After flying British Airways’ A380 from London to Madrid, I spent a night in Madrid, which was a treat – I got to walk around a new city for the first time, and I also dropped by Mercado de San Miguel for some great food. I stayed at the stunning Atocha Hotel Madrid, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton hotel, which I’ll be reviewing at a later date.
I wasn’t going to fly business class on a narrowbody plane back from Madrid to London, given the choice (since business class on narrowbody planes within Europe is just economy class with a blocked middle seat) – Iberia has long been flying A350s on select flights between Madrid and London, and getting on one of those flights has always been on my bucket list. So when I saw award space was wide open on an afternoon Iberia flight from Madrid to London, I jumped onto the opportunity to fly Iberia’s A350 business class.
I’d been on a very similar type of seat to what Iberia has on their A350s before (well, since Iberia’s website screwed me over, I got to try a different type of seat in this configuration on this flight), but I’d say that Iberia’s onboard experience exceeded my expectations, at least for a widebody aircraft on a shorthaul route. It certainly wasn’t perfect, and I’ll start the review on one of the “lows” of the experience – though if the experience I had on this two-hour flight was representative of what the Iberia experience is like on longer flights, I’d say they have a competitive business class product.
Booking Iberia’s A350 Business Class
Iberia has very good product consistency with their business class seats, as they fly the same seat on the entirety of their longhaul fleet. On intra-European flights, much like most other European airlines, they generally tend to fly narrowbody aircraft, with a business class cabin featuring economy class seats with the middle seat blocked.
However, Iberia flies longhaul planes on the following routes between Madrid and London:
IB 3170 Madrid (MAD) to London (LHR) dep. 07;35 arr. 09:00
IB 3163 London (LHR) to Madrid (MAD) dep. 10:30 arr. 13:50
IB 3166 Madrid (MAD) to London (LHR) dep. 15:50 arr. 17:15
IB 3167 London (LHR) to Madrid (MAD) dep. 18:45 arr. 22:05
Iberia is typically really good with award space on these flights, and I secured this as the inbound segment of a multi-carrier roundtrip business class booking with Asia Miles, costing a total of 65,000 Asia Miles and HK$754 in taxes.
Iberia’s Terrible IT System
My impressions of my flight on Iberia were definitely tainted by their terrible “Manage Your Booking” and online check-in system, both in terms of speed and functionality.
The biggest bug of the flight was definitely when my seat was blocked off on the day of departure, and I was automatically booked onto the only seat left, which was a “honeymoon” seat (which, if you know Iberia’s business class configuration off the top of your head, is a huge downgrade for solo travellers). I politely asked if I could have my original seat back both at check-in and the lounge (but not at the gate, for reasons I’ll explain), but I was told my seat was “inoperative”. I can appreciate if that was actually the case, but in reality another passenger ended up taking my original seat, so I wasn’t thrilled.
I can recognise that this was certainly a one-off “unlucky” issue, but there were countless other issues that I can attribute to Iberia’s IT system:
- After booking my flight with Asia Miles, I was unable to select my seat on Iberia’s booking system, whether I used the 6-digit PNR code generated by Asia Miles or the 5-digit alphanumeric code that Iberia also included on the “Manage Your Booking” page – the system simply said “No seat”. Oddly I was able to select my seat on Malaysia Airlines’ website using the 6-digit PNR, which showed up on my reservation on both Cathay Pacific and BA’s website, but that choice didn’t go through to Iberia’s online check-in system (I had to unselect my seat on Malaysia Airlines and then re-select the seat on Iberia’s check-in system, so it just served as some sort of a “reservation” – which didn’t even end up being my actual seat)
- My travel documents had to be uploaded prior to check-in to verify that I could indeed get into the UK, which took over 24 hours, and my Passenger Locator Form was rejected the first time (it was approved the second time, and even then I had to use the stamp I got at the check-in counter to board) – in contrast, even though I submitted with a naming issue, BA’s website verified my documents in under a minute
- The boarding process was a complete mess – passengers were queued up over 20 minutes before the boarding time stated on the departure displays, and we had to wait an extra 15 minutes on the jetbridge after the boarding process started
My Experience Flying Iberia’s A350 Business Class
In hopes of sorting out my seat issue and also getting some work done over free coffee at the airport lounge, I headed to Madrid-Barajas Airport’s Terminal 4 using a RENFE train from Atocha station, arriving at 12:30 PM for my 3:50 PM flight. While the friendly check-in agent couldn’t do anything to rectify my changed seat, I was through fast track security in a matter of minutes, and went to the airport lounge by the satellite concourse (which required clearing passport control, once again a very quick and easy process). I’ll review the lounge at a later date, since I want to push these flight reports out first – in summary, the Velázquez lounge in the airport’s satellite concourse was very large and pleasant, though nothing special or worth arriving early for.
The electronic displays in the airport lounge showed a peculiar boarding time of 3:23 PM (which tended to fluctuate by a couple of minutes), so I decided to make my way to gate S41 at around 3 PM. I made sure to catch a glimpse of the stunning Iberia A350 before heading onboard.
Iberia A350 Madrid Airport
Much to my surprise, everyone was already lined up for boarding – the economy queues were very long, and I joined the relatively shorter business class queue. I’d hoped to consult a gate agent about my changed seat, though at this point decided it was probably best to get onto the plane as soon as I could before the cabin filled up with passengers.
Chaotic queueing at Madrid Airport
Our boarding passes were scanned by 3:15 PM, though as aforementioned, there was an additional 15-minute wait on the jetbridge before we were invited to board the plane. So much for a premium and COVID-safe boarding experience, with over 30 bodies jammed into the queue on the jetbridge to board the plane…
On the plus side, the jetbridges were transparent, and when we finally began moving at 3:30 PM, I was able to get a very nice glimpse of the front half of the plane.
Nice view of Iberia A350 at Madrid Airport
Iberia Flight 3166
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Origin: Madrid-Barajas (MAD) Gate: S41 Dep: 15:50 (16:00)
Destination: London Heathrow (LHR) Gate: C57 Arr: 17:15 (17:20)
Duration: 2 hr 25 min (2 hr 20 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900 Reg: EC-NGT
Seat: 3E (Business Class)
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a full cabin picture at the beginning of the flight, due to how hectic the boarding process was. Iberia’s A350 business class feature a Solstys-style staggered configuration, consisting of 31 flat bed seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.
Iberia A350 Business Class Cabin
I quickly found my newly assigned seat, 3E, which was one of the “honeymoon” seats in this configuration. I’d say that these seats are some of the worst/most awkward flat bed seats if you’re a solo traveller flying in business class – there’s much less space between yourself and the seat next to you, due to the lack of a console in the middle of the seat. I probably wouldn’t even pick these seats when travelling with a significant other, since you have just as much separation from each other as you typically would in economy.
Iberia A350 Business Class Seats 3E and 3F
Contrast this to the window seats – they are positioned right next to the window, so you get your own private enclave of sorts, with a console shielding foot traffic from the aisle.
Iberia A350 Business Class Window Seat (4A)
What I did after boarding was probably inappropriate, though I don’t think I was being unreasonable. Since I was told my original seat 8A was inoperative, I figured I’d hang round the seat during boarding to get pictures, and head back to my original seat during takeoff – and if nothing in particular was wrong with the seat, I could get first dibs of the seat before someone else decided to move there.
My originally picked seat, 8A, was one of the seats in this configuration situated closer to the window, with a console separating the seat from the aisle. As you can see from the picture below, these seats are quite private.
Iberia A350 Business Class Window Seat (8A)
Due to the alternating configuration, some seats are positioned closer to the aisle, with the console next to the window (the console also happens to house the feet of the person behind you). Take seat 3C, for example – these seats are a lot less private, since there’s nothing separating you from the aisle in seat or bed mode.
Iberia A350 Business Class Aisle Seat (3C)
Similarly, the seats in the middle of the cabin alternate between honeymoon seats and the seats pictured above.
I quickly checked out seat 8A and found nothing wrong or inoperative about it. The seat controls were very intuitive, and positioned on my right (note that there’s plenty of space to place loose items inflight on the surface of the console, though you can’t put anything there for takeoff and landing).
Iberia A350 Business Class Seat Controls
In front of me was a footwell, which I found to be quite spacious in bed mode. Since the seat itself doesn’t feature a swing-out footrest, this footwell doubled as a footrest when reclined; it was aptly placed for that purpose, since the seat would shift forward a bit before the seatback tilted when reclining.
Iberia A350 Business Class Ottoman
The table tilted out of the seat in front. One of the great features of the tables in this configuration is that you can swing the table towards the TV screen in front of you, so that you can get up and out of your seat during mealtimes if you need to use the bathroom.
Iberia A350 Business Class Tray Table
To my right was an open storage compartment. This compartment was good for placing loose items inflight as well, though you aren’t allowed to put anything there during takeoff and landing. In fact, storage space during takeoff and landing in this seat is limited to the space under the footwell in front of you, which is more limited than you’d expect. Some airlines have made modifications to this storage compartment to include a spring latch door so you can store items there during takeoff and landing (or, in other cases, a minibar), though Iberia didn’t.
Iberia A350 Business Class Storage Compartment and Reading Light
Underneath the storage compartment was a universal 110V power port and two USB ports, one of which I believe was for fast charging. The headphone jack for the seat was also placed there.
Iberia A350 Business Class Power Port, USB Ports, Headphone Jack
Soon a man came onboard, and to my shock his boarding pass directed him to seat 8A. What? I slugged back to my new seat 3E, somewhat angry that I’d been swapped out of my seat “for operational reasons” just for another passenger to be seated there. To be fair, I probably should’ve stayed in seat 3E until the end of the boarding process, and it definitely wasn’t the passenger in 8A’s fault, so I went up and apologised to him after settling back into my new seat (he was very friendly, and said “well, glad you still ended up with a seat!”).
The boarding process was otherwise very efficient, and the plane was filled up within 15 minutes. Every seat in business class was taken (even though ExpertFlyer suggested otherwise – according to them one window seat opened up last minute, though somebody was seated there).
A lady was seated in 3F, the seat directly adjacent to mine – she was friendly, but clearly wasn’t there to strike up conversation. She mostly worked throughout the flight, then slept without reclining her seat.
We were distributed headphones – I never actually tested them out, though they looked okay.
Iberia A350 Business Class Headset
These came with an antiseptic wipe and waste bag. Iberia isn’t serving pre-departure beverages in intra-European business class during the pandemic, which is fair enough, since having premium passengers with their masks off during boarding sends the wrong message to any economy passengers that happen to pass through.
Iberia A350 Business Class Antibacterial Wipes
At around 3:45 PM, the captain came onto the PA to introduce himself, and announced that we’d be arriving in London at the estimated time of 5:05 PM. He also announced our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet.
Iberia’s safety video was then shown, which was quite futuristic-looking, though no humour was incorporated (I mention this because humour is often a great way to get people to actually pay attention to safety videos, which should be the primary aim).
Iberia A350 Business Class Safety Video
The entertainment system worked gate-to-gate, and the touchscreen monitor was very responsive. I quickly scrolled through Iberia’s entertainment system on their A350 – apart from being one of the only airlines not to install tail cameras on the A350, the movie and TV selection was moderately extensive, and I also enjoyed the interactive Flight3D flight map system.
Iberia A350 Business Class Entertainment System
There’s also an inflight shopping system – you can even buy Bose 700 headphones if you want to.
Buying Bose Headphones on Iberia A350
There’s also a touchscreen handheld remote located by the side of the seat, though I didn’t use the entertainment system much during the flight.
Iberia A350 Business Class IFE Handheld Monitor
We ended up pushing back at 4 PM, and after a very short taxi we lined up behind a few Iberia A321s that were departing from the main concourses. It was such a beautiful day for flying, and I was very bummed out that I didn’t end up getting a window seat (there were a few spare seats in economy, though I figured it wasn’t worth the effort asking).
We took off from runway 36L at 4:15 PM, and I managed to use my camera’s zoom function to get a few pictures from adjacent windows. This is what my view could’ve been if it weren’t for Iberia’s hideous IT:
Iberia A350 Business Class Views during Takeoff
Instead, this was my view (to be fair, for an aviation writer, this isn’t really too much worth complaining):
Iberia A350 Business Class – my view during takeoff
The seatbelt sign went off after about 15 minutes of climbing, and I took the opportunity to take my first cabin photo of the Iberia A350 from the back of the cabin.
Iberia A350 Business Class Cabin
I also wanted to raise the privacy partition, though learned that the privacy partition was already in the “up” position (even though the label suggested it had to be in the “down” position for taxi, takeoff and landing). Underwhelmed by how little privacy I had even with the partition up, I decided to test the seat in bed mode, figuring I’d have more privacy while lying down. This was indeed true, and I kept my seat mostly reclined for much of the flight.
The bed itself was comfortable, since the seat was well-padded; I’d have no qualms seated here for a longhaul flight. Unfortunately I couldn’t get much of an opportunity to nap, since the flight time was short, the cabin temperature was kept quite cold, and Iberia doesn’t hand out pillows and blankets on shorthaul flights. The 2″ pitch of the plane becomes more apparent when lying flat in business class without a pillow, so I tilted the seatback up a bit while napping and going on my phone while lying down.
Iberia A350 Business Class Bed
Iberia’s A350s have three bathrooms for business class passengers, and they’re quite modern and well-appointed, similar to what you’d expect on most A350s, save for the faux wood finishes.
Iberia A350 Business Class Lavatory
I decided to purchase WiFi on this flight, partially to stay productive, but also to check out its speed. You’re not allowed to switch your WiFi between devices on Iberia, and there’s also a data cap, which isn’t ideal. There were two choices of packages available – a “Chat” and a “Surf” package, with the latter offering faster WiFi.
On this flight, the Surf package cost €9 for 1 hour/40 MB of data, or €15 for full flight/100 MB of data (on longer flights, there’s also a 200 MB package that costs €30). I’ve since forgotten the pricing of the Chat package, though would recommend against buying a Chat package, since those packages are significantly slower. The WiFi worked well and actually lasted me the entire flight, though I do wish that Iberia would catch up with the likes of BA and offer WiFi without data caps on their longhaul planes – I also found the pricing to be on the steep end (though I’ve heard that Iberia’s WiFi pricing used to be significantly worse – 45 MB used to cost US$34.95!).
Around 15 minutes after takeoff, the captain came onto the PA to call for a medic onboard.
A trolley service was conducted for mealtime, and I received my meal 30 minutes after takeoff. While the trolley service differed from the more personalised service structure on BA where trays were individually brought to passengers’ seats, everything else about the catering experience reminded me of the BA flight I was on the day prior, including the cutlery and plates that the meals were served in. More importantly, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that DO&CO managed Iberia’s catering, since the company is renowned for how good their onboard catering is!
We were offered a choice between a fish and pasta dish (the latter was a gnocchi dish of sorts). I had the fish dish, and while I didn’t know what the fish was (I’m assuming it was sea bass, based on the texture), it was moist and the flavours were delicious. The side salad featured couscous and mozzarella salad, and tasted fresh and flavourful as well; though neither measured up to the caramel panna cotta for dessert, which simply had a sublime texture akin to the finest panna cottas I’ve had on the ground.
Iberia A350 Business Class Meal – Fish with Boiled Potato, Side Salad, Panna Cotta
The way my tray looked after the meal was also reminiscent of the BA flight on my day prior – that’s to say that I finished it all, and scraped the plates clean. What a great meal!
Flawless catering in Iberia business class
The crew served coffee and tea around 10 minutes after the meal was served, and ended up collecting my tray 15-20 minutes after I finished. During that time I decided to check out the premium economy and economy cabins, which I didn’t have a chance to do prior.
The premium economy cabin featured 24 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, and in this case was seated with economy class passengers. The seats looked comfortable enough on first glance, though this cabin was also completely packed, so I didn’t get to try a seat out (the cabin also doesn’t feature its own lavatories, contrary to what the signs seem to suggest in the below picture – in front of the bulkhead are two large galleys).
Iberia A350 Premium Economy
I also checked out economy class, with 293 seats spread across two cabins in 3-3-3 configuration. Iberia’s colour scheme on the A350 is quite consistent across its premium economy and economy cabins, with beige colour tones and hints of red, which I quite like (I actually feel like some pop of colour is missing in the business class cabin, where the red accents are absent).
Iberia A350 Economy Class
I was able to check out two empty Iberia A350 seats at the back of the cabin (which would be my first choice if I was seated here, by the way) – these were Recaro CL3710 seats, very similar to what Hong Kong Airlines used to feature on their A350s. These seats have a decent 31″ of seat pitch, but the padding isn’t particularly impressive – the nook above the table is good for storage when the table is stowed, though can’t be used when the table is unfolded, since items would just fall out.
Iberia A350 Economy Class
The crew were friendly and eager to please, contrary to my expectations based on what I’ve heard about Iberia in the past. I briefly explained my seat switch situation to them when waiting for the bathroom, right when a beautiful sunset was happening outside the window. The crewmembers insisted on asking a (very young) passenger to let me grab some photos of the sunset, which I initially objected to (it wasn’t the passenger’s fault that I got swapped out of my window seat) – I ended up caving in, and the young man in seat 5C graciously let me take some pictures out of his window. The sunset was indeed amazing, one of the best I’ve seen inflight, and I was once again bummed out to not be seated at a window seat.
Sunset from Iberia A350
We hit some chop along the way to London, and the seatbelt sign was turned on for a fair bit of the journey. I tried to get some rest in the reclined position, and also spent some of the remainder of the flight on my phone. My seatmate was also asleep for much of the latter half of the flight, albeit with her seat fully upright.
The rest of the flight was uneventful, but we were wheels-down at Heathrow’s runway 27R at 5:05 PM local time, 10 minutes before our scheduled arrival time. We parked for a fair bit by gate C57 before finally taxiing in, and business class passengers were called to disembark first through door 2L at around 5:25 PM.
Conclusion: Iberia A350 Business Class
Iberia’s A350 features a very solid business class seat. Granted, I was seated in one of the worst seats in the cabin as a solo traveller, though even then I felt like the seat was spacious enough for my needs. This is no longer a cutting-edge business class product in 2021, and the storage options in this seat pales in comparison to some of the newest seats in the market, though I definitely still consider it competitive for longhaul business class flying. The amazing DO&CO catering and friendly crew on this flight left me pleasantly surprised; I wasn’t too impressed by the fact that WiFi was data-capped, though at least the prices were reasonable and the service was usable.
Iberia needs to fix their IT system, which is terrible and fails all possible criteria desirable for a traveller before their flight. Whether that’s with the last-minute seat switch to one of the worst seats to the cabin, or the 24+ hour turnaround to verify travel documents for online check-in (keep in mind some documents such as PCR tests are only attainable less than 24 hours before departure, so passengers travelling to destinations requiring such documents might not be able to check-in online at all), to the chaotic boarding process – these are all such easy fixes, and would’ve made my journey so much smoother.
Given I’d be guaranteed the seat I selected, I wouldn’t mind trying Iberia’s A350 on a longhaul flight.
Have you flown Iberia’s A350 business class before?