Hello and welcome to a new series of Covid-era flight reviews. In the previous set of reviews, I covered my first flights since the beginning of the pandemic, which took me round-trip between France and Southern California to sign on a new home at the end of 2020. Those 4 American Airlines premium cabin reviews can be seen here.
In this series of flights we'll be flying back across the Atlantic from Toulouse TLS for our move back to the US. Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, is the closest large airport to my hometown in the southwest of France. Toulouse, the home of Airbus, is generally well-connected to major European and North African cities, but only has one seasonal Transatlantic route to Montréal, Canada with Air Transat after Covid foiled Air Canada's plans to launch year-round service to "la Ville Rose" in 2020.
booking & routing
Like with most French provincial cities, flying long-haul from Toulouse requires connecting at a major European hub and is generally more expensive than flying directly from a larger city with more competition like Paris, Barcelona, or Brussels. I always compare prices in and out of Paris and Barcelona with Toulouse as those are both doable drives, but not necessarily convenient. Flying to or from Toulouse is almost always significantly more expensive in any cabin, so I was glad when during a British Airways/oneworld Business class sale, prices from TLS were comparable to flights from Paris for once!
We were originally due to fly TLS-LHR-JFK with British Airways, with the long-haul flight on a new Club Suites equipped aircraft, but alas, it was not meant to be. With the ongoing pandemic and multiple lock-downs on both sides of the Channel, BA had significantly reduced flying. The schedule reductions meant that flights from TLS no longer connected with any US-bound flights at LHR. We were therefore able to re-book our flights via Madrid with Iberia.
IB8737 - Business - Toulouse ✈ Madrid - Mitsubishi CRJ1000You are here
Flying internationally in times of Covid is no easy task. In addition to schedule changes and flight cancellations, there are ever-evolving and complex travel restrictions, requirements, and guidelines to contend with. As a dual-citizen of France and the US, the EU-US border closure did not apply, which took away some complexity.
Covid-testing requirements; however, are a confusing mess to navigate and can change at a moment's notice. There are different rules for travel between different countries and often even between different regions within a country. As we were flying from France to the US via Spain, I made sure to check Covid-related entry requirements for both Spain and the US.
At the time, Spain did not require a negative Covid-test for passengers in transit between international points, as long as they stayed airside. However, as we had a long 6-hour layover in MAD, the idea of being stuck in the terminal with an energetic 2-year-old for 6 hours was not terribly appealing.
Also, though this was a few days before the US Federal government began requiring negative tests for international arrivals, the State of New York did require a negative PCR test. State-specific testing-requirements were commonplace prior to the nationwide policy that took effect in late January. In the last set of reviews, no test was required for my Paris -> Dallas flight two months earlier.
Both Spain and New York State required that PCR tests be performed less than 72 hours prior to arrival.
For Spain, all passengers also have to complete an online FCS Form (Formulario de Control Sanitario) in order to generate a QR code, which is presented to health authorities along with Covid-test results on arrival.
Though the European Union is working on introducing a common "Green Pass" digital Covid-health travel certification–currently due to be out in June 2021–in the meantime, all European countries have different processes, which can be messy to navigate.
As the EU begins to open to vaccinated travellers from outside the EU/Schengen area for summer 2021, it will get even more confusing as different countries within the EU will have different entry regulations, though all EU countries have agreed on some common requirements. So if you do decide to travel internationally this summer, make sure to check entry requirements often leading up to your flights to make sure there are no bad surprises at the airport.
pre-flight and check-in
Having just done a Transatlantic round-trip in November of 2020, I knew that the check-in process had become much longer in pandemic times due to a plethora of additional paperwork and entry requirements for staff to validate. So we made sure to arrive at the airport a good 2 hours before departure.
Coming from the hourly parking lot, the arrivals level of the main terminal was completely deserted.
This gave my very energetic almost-2-year-old a lot of room to run around and tire himself out before the flight.
Of the 4 concourses at Toulouse-Blagnac airport, only the D concourse was being used due to the much-reduced flight schedules during lock-down and border closures. There were some flights using Concourse C check-in desks, but flights were mostly operating out of the newer D gates.
The C check-in area was mostly deserted.
But there was a super long queue at the Iberia counters in the D check-in area. Thank goodness we were flying Business class as there was no wait at all for the Business check-in desk–I almost felt guilty…almost 😉
It would not have been fun keeping a toddler occupied queuing for what must've been close to an hour, if not more, judging by the time it took to check us in.
The agent was very friendly and went as fast as she could to verify our PCR Tests as well as our QR codes for entry to Spain she also gave us information on a form we would need to fill out online for entry into New York State that I had not previously seen. Though she was efficient, it took about 15 minutes to get us all checked in. Of course, it didn't help that we had 7 pieces to check since we were moving back to the US after over a year in France.
As we had well over an hour before boarding, we waited to go through security as we knew there was no wait to get through and that the lounge in the D Concourse was closed due to Covid.
We went to the kid's play area, but of course that was closed as well, so we just had some coffee in the general vicinity of the play area. My kid was none too pleased about this.
There was absolutely no wait at security and the staff were very helpful getting us through quickly as I only had one free arm with a toddler in tow.
In normal times, the D concourse is mostly reserved for international flights as there is a passport control facility.
Like most airports these days, there is a duty free area right after the security checkpoint.
Local products from the southwestern terroir
And the most famous local products of all!
Next time I'll ask if that huge A380 is for sale 😍
The D concourse is the newest part of the airport with modern and lofty architecture.
Planespotting isn't particularly easy, however, with the large sun-blind bars blocking the view.
Looks like I wasn't the only AvGeek or Flight-Reporter flying out that morning!
Our gate was past the passport control, which is normally reserved for non-EU/Schengen destinations; however, it appears it was being used for all international destinations with additional border checks in place, even for intra-EU/Schengen travel during the pandemic.
The large gate area with only one flight operating from this section made for some easy social-distancing.
Getting out some last minute energy before boarding–I can't stress how important that is when flying with young kids to have a peaceful flight for everyone.
Boarding was called on time and began with Business class. It looked like we'd be the only ones in Business class as no one else came to the podium.
Our passports, QR codes, and PCR test documentation was checked again prior to scanning our boarding passes.
At the bottom of the stairway leading down to the apron, we were asked to wait a few minutes as the aircraft was not quite ready.
Once the plane was ready, we were led to the aircraft and our larger cabin baggage was gate checked.
This was my first time flying a CRJ1000, and it was impressive how long it was for a regional jet.
There were only 2 rows of business class on this flight.
Though it was originally 3 rows when we first selected seats online.
Iberia Regional/Air Nostrum do not block seats in Business class on regional jets unlike on the A320 family. The seat layout is therefore the same 2-2 configuration as Economy, but with a bit more legroom in the first rows and a meal service.
Seats 2 A and C on the left side have tons of legroom.
As we were the only party in the Business cabin, 3 of 6 seats were free so I have a more spacious Eurobiz experience with a free seat next to me.
The legroom is actually pretty decent for a regional jet. I'd estimate the pitch at about 32" (slightly better than the average of 30-31" elsewhere in the Economy cabin).
Signs of the times were everywhere.
Boarding was completed on time–the flight ended up being mostly full in Economy.
Doors were closed and we pushed back a few minutes later.
Seat-back pocket contents–no in-flight magazine due to Covid.
Some views of the Airbus factory and a line-up of Balugas as we taxied to the departure runway.
And a huge Volga-Dnepr Antonov AN124-100 Freighter. Not sure if it was doing a Covid-medical supplies mission or doing some contract work for Airbus.
There was no wait for take off with so little traffic and we were off on a beautiful clear morning.
Nice views of Airbuses on takeoff.
Soon we were over the countryside and approaching the Pyrenees mountains.
Breakfast was served as soon as we levelled out over the Pyrenees. The bread and croissants were served warm. Not bad at all for a 1 hour flight. In the US, a similar length flight would offer packaged snacks.
The specially ordered CHML (Child Meal) was even more impressive with even more food than the adult meal and a hot main dish! Guess I should have ordered the kids meal for myself 🤣
Normally there is on-demand streaming entertainment on board Air Nostrum aircraft, just like mainline Iberia/IB Express; however, the cabin crew had announced that the system was currently inoperative on this aircraft and apologised for the inconvenience.
Not a problem on such a short flight with such beautiful views on a clear winter day! Crossing the Pyrenees in winter is always gorgeous.
There were a few snow-less valleys here and there…
But it got even more snowy, the farther south we headed, which is normally the contrary.
Historic winter storm Filomena had covered most of Spain in a thick blanket of snow just a few days before the flight. Many areas of central Spain were buried under more than 1 m (3 ft) of snow, and even the city of Madrid, which rarely sees measurable snow, saw more than 50 cm (20 in) of heavy snow.
Central Spain is normally very dry and desert-like, it was surreal seeing it like this. I have some aerial shots of the same countryside in some previous reviews here and here.
As we got closer to the ground during out descent, you could see just how thick the blanket of snow was. It looked more like Sweden than Spain.
We landed on time and taxied past a school of British Airways whale-jets in long-term storage. Sad 😟
Taxi time was short with little other traffic to be seen.
Air Nostrum ATR in the old colours.
We were first off the aircraft being the only ones in the Business cabin.
This bird is reeeeally long.
It took a while to get our gate-checked items since it was all the way in the back of the bin.
Once we got out bag, we headed into the beautiful Barajas Terminal 4.
It was cool to see the terminal from this perspective.
No matter how many times I fly trough Barajas T4, it impresses every time!
As we had a very long layover due to the schedule change, we headed to the arrivals area after showing our QR code and having our temperature taken at the exit from the gates concourse.
from there we headed to the Air Rooms transit hotel, which is located on the lower level (Planta -1). Very clean and comfortable nice sized rooms, though obviously no windows like many similar transit hotels. Still a good and reasonably-priced option if you don't want to spend hours in the terminal or lounge.
Our flight's route.
Thank you for reading, conclusion below.
Iberia Regional (Air Nostrum)
Toulouse - TLS
Madrid - MAD
An overall nice short flight with some beautiful and rare scenery of Spain covered in snow as far as you could see. Having a half-empty Business class cabin made the experience more pleasant. I don't think I would have enjoyed the flight quite as much had I been crammed next to a stranger. I do feel it's a shame not to block adjacent seats in Business class on regional jets--there are certainly many European airlines which do block seats, notably Lufthansa group carriers.
The cabin crew were very friendly and attentive. The flight attendant in charge of Business class spoke French and English quite well in addition to Spanish, of course. She spoke Spanish with me throughout the flight as I had responded in Spanish when she first welcomed us on board, and spoke mostly French with my spouse and son. I always find FAs who are keenly aware of passengers' language preferences to be a mark of good training and experience.
The meal service was quite good for a short 1h flight, certainly better than a similar length flight in the US. Of course, Domestic First/Business class seats in the US are much better so you win some and you lose some. Normally there is wireless streaming IFE on Air Nostrum operated flights, like mainline Iberia, but it did not work on this flight.
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Looking forward to reading the next leg ^^
I'm not sure, but I don't think so. They seem to fill up J pretty often, or move the curtain forward when there is a low load in J to fill more seats in Y.
Although there's nothing quite like a beautiful view of London landing at Heathrow on a clear day!
Thanks for stopping by :)
First, I'm glad to see that your son is now walking and glad to hear that he is talking :)
The seats look decent and the meal looks excellent for this 1 hour flight. The CHML looks even better
- During COVID-era unfortunately, that is drinks upon request with no snacks at all :D
It's really nice to see that the crew was friendly and helpful.
I am really wondering if the next episode ( MAD-JFK ) would be on Iberia or American Airlines, hope to see you there.
Thanks! Running all over the place is more like it, hahaha
Sad but true, though that is slowly changing (in J anyway)...I'm lucky I've only been on longer domestic flights so far with some sort of service.
Iberia. That reminds me, I should have done a routing list I'll add is now :-)
Thanks for stopping by!
Spotted ^^ I was flying with Transavia France on newly opened domestic route to Nantes that morning.
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