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.
As mentioned in the previous segment, we had a long 6-hour layover in Madrid due to a schedule change, so I had reserved a day room at the Air Rooms Madrid transit hotel.
It was nice to have a rest and shower after what had already been a long day. The Air Rooms hotel offers 3-hour and 6-hour day room options, and I definitely recommend it if you have a long layover, but not quite enough time to head into the city.
Feeling well-rested, we check-out of the hotel about an hour and a half before scheduled departure.
As we passed in front of the check-in desks to get to the gates, I took the opportunity to check my carry-on bag as I had only needed it for a change of clothes at the hotel. When travelling with small children, the less you have to carry around, the better!
There was no queue in the dedicated Business class section and check-in was quick as we already had boarding passes and all documents were previously verified in Toulouse.
We originally headed to the Fast Track security lanes, but they were already closed–presumably due to low-demand in times of Covid-19.
We were waved to go through the family lane, where there was no wait at all.
As we were flying to a non-Schengen long-haul destination, our flight was leaving out of the T4S Satellite Terminal (the main T4 Terminal is reserved mostly for intra-Schengen and short-haul non-Shengen flights).
It's quite a haul to get to T4S as you have to go down several sets of escalators and take a underground train. Make sure to allow a good 20 minutes to reach your gate at T4S from the main terminal.
It seems every country has different social distancing guidelines. In France it's 1m (3ft), here in Spain it's 1.5m, and in the US it's 2m (6ft) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The train ride is a few minutes as there's quite a bit of distance between the main terminal and the satellite.
T4S has the same beautiful architecture as the main T4 building, though the concourse is a bit shorter.
Walking through the concourse to our gate towards the end of the building, it did not seem very crowded and then…a nasty surprise!
Never-ending queues, mass confusion, and chaos in the gate area!
There was actually one veeeeery long queue that coiled and wrapped around itself multiple times–like the world's least fun merry-go-round!
It turns out this massive queue was for document checks–documents that were already validated at check-in. No separate lane for Business class–just lots of waiting.
Only once through this endless document-check-queue, could one then get in line again in another queue to board. Not the most efficient boarding process.
In our multiple turns on the merry-go-round of boredom, I at least got to see out plane…
And this LEVEL A330, which I assume was on a special mission as they're normally based in Barcelona.
Once we made it to the front of the document check queue, our passports were checked again to ensure we could enter the US. The agents also checked the online entry form for New York State–paper forms were made available for those who hadn't filled out the form online.
After well over a half-hour of queuing, we were finally able to board. The Business class boarding lane was completely empty at this point so we were able to go right down.
We boarded as the sun was beginning to set, which made for some beautiful lighting.
Flying on a ship named "Madrid" from Madrid–how appropriate!
We were among the last to board in Business class–the cabin crew and entertainment screens offered a friendly "¡Hola!"
The Iberia A330-300 Business class cabin is comprised of 29 STELIA Solstys seats in a 1-2-1 staggered layout. Outer seats A/L in even-numbered rows are against the window, offering a bit more privacy, while C/J seats are on the aisle, offering more openness.
In the centre section, seats E/G are "honeymoon" type seats, ideal for couples or families, while D/H seats are rather far apart and best for solo-travellers.
The centre E/G seats worked best for us flying with a toddler.
The cabin is spacious and feels private with only 29 seats. The red screens add a nice splash of colour to otherwise neutral brow and grey tones.
There ended up being only 2 or 3 empty seats in Business class and the Premium Economy and Economy cabins appeared to be full as well–the gigantic boarding queues were the first clue.
Definitely a huge difference from my previous 2 pandemic-era transatlantic flights between Paris and Dallas in November 2020, which had 10 and 32 passengers respectively aboard a 787-9.
Let's have a look at the seat.
Seat pitch is very good, standard for long-haul business class, and the bed length is more than sufficient for my 5'10" (1.78m) frame when fully reclined.
The IFE screen is large with good image quality.
Wi-Fi is available for a fee.
A universal power outlet, USB port, and headphone jack can be found in front of the side console.
Seat controls and IFE remote are located on the seat-facing surface of the side console.
The IFE remote is touchscreen
…which allows for browsing content, while having other content on the main screen.
Beautiful sunset colours as boarding continued.
Noise-cancelling headsets and amenity kit were already at each seat upon boarding.
A waste bag and sanitising wipe were distributed during boarding as part of the Covid-19 service protocols.
With the long queues for documents checks at the gate, boarding was very slow as was to be expected. I did find it surprising, however, that they were still loading baggage over a half-hour past scheduled departure time.
The wait was beginning to feel long, so I began watching a movie to pass the time
Luckily, we also had everything necessary to keep the little one occupied during the delay. Boarding, as it is, can be a long and boring time for small kids, who generally don't like sitting still with nothing to do for more than a few seconds, so we always make sure to have his tablet loaded with his favourite cartoons, colouring books, toys, and books to keep him occupied. For some reason he doesn't really care for watching cartoons on the actual IFE screens.
By the time we finally pushed back from the gate, we were an hour past the originally scheduled departure time.
The safety video played as we taxied to the runway. I like how the video showcases the beautiful city of Madrid.
Surreal to see so much snow in Madrid!
Cuatro Torres business area in the distance.
An informational video about enhanced cleaning measures, mask policy, and cabin air filtration in the pandemic-era was played after the safety video.
we took off as night fell, catching the last few rays of sun as we climbed.
Despite the long departure delay, with favourable winds we were due to arrive close to on-time.
The contents of the amenity kit included a rather comfortable gel-filled mask, 3 items of Germaine de Capuccini skin care products, ear plugs, a toothbrush, and a nice-sized travel toothpaste, as well as a hair brush. This is one of the more generously-stocked amenity kits I've seen in recent times.
About a half-hour after take-off, special meals were served, which means our child meal arrived. It is standard to serve special meals prior to standard meals on most airlines, and I appreciate that flying with a toddler as it allows us some time to help him eat before having dinner ourselves.
As with the previous flight, I was really impressed with quality and quantity of the child meal.
Overall, the dinner service was mostly unchanged from pre-Covid times, with some small exceptions to simplify protocols and limit interaction. There was a pre-dinner drink service, though not a traditional apéritif-type service with snacks like before the pandemic. Also, the dinner was served on one tray, whereas west-bound daytime flights normally received coursed service prior to Covid.
I had a Cava before dinner. It was fine, though quite sweet, even for a demi-sec.
Dinner was served a short time later. There were no written menus as part of the Covid-era service protocols, so the options were announced orally. If I remember correctly the options were beef, fish, or pasta. No further descriptions as to what type of fish, just "pescado." I went for that since I usually avoid beef on planes, which can often be overcooked.
Per Covid-era protocols, dinner was served with all lids still in place.
The fishturned out to be quite good, as it was perfectly cooked and juicy with a delicious sauce. I believe it was cod, or another similar type white fish.
I also enjoyed that, like the French, the Spanish have a separate cheese course. As a Frenchman, I don't like having to choose between cheese or dessert on most US and UK carriers.
After dinner lights were turned out and I watched movies and napped for most of the flight.
There was a pre-arrival service about an hour before landing. Nothing terribly exciting–just a small place of cut fruit that I had with a coffee. It seemed lighter than most other airlines' westbound pre-arrival meals or afternoon tea services on transatlantic routes.
Despite the hour delay leaving the gate in Madrid we made up most of the time and landed just a few minutes behind schedule.
We parked at Terminal 7 next to an Alaska A321neo
Our flight's route–pretty straight forward.
Immigration was fast as we each have Global Entry (yes, even the 2-year-old).
It seems most other passengers on the flight didn't have such a smooth CBP experience. Bags were piling up on the carousel awaiting their owners to pick them up.
Though most of our bags came out quickly, we didn't see the child car seat anywhere–it was neither in the oversized area nor the regular baggage carousel. An Iberia agent checked on it for us and came back with news that the car seat had been left behind in Madrid. Doh! This was the one item that we couldn't afford to be lost as we wouldn't be able to get into a car without it, and we were picking up a rental car that night to drive down to Washington, DC in the morning!
Luckily they happened to have a decent quality car seat in the baggage service back-office that they were able to give us until ours could be delivered. As flights weren't daily at that time, it would be several days so we instructed Iberia to have the seat sent to San Diego as we would be flying home to California after a few days visiting family on the East Coast.
I was impressed that exiting customs, there were actually NY State officials aided by National Guard troops to check the NY State entry forms. Most other entry ports to the US at that time had been notoriously lax about doing any sort of Covid-related entry checks.
With our new-to-us car seat installed in the rental car, we hit the road the next morning to head down to our former hometown of Washington, DC.
Madrid - MAD
New York - JFK
Despite a rough start with the ridiculously long document-check queue at the gate and the subsequent hour-long delay caused by said queue, it ended up being a very enjoyable flight. Cabin crew were friendly and professional though perhaps a bit more distant than the AA and BA crews that we've been more accustomed to on these Atlantic crossings.
The cabin is spacious and the seats very comfortable in both lounge and bed modes. All of the expected amenities are there--Power outlet, USB port, large IFE screen with good image quality, and modern mood lighting. I like that this model of seats does not have restrictive foot space like so many other Business class seats.
Catering was decent by pandemic-era standards, but the pre-arrival meal was disappointing. I was mostly impressed with the Child meal, once again.
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Was there any open lounge for you at that point or did you just decided to skip it to maximize sleep in the airport hotel.
- Wow! As travel is limited to US citizens/residents & several visa type holders on that flight that is a very long queue.
Although the quality of the meal seem really good, I think that the portions and the content would suit a 3-4 intra-EU flight rather than a TATL J flight. Also, the pre-arrival meal seems like a disappointment in terms of content. I might had given IB credit regarding that most people wouldn't eat a 4th full meal at 8-9pm US EST but rather prefer having something light, although the fruit plate seems too light. I wonder what was the CHML option for the second service.
So, I'm glad that you enjoyed Iberia on this TATL ride and I hope I would have the chance to fly them soon.
Lounges were open in both the main T4 and T4S, but we preferred to stay at the hotel until last minute. Lounges aren't nearly as relaxing when travelling with a 2-year-old haha, unless they have a children's play area, but those are rare.
The same fruit plate.
Hope you have an opportunity soon. Too bad they don't fly to IAD, though. I'll be flying them again shortly on the A350 this time! We'll see if the service is any different from a few months ago.
Thanks for stopping by!
I think IB is still very inefficient carrying out checks in these covid times; I experienced a 90 min check in and almost 60 min boarding while they checked your paperwork and tests twice last April. Let's hope they have improved or else it will be chaotic when traffic resumes to normalish trends.
Nice pics of snowy Spain after Filomena, they were hard days for Madrileños, when I saw the flight's date I worried about you being stranded.
Thanks for sharing!
Thank goodness! I remember that awful crappy snack box you got in your report from October--definitely glad then went back to hot meals just in time! I'll get to fly the IB A350 in a few days for the 1st time, yay!
¡Qué Locura! I can't believe they still hadn't worked out a more efficient system 4 months later!
I was so lucky I missed it by just a few days and ended up not being affected at all. I'm sure it was part of the reason why my flight was so full with so many cancellations. It was such a historic and beautiful sight to see so much snow in Madrid--glad I got to experience it for myself...without the inconveniences, haha!
Thanks for sharing, Kevin!
I totally know what you mean. I had pretty low expectations because I'd seen so many negative reviews, and I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I think Iberia have worked hard to improve their service image and product over the past few years as they've improved their financial situation simultaneously. I've got several TATL trips booked with them over the next year and I'm hoping the service is consistent.
Thanks for stopping by, have a good one!
-Hopefully they re-open, I'm scheduled to fly to Madrid in the somewhat near future (fingers crossed).
-Ooof, don't look forward to this part of the pandemic travel.
-These looks comfortable enough for a trans-Atlantic, but seem awfully exposed (even the "true" window seats).
-Better settle in; gonna need a lot of PDB to wait this one out.
-The meal doesn't look half-bad. What were the wine options?
-Breakfast on the other hand . . . looks quite sad.
Yes, it was open the last time I was through Madrid over the summer.
Yeah, unfortunately, this is still a thing.
If PDBs ever come back 😒
Red or white, LOL...well and Cava. Since there are no more printed menus I don't know what the options were, or even if there was more than 1 red and white option. When in doubt I stick to bubbles...which is what I did
European carriers aren't great with pre-arrival meals...and yeah you'd think that was a breakfast but it was 8PM LOL
Thanks for stopping by!
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