Hello, fellow travelers! And welcome to my first flight report on this site. :)
I have actually posted this report on a couple other sites before. It was written originally in 2009, when this flight took place, and has since been translated and rewritten to get rid of the 15 year-old lexicon I had when I first wrote it! Although my memories from this flight are still clear and vivid, it was because of these old reports that I was able to recall many of the more trivial details and facts about the flight. After all, it's a throwback to 7 years ago.
This report is a different one. Different because it took place a long time ago, in 2009 as I mentioned above. July of that year when I was 15 years old, to be more precise. It is also different because unlike most reports we are used to read, this one is not focused on the airline or service aspects that we're so used to write about, but more on what this flight meant to me as an AvGeek, as a teenager back then, as a young adult today, and a person in general. That is why I have chosen to share this experience with you as my first post on this site.
We all love aviation. That's why we're here. We all got captivated by this wonderful field by one way or the other, up to the point that for a lot of us more than it being just an interest or a hobby, it became a way of life. For me it has been that way ever since I can recall. Like a lot of you, I grew up obsessed with airplanes, airports, airlines, you name it. By 5 years old I had dozens of toy airplanes and drawings, and I could list all major airlines and aircraft types in the world. That level of obsession and enthusiasm for the aviation world never left me. :)
We have all had, at one point or the other, one event or occasion that reinforced our obsession with aviation in such way that we could say changed the path of our lives. Sure, there may definitely be more than just one event, but there is always THE one. The dream that came true.
For me, this flight was that event. It was originally going to be a rather ordinary flight, however. I was no stranger to Iberia, having flown with them plenty of times in the past. IB6701 from Madrid to Caracas was not one I had not taken before, and everything in general was already very familiar to me. It was my second time flying as Unaccompanied Minor (UM), and although at 15 years old I was already old enough to fly on my own, I always enjoyed the special treatment given to UMs, which on Iberia is available up to 16 year olds. I always looked forward to my next flight on the A340-600, which has been my favorite aircraft for a while. I was excited, for sure, but nothing seemed to foretell the impact that the events of that flight would have in my life.
I know that a lot of you will relate, and I'm re-writing this report in hopes that it brings back memories of that moment in your childhood that made you realize that aviation means much more than just a hobby. In other words, the day one of your dreams came true. :)
Now on to the report….
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. :D
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.
AT THE AIRPORT
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 Unidades Menores, 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 :D Gotta love the old UM days…
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!" :D
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. :D 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 :D.
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 :D), 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. :)
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! :D
The picture in question, on take 2, without Elena on it :D
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? :D … 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-INO "Gaudí", 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.
EC-KKS "Halcon Peregrino" off to Marrakesh RAK, IIRC.
EC-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. :(
EC-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!
La Muñoza, 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. Iberia was one of the last airlines to add personal entertainment systems to their long haul aicraft.
Rear Economy Class cabin.
Lisbon down below…
With LIS clearly visible :)
Venturing across the pond.
Our companion for the flight across the aisle. :D 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 :D Which I must say tasted great (or 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? :D" 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!?! :D
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! :D 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-JFX!
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. :D 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! :D" 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. :D 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 :D
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!" :D
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 by 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.
….And here's where the story gets good!
After the captain announced that we would be landing in CCS in 20 minutes, the Chief Purser Maria comes to my seat and with a very cheerful tone instructs me "Nacho, Grab your stuff and follow me!" I obligued and was excited but confused at the same time. One of my cousins had told me that when flying as UM on AA he got moved to business class on descent, so I figured that might be the case here, but I didn't see any empty seats in business class, and that didn't happen the first time I flew as UM, also on Iberia. So I was wondering where I was being taken to….
It can't be….
NO FREAKING WAY. :D
Before I could make any sense of what was going on, there I was, standing at the cockpit door once again, paralyzed in shock and excitement. This is something I truly never expected, even after being invited to the flight deck mid-flight I never expected to experience the landing of my all-time favorite aircraft from the jumpseat!! One of my dreams was coming true at that moment, and if I was excited before, this time the feeling was so strong I couldn't even move or utter a single word.
Maria said "Delivery for the captain!", and the pilots welcomed me at the big office once again. :D Miguel, the First Officer, asked me "Ever done this before? I could looked at him eyes wide open and shook my head from left to right, not being able to just say "No" from the excitement. Antonio, the captain, then said "Well then faster your seatbelt buddy, cause here comes the action!"
I still could not believe what was happening!
At that moment, Luis, the relief First Officer, who I had not seen on my first visit to the flight deck, came into the office and sat at the other jumpseat. We were introduced and began chatting while Miguel contacted SVMI ATC and Antonio performed the approach. :)
The ultimate upgrade!. Much better than 34A, I must say! :D
A dream come true, no doubt!
The Vargas Littoral on a rainly and misty afternoon.
The hidroelectric plant means final approach into CCS has started. :)
Can you spot the runway?
50… 40… 30… 20… 10… Retard, Retard. :D
CCS/SVMI. So many aircraft that are no longer around… Avianca 757, American A300, Air France 747, Alitalia 767….
After a perfect landing. Hats off, capt! :)
Presidential hangar and VIP terminal with a Spanish Air Force A310 that caught the crew's attention.
Alitalia and Air France.
Two SBAs from Miami and Madrid, respectively.
And another SBA, from Panama City.
Our gate, R23.
TACA A319 from San Jose, holding for its gate.
TAP Portugal after arriving from Funchal.
Only a couple weeks before the AA A300s were gone for good :( This one was boarding for Miami.
And this 738 was ready for pushback, off to San Juan.
The office after completing a flight of a lifetime. :)
The captain filling the flight log.
On Iberia UMs board first and disembark last, so I waited in the flight deck for all the passengers to get off while having a last chat with Antonio, Miguel, and Luis. At that moment, a member of the Iberia staff at CCS came to pick me and the other two UMs up. Once again I thanked the pilots very deeply for giving me such an unforgettable experience, shook their hands, and headed towards door L2, where the staff lady was waiting for me.
Business Plus cabin after everyone disembarked.
As I'm walking towards the door, Miguel calls me up and says "Hey, wait! Thought you'd like to keep those as a souvenir", and hands me the flight charts, as if the day could've gotten any better! :D
I thanked Miguel for the nice detail and made my way to L2. Then as I walked up the Business class aisle, I ran into Maria and thanked her profoundly, and before I could say goodbye to her, she put her hands on my shoulders, and in a very motherly way, as if she had known me all my life, said these powerful words that I'll never forget:
"You are just wonderful, and you have an amazing future ahead of you. When you're all grown up, remember this day, and remember us."
I gave her a hug and told her that it had been the best day I ever had, and that that flight and everyone involved in it will forever have a special place in my memory and in my heard. Sure enough, 6 years later I still remember that flight with the same excitement and enthusiasm as that day.
After that emotional moment I finally reached the door and made my way out with the staff lady and the other two UMs.
Thank you, Jacinto Benavente, for all the memories. :)
One last picture of JFX before a National Guard came up to me and told me pictures were not allowed in that area :(
Once in immigration, we were met with very long lines as Iberia, Alitalia, TACA, SBA and Copa had all arrived at virtually the same time. We were supposed to have priority and be escorted from immigration as soon as possible, but for some reason I can't remember, with the typical anarchy, disorder, and bureaucracy at Simon Bolivar International Airport, we found ourselves having to line up like everybody else. The staff lady who was escorting us started complaining, saying that we're supposed to have priority, and that how is it possible that we have to line up, etc.
One guy who was standing in front of us turned around and told her "And I'll tell you one thing, the more you complain, the worst it'll go for you, because these people just don't care" The two struck up a conversation and he turned out to be a fellow avgeek also coming off from our flight. I was sure I had seen someone at some point snapping pics of the cabin, and it turned out to be him. A couple weeks later we coincided in a forum where we both posted and have been in contact ever since. Just to show the world can sometimes be a very small place.
While we stood there waiting for our turn to clear immigration, our crew walked by past us. Rocio noticed me and I waved at her, she waved back and then the rest of the crew waved at me. The best crew I've ever had and probably ever will. These people made what was supposed to be an ordinary flight into the most memorable and exciting day I've ever experienced. Since that day I'm perpetually thankful to them for making that dream come true, and Iberia has gained a special place in my heart. I'll never forget what they did to my 15 year old self. :)
Once we finally cleared immigration we walked over to baggage claim, where bags were already coming out. My suitcase took a while to come out after the other two UMs had collected theirs, which worried me for a second, but eventually my bag made it through and I was ready to go. We made our way out where my parents were waiting for me. They signed the UM form and handed it to the lady, who "turned me in" to my parents. I was happy to be home one more time, a great ending to the perfect day. :)
First bonus: My souvenirs from that flight. :D
And second bonus: My sketches! Without whom nothing would've happened :D These are the same 6 sketches I showed to the crew:
Lastly, a comparison between 2009 and 2014, when I drew the EC-JFX on the 5th anniversary of the flight :)
Madrid - MAD
Caracas - CCS
This report is dedicated to the wonderful crew of IB6701 on that day in July 2009, who went way above and beyond their means to give me the best flight experience I ever had, one that I will never forget. Everything regarding this flight was fantastic; and although the aircraft was not fitted with individual entertaining systems, which could've been bothersome to some passengers, the crew surely gave me the most entertaining flight of my life. A perfect 10 for them! And only because the site won't let me rate them above that. ;)
Hope you all enjoyed it, and that a lot of you will relate with similar experiences. Thank you very much for reading. :)
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