The seat carries the flight: A review of Iberia’s business class on the A350, New York to Madrid
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Solid hard product with a wide and comfortable seat, efficient service.
The service, while efficient, was on the short side and a so-so ground experience at JFK.
Travellers have practically endless options when it comes to flying across the Atlantic Ocean, and airlines compete fiercely for the business of travellers hopping across the Pond. I’ve flown many products back and forth between my home in London and TPG’s headquarters in New York, but I had my eye on Iberia’s new A350 for quite a while. I had already flown the carrier’s business-class product on the A340, but only on the daily short hop between London and Madrid, where the long-haul plane is used for cargo reasons, so I was eager to see what Iberia is like on a true long-haul flight — and how its A350 stacks up to the competition.
We booked this flight as part of a round-trip journey from Inverness, Scotland (INV) to New York-JFK. There are often very good fares from Inverness, which benefits from being exempt from the airport passenger duty. Therefore, the Scottish city always features on our list of departure airports to check when looking for cheaper fares (particularly in premium cabins). For a full explainer on this, check out our article on how starting from mainland European airports can save a lot of money.
For this round-trip ticket from Inverness to New York, we paid $1,980 (£1,508) and routed the return journey as JFK-Madrid (MAD)-London (LHR)-Inverness in order to review this particular flight.
And, if you’d prefer to use your miles to book Iberia’s business-class product, it’s a pretty attractive redemption. A business-class flight between Madrid and New York can be had from 34,000 Avios one-way at off-peak times. Even better, Iberia is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards U.K. and Marriott Bonvoy, the former at a 1:1 ratio and the latter at a 3:1 ratio.
I arrived very early at JFK’s Terminal 7, which is British Airways’ JFK home but is also used by a handful of other airlines including Iberia for its two daily flights to its hub in Madrid. Having flown out of Terminal 7 with BA many times, I’m very familiar with the terminal, though this was my first time experiencing it and flying an airline other than BA.
The check-in area was very quiet, which was expected given how early I was for the 9 p.m. departure. Iberia had two out of the 10 check-in desks open — one for business-class passengers and one for economy class — with signs suggesting that at peak times there’s also a separate premium economy-class counter. There were no self-service kiosks.
My ticket was issued by American Airlines, and all the segments of my trip were operated by British Airways except this transatlantic leg. I had the booking in both my AA and BA apps, though finding the Iberia record locator for my flight wasn’t easy — I find the Iberia app and IT in general clunky and difficult to use. How and why their systems can’t talk better to the BA ones given they are part of the same overall airline company is somewhat beyond me, especially as the integration between BA and AA, for example, is much smoother. After numerous attempts, I was able to check-in on the Iberia app, even though it doesn’t issue electronic boarding passes suitable for a phone’s wallet, but merely a PDF boarding pass that’s emailed to passengers.
Though I didn’t have any bags to check, I wanted to get a paper boarding pass. The agent’s command of English wasn’t great, and when I asked if Iberia used the BA lounges, she told me to go back to the main part of Terminal 7 where I’d find security.
I know that BA has a dedicated security line behind its Club World and First check-in areas, but I wasn’t sure if I could use it with my Iberia boarding pass, and the check-in agent’s directions took me to the main security. Showing her my boarding pass, I asked a TSA agent at the entrance to the security line if there were a Fast Track or premium line, and she rather rudely told me to move along — to the main security line I went! Given I was so early, I didn’t mind the extra time it took to clear security, but Iberia could do a better job explaining to passengers at check-in whether there’s any Fast Track security. It could also do with some clearer signage, as a non-BA regular wouldn’t have known of the existence of the BA Fast Track line. Iberia’s boarding passes are crowded and full of a lot of information, but my TSA PreCheck status was nowhere to be found, even though it was clearly listed in my booking and worked just fine on my outbound segment.
The BA lounges were easily found, essentially above security and check-in. I knew that the business-class lounge offers both a spa and a preflight brasserie, and with Iberia being part of the same airline parent company as BA, I expected access to at least the preflight dining facilities but was told upon entry that that wasn’t the case.
The lounge has recently undergone a major refurbishment that has greatly improved the number of seats available as well as power outlets (which can be found pretty much at every seat). As it was a Saturday night, the lounge was quieter than normal and certainly not crowded. The design and layout is fresh and modern (despite certain sections feeling cramped, as they have put in as many seats as they can).
The food offering was OK: There were chicken wings, macaroni and cheese, sandwiches and salads available from a buffet. The ingredients were fresh and included big tiger prawns, and while the offering certainly beats most third-party lounges, BA essentially puts on this offering for its Executive Club Silver and Oneworld Sapphire passengers. Ticketed BA business-class passengers get access to the brasserie’s full hot buffet, Gold cardholders get access to the first-class lounge (which again includes a more extensive range of hot food) and first-class passengers can use the Concorde Room at JFK. Basically, the offering felt limited for what’s supposed to be a premium lounge — though it also looked like one of the hot food stations was out of service that evening.
There was a wide selection of drinks on offer.
There’s even a separate beer area which featured several Brew Dog (a Scottish brewery that’s very popular all over the U.K.) beers on tap.
I had trouble connecting to the Wi-Fi from my laptop, though, strangely, it worked fine on my phone. Upload and download speeds were at 10.1 Mbps and 10.4 Mbps, and access was gained via a password displayed throughout the lounge and also on the BA app (which the normal international business-class passenger did not have access to).
Having had an early start and already a flight under my belt, I grabbed a shower and while clean, the showers had clearly not been refurbished in what looked — and felt — like a long time.
I headed to the gate just before the advertised boarding time and found a very busy gate with passengers lining up according to the group lanes. The gate agents enforced the group boarding system well.
A few minutes after I got to the gate, boarding commenced, and I was one of the first business-class passengers on board.
We took off at 9.20 p.m., 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time, for the six-hour flight to Madrid.
Cabin and Seat
This was my first time on board an Iberia A350. The business-class cabin is a single cabin at the front of the aircraft with 31 forward-facing seats in a staggered 1-2-1 layout. The cabin looked fresh and clean, though choosing the right seat is very important, as not all seats are created equal in this configuration.
In even rows, window seats are much closer to the windows, giving passengers much more privacy, and prevents the feeling that you’re sleeping right in the aisle, like the seats that are directly adjacent to the aisles may. During the night, passengers in the aisle seats had their arms and legs hanging into the aisle.
In odd rows, the middle seats are grouped together, which make them ideal for when traveling with someone else. However, these could be awkward if you’re not traveling with the person next to you, as they’re very close together — particularly when in bed mode.
I had Seat 5J, which was one of the window seats closer to the window, and it was probably the ideal seat — far enough away from both the front and back galleys and close to the window.
Having flown short-haul between London and Madrid on the A340 in business, I for some reason had low expectations of the seat, but was pleasantly surprised by the width and comfort. The seat itself is 22 inches wide with a pitch of 78 inches, and those window seats have extra space by the window, including in the foot cubby, which meant it felt much less enclosed than on other airlines with similar setups where feet go underneath the table of the seat in front.
In the takeoff and landing position, the seat is very upright, making it on the uncomfortable side, but as soon as it’s reclined, it’s very comfortable. When it came to sleeping, I slept reasonably well for such a short flight.
The seat is controlled via a panel to the side with preset positions for sleeping, relaxing and takeoff and landing, as well as the ability to move in between any of those. I found the seat to be plenty wide, undoubtedly helped by the mentioned gap between the seat and the side of the plane, which is why I’d always recommend an even window number for the solo traveller.
The tray table is a single large one that comes down from the seat in front to the side and swivels out in front of the seat. It’s a good size both for working and eating and can be moved back toward the screen to allow getting up and out of the seat even while it’s down.
Though there is storage for phones, glasses and books as well as a side table, storing anything larger like a laptop either means leaving it on the side table or putting it in the overhead bin. There’s a little pocket by the side of the seat for a bottle of water, and while there’s space underneath the foot cubby, there’s no dedicated storage space for shoes.
There are two bathrooms at the front of the aircraft for the 31 business-class passengers, with no particularly premium amenities.
Amenities and IFE
The screen aboard this A350 is fixed in front of the seat and, at 18 inches, it’s plenty big, and has smooth touchscreen functionality. Though there’s no tailcam and the moving map is more simple than with other airlines, Iberia has a wide range of films (over 65) and TV shows (over 80), which should keep passengers entertained even on the longer flights. The headphones were on the more simple side with no or minimal noise-cancelling functionality.
Aside from touchscreen navigation, there is a remote control at each seat that worked better than on some other airlines.
Each seat had a USB and an international power outlet next to each seat. There is a reading light in addition to the normal seat light.
On my flight, Wi-Fi on board was faster than in the lounge: 22 Mbps upload speed and 3.23 Mbps download speed. The pricing was a tad confusing, as the options had a time as well as a data designation. I went for the full-flight 200 MB package, and that worked for me for the rest of the flight on my phone. It wasn’t clear, though, if that meant I had 200 MB to use on the remainder of the flight or if Iberia thought that 200 MB would last the whole flight. At 29.99 euros ($33), it was more expensive than on other airlines. The one hour/40 MB option costs 8.99 euros ($10), and the three hour/100 MB option 19.99 euros ($22).
Upon boarding, there was a large pillow and blanket on each seat, and a pretty standard amenity kit was handed out before takeoff. It included all the usual amenities. The eye mask had an unusual shape and felt plasticky.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Crew handed out a hot towel on a small porcelain plate, which was a pleasing flourish I hadn’t seen before.
Before takeoff, crew served predeparture drinks with a choice of water or orange juice. No Champagne or sparkling wine was offered, and while the menu featured three reds and two white wines, there was no mention of Champagne there, either.
The menu included a long list of items for starters as well as list of three main courses. Though it wasn’t obvious, there was no choice for starters (including no vegetarian choice), and what we got to start included warm bread, chilled zucchini soup with Parmesan, carrot-and-black-olive salad, Pedro Ximenez balsamic vinegar, chicken breast with mozzarella cheese, rocket salad with pesto sauce and cambozola cheese with dried figs and grapes. Yes, that was the list of starters, and that all appeared on the tray!
The choice for main course was beef ribs, salmon fillet or cheese ravioli. I went for the beef ribs, which was as tough a beef as I’ve had on a plane. I was hoping something softer, slow-cooked, potentially even pulled. The mashed potatoes matched the beef in that they were average.
For dessert, I went for the creme caramel rather than the ice cream. It was somewhat bland and very small, though I had had enough food by then.
There was a decent range of teas and wines available, and after the meal service, there was a small basket with snacks at the front of the cabin.
Breakfast was served an hour before landing and, just like the starter, the selection was eclectic, including toasted bread, a croissant, yogfurt and three pieces of fruit.
Service on this relatively short night was efficient, which is what most passengers want on this sort of flight.
The staff and I didn’t get off to a great start. Even though I was the first to board, a member of the crew serving my side of the cabin claimed to me upon boarding that taking pictures on board was illegal for “privacy reasons,” at which point I pointed to the empty cabin. She was polite, if somewhat short throughout the rest of the flight, though I noticed that with all passengers, not just myself.
To the crew’s credit, the dinner service was complete an hour and 20 minutes after takeoff, and when I used the call button, she was at my seat within 20 seconds.
Food was plated in the galley, and drinks/water were refilled regularly throughout the flight. Iberia gives its business-class passengers very small bottles of water, but the crew members were happy to give me a second bottle upon request.
Despite being a OneWorld Emerald customer, I was not addressed by name on the flight, which is perfectly acceptable, though I always think that the little things like using a passenger’s name when taking meal orders make a big difference.
I can’t fault the crew for any particular aspect of the service, but it wasn’t an overly warm, welcoming or in any way a particularly premium service.
Overall, this was a good flight with a comfortable seat, and I would definitely fly Iberia again. Relatively small enhancements to the ground experience (better directions and signage and allowing Iberia passengers to use the premium preflight dining service in a lounge maintained by the same parent company) as well as a warmer service would make this flight more memorable than a typical business-class flight.
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