a row of seats in an airplane

Review: Iberia A320 & Iberia Express A321neo (LIS-MAD-BER)

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Review Overview

Iberia's intra-Europe Economy experience is about as (un)pleasant as any other intra-Europe inflight experience.


I recently had the chance to fly with Iberia from Lisbon to Berlin through Madrid. Seeing as we haven’t reviewed Iberia’s short-haul Economy product, I snapped some photos of the trip. However, I realised immediately after getting off my final flight that a middling intra-Europe Economy Class experience didn’t provide much material for a comprehensive review. That being said, I figured that a post about the experience might be helpful to some travellers. So, here goes…

Booking My Flights on Iberia

I needed to be in Lisbon for a week in mid-April. Unfortunately, this time period coincided with the Easter Holiday peak season. Hence, tickets were ridiculously expensive. Even a round-trip with Ryanair’s most basic fare cost upwards of 300 Euros. I eventually decided to book a round-trip Basic Economy ticket with Iberia for around 400 Euros. While this is an absolutely ridiculous amount to pay for intra-Europe travel, I’m a oneworld Sapphire member through Cathay Pacific, which entitled me to:

  • 1 Free Checked Bag (even on a Basic Economy fare!)
  • Priority Check-In, Security, and Boarding
  • Lounge Access
  • Free Extra Legroom Seat Selection

an airplane parked on a tarmac
My oneworld benefits via Cathay made booking Iberia a no-brainer

Considering that a checked bag and carry on would’ve pretty much evened out the fare difference between Ryanair and Iberia, booking the ticket with Iberia was a no-brainer.

Flight 1: Iberia A320 Lisbon to Madrid

I arrived at Iberia’s desk at Lisbon Airport Terminal 1 a little over two hours before my flight. The desk area was pure chaos: both the Priority and Economy check-in lines were overflowing with passengers, and check-in was inexplicably still closed. Thankfully, the lines moved pretty quickly once the ground staff showed up, and I was through security after a 15-minute wait. I also stopped by the ANA Lounge at Lisbon Airport (no relation to ANA, the airline…), where I waited 10 minutes to enter and was greeted by a packed, middle-of-the-road contract lounge.

Consistent with the rest of the Iberia experience, boarding was another mess. All passengers were effectively clumped together in a giant cluster. Eventually, boarding was called for Group 1 passengers, at which point I clawed my way to the boarding gate to board the flight.

Iberia Flight IB3109
Sunday, April 16th, 2023
Origin: Lisbon Humberto Delgado (LIS) Dep: 12:30 (12:30)
Destination: Madrid-Barajas (MAD) Arr: 14:55 (14:50)
Duration: 1 hr 15 min (50 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A320 Reg: EC-IEF
Seat: 12D (Economy Class)

I was welcomed by a friendly flight attendant and turned right into the small Business Class cabin. Iberia has the exact same Collins Aerospace Pinnacle seats in the first 6 rows of their short-haul aircraft as British Airways. You can read more about these seats in Alvin’s review of British Airways’ A321 Business Class.

On our flight, 4 out of 6 of these “special rows” were in the Business Class cabin, while the remaining 2 rows were marked as Economy “XL” seats, which Iberia extra to reserve.

a row of seats on an airplane
Iberia A320 XL Economy Class Seats

The rest of the cabin was outfitted with slimline Recaro SL3510 seats, which were decked out in grey leather seat covers. I’m not a big fan of Iberia’s cabin design, which is inoffensively boring. At least the red leather headrest covers provide a pop of colour in the cabin…

a row of seats on an airplane
Iberia A320 Economy Class Cabin

I arrived at my exit row seat – 12D – and settled in. The first thing that I noticed was how poorly padded these seats were. That being said, poor seat comfort is pretty standard across all major European short-haul products, so I guess you could say that these seats are industry-competitive.

a row of seats on an airplane
Iberia A320 Economy Class Seats

As usual, legroom in the exit row seats was excellent. I’m around 175cm tall and had plenty of room to stretch out for our one-hour hop across the Iberian peninsula. Meanwhile, the legroom in the “standard” seats looked quite tight. Iberia hasn’t gotten rid of seat pockets in their short-haul Economy Class (yet…), which held the Buy On-Board food menu and a safety card.

a close up of an airplane seat
Iberia A320 Economy Class Exit Row Legroom

The seat also has small but sturdy tray table with a cup-holder. Unfortunately, my table didn’t move backwards and forwards so I found it a bit difficult to get work done on my laptop.

a white chair with a seat open
Iberia A320 Economy Class Tray Table

Iberia’s A320s have 2 USB charging outlets between every seat. I was happy to charge my phone, especially given my short connection in Madrid. Man, the bar for intra-European economy class travel truly is on the floor, but at least Iberia meets that bar.

a window on an airplane
Iberia A320 Economy Class Exit Row

A friendly flight attendant also stopped by to brief me and my seatmates about operating the emergency exit. Shortly after boarding was completed, a flight attendant welcomed us over the PA and a manual safety demonstration was performed.

a group of people sitting in an airplane
Iberia A320 Economy Class Cabin

The rest of the flight was uneventful. After take-off, a flight attendant came through the cabin offering food and drinks for purchase, although there weren’t many takers in this sub-one hour flight – myself included.

Iberia offers WiFi on many of their short-haul aircraft via the same .air programme used by British Airways. I was pleasantly surprised that Iberia offers free messaging for all Business Class and Iberia Plus passengers (yes, even non-elites!). Non-Iberia Plus passengers can instantly sign up on-board to gain access to the free messaging. While I was a little annoyed by the data grab, it was nice to stay connected.

20 minutes before landing, the lead flight attendant came on the PA to announce connecting and arrival gate information. We arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport Terminal 4 shortly afterwards, where I took some time to snap this photo of our A320.

a plane on the runway
Iberia A320 at Madrid Barajas Airport

Flight 2: Iberia Express A321neo Madrid to Berlin

I made a run for the Iberia Dali lounge at Madrid Airport for a quick lunch, where I arrived in the middle of the afternoon “bank” of flights. The lounge was packed to the point where I felt uncomfortable taking pictures. I then headed straight for our gate, where boarding was already well underway.

Iberia Express Flight I23672
Sunday, April 16th, 2023
Origin: Madrid Barajas (MAD) Dep: 15:55 (16:10)
Destination: Berlin Brandenburg (BER) Arr: 19:00 (18:52)
Duration: 3 hr 05 min (2 hr 42 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo Reg: EC-NJI
Seat: 29A (Economy Class)

I boarded through the front door and passed the Business Class cabin. The first six rows of the cabin were – again – fitted with more comfortable seats. The rest of the aircraft was filled with the same slimline Recaro seats as on my flight from Lisbon to Madrid.

a row of seats on an airplane
Iberia Express A321neo Economy Cabin

Wait. What’s the difference between Iberia and Iberia Express?

I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference between “mainline” Iberia and Iberia Express was before this flight. As it turns out, Iberia Express is a separate low-cost carrier that operates part of “mainline” Iberia’s route network. Iberia Express also has lower operating costs (e.g. cheaper crew contracts), allowing it to operate under-performing routes on behalf of “mainline” Iberia. For example, Iberia Express operates a ton of flights popular Spanish leisure destinations such as Ibiza, Palma, and Malaga.

There’s some major similarities between the Iberia and Iberia Express experience:

  • Iberia Express is an affiliate member of oneworld, meaning that oneworld elites receive priority benefits
  • The ground experience is largely similar to what you’d expect for a “mainline” Iberia flight
  • Aircraft configurations and cabins are largely similar between both of the airlines

That being said, there’s also a few differences:

  • Iberia Express doesn’t offer inflight WiFi, but rather offers streaming entertainment through its “Club Iberia Express” portal.
  • Iberia Express has a different buy on-board menu offering to “mainline” Iberia flights. Notably, you can’t pre-order hot meals with Iberia Express.
  • The crew wear different uniforms (it’s not a big deal, I just thought I’d point it out…)

With that out of the way….

I arrived at my seat 29A, which is an exit row seat at the rear of the aircraft. The seats in row 29 provide substantially more legroom than any other seat on the aircraft, as they’re the only exit row seats that are behind a full-sized door. You can see the copious amount of legroom that I had in the picture below.

a plane with seats and a screen
Iberia Express A321neo Economy Legroom

If you’re looking to book an exit row seat on Iberia’s A321neo, I strongly recommend picking a seat in Row 29.

Purple mood lighting was switched on as passengers were boarding. This was my first experience on an A321neo outfitted with Airbus’ new “Airspace” cabin design. However, apart from the larger overhead lockers (which I appreciated), I didn’t notice anything groundbreaking in the rest of the cabin.

A flight attendant came by with placards explaining additional exit-row safety information after boarding ended. Interestingly, the crew requested that all exit-row passengers remove any headphones for take-off and landing, which I haven’t experienced with any other airline.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I briefly checked out their Club Iberia Express streaming entertainment programme, which featured a mediocre selection of movies and television shows. I also had the chance to check out Airbus’ new Spaceflex toilets, which were ridiculously narrow.

We landed in rainy Berlin ahead of schedule (which the crew made a point of mentioning during their arrival announcement…). After a brief delay due to a lack of ground staff, we arrived at our bus gate. I took the chance to snap one last picture of the cabin.

a row of seats in an airplane
Iberia Express A321neo Economy Cabin

The rainy day didn’t stop me from enjoying the view of the A321neo that had brought us to Berlin. Damn!

a plane on the runway
Iberia Express A321neo at Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Miraculously, my bags made it all the way to Berlin. After collecting my suitcase, I made a beeline for Berlin Airport’s train station where I caught a regional train home.

Conclusion: Iberia’s Shorthaul Economy Class

There’s not much room for things to go wrong on sub-3 hour flights. However, the overall intra-Europe Economy Class experience is unpleasant. The ground experience is chaotic, the seats are uncomfortable, there’s minimal entertainment, and the constant nickel-and-diming is annoying and inconsistent with ticket prices on legacy carriers.

With this in mind, Iberia and Iberia Express offer an average inflight experience. There’s not much going for the inflight experience, but it’s on-par with most of their European competitors. Iberia does a good job with oneworld elite recognition, so I would recommend that oneworld status holders choose Iberia over other airlines. However, if you don’t have your elite status – it’s not worth it to pay a premium to fly Iberia over any other airline.

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