Hello and welcome to the first of three segments in this series of pandemic-era flight reviews taking us back to the US after spending the Holidays and New Year 2022 in France with family and friends.
We always buy our tickets well in advance, and the routing can change multiple times due to cancellations and schedule changes in these uncertain times. We were originally meant to fly TLS-MAD, overnight in Madrid, then fly MAD-ORD-SAN, where the first two flights were operated by Iberia and the domestic US flight was to be operated by American Airlines. However, due to a schedule change by American on the ORD-SAN sector a month prior to departure, our Iberia flight to Chicago no longer connected to any American flights to San Diego. We therefore needed to be re-booked by British Airways as we'd originally bought the tickets through British Airways.
Of course, as my luck would have it, this schedule change occurred during one of British Airways' many infamous IT meltdowns–this particular one was a persistent issue where the BA Executive Club sections of britishairways.com were down for around two weeks following a failed website "upgrade." This meant that no Avios transactions, such as award redemptions, cancellations and re-bookings could be processed online leading to phone lines being absolutely swamped. So much so, that I was unable to even get through on the phone for days, even trying several times a day. I wouldn't even get the option to hold or receive a call back, the BA phone system would just play a recorded message stating that the call centre was overwhelmed and hang up! Although these were regular paid tickets, it was impossible to make any changes online–I'm assuming because of the sectors with AA and IB codeshares–so I had no choice but to call in for re-booking.
Eventually, after a week of trying (a week!!!), I was finally able to get through to a BA reservations agent who re-booked us through LHR in a matter of minutes. We would still need to go through MAD as the TLS-LHR flights either had too short of a connection time to the SAN flight, or required an overnight, which we were already going to be doing in MAD. Plus, with the complex and ever-changing Covid entry requirements in England at the time, I preferred to stick with an overnight in Madrid over London.
Just two months later, all Covid entry restrictions have been lifted for entry to the UK. International travel in times of Covid can be challenging and requires a lot of patience and flexibility.
The routing does look a bit odd, but there wasn't really a better way of getting to SAN from TLS being that BA had pulled down the TLS-LHR schedule so much since the beginning of the pandemic that neither of the one or two daily BA flights connected to SAN, or the connections were too short for my liking (i.e. less than an hour).
IB3073 - Economy - Toulouse ✈ Madrid - Airbus A320You are here
BA 273 - Business - London ✈ San Diego - Boeing 787-9Coming soon
This Toulouse-Madrid sector was booked as a separate one-way ticket in Economy, with the rest of the itinerary in Business class originating in Madrid.
Iberia had recently rolled out a cool AvGeeky feature during the booking process on their website. While selecting a seat on the seat map, a 3D interactive image of the cabin interior appeared, so you could see where you'd be sitting on the aircraft.
I haven't seen this recently, but I hope it'll come back.
Our oneworld Emerald frequent flyer status entitled us to free "XL seats" once they were unblocked during online check-in 24h before the flight. XL seats are located in the zone convertible to business class and feature better seats with more padding and extra legroom than standard Economy seats.
As we'd be flying economy, I also wanted to check out the pre-order DeliverFly service.
The menu was quite extensive and featured several fresh options, including hot dishes such as lasagne.
Prices are OK, but the better deals were combo deals that included drinks, including beer and wine for the same price as soft drinks.
I ordered a breakfast box for my son and two sandwich combo menus that included wine. At 33€ for 3 fresh options with drinks, I found the overall value to be decent.
pre-flight & check-in
It was still dark as we arrived at Toulouse Blagnac airport at 7AM, a little over 2h before departure.
The departures board showed only four other flights around the same time as ours, a far-cry from pre-pandemic times.
With so few flights, the majority of the airport was very quiet.
A queue was starting to grow at the Iberia check-in counters.
Luckily, we had access to the Business class check-in desk with thanks to our oneworld status, so we were able to skip the line.
Check-in was quick as I'd uploaded copies of our EU Covid vaccination passes during online check-in, as well as the Passenger Locator QR codes. There were no other sanitary requirements for travel between France and Spain at the time. We would need negative Covid tests within one day of departure for our flight to the U.S. for which I'd booked appointments for later that day at the Madrid Terminal 4 testing centre.
The Economy queue had doubled in size in just the few minutes that we did our check-in.
Outside the sun began to rise.
Rather than go to the lounge, we stayed airside to have a coffee and croissant with family. My son certainly appreciated being able to spend a few more minutes with the grandparents and we'll have plenty of other opportunities to go to the lounge in the future.
With access to the Premium Fast lane, we were through security in minutes as we were the only ones going through at that moment.
As is common in many airports around the world, there is a duty free shop right after the security checkpoint.
One can find typical items like wines, liqueurs, cigarettes, etc.
…as well as local products from the French southwestern Region of Occitanie.
And of course, models and souvenirs of the the most famous products from Toulouse!
TLS is rather large for a secondary French airport.
There are some long corridors to get to the gates at the end of the D concourse.
Speaking of Airbus–the factory was looking lovely in the early morning light.
Although Spain is within the EU and Schengen area, within which free movement is allowed, Iberia have been operating from the non-Schengen part of the airport for the past few years. Being in the non-Schengen section, there was a passport checkpoint prior to accessing the gates.
I may be wrong, but I believe that all international flights at TLS have been operating from the non-Schengen part of the D concourse since the beginning of the pandemic in order to segregate flights for inspection of Covid-related required items for arriving flights.
As we arrived at the gate, boarding had just begun, a few minutes early. We were able to go right on.
The outdoor temperature was well below freezing that morning as the ice on the glass walls of the jet-bridge attested.
Our aircraft was registered EC-IZH, a 17-year-old A320 with 180 seats.
The first five rows on this flight were Business class.
Our seat were in row 6, sold as "XL seats" with extra legroom as they are normally Business class seats.
Business class seats in rows 1-6 are the same Collins Aerospace Pinnacle seat model found on British Airways. In addition to being spaced out with a bit more legroom than standard economy seats, they are better padded, have adjustable headrests, and feature both AC power outlets and USB outlets.
Behind row six are more basic Recaro slimline seats with 29" of pitch and USB ports.
Seat pitch in the Business/XL Seat section is 31-32"…certainly better than in the back with a decent amount of knee clearance for someone of average height (I'm 5'10" / 178cm), though not spacious by any means.
The only inconvenience with sitting in the first row behind Business class is having a curtain in your face.
AC Power outlets and USB ports are located under the seats.
My well-travelled almost-3-year-old son is already a pro at buckling his own seat-belt.
As the flight was not very full, boarding wrapped up early.
Outside the ramp crew prepared for departure.
I had a good view of the Airbus factory from the window and the Pyrénées Mountains 100 km to the south on this clear winter day.
The load was very light in both cabins that day. With only about 3 or 4 passengers in Business class.
And maybe two dozen or so in Economy.
We pushed back from the gate 6 minutes early
Reviewing the safety card during the safety demonstration 😂
Taxiing past the TLS control tower
Nice views of Airbus on takeoff including the Beluga transporters.
It's hard to believe the Pyrénées are 100 km away; they appear so close.
It only takes about 10 minutes to reach the mountains.
The formidable natural border between France and Spain.
With only about an hour of flight time, cabin crew were up and about the cabin for the in-flight service within 15 minutes of takeoff.
Passengers who had pre-ordered with the DeliverFly service were given their orders prior to the beverage cart rolling down the aisle. At first the flight attendant brought our food to row 8, where we had originally had seat assignments when I'd made the order months prior; however, we'd changed our seats to row 6 during online check-in the previous day. I found it odd that the seat assignments were not automatically updated for the cabin crew. Luckily, the mix up was easy to resolved as no one was sitting in row 8 and I told the Flight Attendant my name for the order.
The sandwiches came in a sealed box.
My salmon and cream cheese bagel came with a side of olives (how Spanish!)
The children's breakfast combo came with a juice, a chocolate pastry and a biscuit.
After only 15 or 20 minutes at cruising altitude, we were already making our descent.
we arrived at the gate 12 minutes ahead of a schedule.
As we had arrived from within the EU, there was no passport control; however, we were directed to sanitary checks for international arrivals where we would show our Spain Travel Health QR codes and EU vaccination passes as well as have out temperatures checked.
The sanitary checks were very efficient. We were at the baggage claim well before any bags arrived.
The screens at the baggage carrousels display an estimated time of baggage delivery, which is a nice feature.
Our bags were among the first to come up and we were on our way only 14 minutes after scheduled arrival time. Not bad!
Bienvenidos a Madrid
As soon as we exited the baggage claim, we went upstairs to the Terminal 4 Business centre where we had appointments for Covid Antigen tests for our flight to the U.S. the next day.
Once again, incredibly quick and efficient service and very friendly staff as well. Compared to the nightmare trying to get Covid tests in the U.S. a few weeks earlier, Spain's great efficiency and organisation were pure heaven–no additional stress!
After receiving our results in only a few minutes, we headed back down to the lower level to catch the train into the city.
Very convenient to have the train station right there in the terminal.
And off we were for a day of exploring Madrid! A small tourism bonus will be included in the next review.
Thank you for reading
Toulouse - TLS
Madrid - MAD
This was my first flight in Iberia Economy class in many years. It was an overall good experience, thanks in large part to our free access to XL seats. Had I been in a standard row with only 29" of seat pitch, the cabin comfort rating would have undoubtedly been lower.
Staff were friendly and efficient at all points in the journey and the pre-order DeliverFly food service was satisfactory. This aircraft had Wi-Fi available for a fee; however, as I'd mentioned in my previous review, it is a shame that Iberia offer wireless streaming entertainment on Iberia Express and Iberia Regional (Air Nostrum) flights, but not on the mainline narrowbody fleet. This is the main area that could use some improvement. Everything else was very good.
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