The trip itself had actually started 3 days before, where after my last days up in Gijon, in the beautiful Principality of Asturias, it was time to head back to Venezuela, not before stopping in Madrid for a couple days before flying across the pond. My parents had made the trip back to CCS
a few weeks before, so I spent a month or so with my aunts before starting the journey back home as an unaccompanied minor. I was sad about leaving Spain, but flying as UM
, added to the fact that I was going to be flying again on my all-time favorite aircraft, the A340-600, meant plenty of excitement ahead for me.
That morning I woke up pretty early to finish packing, making sure that it does not have any excess weight, and other general preparations. We left the house at 08:00 and we got there rather quick since there was almost no traffic.
We got to the beautiful Terminal 4 where my aunt and I were dropped off at check-in while my uncle went to park the car.
We entered the gigantic building and headed towards the hundred-and-one Iberia check-in counters. We asked where the Unaccompanied Minor (or U
enores, as they're known in Iberia) check-in was located. We were directed to counter 880, where about there were about 7 UMs in line, counting me. The lined moved fairly quickly and after a few minutes we were filling the UM
form and paying the €50 (IIRC) fee applicable to UMs between 13 and 17 years of age, when the service becomes optional and not mandatory.
Once everything was paid and signed, I was given my boarding pass and my red UM
sign to hang around my neck, and we were told to be back there in an hour. After that, we proceeded to one of the baggage drop lines, which had a lot of agents and not many pax despite the noon long-haul rush hour being just about to start. My bag was checked to CCS
and we went to grab something to eat and kill time before we headed back to counter 880.
Some pictures of T4
… Breathtaking as always.
Exactly one hour after they told us to be back, we headed to counter 880, There we were being waited by a Chaqueta Roja
, or "Red Jacket", as Iberia calls their special agents who escort UM
, elderly, disabled, or other passengers requiring special assistance to and from their flights. She greeted us and a young girl who was also told to be back at the same time and asked us for our boarding passes. I said goodbye to my relatives and followed the Chaqueta Roja
through the security checkpoint, with the advantage of not having to line up at all as we were being escorted
Gotta love the old UM
We were taken to Iberia's UM
lounge located in Terminal 4's main building, where we joined other 15-or-so UMs. The lounge was pretty cool, actually. It had plenty of games, books, and movies for ages 3-17. The only negative was the lack of tarmac views
I grabbed a National Geographic magazine and watched how several Chaqueta Rojas
entered and called different groups: Chicago, San Jose, Miami, etc… I knew that I was going to be called up any moment. And sure enough, shortly after, a tall and attractive Chaqueta Roja
came into the lounge, smiled, and with a clear Andalusian accent said "UM 1, UM
2, and Nacho
, nos vamos a Caracas!"
We followed her and made our way to level -2 to catch the train that takes you from the main T4
building to T4
-S, the satellite from which all non-Schengen flights depart. While were going down the stairs, I asked her if she knew which aircraft would be operating our flight. Of course I knew it was an A346, but I wanted to know the reg. I was expecting her to say "Airbus 340-600", but she must've known exactly what I meant because she smiled at me and showed me a paper with "J F X" written with pen in large, bold letters.
I said, almost to myself "Great! Jacinto Benavente
!". She seemed confused at first, but then she must've realized that Jacinto Benavente is the name of EC
-JFX, and said "wow, correct!"
surprised at my rather trivial knowledge of Iberia's fleet names
We began chatting about aviation during the train ride to T4
-S and she told she always loved aviation too. Once we reached the satellite we got our passports stamped for leaving the EU (once again escorted without making any lines, despite the lines at the checkpoint being really crowded
), and headed to the first level, where gates R,S,U are located. Our gate was R-18, and as we made our way towards it, I could see EC
-JFX's tail getting closer and closer.
: Madrid, Barajas MAD
|LEMD - Caracas, Simon Bolivar CCS
: Airbus A340-642 - EC
672) named "Jacinto Benavente"
: 34A (Originally 34B)
: 12:15 / ATD
: 16:25 / ATA
The gate was extremely packed and boarding had still not begun, yet in true "VIP" fashion we were escorted to the aircraft. We got our boarding passes scanned and followed the Chaqueta Roja
to door L1, where she wished us a great flight and left us with the Chief Purser, Maria, who greeted us at the door, wrote our seat numbers on a piece of paper, and making a gesture with her hands as if showcasing the cabin, smiled and said "Adelante, chicos!"
As expected, the aircraft was still completely empty, neat ,and tidy, with every seat having its blanket and pillow (very comfortable by economy class standards, I must say), and with the rest of the cabin crew gathered around the galleys making the very last preparations before boarding began.
I made my way to 34B (Aisle…sigh.
), put my carry-on on the overhead bin, and sat in my seat waiting for boarding to begin. As I waited, I discreetly and stealthily pulled out my little pocket camera and snapped a random picture of the row of seats. Right at this moment, a flight attendant named Elena (who will play a vital role in this report), walked down the aisle at 180 km/h and accidentally photobombed my picture. Contrary to what I thought, that she would ask me not to take pictures onboard, she just said "Whoops, my bad, my bad. Take it again!"
and continued going 180 km/h down the aisle preparing the cabin. Wow, I thought, this flight is off to a great start!
The photo in question, on take 2, without Elena on it
Shortly after, boarding officially started with passengers travelling with small children, elderly and/or handicapped passengers, and any other passengers requiring special assistance, followed by Business Plus and Iberia Plus/OneWorld elites, and then general boarding. My seatmate turned out to be a very chatty and friendly Venezuelan lady in her 50's who was coming from Italy. Before seating, she asked me if I would not mind switching her window seat for the aisle, as she preferred the aisle. Hmmm…. Would I mind?
… Almost before she finished asking me if I minded switching, I was already seated by the window.
My 34B became 34A.
The view from my new seat. EC
, the first A346 delivered to Iberia, sat next door, getting ready to operate IB6741 to Bogota later on.
The aircraft filled up to the point not a single empty seat could be seen. Maria made her welcome speech, followed by the captain, Antonio, who told us that our flight time would be of approximately 8 hours and 45 minutes, and that our route that day would take us through Lisbon and Martinique, landing in Caracas a few minutes ahead of schedule.
Approximately at 12:20, the doors were closed, we pushed back, and we made our way to Barajas' Runway 15 for takeoff, with several IB
A340s and the retro A319 lined up in front of us.
-KKS "Halcon Peregrino"
off to Marrakesh RAK
-IOB "Julio Romero de Torres"
to Chicago ORD
, and EC
-IDF "Mariana Pineda"
to Rio de Janeiro GIG
Notice the SAS MD80 and the Clickair A320 behind it. Sights no more to be seen.
-ICF "Maria Zambrano"
to Quito UIO
and Guayaquil GYE
And off we go… The aircraft felt extremely and exaggeratedly heavy, even by A340 standards. The height and heat of Madrid in plain summer, plus a 100% loaded A340 made you thing we were just gonna roll on the ground all the way to Caracas. :P
Finally off the ground after what seemed like an eternity!
, Iberia's maintenance central. One last IB
742 still remained there, awaiting its soda can fate
Torrejon Air Force Base can be seen in the distance while climbing out of Barajas.
Typical Spanish landscape below.
Forward Economy Class cabin after the seatbelt sign was turned off.
Rear Economy Class cabin.
Lisbon down below…
Venturing across the pond.
Our companion for the flight across the aisle.
She actually couldn't have behaved better. Good girl!
Meal service started shortly after overflying Lisbon. Once Elena and Rocio, the other FA
attending our aisle, told us that the options on our flight were beef with potatoes, or vegetable paella. Being my favorite food (although the seafood one), I didn't think twice before choosing the paella
Which I must say tasted great (at least that's what 15-year-old me wrote at the time haha), the chocolate cake dessert that came with it was also really good.
Elena and Rocio went up and down the aisle offering bread, coffee, tea, then again with more bread, more coffee, and more tea. As usual when I fly, I always go for tea. Not a big coffee guy here.
Service taking place.
Shortly after the service ended and the crew picked up all the trays, Maria the chief purser announced through the PA that the crew would pass around handing out drawing sheets to all kids age 3 to 12 wishing to participate on Iberia's yearly summer drawing contest, with a trip to Disneyland Paris from any city in the Iberia network as prize.
Drawing and sketching had always been my past time since I was a small kid, and at that moment I actually had over two dozen aircraft pencil sketches in my backpack that I had made in the past year and while I was in Spain. The contest was for ages 3-12, but I've always looked younger than I actually am, so when Elena passed by our aisle handing out said drawing sheets, and came to our row she smiled and asked me "would you like one?
". I said, with a joking tone while showing her some of my Iberia sketches, "I'm not 12 anymore, but can I participate?
" Elena, genuinely apologetic, told me "Awww, I'm sorry! It's only for ages up to 12!"
, but then added "But, these are just wonderful! We have to show these to the captain!
….. The captain, she said!?!
She asked me if I could give her my sketches and that she would show them to the captain as soon as she had the chance, but not before going around the whole cabin showing my sketches to the entire cabin crew!
Then some curious fellow passengers asked me if they could see them too. I was the sensation of the flight and I had a pretty hard time containing my excitement and my pride.
Elena came once again to my seat and asked me if could follow her to the mid galley, where three other FAs were "cleaning up" after the service. She introduced me with a "Here he is!"
They all congratulated me and we struck up a conversation. They were all fascinated and asked me if they could see the rest of the sketches I had, which of course I gladly showed them! Elena once again told me that she would soon show them to the captain.
After my five minutes of fame, I returned to my seat, the lights were dimmed, and the crew asked us to lower our window shades. A movie started playing which I don't remember what it was, since I never really paid attention. Two other films were showed on the flight which I don't remember either. Even though now I can sleep on flights, back then it was impossible, so I just stayed up reading a couple aviation magazines I had bought in Madrid and Iberia's inflight magazine, Ronda.
The rest of the flight itself went by uneventfully, no turbulence or anything outstanding. Just an average transatlantic flight. Drink rounds were made twice between meals, and sometime during the flight Rocio came to my seat and handed me two chocolate bars.
A nice plus from the crew!
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Lots of ice.
The 1:500 replica inside the real one
Too bad it's EC
-JPU and not EC
After a few hours and no word from Elena, I went up to the galley, and asked her if she had the chance of showing my sketches to the captain. She told me she forgot to, apologized, and told me "I'll go show them to him right now! Wait for me here in the galley, I'll let you know when you can come!
So I just stood there, anxiously waiting for Elena to come back with news.
And after a couple minutes, but what felt to me like an eternity, she peaked through the Business class curtain, smiled at me and gestured me to follow her, as if saying "Yup, it's happening!
" I was so excited I even forgot to grab my camera from my backpack, so no pictures this time, unfortunately!
I followed Elena across the Business Plus cabin, which was filled with complete darkness with everyone comfortably sleeping in their flatbeds. Just like Economy class, it was also fully packed. We reached the front galley and came across a flight attendant I hadn't seen before, who put her glasses on and said "You must be the drawing boy! You're such an artist!
. I blushed and thanked her, while she asked me to see the sketches once again.
If there was ever a day in which I felt like a celebrity, this was without doubts it!
We then walked up to the cockpit door and Elena waved at the camera signaling the pilots that we were there. I was trembling from excitement at that point! The First Officer, Miguel, opened the door and shook my hand, followed by Antonio, the captain.
We started chatting and they explained how the cockpit worked. Elena showed them the sketches once again and we started talking about Iberia. I told them I knew all the fleet names and they started questioning me. :P "Concha Espina?"
- Golf Golf Sierra! …."Salvador Dalí?"
- India Quebec Romeo! And so on
My flight deck visit was cut short to just about 5 minutes as Elena told me it was time to head back to my seat because they were going to start preparing the second meal service soon. I shook the pilots' hands again and thanked them deeply (and Elena, of course!) for allowing such a visit, which for someone my age back then meant a whole lot more than it seems today.
I came back to my seat and my seat mate started congratulating me for getting to see the cockpit, it almost seemed like she was more excited than I was! Turns out her young grandson was obsessed with aviation as well, and she told me "I understand you and I can relate!"
The second meal service consisted of a ham and cheese ciabatta, a kit-kat bar, and a cup of fruits, and a small cake presented in a yellow cardboard box. Tasty and more than appropriate in quantity. Elena and Rocio walked up and down the aisle offering coffee and tea again, where I too asked for tea as always. By the time the service was done, we were overflying Martinique.
My seat, my backpack, my comfortable pillow, and my blanked which I didn't bother unwrapping.
Shortly after the crew passed by collecting headphones and trash and handing out the Venezuelan immigration and customs forms, which being the first time I got to fill them out meant I screwed up 2 or 3 forms and embarrassedly kept asking for more.
At that point, we began our descent into Caracas.
La Blanquilla Island, the first sight of Venezuelan territory.
Some weather down there..