standard coffee machine and an impressive self-service alcohol bar for nervous flyers/those wanting to drown their sorrows.
One of the two traditional buffets
A very small snippet of the bar
With Haagen Dazs prices sky high virtually everywhere, I had to make the most of this offering by having two
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the lounge’s food offerings considering my flight was the ‘A350-900 Destinations Market’ which featured three food stalls representing the aircraft’s initial destinations. These came in the form of a hot dog stall representing New York, a sorbet stall representing Havana and a tapas stall representing Madrid. They did appear to be lacking a patisserie counter for Paris and a pie stall for London! An information board was also displayed featuring a little bit of information regarding Iberia’s new aircraft and a basket of Airbus A350 biscuits was present underneath this.
Iberia taking some pride in their new aircraft type
Armed with a plate full of food, like a happy piggy I headed back to my seat and watched the constant stream of movements outside. Being rectangular in shape and jutting out from the terminal, views of the apron can be had from three of the lounge’s four sides. That said, unfortunately due to the buildings design, views of the apron from the side that runs parallel to the apron are severely limited. Outside, a line of aircraft could be seen at remote stands resting between flights, these included an Air Nostrum CRJ1000, American Airlines Boeing 767-300, Avianca Boeing 787-8, Royal Air Maroc Embraer 190 as well as our Airbus A350 that was getting ready for its second ever flight with Iberia – a short 46 minute local flight presumably carrying some of the airline’s VIPs. Meanwhile, the majority of aircraft at the terminal were made up of Iberia’s Airbus A330s and Airbus A340s – most of which wear Iberia’s new livery although I did notice four aircraft (one A319, one A340 and a couple of ATRs) during my stay still carrying the airline’s old colours.
The line-up of aircraft waiting outside on the apron with our aircraft visible on the right hand side
Our aircraft returning from its second ever flight with Iberia
As one would expect, the airport’s two major hometown airlines, Air Europa and Iberia made up a significant portion of the movements however despite this there was still a wide range of airlines and aircraft passing through the airport. I noticed that Boeing 787s are clearly a popular choice amongst those carriers flying to Madrid noticing several of the aircraft from Air Europa, a couple from Avianca as well as one each from Aeromexico, Air China, Etihad, LATAM and Saudi Arabian Airlines. However my favourite movements came in the form of a Cubana Ilyushin 96-300 visiting from Havana and a Boliviana De Aviacion Boeing 767-300.
Air Europa 787-8 returning from Amsterdam
Iberia Airbus A330 turning onto its stand
Given Iberia’s heavy focus on the Americas and the fact that such Eastbound flights commonly depart in the late morning and early afternoon, it came as no surprise that as time passed the lounge began to empty out and subsequently for the rest of my stay the lounge was relatively quiet. Once the hoards of business people and families had filtered out the aviation enthusiasts became visible armed with cameras and equipment of all shapes and sizes, having flown to Madrid from across Europe for this flight.
Considering I still had some time left before our scheduled boarding time of 1525 (according to my boarding pass), I decided to have a quick shower. In order to use one of the shower rooms passengers must leave their boarding pass at the lounge desk, exchanging it for the number of the shower room they can use and the four digit code used to unlock the door to this room. After being given shower room number three and a four digit code I headed off to the small corridor next to the sleep room where these are located. Interestingly, at all times there seems to be a dedicated cleaner patrolling the shower rooms which showed as fortunately my room appeared to be spotlessly clean. Aside from a shower, each shower room contains a sink area with a large mirror and toilet. The rooms are also stocked with all the essentials such as Iberia branded shower gel, shampoo and moisturising hand wash as well as two packaged towels. My only complaint is that perhaps they could improve on the items provided, for example through the provision of a shaving kit.
Clean and modern shower room
Upon my return to the main lounge area I checked the FIDS, much to my surprise my flight was now showing as departing from the H gates located over at the main terminal. According to the signs in the terminal the journey from Terminal 4S to the H gates of Terminal 4 takes 26 minutes and subsequently I left the lounge at 1430. Fortunately I checked the FIDS in the terminal before heading back on the train to the H gates, as these claimed our flight would depart from gate S26. There was only one way to find out whether this was true, by heading to the gate and seeing whether an Airbus A350 was parked outside – given the fact there is only one Airbus A350 in the airline’s fleet, deciphering whether this is the correct flight would certainly not be a hard task. Upon arriving at perhaps the airport’s least photo friendly gate and catching a glimpse of the Airbus A350 outside, with no more than ten passengers and no sign of anything ceremonial I decided to head back to the lounge to charge my phone for twenty minutes before heading back to the gate.
Our flight apparently scheduled to depart from the H gates
An empty gate
Not the best view of our aircraft
In the twenty minutes I was away from S26, the gate became rather crowded and by the time I returned there was little space to sit down and queues of passengers had already began to form. Most surprising however was the fact that there was absolutely nothing to suggest this flight was any sort of celebration for Iberia. There was no pre-flight cake, no speeches and no balloons, it was only the presence of a high number of aviation enthusiasts that perhaps gave the ‘average’ passenger a hint that this was a special flight. At 1505 announcements were made in Spanish and English informing passengers of the imminent boarding. Several minutes after four young aviation enthusiasts were allowed onto the aircraft, presumably having arranged access to take photos and videos of the cabin (I later learned that these were prominent aviation Youtubers/Instagrammers) boarding for everyone else commenced. After a minute of queuing, I had my boarding pass scanned and headed down the jetway to the aircraft. Two jetways were in use that afternoon, however all passengers regardless of their cabin were free to use either jetway. As I neared the aircraft I noticed plenty of Iberia staff members on the ground snapping pictures of this brand new aircraft, whilst on the jetway, instead of rushing to get onboard, passengers were taking their time, taking photographs of our ride and generally savouring the moment.
The unmistakable nose of an A350
About to commence my 6th Airbus A350 flight
After a short wait whilst the cabin was readied for the flight I stepped aboard and was immediately hit by that so called ‘new plane smell’ and was given a friendly welcome in both Spanish and English by the purser before turning right down the second aisle. Iberia’s business class cabin is a tasteful calming beige in colour, this being both the colour of the bulkhead and the seat fabric. Containing thirty one seats in a staggered configuration, in terms of cabin size, Iberia’s A350 business class is pretty middle of the road and is not large enough that it is divided like those of Finnair, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways. Unlike in the business cabin of Vietnam Airlines’ Airbus A350s, overhead lockers are installed over the middle seats. Whilst one may argue this takes away the unique sense of space that other cabins on the aircraft lack, it does mean that all passengers have their own overhead locker and subsequently there is no shortage of storage space. After dropping my things off at 8J, I decided to have a quick peek at Iberia’s premium economy as well as the aircraft’s economy cabin and was impressed by both.
The small-ish business cabin
A comfortable looking premium economy
And stylish economy
Before settling down in my seat, I decided to go against the flow and head up to the front galley in order to ask whether it would be possible to have a quick trip to the cockpit. Given the number of intense interest in the aircraft, the crew member was certainly not surprised by my request and after being given the thumbs up I headed into the aircraft’s spacious and modern cockpit. After a brief chat with the two captains flying the aircraft that afternoon, I headed back to my seat.
A great looking cockpit
As I had expected, the seat itself was comfortable and featured plenty of storage space, two USB sockets and a universal plug socket – all of which worked well throughout the flight. Each seat features a large and high quality PTV which can be controlled via touch or via the modern remote control located next to the seat. As with many business class seats today, each seat offers direct aisle access. One of the things I was very pleased to find was that that despite my aisle seat, I could still get a pretty good view out of the window, something I had found required a lot of neck straining to do on Vietnam Airlines’ Airbus A350s. Whilst my initial impressions of both the aircraft and crew had been positive, I was slightly disappointed at the lack of any offering of pre-flight drinks.
Nice and spacious
The IFE controller
Looking out from my seat
As time passed, the stream of passengers entering the aircraft did not let up and it appeared the flight would be completely full – something I was later able to confirm after overhearing a conversation between a crew member and another passenger. Meanwhile, various ground crew members continued to shuttle in and out of the aircraft, taking various pictures and happily chatting with the cabin crew. A minute after our scheduled departure time of 1555, the last few stragglers boarded the aircraft which was followed a couple of minutes later by the final ground crew members disembarking before the L1 door was closed. The crew then passed through the business class cabin offering a range of Spanish and English language newspapers as we began our slow and gently pushback. The speed at which this occurred really gave me the sense that the ground crew were taking extra care with the aircraft! As we travelled backwards the purser conducted a welcome announcement in Spanish and English where she announced that due to reasons beyond their control, the IFE system would remain switched off for the entire flight.
The contents of the seat pocket
The ‘A-350’ safety card as Iberia put it
The business class cabin appearing secured for departure – aside from the gent with the tablet
After coming to a gentle stop, our two massive Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines quietly spooled up into life as inside the cabin the crew came around offering immigration forms to non-EU passengers. After a short pause, at 1608 we were propelled forward under our own steam and made a slow and gentle taxi to runway 14R. After holding whilst an Iberia Express Airbus A320 departed for Fuerteventura an Air Europa Airbus A330 headed off on its long flight to Havana, at 1619 we taxied onto the runway. After a short wait our two engines powered into life and we made a gentle take-off roll down the runway, speeding past an Air Europa Boeing 787 and Cubana Ilyushin 96 before calmly rotating, rising above the airport’s cargo and executive aircraft apron before passing over the A-2 road which runs all the way from Madrid to Barcelona.
Post pushback featuring a TAM liveries LATAM 77W
Goodbye Terminal 4S
A Havana bound A330
Speeding down the runway…
…up into the air… (spot the Ilyushin)
…passing a wide variety of types…
…over the motorway
After flying southeastwards during our initial climb out, the aircraft performed three gentle banks with a short interval in between each one to put us on a course northwards over the centre of Madrid. Despite being at an altitude of over 20000 feet by the time we neared Barajas Airport, the lack of clouds over the city meant a good overview could be had for those on the right hand side of the aircraft.
Despite the crew’s apology for the non-functionality of the IFE, after take off the PTV screens flickered and appeared to be buffering before a welcome screen appeared. I therefore took the opportunity to have a quick play around with the IFE. In terms of content, Iberia’s system was certainly not the most lacking with a total of 70 films which are somewhat representative of the airline’s destinations with films from Argentina, Chile, China, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US as well as a total of 75 TV programmes and 20 albums. However, more importantly for me, a good selection of map options is provided. The screen quality was as good as one could expect on board a new aircraft in 2018 and the screen’s touch screen function worked well. At this point in the flight, my aisle seat’s lack of privacy became rather noticeable as I noticed the gent sitting beside me in 8H glancing over at my screen. At first I was a little puzzled, but then I realised that only the screens on the right hand side of the cabin were functioning, the rest were still displaying Iberia’s logo screen. If this passenger was slightly jealous of my ability to locate our aircraft, he was not to be jealous for long as within about ten minutes my screen returned to the Iberia logo screen that had been shown during boarding. It is also worth noting that the onboard wifi network advertising beside the aircraft’s main entrance doors was also not functioning. Whilst most passengers do not expect to have PTVs on a flight of no more than a couple of hours (especially in Europe), I still found the non-functionality of the IFE to be a little disappointing and no doubt it was embarrassing for Iberia for both of these to be non-functional during this important flight.
Fortunately however, as well as being comfortable, the seat controls worked well. My only very slight complaint regarding these being that there is a delay between pressing these buttons and any movement of the seat occurring thus perhaps some impatient passengers may be left a little dissatisfied.
Plenty of room to relax, stretch out and watch a film
Things starting to look a little bumpy
Upon reaching our initial cruising altitude of 34000 feet, the cabin crew came around distributing menu cards for the flight. These came in the form of a single card with Spanish on one side and English on the other and were similar in style to those offered on multiple airlines in economy class on long haul flights. As I glanced over the options we seemed to rise up a little, as it turned out we were climbing up to 40000 feet where we would remain until commencing our descent a little later on. At 1652 the captain made an announcement thanking us for joining Iberia for the inaugural flight of their Airbus A350 as well as providing the usual information about our route, cruising altitude, expected time of arrival into Heathrow and the weather in London. Whilst the majority of the journey thus far had been cloudy, after leaving behind the coast of northern Spain near Bilbao and out over the Bay of Biscay, the clouds parted giving us fantastic views of the long sandy beach that stretches virtually interrupted from Biarritz to the Médoc Peninsula. Knowing this area quite well due to annual family trips to the Les Landes region as a child, it was interesting to see the region from the air for the first time and make out many of the towns on the coast I used to visit.
The flight’s food options
If you look carefully you can just make out the long beach that runs up Aquitaine’s coast
Given all my staring out of the window, I had hardly noticed that at the front of the cabin the crew had commenced the meal service with four crew members, two on each aisle assisting in the distribution of food and drinks. A few minutes later upon reaching row eight, I opted for the pasta which was placed on a tray with all the accompaniments stated on the menu. The second cabin crew member then offered me a drink, opting for a cerveza I was handed a small (25 cl) can of Mahou which the crew opened and poured into a glass before handing this to me. Upon placing the tray on my table, plastic wrapping was still covering the cheese plate and salad dish and my main plate was covered in foil. Whilst I have read numerous trip reporters who have expressed their distain at being handed food still covered in wrapping, given the length of the flight and the short time the crew have to perform the service (bearing in mind that we were already a fair way into the flight when service commenced) I can understand why these were not removed and cannot really complain about this. Also, unlike my previous business class experiences, no table cloth was placed on the table prior to the meal service, however from what I have read, the lack of this seems to be the norm on intra-Europe flights. A minute or so later, a crew member came down each aisle with a basket of warm bread. Overall, the quality of the meal was fairly reasonable. The pasta was good if not a little dry, the salad seemed fresh and I can’t really say anything negative about the yoghurt or the bread. Not being too keen on cheese I skipped the two triangles of this.
Turning my attention back to the outside world, as we continued up the coast of France, I continued to spot regions I had visited in the not too distant past. Namely, good views were offered of Ile de Ré, an island I had cycled around with my parents last August following my sister’s wedding. Upon crossing over the coast line of France near the nation’s sixth largest city, Nantes, the clouds rolled in and blocked our view again as we headed across Brittany. Meanwhile inside the cabin, the crew came around offering teas and coffees and collecting the trays of those passengers who had finished their meal.
Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron
Somewhere over Brittany
At 1638 British time as we flew just to the east of the Channel Islands before crossing over a small portion of Normandy, the aircraft could be felt sinking down a little signalling the commencement of our descent. This slow journey back to earth was accompanied by a few lumps and bumps and we passed over the English Channel and at 1650 as we crossed over the coast of the Isle of Wight, the captain announced ‘crew secure the cabin for landing’ and the seat belt signs were turned back on. I used this as my cue to make a quick bathroom visit and was pleased to find this to be clean although it was only stocked with the basics aka soap, toilet paper and paper towels. I imagine a better range of items will be stocked on the aircraft’s long haul trips in the near future.
Relatively nice and clean
Speedbrakes deployed as we sunk down
Into the clouds
At 1655 a few bumps could be felt once again as our speed brakes were partially extended and we began to skirt the tops of the clouds. After a few minutes of cloud surfing we sank down into these which resulted in the usual slight turbulence however this was nothing that would cause any alarm to even a nervous flyer. After a few minutes, we emerged from the clouds at a height of around 7000 feet near the town of Woking. Whilst sitting on the right hand side of the aircraft meant that I had been blessed with the best views during our climb as well as our cruise parallel with the French coast, it was now the turn of those sitting on the left hand side to enjoy some good views. By good views, I mean views of the Farnborough Airshow – fantastic views for an aviation enthusiast, but perhaps not so much for your average passenger.
Upon making a gently bank westwards around the town of Bracknell, it became obvious that we would be landing on one of Heathrow’s 09 runways and were thus offered a glimpse of green semi-rural Berkshire instead of getting an early evening aerial tour of Central London. Despite not getting a view of some of the UK’s most famous sites, a range of interesting buildings and features can still be seen on the approach to Heathrow from the west such as Foliejon Park, Legoland and Windsor Great Park. After flying past the several reservoirs that lay to the west of Heathrow and over the Poyle Trading Estate we headed over London’s busy ring road, the M25 before floating down over the perimeter fence before making a soft touchdown on runway 09L at 1714.
Passing over the M25
One of BA’s sleek looking Boeing 787s
After some gently braking accompanied by the sound of our two Rolls Royce engines’ quiet reverse thrust, we headed off the runway. At this point the purser made the usual welcome announcement thanking us for flying Iberia once again and proudly mentioning that we had landed ahead of schedule and that according to Flightstats, Iberia was the world’s most punctual airline in 2016/2017. After this a selection of songs that can perhaps be categorised as ‘easy listening’ quietly rang out throughout the cabin. As we headed towards Terminal 5, it was clear there was to be no celebration for us at busy Heathrow and most certainly no water cannon salute!
After a slow five minute taxi back towards the western end of the airport, we turned onto the ramp between Terminal 5’s B and C piers, passing a trio of British Airways Boeing 777s before turning left into stand 556 pulling up next to a British Airways Boeing 747-400 preparing for its evening flight to Boston. Unlike in Madrid, only one jetway was connected to the aircraft, positioning itself to the 2L door. Being located at the back of the business class cabin, this subsequently meant I was one of the first in line to step foot onto British soil (sort of) once disembarkation commenced. Only a couple of minutes after pulling into the gate, I watched as the door was opened which was followed by a quick and cheery welcome from the flight’s dispatcher before disembarkation began. After thanking the sole cabin crew member by the door I stepped off onto the jetway and up into the terminal. Unfortunately, it was literally impossible to take any photos of the aircraft given its unphotogenic stand – more so than the one we had departed from in Madrid.
Pulling in next to a Boston bound Boeing 747
Disembarkation was followed quick walk to the escalators which lead to the Terminal 5 train that connects the two satellite piers with the main terminal. Upon travelling down these escalators I was given a warm welcome by Tim Peake before heading straight on to the awaiting train. After a quick ride I disembarked and headed straight up into the immigration hall, where after no more than a couple of minutes of waiting to use one of the automated immigration machines, I was officially back in the UK.
Heading towards the train to take us to the main terminal
Receiving a warm welcome from Tim Peake – the second British astronaut and (former?) helicopter pilot
Quite an appropriate advert given the Farnborough Airshow
After arriving, my next task was to embark on the journey to my hometown and the city where I’m basing myself over the summer – Sheffield. Despite being lying just over 150 miles to the north of the capital, getting there from London can be done with relative ease with regular trains from London St Pancras making the journey in just under a couple of hours. That said, being in a rush and my status as a cheapskate had ultimately meant that instead of taking the most direct train, I opted to take a connecting service from London King’s Cross requiring a short transfer in Doncaster. With an advance ticket purchased a couple of weeks in advance costing less that £10, this was an absolute bargain. For comparison, a ticket between London and Sheffield either on a direct train or requiring a change booked just before travel would cost over £100.
After making my way to Terminal 5’s station, I boarded the Heathrow Express for the short journey to Terminal 2/3 before transferring onto a slightly slower Heathrow Connect train. From Spring 2018, the Heathrow Connect service became TFL Rail in preparation for the commencement of services on Crossrail, this means that the journey between Heathrow and Central London can now be completed in thirty minutes in some comfort and for the same price as the same journey on a slow, old and overcrowded Piccadilly Line underground train. With a reasonable amount of time to kill before my train back to the North, I decided to walk around and visit a great pizzeria I frequent just off Tottenham Court Road. After a great meal, I boarded my train at 2120 and began my journey back home. Whilst I am certainly no train buff, I could easily recognise the fact that the service was operated by an old HST dating back to the 1970s. Despite having been refurbished and looking relatively modern, the age of the train still showed somewhat through its ricketiness and overall battered-ness, for example water seemed to leak through the gangways between carriages. After a two hour journey I transferred onto another old train, one of the infamous and unpopular Pacer trains – the work horses of the North’s rail network before eventually arriving back in Sheffield at 0020, tired but happy after a great days’ travel!
Happy at finding the only single seat on the train to be unreserved!
The train for the 30 minute hop back to Sheffield
Overall, I was relatively pleased with my experience with Iberia on this flight and I certainly cannot make any complaints given the incredibly low price I paid.
Iberia’s Airbus A350 was comfortable (at least in business) and personally I found each cabin to be tastefully stylish. However perhaps one of the best things about the flight was the crew. Ever since stepping foot in Cardiff Airport on my outbound leg of the trip, I had been met with solemn faces and cold voices from pretty much every single staff member I encountered. Whether it be the handling or security staff in Cardiff Airport, the Iberia Express crew or the immigration, security and lounge staff in Madrid, almost everyone was united by the fact that they seemed to be unhappy to be at work. However, the staff on the flight back to the UK were happy, joyous and in a celebratory mood which made for a fantastic change after all the other staff members I had encountered over my two day trip.
In terms of the meal service, this was pretty much what I had expected from this two hour flight. Whilst I could complain about minor things such as the lack of a table cloth, pre-flight drinks or the serving of food still covered in wrapping, given the length of the flight this certainly did not bother me one bit. Speaking of complaints, as I mentioned, the lack of a working IFE and wifi network was a little disappointing considering the age of the aircraft. That said, I’m sure that many non-avgeek passengers were surprised at the very fact that PTVs were provided on an intra-Europe flight and thus their non-functionality was perhaps not a great let down for many on board.
After experiencing the lack of any sort of celebration regarding the inaugural flight of Korean Air’s Boeing 787-9, I had concluded that such an inaugural flight was unusual. I thus therefore expected some sort of celebration around this flight. The A350 Destinations Market area of the lounge as well as the information board proudly informing passengers of their new aircraft left me certain that there would be something special regarding the flight. However, were in not for the multiple announcements from the crew and the many aviation enthusiasts, then it would have most certainly been easy to be unaware of the flight’s special nature. I was expecting at the very least the distribution of the A350 biscuits that had been available in the lounge.
Despite this, I would most definitely be willing to fly with Iberia again at some point in the future and despite reading numerous negative reviews, I would also like to sample their long haul economy service.
That’s it for this report, I hope you enjoyed reading and feel free to leave a comment!
Korea DomesticAsiana Boeing 767 Gimpo-JejuAir Busan A320 Busan-JejuJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Busan-JejuJin Air Boeing 777-200ER Jeju-GimpoKorean Air Airbus A330-300 Jeju to BusanKorean Air Boeing 747-400 Gimpo to JejuKorean Air Boeing 787-9 Gimpo-Jeju
Short HaulBek Air Fokker 100 Almaty-AstanaChina Southern Airbus A321 Beijing-Xi’anCityjet Avro RJ85 London City-CorkFar Eastern Air Transport MD-80 Taipei Songshan-MakungJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Daegu-BeijingJoy Air Xian MA60 Yantai-Dalian-YantaiMeridiana MD-80 Olbia-GatwickLucky Air Airbus A320 Lijiang-KunmingSouthern Sky Airlines Antonov 24RV Almaty-Balkhash-AstanaThai Airways Boeing 777-300 Bangkok-PhuketTibet Airlines Airbus A320 Kunming-LijiangUkraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 Kiev-IstanbulV Air Airbus A320 Taipei-Busan
Medium HaulAir India Boeing 787-8 Incheon-Hong KongChina Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingChina Southern Boeing 777-200 Urumqi-BeijingKorean Air Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingSCAT Boeing 737-500 Xi’an-AlmatyVietjet Airbus A320 Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei
Long HaulChina Southern Airbus A330-200 Istanbul-UrumqiChina Southern/Korean Air B777/A321/A330 Seoul-DubaiKLM Cityhopper/KLM Fokker 70 and 747 Combi Humberside-Amsterdam-Seoul IncheonKorean Air A380 Seoul Incheon-Paris CDGOman Air Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-8 Heathrow-Muscat-BangkokThai Airways Bangkok-Karachi-MuscatVietnam Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 Heathow-Hanoi-Seoul Incheon
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.