Hello and welcome to the third segment in this new series of Flight-Reports,
Having just gotten back to DC from my annual birthday trip home to France (reports here and here ), I needed to cross the pond again as I had to be in Madrid for the week of 17 September. I had originally put together an itinerary that included one leg on the new Iberia A350, unfortunately it didn't work out in the end, which was disappointing as an AvGeek. Alas, the reports in this series won't be anything new, as I've reported all aircraft but one in the past. Still, it's always worth doing Flight-Reports, even on one's "shuttle"–in my case, that would be IAD-LHR on the British Airways B747-400.
This report will cover the return transatlantic leg in American Airlines' A330-200 Business class.
I arrived at Terminal 4 about 3 hours prior to scheduled departure. Being that T4 serves as Iberia's hub and hosts all other oneworld airlines serving Madrid, it can get busy, so arriving early is a good idea. Also, long-haul flights leave from the T4S midfield Satellite terminal, which can be a trek as it requires taking a train.
Madrid-Barajas Terminal 4 is an impressive and imposing building with beautiful architecture.
Entrance to T4 on Departures level looking down on other levels from skywalk
The gorgeous undulating roof of T4 is a work of art in and of itself.
With MAD being a major oneworld and Transatlantic JV partner hub, American Airlines has a sizable operation with daily flights to Charlotte, Dallas, Miami, New York - JFK, and Philadelphia.
As such, the American Airlines ticket counter is rather large, with a large section of 6 positions dedicated to Priority check-in for oneworld frequent flyers and premium cabin passengers.
Check-in was quick with a very friendly and efficient agent.
The American AIrlines ticket counters are conveniently located near the Fast Track security lane.
There was no one in any of the multiple lanes at Fast Track security at the time I went through, which was very pleasant.
I immediately headed to the underground train connecting the main terminal with the T4S satellite building. The train station is located several levels down a never-ending succession of escalators.
The underground train connects the T4 main building with the T4S satellite–other terminals are accessed via bus.
The train ride lasts a few minutes as T4S is over a mile away from the main T4 building.
The beautiful architecture of T4S is the same as the main terminal.
As I had a good amount of time before boarding, I walked around the gates to do some planespotting for a bit before heading to the Iberia lounge.
Iberia A340-600 in the old livery
My American Airlines A330-200 receiving catering
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER
After my little stroll through the concourse I headed back towards the lounge which is located near the entrance to the terminal in the middle of the duty free area.
Odd to see a lounge entrance in a duty free area.
The Iberia Velázquez Premium Lounge is large and spacious with floor-to-ceiling windows giving great tarmac views. The decor is modern and consistent with Iberia's branding, but nothing fancy.
The lounge is in the middle of the concourse with nice views of aircraft parked on both sides.
And views of taxiing aircraft and aircraft parked at remote stands
Food options were decent for breakfast with some hot options and baked good.
Omelette and bacon to start
And finished up with some pastries.
After a pleasant stay in the lounge, it was time to head to the gate for boarding.
Boarding began with Business class and oneworld Emeralds just as I arrived.
The A330-200 Business cabin is small, with only 25 seats laid out over 5 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.
These first generation Zodiac Cirrus seats, first introduced by US Airways a few years prior to the merger, are not as ornate or large as the newer versions seen on AA's own 777-300ER fleet and many other carriers; however, they are comfortable and offer a good amount of privacy with the spacious 1-2-1 configuration.
When travelling alone, I prefer solo window seats. I also like the last row for the additional privacy it offers.
View of outside from my seat - the new Iberia livery has grown on me.
Legroom is very good, as one would expect.
To the right there is a panel with the IFE remote, reading light, headphone jack, USB port, and a universal power outlet.
AA's latest Business class amenity kit is a Cole Haan shoe bag, a change from the previous more traditional toiletry bags. The contents are the same, however, with the usual toothbrush kit, pen, hand creme, etc.
During boarding, cabin crew distributed Bose noise-cancelling headsets. I recently read that AA will replace these with Bang & Olufsen headphones in 2019.
Shortly after, pre-departure drinks were served–it was the usual choice of champagne or water.
The seats are spacious and, as mentioned earlier, the window seats in the last row offer a bit more privacy as the center seats in the same row are aligned slightly ahead of the window seats.
A little later on the FA working my side came down the aisle with menus. I noticed he was asking people immediately for lunch orders….hmmmm….you just handed them menus, they need time to look it over. Normally, menus are handed out earlier in the boarding process and orders are taken later. Once passengers had made their (rushed) choices, the FA immediately took back the menu. I know this is old US Airways Envoy service protocol, but it's weird and it's been 5 years since the merger–stop it. People can't just memorize all of the drink and pre-arrival snack options in a few seconds….just silly.
Then it got weirder when I noticed he wasn't giving menus at all to passengers who had pre-ordered their mains on AA.com. When he finally got to my row, after chatting up a passenger in another row for 10 minutes–apparently they shared a common passion for motorcycles–he confirmed my pre-order of "the chicken".
There were 4 choices of main dishes when pre-ordering online–indeed, the chicken dish did sound the best.
Then he asked "Whadaya wanna drink with that buddy?" Buddy? A little overly familiar, but I get it, I've lived in the South. I responded "I'm not sure, I haven't seen the menu" as I stare at the bunch of menus in his arms. Still he doesn't hand me one and suggests the "Spanish Red" "Sure, sounds good" I responded. In my head I was thinking it was weird that he asked me what I want to drink with the meal since FAs normally ask "what would you like to drink once we're in the air,"or some version of that–this makes it clear they are asking for a drink order for the pre-meal/apéritif drink service. In this case, I was afraid I was going to get wine after takeoff….we shall see.
After that odd encounter I watched the activity outside as boarding continued. #AvGeek
Iberia A330 pushing back
Avianca B787-8 arriving
Boarding was completed on time and the aircraft doors were closed but we didn't push back immediately. The flight deck announced a shorter than normal flight time and an early arrival into Charlotte, so perhaps they were holding a bit to avoid arriving too early.
We ended up pushing back from the gate about 10 minutes late.
The safety video played as we pushed back.
Some nice planespotting as we taxied to the runway.
Some action at the end of runway 18R
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER taxiing past
The Cuatro Torres Business Area, which contains some of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe, seen behind the impressive main building of Terminal 4.
Iberia A330-200 on takeoff roll
Looking back on T4S as we turn to get in line for takeoff
Third in line for takeoff after this Iberia Express A321
And This TAP Portugal A319
Brussels Airlines climbing in the distance
The green of a golf course contrasts sharply against the dry landscapes of central Spain
It was a beautiful day for flying with great views of the central plateau
The IFE screens on the A330s are smaller than on other aircraft in Business class
The system is available in multiple languages
And has a good amount of content–the same as other AA aircraft with IFE.
I usually like to start out with the moving map before watching any movies.
Total flight time today is just over 8 hours.
Shortly after takeoff cabin crew distributed water bottles.
The service took a while to begin–we were already over Portugal.
Much greener landscapes than central Spain
We began our Atlantic crossing over the Aveiro district of Portugal, just south of Porto.
The town of Gafanha da Nazaré, Aveiro District
Drinks were served almost an hour into the flight and sure enough, no orders were taken, he just brougt red wine…ugh. No separate apéritif service on a daytime flight feels lazy.
And they filled up the glasses to the brim so they would have less refill runs to do. On the bright side, the wine, which I believe was a Rioja, was actually quite good.
As I was enjoying my fishbowl of Rioja, the cabin crew in the galley directly behind me were making quite a raucous. I could clearly hear one of the FAs complaining about a Premium Economy passenger's sense of entitlement–I knew if was a PE passenger because they kept calling him by his seat number, which was in the Premium Economy cabin. I thought it was just so unprofessional to be complaining about passengers so openly where others could hear. I didn't want to have to hear anymore so I put on my headphones to drown out the whining. I just hope the passenger in Premium Economy didn't hear them talking about him!
Then came the appetiser course. I don't have the official description since, again, I never saw the menu, but it was a sort of wedge salad with quinoa and lentils and slices of sesame roasted chicken breast on bell peppers and carrots. Can't complain, it was decent.
The main dish was actually really good. Chicken isn't normally exciting, but this was a nice and spicy elevated dish with a middle-eastern flair.
Dukkah-marinated Organic Chicken Breast Spicy harissa sauce, dill basmati rice, broad beans in tomato sauce
As you can see from the photo, the bread plate was empty. That's because I was passed up for bread by the other FA doing the bread service–she skipped our aisle altogether. I, along with several other passengers in our aisle, asked our FA for some bread. The other FA came out–I could tell from her voice she was the one talking smack in the galley earlier–and asked me "Were you the one who wanted more bread?" to which I replied, "yes, but I never got any in the first place." She didn't even acknowledge what I said, much less apologise. I usually love Pre-merger US Airways crews, but I was having a hard time with this crew.
When our flight attendant came to pick up my main dish he asked me what I'd like for dessert…Again, this annoyed me since I never saw a menu and had no idea what they even had for dessert aside from the usual predictable ice cream sundae, but I hid my annoyance and politely replied, "I'm not sure; I never saw the menu. Could you tell me what you have?" His answer was "Ice cream"
Gee…what a lovely description! Just ice cream. Of course I didn't buy it…
"Hmm, do you have a cheese plate?" I asked "Oh yeah," he replied ?
"Great, I'll have the cheese with a Port please"
Wow, that was some of the sloppiest and apathetic service I'd ever seen in a premium cabin.
The actual catering itself, though, was pretty good. No complaints there.
After lunch, I put the seat in relax mode and watched a movie.
As mentioned earlier, the IFE has a good choice of movies, TV series, and even live TV.
I fell asleep watching a movie and slept for most of the ocean crossing until we were a little over an hour out of Charlotte.
The pre-arrival meal service was beginning, and I could hear that there were two options, but by the time the FA got to me, he just slapped a plate on my tray table–no choice for me I guess, womp womp.
From what I could hear when the FA described it to other passengers, this was a chicken pot pie. The other option was "vegetarian" with no further description, so I probably wouldn't have gone for that anyway.
I like the idea of mini pot-pies; it's kind of creative. It seems the pre-arrival meals are the same in Business and Premium Economy.
Got a nice view of the tip of the Delmarva peninsula and the Chesapeake bridge-tunnel at the mouth of the bay.
Lakes close to Charlotte as we made our descent.
We landed over forty minutes early despite the departure delay.
Downtown Charlotte seen from the runway.
North Carolina Air National Guard
AA A330-300 landing from London
We arrived at the gate at 3:20PM, 35 minutes ahead of schedule. As usual, immigration was very fast with Global Entry. Unfortunately, bags took a good half hour to be delivered. The CLT customs hall is very dingy and looks like it hasn't been refreshed since the 80's or 90's. They didn't bother putting the flights on the screens around the baggage carousels so there was mass confusion as to where the bags would be coming up, especially as there were several international flights arriving.
Once again, the priority tags didn't make a difference and my bags were among the last to arrive. Global Entry is great, but so often, getting through immigration really fast just means I have to wait longer at baggage claim, especially when priority tagged bags aren't delivered first.
Once I had my bags, I dropped them off at the re-check belt after customs so they could continue their journey to D.C. with me. Just one short flight to go and I would be home!
Thanks for reading!
Iberia Velazquez VIP Lounge
Madrid - MAD
Charlotte - CLT
Overall it was an OK flight mostly because of decent catering and the good hard product, which allowed me to get some rest. However, I can't say the service was at the level one would expect in long-haul business class. I've had much better flights with American in the past, and I've generally had good-to-great experiences with both pre-merger American and US Airways cabin crews. That was not the case on this flight.
The cabin crew's overly laid back attitudes on this flight were outright unprofessional at times and took away from the overall experience. I can't say that the flight attendants were rude or unfriendly in interactions with passengers, but the service was generally sloppy and apathetic. The FA working my aisle's endless chatting with one passenger while others were ignored, the overly familiar way in which he addressed passengers, using terms like "buddy" and "brother," and the execution of meal services with simplified pre-merger US Airways service protocols from 5 years ago (read: lazy), the fact that I was passed up for bread service or that I wasn't offered a choice of pre-arrival meal, all made for a disappointing experience. The worst part, however, was the very loud smack-talking about passengers in the galley--I've worked for airlines in the past and I know some passengers are hard to deal with, but most FAs should know that passengers can hear them if they talk too loudly in the galley! Nobody should have to hear that...please keep your smack-talking to a dull roar...yikes, so unprofessional.
As I said above, I've had many good experiences with AA, so one poor experience once in a while isn't going to change my loyalty; however, business class passengers paying thousands of dollars for a round-trip ticket expect a certain level of service--on this flight AA missed the mark by far.
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