The End of the A340-600: Iberia Business to the Holy Land
New Year’s Day 2020 – as I made the customary drive around the M25 to Heathrow, little did I know what this year in particular would have in store for us all just a couple of short months later. As it was, the first of January itself was a normal chilly day in London, and as I entered T5 I was looking forward to a short trip to Tel Aviv – my first time visiting Israel.
Having not flown with Iberia for a good few years, some decent ex-LHR fares had tempted me to take the longer route to Tel Aviv via Madrid, a routing that would also earn me a few more BA tier points than the direct option, and offer the opportunity of sampling Iberia’s longhaul Business Plus cabins on their widebody fleet.
This report will major on the Iberia inflight experience across four different aircraft types – A321, A330-300, A330-200 and the dying breed that is the A340-600. Along the way, I’ll review the surprisingly decent Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Centre and offer some impressions of this fascinating city.LHR-MAD
Despite being part of the same parent company as BA, due to different IT systems, Iberia use dedicated check-in desks at Heathrow T5 in Zone E, located at the rear of the check-in concourse in the exact centre of the building. Economy passengers have use of desks on the left, whilst a bank of clearly branded desks on the right cater for Business and oneworld status passengers. A small number of standard airport seats are used to provide a waiting area for Business passengers should they be required, but the First Wing this is not. A short wait was necessary before I obtained boarding passes for both of today’s sectors through to TLV, after which I made my way to the Southern end of the concourse for Zone J and the BA First Wing. It’s really quite frustrating that oneworld Emerald passengers travelling on IB-operated flights aren’t able to use any check-in desks in the First Wing, necessitating the Zone E stop first.
There was no queue for security, and I was soon ensconced in the BA Galleries First lounge, which was notably quieter than usual given the bank holiday. With a couple of hours before departure, I headed to the Refectory and ordered the flaxseed granola from the menu, which was enjoyed with a self-made Americano from the closest machine. In the last year, BA have started to lay tables in the Refectory with simple cutlery and paper serviette pouches, which gives the area more of a restaurant flavour than before, although the atmosphere remains firmly towards the canteen end of the spectrum, and a far cry from the full waiter service of Concorde Dining in the adjacent Concorde Room.
This was my first time using the lounge with its new carpet, taken from the latest design standard for new and refurbished BA lounges across the network. It’s my understanding that in recent months BA have added some of the new furniture from this standard to the T5 lounges too, and I look forward to hopefully experiencing this in the not too distant future.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to earn some extra revenue, BA often host promotional stands in their Heathrow lounges, with Rocco Forte Hotels being January’s guest. They’d recreated a mini hotel lobby adjacent to the Gold Bar, with a particular emphasis on advertising the Hotel de la Ville in Rome, which incidentally was formally the InterContinental. I used to stay at Forte hotels in the UK (mainly Posthouse, Heritage and Crest properties) quite frequently as a child before the demise of the group in 2001, and seeing this stand brought back some good memories.
Exiting via the main lounge lobby, The White Company (BA’s provider of Club World amenity kits and bedding and inflight Club washroom amenities) had created a rather clever vintage shop window display for Christmas, serving the dual purpose of both advertising their products as well as creating a festive scene.
Boarding this morning at Gate A19 commenced shortly after I arrived, with the Group 1 lane flowing freely. Our aircraft flying us to Madrid was EC-JRE, an A321 delivered new to Iberia in 2006. Iberia’s 11-strong A321 fleet is configured with 38 rows of 3-3 seating broken into three blocks, the Business Class cabin being flexible to suit demand. Seats that fall within the flexible Business Class zone all feature additional recline and both power and USB sockets (two between three seats), although for Business Class passengers there is no middle seat console table as there is on the A319/A320ceo/A321ceo BA fleet in Club Europe – the seat is merely blocked from reservation instead. I do prefer having the console, although the crew on my flight were on the ball enough to deploy the middle seat tables during meal service to give each passenger additional table space. Other noticeable differences to the BA fleet included the drabber cabin interior, lack of mood lighting, and no wardrobe/galley in front of Row 1, a thin partition sufficing as the bulkhead. On a positive note, wifi was available at the reasonable cost of EUR10 for the duration of the flight.
As I settled into Seat 1A, I was approached by a lady who asked whether I would mind swapping to her assigned seat (1D) so that she could sit with her child in 1C. I didn’t mind giving up my window seat on a short flight and dutifully complied, although I was rather perplexed when two children showed up and joined her in 1A, occupying both the supposedly blocked 1B and 1C. Indeed, I noticed several couples and groups travelling together opting to occupy the blocked middle seat rather than leave a distance between each other.
Each blocked middle seat in the Business Class cabin held a small cushion and unwrapped blanket, neither of which appeared to have been laundered from the previous inbound flight from Madrid. I’m unsure why there was only one set per two passengers, but this theme of stinginess would prevail throughout the Iberia experience over the next few days. As the cabin settled down, it was clear that the cabin crew were unphased about bags remaining at passengers’ feet in Row 1. The senior cabin crew member came through with an iPad offering a personal welcome by name to oneworld Emerald members – this was quite impressive and although a small and simple gesture, certainly makes passengers feel valued. Closing one’s eyes, this could almost be Qatar Airways…
Swiftly after takeoff, the cabin crew offered small paper menus to each passenger from a tray; from the two main course choices, I opted for the veal burger with foie and truffle sauce served with paprika and artichoke spiced potatoes, which although pretty tasty, could’ve done with some green vegetables. This was presented on a full-size tray, a welcome change from the three-quarter size trays used by BA in Club Europe. The apple and walnut salad starter was made more interesting by the addition of the supplied olive oil. Rather stale bread was offered from a basket along with butter and additional olive oil, with further bread offered by the attentive crew later in the meal service. I opted for a quarter-bottle of Rioja to accompany lunch.
I left the sheep’s milk cheese, as this wasn’t to my personal taste, but ate the strawberry yogurt, despite this being a rather odd choice for dessert on a lunchtime flight. The praline only partially satisfied my craving for additional sugar.
Presentation of the tray was, in keeping with the Iberia brand, rather bland – although the foil covering was removed from the main course by the crew on the trolley before placing the tray on the table, clingfilm coverings were left on both the salad and the cheese. Iberia do not offer a hot towel service on shorthaul (or midhaul) routes, with a packaged wipe being supplied alongside a paper serviette and less than premium plastic-wrapped cutlery. Only one knife and fork is provided, so this must be used for both the starter and main course, and for cutting the cheese and buttering the bread. All in all, the food service just doesn’t feel that well thought through or terribly premium.
On a positive note, my peppermint tea was brought in a proper cup and saucer as opposed to the saucer-less mug used in BA’s Club cabins, partially negating the need for a drip dish.
A quick visit to the washroom adjacent to the cockpit in the forward galley revealed no special amenities for Business Class passengers, although the facility was clean enough to be acceptable.
As we approached Madrid, the crew announced connecting gates for some key destinations, most of which understandably appeared to be domestic or Latin American routes; Tel Aviv certainly wasn’t amongst them. Despite the UK being a non-Schengen destination, Iberia-operated narrowbody services to Heathrow typically use the Terminal 4 main building, and this afternoon was no exception. Connecting passengers for T4S (the exclusively non-Schengen satellite building) were directed downstairs before entering the terminal building to a waiting bus, which after an annoyingly extended wait for all connecting passengers from our flight to board, trundled off to the satellite building.MAD-TLV
With no security or immigration necessary, I was soon ensconced within the Iberia Premium Lounge Velázquez, located at gate level in the middle of the satellite building and accessed from the duty free store. I reviewed this pleasant, light-filled lounge fully in 2018. My connection time was fairly short at two hours, leaving only an hour or so of usable lounge time. I found an armchair facing out over the apron and sipped a coffee whilst waiting for my onward flight to TLV, which I knew would soon depart from Gate S1, having been notified of this via both text and email.
Whilst there was a clearly signed Group 1 lane at the gate and this was empty when I arrived, as boarding was well in progress, I had to deploy some polite assertiveness at the point the lane merged with the general boarding lanes in order for my boarding pass to be scanned and passport to be checked. EC-LYF, one of eight A330-300s and delivered new to Iberia in 2013 was operating this afternoon’s service to Tel Aviv, an increase in capacity from the scheduled A330-200. With a single airbridge to Door 1L, the entire aircraft’s worth of passengers traipsed through the forward cabin, which rendered full cabin overview photos sadly unobtainable.
Branded as Business Plus on longhaul routes, Iberia’s longhaul business class seat is broadly consistent across their widebody fleet of A330s, A340s and A350s, although the latter variant features a slightly updated version of the Stelia (previously Sogerma) Solstys product. Arranged in a staggered 1-2-1 layout, each row alternates with outboard seats being closer to the aisle (rather exposed) or the window (more private) and inboard seats being paired together or apart, in much the same way that QR’s Qsuite is arranged (without the alternating direction, space, quality of finish or style of that product). All seats feature direct aisle access. The Iberia A330-300 has seven principal rows in the forward cabin between Doors 1 and 2, with an odd single seat in Row 8 on the starboard side. Behind Doors 2 is a three-row Premium Economy cabin (not typically sold on midhaul routes such as TLV), with two cabins of Economy beyond.
At Seat 2A, an outboard seat adjacent to the window, I found a wrapped (and therefore presumably laundered) pillow and blanket on the seat along with, oddly, the inflight literature. After finding the literature didn’t fit in the pocket above the seat’s side console table, I initially dumped it in the overhead locker before realising there is an additional literature pocket located within the footwell – possibly the oddest and least hygienic location to store reading material at the seat.
Above the footrest, which didn’t have any form of panel allowing feet to slip off onto the sidewall of the aircraft, a decently sized IFE touchscreen protrudes adjacent to a coat hook.
To the right of the seat, a small storage compartment below the leather-trimmed armrest is good for holding a phone or glasses, below which power, USB and headphone sockets and water bottle holder are located. The seat controls and a wired IFE handset are handily positioned above the armrest, but not so near as to be activated inadvertently.
The side console table incorporates a glass holder and the aforementioned unusable literature pocket, with a reading light positioned in the side wall. An additional reading light is located in the overhead panel, although there are no personal air vents.
The large and sturdy one-panel table swings down from the back of the seat in front above a third literature pocket holding the safety card – the table can be rotated in the down position to enable passengers to leave their seat without putting the table back up. Whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing design, this is functional and a welcome change from the many wobbly tables I’ve encountered over the years.
The overall design of Iberia’s cabins is bland to put it kindly and downright drab to put it plainly, with fifty shades of grey (and beige) being deployed across all visible materials. The overall effect is quite uniquely utilitarian and is not remotely luxurious. Unsurprisingly, Iberia did not fit mood lighting to their A330 fleet (or if they did, the cabin crew didn’t activate it on this or my inbound flight).
Shortly after I was settled, I asked for my jacket to be hung in the wardrobe, and once boarding was complete unbranded headphones and an amenity kit was handed to each passenger. Not since my Air Canada Executive First experience of 2007 have I been handed such a paltry amenity kit in business class; the cheap plastic pouch contained a dental kit, socks, eye mask, ear plugs and – surprisingly – a shoe horn and hair band. There were no lotions or potions. These amenity kits are supplied by Iberia on midhaul flights (Dakar, Moscow, St Petersburg, Tel Aviv), with a more substantial offering on longhaul routes.
As it turned out, the amenity kit was the only real differentiating feature of the soft product on this midhaul sector compared with the shorthaul sector I’d flown from Heathrow. No pre-departure drink was offered, hot towels were absent throughout the flight, and the meal service was identical in both presentation and quantity. Had I known this, I might have been more inclined to book the direct BA service which features a full Club World service and Club Suite on selected flights.
With no pre-departure drink forthcoming, I requested some water before we pushed back from the gate, which was served in a plastic glass. A 4h20 flight time was announced by the captain as we held for the active departure runway. Shortly after takeoff, the cabin crew leapt into action as if all they wanted to do was complete the meal service in as short a time as possible, starting with the distribution of menu cards. The rushed pace was entirely unnecessary on an afternoon into evening flight of four hours’ duration, where the meal service will be almost all passengers’ dinner.
My fagottini pasta with apple and cinnamon in a creamy piquillo pepper sauce with thyme was pretty decent, although was a small portion for the length of flight and was served with its foil covering still on. The Mediterranean salad starter was uninteresting. To accompany dinner, warm bread was offered from a basket, although there was no offer of butter or additional olive oil. My chosen drop of cava (in the absence of champagne) was plonked on the table without being poured or even opened.
Given the small portion size of the main course, once all passengers had been served, I asked the crew whether there was any of the alternative option left – sure enough there was, and so I also sampled the steer eye fillet in a typical sauce from Córdoba served with stir-fried courgette and plums. I couldn’t see any plums in my dish, although there were plenty of raisins. Despite the beef being a little tough, this dish was full of flavour.
As on my flight from Heathrow, I gave the goat’s cheese with paprika a wide berth, but ate the plain yogurt longing for a decent dessert to accompany my peppermint tea.
Unfortunately, the IFE handset at my seat didn’t work, and so I had to use the touchscreen to control the extremely buggy IFE, which needed to be completely reset at my seat shortly after takeoff. Despite this, I managed to watch the highly enjoyable Toy Story 4, and squeeze in an episode of Family Guy before descent. Wifi was available on this aircraft, priced at EUR30 for the duration of the 4 hour flight, rather expensive in comparison to the EUR10 for the 2 hour sector from London. The first 20MB were free for passengers in Business.
There was no proactive service on this flight, although my requests for a coffee and bottle of water at various stages of the flight were met promptly. The Stelia Solstys seat is surprisingly comfortable even after several hours, with notably decent foot room. With the majority of this flight taking place during dark hours, light from the forward galley was noticeable in spilling out into the forward rows of the cabin, not blocked by the curtains which were positioned diagonally across the lights in both aisles.
Two washrooms serve the Business Plus cabin – one in the forward galley and one in the rear, both on the port side. These were surprisingly smart, with wood-effect panelling injecting a moment of design flair into the otherwise bland aircraft interior. Iberia Business-branded moisturiser was available.
As we flew into Israeli airspace, passengers were instructed to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts in compliance with Israeli law. Jackets were also handed back at this time and, in the only slightly out of the ordinary service experienced on this flight, chocolates were offered to each passenger from a basket. Interestingly, boarding (or should that be ‘descent’?) music played during our approach and all the way through the landing and taxi to the gate. Once on stand, the cabin crew held back the rear cabins to allow Business passengers to disembark from Door 2L onto the single airbridge.
There was a moderate queue at immigration ahead of the baggage reclaim hall – once I reached the counter after 10-15 minutes, the immigration officer was clearly rather confused as to why I would only want to spend two nights in Israel without knowing anybody in the country, but my honest answers appeared to appease any concerns she may have had as I was granted entry to the Holy Land, whereupon I went in search of a taxi to the Crowne Plaza.Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Centre and Views from Tel Aviv
IHG operate two Crowne Plazas in Tel Aviv, in addition to InterContinental and Indigo properties. Although IC is my usual brand of choice, I’d opted to stay at a less expensive CP on this occasion given my less than relaxing schedule of a late arrival into the city and horrendously early departure only two nights later meaning I wouldn’t get the full value of the IC experience. The Crowne Plaza Tel Aviv City Centre opened in 2008 and is located in one of three tower blocks that comprise the Azreili Center shopping and office complex. The property is a 25-minute drive from the airport, and an easy 40-minute walk from the beach.
Given the hour of arrival close to midnight, it was unsurprising to find no queue at the small reception area on the ground floor, although there was a short wait whilst the sole receptionist finished a telephone call. I was welcomed and offered a choice of Spire Elite amenity – IHG points or complimentary breakfast and Club lounge access. As I’d booked a rate with no breakfast or Club lounge access included, I opted for the latter, which is clearly the stronger offer and a very welcome benefit of Spire Elite status.
My Studio Suite on the 21st floor was a stonking four-category upgrade from my booked Standard room and was very spacious at 43 square metres. Offering dual aspect views across the city, in addition to the usual furniture the suite held a two-seater sofa and an ottoman at the base of the bed. I found the décor to be a little too minimalist for my taste and not particularly luxurious, but the super king size bed was comfortable and at midnight that’s all I could ask for. Lighting was fairly harsh, with the exception of over the minibar which was too dim to be useful.
For a modern property, I was disappointed that there were no power sockets adjacent to the bed, although there were three USB sockets above the desk. The TV purported to offer both BBC World News and Sky News, although only the latter appeared to have a signal in reality.
A complimentary bottle of water (replaced daily) and a small fruit plate were placed on the occasional table, whilst the minibar offered a decent selection of complimentary teas and a delightful Illy coffee machine in place of the more usual Nespresso affair. A partial turndown service was offered by friendly housekeeping staff (really just a quick room refresh), where an additional bottle of water was also provided – this is likely to only be applicable to higher category rooms and suites, as is the provision of robes and slippers.
In a rare design feature, the spacious bathroom featured not one but two windows, and perhaps more importantly a very powerful rain shower in its own cubicle (that suffered a leak in one corner onto the bathroom floor). The Sea of Spa amenities were meh and didn’t make it to my suitcase. The downside triple combination of having windows in the bathroom, blinds that aren’t blackout, and a translucent door, meant that light flooded into the bedroom during the night, although the amount of space between the bathroom and the bed meant that this wasn’t as disturbing as it could otherwise have been.
The following morning, thinking a larger choice would be on offer compared to the Club lounge, I opted to take breakfast in the hotel’s only restaurant down on the 11th floor. The restaurant was fairly busy even at a relatively late hour on a Thursday morning, but I found a seat and headed to the superbly comprehensive buffet, which offered an impressive selection of nicely presented options from around the globe, including several appetising Chinese dishes. The individual hot plates were particularly noteworthy in both presentation and quality, and the whole buffet was well-stocked and tended by a team who clearly had pride in their work.
The same could not be said for the waiting staff, who were slow to clear plates and offer coffee. Despite this, I was very impressed with the high-quality breakfast offered that rivals many five-star experiences.
The weather was not kind that morning, with torrential rain meaning I started the day exploring the entirely unremarkable shopping mall within the hotel complex. As time ticked on and with no sign of the rain relenting, I threw caution to the wind and jumped into a taxi to take me to Jaffa as the roads became rivers and the city flooded faster than my bathroom floor at the CP. As luck would have it, the rains relented, and with traffic becoming snarled up I jumped out with a few hundred metres to go and walked the rest of the way to Jaffa, home to the world’s oldest harbour.
After exploring Jaffa’s empty streets, I headed along the waterfront to the Jaffa Railway Station, closed in 1948 following Israel’s independence and sympathetically restored in recent years as an entertainment and leisure venue.
Perhaps the most architecturally interesting area of the city, a walk through the central Bauhaus district revealed numerous gems from the 1920s and 30s, mostly private houses and apartment buildings, but also public buildings such as the Charles Bronfman Auditorium.
Returning to the Crowne Plaza, my name and room number was checked against a list for security before entry to the hotel was granted, after which I headed up to the 22nd floor Club lounge for afternoon tea. Whilst not overly spacious or luxurious in design, the lounge is well-equipped, with a bookable meeting room, small business area, a large seating area comprised predominately of dining tables opposite a few sofa groups, and a well-provisioned buffet. Washrooms are available in the lounge.
The afternoon tea offer is purely buffet based, with an appetising and good quality selection of cakes, pastries, dried fruit, whole fruit and chocolates, although there were no sandwiches (or scones!) that I could see. A small salad selection had also been set up, although this looked more like the beginnings of the evening canapé service than afternoon tea, as wine made an appearance shortly after I arrived. Self-serve hot and soft drinks are also available, as is a chargeable menu for more substantial options.
As with afternoon tea, the evening canapé selection is entirely self-service, but once more is a surprisingly comprehensive and notably good quality offering. Along with a small bar, three hot options (fish, mixed vegetables and potatoes) were complemented by soup, salad, cold meat and fish, sandwiches, bread, cheese, dried and whole fruit, and a small selection of sweet treats. The only missing element is champagne or any form of sparkling wine.
With a brutal 06:00 flight from TLV the next morning, I headed to bed early that evening, reflecting on what an interesting city Tel Aviv is (from the small snapshot I’d experienced on this trip), and what a solid product the Crowne Plaza City Centre offers guests.TLV-MAD
Along with the majority of international flights, Iberia use Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport. Approaching the airport by taxi, we were waved through a security checkpoint towards the end of the motorway and arrived on the departures forecourt in good time with around two hours to go before departure. I’d heard mixed views on how long it could take to get through security, so had budgeted a decent chunk of time to complete formalities. Despite the horrendously early hour, the terminal was buzzing with travellers. Queues at Zone C for Iberia check-in looked lengthy with no obvious way to access the Business desks, so I asked a roving agent whether there was a special desk for passengers travelling with hand baggage only. Sure enough there was, and I joined a short queue at Zone W to be asked a few security questions before I was allowed to proceed to security search with my mobile boarding pass.
With no priority security in sight and no choice as to which lane to use (the lane being determined by the agent asking the security questions), I was directed to Lane 3, which had a snail’s pace queue zig zagging all the way to the x-ray machine. I asked another roving agent whether there was any form of priority for business class passengers and was pleasantly surprised to be promptly escorted to the front of the queue, which shaved at least 15 minutes off my processing time. The security search process was the most thorough I’ve experienced, although perhaps not the most relaxing. Every electrical item (including chargers) had to be removed from bags and were swabbed for explosives, with my passport retained by the agent until I was clear of the metal detector, my bags were clear of the x-ray and we were both clear of the explosives testing. Whilst commanding, none of the agents were rude – something the TSA could learn from.
Once through automated immigration, I made my way down the architecturally impressive ramp to the main departure lounge, heading for Concourse B and the third party Dan lounge. This lounge, open 24 hours, is a small narrow rectangular space, offering a mix of armchair, banquette and table seating set in rows, with around a quarter of the seating arranged along the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the apron and control tower. Uninspiring in décor, if Iberia’s scheme is grey and beige, this lounge’s scheme is brown. The far end of the lounge features a small buffet with typical third party food selections, whilst a secondary coffee station is tucked behind reception adjacent to the washrooms. In a packed lounge (putting paid to any photographic endeavours), this is where I found an armchair to while away the hour or so before boarding, with proceedings being enlivened slightly by the arrival of some firefighters investigating an alarm in the washrooms.
Boarding at Gate B7 was a complete free-for-all, with no attempt made at priority boarding let alone boarding by group number. Rejected at the automated boarding gates with my mobile boarding pass, I fought my way to a desk where an agent printed BPs for both of my return sectors.
The flight to Madrid that morning would be operated by EC-MNL, a young A330-200 delivered new to Iberia in 2016. The crew on this sector was the same as that on my MAD-TLV sector two days previously; I was recognised and welcomed back at the single airbridge to Door 2L and pointed in the direction of Seat 4L, at the rear of the Business Plus cabin. Iberia’s A330-200s are configured with five rows of Business Plus seats between Doors 1 and 2, two fewer rows than the longer -300 variant. The starboard side ends at Row 4, with one of two Business Plus washrooms taking the space of what would be Seat 5L (the other washroom being located in the forward galley on the port side). The A330-200 is virtually identical in all other respects to the -300 variant, although there is no Premium Economy cabin. The consistency of design extended to the washrooms, although Iberia Business-branded hand wash was also available alongside the moisturiser on this flight, its absence from my previous sector clearly having been an oversight during that aircraft’s turnaround.
The only noticeable difference in the Business Plus seat was in the footrest area, which unlike on the A330-300, featured a low panel preventing feet from slipping off onto the sidewall.
On my seat was an unwrapped pillow and stained blanket and the usual bizarre collection of literature, with an amenity kit pre-placed on the side console and headphones pre-placed in the literature pocket that isn’t a literature pocket above the console.
Jackets were hung, and with no pre-departure service forthcoming, I requested some water which this time was brought in a real glass (which wasn’t collected before takeoff).
With no APU running, power to the aircraft had gone off when the airbridge was disconnected, and so one engine was started before pushback commenced ten minutes behind schedule at 06:10. A manual safety demonstration was initiated, with power being restored to the seat and IFE once completed.
Shortly after takeoff from Runway 26, as we broke through the clouds, the cabin crew came around closing all window blinds. Whilst I recognise the early hour of departure is not to everyone’s taste (including mine), on a four-hour flight, there seems little point in not acclimatising to the dawn outside. I kept a sliver of my three blinds open, not enough to disturb resting passengers, but just enough to keep me feeling connected to the outside world. Speaking of connections, wifi was advertised as being available on this flight, but I couldn’t get the connection to work. In a similar theme, the USB socket at my seat kept disconnecting, although the IFE seemed more stable than on the outbound A330-300, with the system being much more responsive. I enjoyed the Downton Abbey movie and a couple more episodes of Family Guy.
At the same time as the window blinds were being closed, an announcement was made that the meal service would commence two hours before landing. To have no proactive service for the first two hours of the flight in business class is truly awful – I used the call bell to request some sparkling water shortly after takeoff, which was poured into a glass at my seat.
When service eventually commenced, it did so in a U shape from 1A to 1L (rather than both aisles being served from the front at the same time). There were no menus or alternative options offered, with the tray comprising of cut fruit, a probiotic yogurt drink, and an omelette with ham, potatoes, pepper and mushrooms. Bread was offered from a basket, along with butter. Whilst the fruit and bread were both fresh, the omelette dish tasted as bad as it looked. Both coffee and fresh orange juice were automatically poured by the crew, with refills offered once before trays were collected.
As we descended into Madrid, the incessant not-boarding music commenced, I asked the crew for a bottle of water and headphones were collected (although with my own Bose headphones deployed as usual, I could continue enjoying the IFE). Shortly before landing, one of the crew spotted an as yet uncollected glass at my seat, and instead of returning it to the galley, popped it into the literature pocket that isn’t a literature pocket, perhaps thereby exhibiting the true purpose of this seat feature.
On stand at T4S, airbridges were connected to both forward doors, although with 2L first to open, Business passengers disembarked to the rear of the cabin. MAD-LHR
Whilst Iberia-operated narrowbody services to LHR depart from T4 rather than T4S, with an A340-600 scheduled to operate the final sector of this trip, despite H Gates (in T4) showing on the flight information display screens, I knew my flight would depart from the T4S satellite. With no queue at connections security (despite there being no priority lane), I was therefore soon ensconced in the Premium Lounge Velázquez once again.
When I last reviewed this lounge in 2018, I neglected to take a look at the shower suites. Aiming to rectify this, I requested a key (in the form of a shower number and access code) at the main reception and headed right and halfway along that portion of the lounge to the entrance to the showers. With code typed in, I entered the shower suite to find a nicely appointed if small space, with wrapped towel and shower mat, wall-mounted hairdryer and Iberia Business-branded shampoo, shower gel and moisturiser all provided (although the soap dispenser adjacent to the basin was empty). A shower cap and shaving kit were also placed in a tray, with dental kits being available on request. There were no face cloths or slippers, two things I really value in an airport lounge shower, but which rarely make an appearance outside of first class lounges.
I did not find the locking mechanism of the door to be very reassuring, necessitating checking a few times to ensure it was indeed locked. It was a good job that I didn’t actually need a shower, as I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to start the water flowing, and the basin seemed devoid of hot water.
With the A340 and its gas-guzzling four engines already on the retirement list for many airlines at the time of travel, I had scheduled a five hour layover on the return sector to enable me to catch the A340-600 operated service back to Heathrow, one of two widebody aircraft types that Iberia operate on the Heathrow route once a day (the other being the carrier’s new A350), predominantly for cargo purposes. Having flown on the A340-300 variant once before (when they formed part of Iberia’s fleet up until 2016), I was keen to catch an A340-600 before the type’s retirement, originally scheduled for 2025.
I spent the remainder of my connection enjoying the Velázquez lounge’s scenic airport views, sampling lunch from the buffet when it was presented at the rather late hour of 14:00. I was pleased to find the lounge’s signature chocolate milk once again available (it having been absent on the outbound trip), although was disappointed to see the very slow clearing of empty plates and glasses by the lounge staff.
Having been informed of my connecting gate by both email and text message once again, I headed out to Gate S18 to find a well-organised boarding layout of priority groups to the left and general groups to the right. I boarded with Group 1 through the forward of two airbridges to Door 1L, although there was quite some wait at the end of the airbridge for the crew to be ready to receive passengers. I will never understand the need to commence boarding and hold passengers on the (often non-air conditioned or unheated) airbridge in such a situation.
At the time of writing this report in June 2020, Iberia operate a fleet of 14 A340-600 aircraft, all delivered between 2003 and 2010. At its peak, the fleet included another four aircraft, one of which was scrapped following an accident in Quito in 2007 when it was just a year old. The other three aircraft were retired from October 2019 onwards, with my aircraft that afternoon, 2005-vintage EC-JFX, having been retired in March this year. Following the reduced demand for passenger air travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iberia announced earlier this month the retirement of their entire A340-600 fleet by the end of this year.
My aircraft today was configured with a large Business Plus cabin of 12 rows between Doors 1L and 2L, followed by three Economy cabins. All remaining A340s in the Iberia fleet feature a three-row Premium Economy cabin in place of the last three rows of Business Plus. As I settled into 3A, I noted the literature in the usual place on the seat, although there were no pillows or blankets to be seen. Headphones were offered by the crew once boarding was complete. The Business Plus seats on the A340 are identical to those on the A330, without the small line of red stitching on the footrest (and without the footrest panel found on the A330-200).
The Captain announced a not entirely reassuring ‘minor technical problem’ which delayed pushback from our stand for 40 minutes, which gave me a good opportunity to start the IFE. Despite this being an older system than on my previous A330 sectors, the system was fairly responsive, and I watched Isn’t It Romantic, the best of a mediocre bunch of movie offerings. Wifi was available, although for the criminal cost of USD40 for 50MB, I can’t imagine there were many takers.
Shortly after takeoff, mood lighting was activated in the cabin – a surprising feature on a 15-year-old aircraft. It’s surprising how much lighting can affect an interior’s ambience, and whilst very little could be done to bring colour to the fifty shades of grey and beige of Iberia’s interiors, it was nonetheless nice to see a splash of colour in the cabin.
At 75.4m, the A340-600 was the longest commercial aircraft in the world before the arrival of the 76.4m-long B747-8 in 2010, and so ahead of the dinner service, I felt compelled to walk the full length of the aircraft, down the starboard side and back up the port side.
Three unrefurbished washrooms serve the Business Plus cabin – one in the forward galley on the starboard side, and two either side in the rear galley. These were stocked with Iberia Business-branded moisturiser and hand wash, and even included a defunct flower holder featuring the old Iberia logo.
On A340s with a Premium Economy cabin, the starboard rear washroom is dedicated to this cabin, with the port side washroom replaced with seating. An additional washroom is added for Business Plus passengers in the forward galley on the port side, and I presume they feature the wood-effect panelling as on the A330.
For dinner, the same menu as I experienced on my MAD-TLV sector was offered; once again, I opted for the fagottini pasta. Additional bread was offered by the crew and drinks top-ups were also plentiful, which made a welcome change from previous sectors. In an unusual switch of fortunes, apple juice was not available, but pineapple juice was – normally I find it’s the other way around.
As we approached Runway 27R at Heathrow, the arrival video for Mexico inexplicably played on the IFE. I always find it amusing (and slightly worrying) that mistakes like this happen, all the more so when they’re not spotted by the crew within the first 30 seconds. Arriving onto an A380-cable stand at T5C equipped with three airbridges, only one airbridge was connected to Door 2L, with the crew holding back the Economy cabins to allow Business passengers to disembark first into the terminal.
I’ll leave you with this fitting image, the last taken on this trip, most likely my last taken on this aircraft type, on my last flight before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the globe and the world as we knew it changed immeasurably. Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and well, and that we will all be exploring our world again soon.