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Hello Flight-Reporters and welcome to the 2nd review in this new series of pandemic-era flights.
After being grounded for almost 10 months in 2020, I've slowly-but-surely been getting back to more regular flying again. After moving the family back to the U.S. at the beginning of the year, we had a few uneventful domestic flights in the spring–which I may post at a later time–and now it was time to fly back across the pond to spend the summer with family in Southwestern France.
In the previous review, I covered my first ever flight in JetBlue Mint (Business) class and in this review I'll be flying on the Airbus A350 for the first time ever! So many AvGeek firsts for me ✈
I'm a little late to the game with my first A350 ride, but it's not for lack of trying! I've had some bad luck with an equipment swap and a last-minute rebooking in my previous 2 attempts.
Welcome aboard my first A350 review!
Flight reviews in this series:
As mentioned in the previous report, to break up the trip for our 2-year-old, we had flown in to Newark on JetBlue the evening before and spent the night in a hotel.
In the afternoon, we made our way from New Jersey across the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge to Long Island and JFK airport.
We dropped off the car at the rental car centre and headed to the Iberia terminal on the AirTrain.
Iberia operations at JFK are based out of British Airways' Terminal 7
The Iberia ticket counters are located in the rear right-hand corner of the check-in area.
Having arrived a little over 3 hours before departure, we were ahead of the crowds. Luckily there was no wait for check-in as the check-in process itself took over 20 minutes.
Though the check-in process for international flights has generally gotten longer in pandemic-times with additional required documents to check, the majority of the delay was due to a problem with our reservation. As Covid-related schedule changes and cancellations have become commonplace these days, our flights had unsurprisingly changed several times since they were booked 10 months prior. Apparently our tickets had been re-booked incorrectly by British Airways as two separate segments rather than a connection after the most recent schedule change. This took a supervisor quite a bit of time on the phone with BA agents to get the issue resolved. The agents were very friendly and apologised several times for the inconvenience.
Luckily our seats were still showing correctly assigned as they had been booked. As we were flying with a young child, it was important to have seats together. The central EG seats in this configuration are ideal for people travelling together as they are next to each other, while all other seats are far apart. These types of duo seats in staggered configurations are often called "honeymoon" seats.
Every passenger entering or transiting through a Spanish airport must complete a health declaration on the Spain Travel Health website which includes questions about Covid-testing and vaccination status. Completing the form generates a QR code to be shown at check-in on departure and to immigration agents on arrival in Spain. The check-in agent in JFK checked our QR code, but did not verify vaccination cards as the US was on the EU and Spanish lists of low-risk countries at the time. Spain did not require proof of vaccination or negative test results for US arrivals at the time, but France did. Our vaccination cards would later be checked in MAD for the MAD-TLS flight.
Passing by the departures board after check-in, there were only a handful of flight going out that night. So weird to see so few flights from an international terminal at JFK at the beginning of the summer season! Though Europe was slowly opening up to US travellers, the schedules were still very conservative.
Due to Covid, none of the British Airways lounges were open in T7 and the Alaska lounge, which would normally be accessible with Priority Pass, hadn't yet re-opened.
With a few hours to kill, we walked around outside the terminal for a bit to enjoy the beautiful weather before going through security.
Going through the Pre-check lanes was relatively quick, though there was some confusion between TSA agents as to what to do with our 2-year-old son's milk. One agent wanted to open the sealed bottle to test the milk, but I assured her that was not protocol as it was a sealed container and the milk would spoil if opened. A supervisor cleared up the issue quickly; however, I am still amazed how often this question comes up at checkpoints.
An even more sparsely-populated departures screen by the time we were airside.
It's so weird not to see several BA 747s lined up at Terminal 7.
R.I.P beautiful BA 747 😢
Our Iberia A350-900 was parked at gate 6 in an otherwise empty terminal.
After experiencing full domestic terminals on the SAN-EWR leg, it was back to a more-familiar reality of travel in Covid-times with a mostly empty terminal.
With no lounges open, we just hung out in the gate area, which was already filling up with passengers 1.5 hours prior to departure.
Boarding began on time, but was very slow-moving. It was evident from the crowd at the beginning of boarding that it would be a full flight.
A quick check of the Business cabin seat map on ExpertFlyer confirmed it was full in J as well.
Unlike most other carriers, Iberia usually board Business class passengers last per their current Covid policies. The boarding process order is strictly from the rear to the front by rows. A gate agent explained that in cases where the jet bridge could be attached at the door behind Business class, that J passengers could then board first as there would not be any boarding of other passengers though that same cabin; however, at this particular gate, the jet bridge had to be pulled up to the first door–I imagine it's too short to reach door 2L of an A350–and therefore passengers would be boarding through the Business class cabin. I appreciated the information, which made sense once it was explained.
The crowd at the gate dwindled away as boarding progressed. It was very slow-moving to keep some social distancing in the jet bridge and in the aisles on this completely full flight.
In my pre-child days and when he was under 2, I generally preferred boarding early and getting settled, especially when there were strollers and other baby items to deal with. Now that he's an energetic 2 1/2 year-old toddler, more time on the plane on the ground = more time to actively entertain him so I don't really mind boarding last anymore, especially since pre-departure drink services no longer happen in pandemic times.
I think we've raised our son to be a good little traveller, but we always make sure to arm ourselves with plenty of entertainment to avoid any potential random toddler tantrums (tablet with cartoons downloaded, story books, colouring books, toys, snacks, etc). In all his travels, which includes many long-haul flights, he's always been very well-behaved, but I'm always conscious of the "Kids-don't-belong-in-First/Business-class" crowd in showing that many children do travel well in premium cabins–or in any cabin really.
By the time the Business class cabin was called to board it was nearing scheduled departure time. It became clear we wouldn't be leaving on time.
Welcome to the Iberia A350 Business class cabin!
It looks much like the the Business cabin on the A330s, but with an updated version of the Stelia SOLSTYS staggered seat model.
My seat, a true window-seat in row 7 on the right side. This is one of the major difference with the J cabin on the A330s where the true window seats are in the even-numbered rows on that side, rather than the odd-numbered rows on the A350s.
The cabin and seats are spacious and modern, but the overall colour-scheme is rather boring with so much beige and grey. I would expect some prominent splashes of reds or yellows given the Iberia branding.
There's a bit more colour when looking towards the front of the aircraft with the bright red home page on the IFE screens.
Before getting myself situated, I got my son settled in with some cartoons and toys to keep him entertained as boarding continued.
Though the bulk of the boarding process was completed shortly after we got on board, single passengers and small groups continued to trickle on for quite some time after our scheduled departure time had passed.
About a half-hour after the scheduled departure time, an announcement was made to inform us that the delay was due to some difficulties with some passengers' "documents". My previous Iberia transatlantic flight in January 2021 has also been delayed due to Covid-related passenger processing–six months later, it was déjà vu all over again.
In the end, we ended up being delayed for over an hour and a half!
As we waited, cabin crew distributed noise-cancelling headphones, sanitising wipes, and amenity kits.
All we could do was wait until the the "document" issues were resolved. Had this been pre-pandemic, there would have probably been a second round of pre-departure drinks, but the airlines' current Covid-policies prohibit any food or drink services on the ground. This is most likely because the air circulation system works best when the engines are running (i.e. a/c is in motion) as the air is then purified through the HEPA filters, which removes most particles, including bacteria and viruses.
Let's have a look around the seat.
On the side console, you will find the headphone jack, a universal power outlet and two USB ports. There are also two storage trays, which are convenient for mobile phones and smaller tablets or books.
Seat controls and the in-flight entertainment remote are also located on the side console.
Yep, we're definitely on board an A350! There's that splash of yellow I was looking for.
Plenty of leg space as one would expect from long-haul business class. I like these seats as they are not constrictive in the foot area when in bed mode. When fully flat, the bed is about 2m in length, which offers plenty of room to stretch out.
¡ Hola !
The IFE is available gate-to-gate, with a large selection of films in multiple languages, series, music, and games. Wi-Fi is available for purchase.
There is also a large selection of children's programming, which I appreciated.
Finally, 90 minutes after the flight should have departed, cabin crew announced that everyone was finally on board. Doors were closed and we were ready for pushback.
The safety video played after doors were closed.
The video showcases the beautiful city of Madrid and its iconic sites and monuments…
Such as the Plaza Mayor
and the Royal Palace
Wouldn't it be nice if seats in Premium Economy or Economy actually had this much space?
Next came a video about Covid safety and Iberia's intensified cleaning protocols, as well as information on HEPA filters.
By the time we pushed back from the gate, we were running 1 hour 42 min behind schedule.
Luckily taxi time was short, which is rare for JFK–but it seems like we'd missed the rush of transatlantic departures.
We'd only taxied for about 10 minutes before takeoff!
The moving map is nice and modern with crisp graphics.
Tonight's short flight being under 7h helped to make up a bit of the 1.5h delay.
It was a beautiful, mostly clear night with the full moon clearly visible.
As soon as we were in the air the cabin crew hustled to get the dinner service underway so passengers could sleep. Being that lounges were closed and there were little dining options in the terminal, the vast majority of passengers stayed up for dinner, whereas on a more typical short TATL red-eye, many passengers skip dinner and go right to sleep having eaten in the lounge.
It was an express service without a separate apéritif service; however, cabin crew were happy to serve a pre-dinner drink and another for the meal at the same time. I was fine with Cava for both.
As with my previous Covid-era flight, there were no menus so options were announced orally by the crew. I received a more elaborate description of the options in Spanish, while my family, who don't speak Spanish, got the basic "chicken, fish, or vegetarian". Though the cabin crew in our section did not appear to be as comfortable with English as on my previous Iberia flights, they very friendly and made a genuine effort and even said a few words of French, which was a nice touch.
I went with the bacalao (cod). In pandemic times, meals are served with lids in place for sanitary reasons.
Without the lids.
Overall a very good meal by current pandemic standards with the typical European 4 courses (must have a cheese course!). The fish was well-cooked and had the right amount of spice.
By the time the dinner service was over, we were over the Canadian maritime provinces.
I put on a movie to half-watch as I began to doze off.
A nice feature of these newer systems is that you can have the airshow on the touchscreen remote screen while watching entertainment on the main screen.
I was able to get a decent 4 hours of sleep and didn't wake up until we had to bring seats upright for landing.
That's a good looking winglet in the morning light.
Familiar dry landscapes of central Spain stretched to the horizon as we neared Madrid. A stark contrast from the snowy scenes I'd seen my previous time through MAD, just days after winter storm Filomena had dumped close to a metre of snow in some areas of Spain.
Some greener scenery in the higher elevations.
Final descent over the Madrid suburbs.
Lovely views of the city and the Cuatro Torres business district in the distance as we landed.
Taxi time was short as there wasn't much activity–again, with the delay, we'd probably missed the bulk of the transatlantic arrivals.
First time seeing an IberoJet (formerly Evelop) A350–nice new livery, but with an all-Economy 432-seat configuration, it must feel cramped!
We arrived at the gate just a bit over an hour past the scheduled time, so we had made up over a half hour of the departure delay in flight.
Last view of the cabin on deplaning.
We arrived at the non-Schengen T4S Satellite gates. The beautiful architecture of this remote terminal is the same at that of the main Terminal 4 building.
We went through immigration here in the T4S building. It was busy, but moved quickly.
We then took the train to the main terminal.
Once in the main terminal, there were sanitary checks by medical staff with lab coats prior to being allowed entry to the arrivals area. The checks were efficient–QR codes and temperatures were checked. The staff did ask us why we were in the arrivals area as were in transit, thinking we may be lost. I explained that we had a long layover and had booked a room at the in-airport hotel–though now a shorter transit due to the 1 hour delay.
We were allowed through with no issue and made our way to the Premium Traveller "Air Rooms Madrid" Hotel to rest up for a bit before our onward flight to Toulouse.
Multiple pandemic-era schedule change re-bookings and ongoing uncertainty with travel to/from the UK have brought me to flying Iberia with more frequency over my previous go-to favourite British Airways. I must say that I've become a fan of Iberia. The service quality, staff friendliness, and cabin comfort have exceeded my expectations. The only downsides were the closed BA lounges (not IB's fault), and yet another delay due to Covid-related document checks. Other than that, it was as very nice experience.
It was great to finally fly on an A350. Much like the 787 experience, the better pressurisation, quieter engines, and higher air humidity make for a more comfortable experience on long-haul flights. The Iberia Stelia SOLSTYS seats are very comfortable and spacious with full aisle-access for all passengers, while having the option of sitting together in some pairs of central seats, ideal for couples and families. The Iberia staggered configuration works perfectly for us, whereas more common herringbone and reverse-herringbone configurations are challenging when travelling with small children.