This is the conclusion of an eleven-part series covering my June/July 2019 trip to Slovenia and Venice. You can read my last post, discussing my two days in Venice, here.
Iberia Flt. 3243 Venice to Madrid (VCE-MAD)
Airbus A320neo, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 11:55am Sched. Arr. 2:30pm
Actual Dep. 12:13pm Actual Arr. 3:11pm
Iberia Flt. 6253 Madrid to New York-JFK (MAD-JFK)
Airbus A350, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 4:50pm Sched. Arr. 6:40pm
Actual Dep. 5:30pm Actual Arr. 7:40pm
Although it is very convenient to get from the Gritti Palace to the Venice Marco Polo Airport on the mainland, it isn’t super quick. The Alilaguna water taxi “Arancini” line is scheduled to take one hour and fifteen minutes from the Giglio stop outside the Gritti Palace, with only 6 stops in between. Thirty minutes of that time is between the last two stops, and the first four stops are all on the Grand Canal. So even though my flight wasn’t until 11:55am, I still had a fairly early wake-up and was at the pier for an 8:49am boat. (In the morning, boats are every 15 mins, before switching to every 30 later in the afternoon and evening). You can’t buy tickets at the Giglio stop, so have to go to a ticket office somewhere else in town. If you preorder on line, you save one Euro, costing 14 EUR one-way instead of 15 EUR. I’m not sure how it helps the company that much, since you then have to go to a ticket office and exchange the voucher anyway, but I did that on my way into town at the train station.
The water taxi arrived right on time, and I was the one and only passenger. The driver grabbed my suitcase and put it in the luggage area, and we were on our way. The seating is much nicer than on the vaporetto, but the downside is there really isn’t any view. The ride started out quite pleasant until the third stop by the Rialto Bridge, where the boat completely filled up with people with tons of bags, and the boat got unpleasantly warm until we were out on the open water passing Murano. I was surprised by the number of families of four or more on the boat, since at that price I’d go for a private water taxi, which is 120 EUR and takes half the time, but I guess that’s still a substantial price difference.
We arrived at the airport boat terminal fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled, but I hadn’t realized quite how long the walk from there to the terminal would be. The signs say 14 minutes, but I did it a bit faster because I walk at the speed of gay.
Venice opened a brand-new terminal about two years ago. Although it was new and modern, it was a mob-scene on a summer Sunday. It’s an interesting airport because so much of its traffic is seasonal – including all of its North America flights. My routing had me going on Iberia from Venice to Madrid to New York in business class, and I’d continue on to DC the next morning. The Iberia check-in, like all the others, had long lines, with one counter open for regular passengers, another for business and priority, and one for bag drop. I was helped quickly by the agent working the bag drop desk who pulled me from the priority line. She was friendly enough, and told me I had access to priority security and to the Marco Polo Lounge. I was at security by 10:05am, where the “priority” line was actually quite long, as it not only included everyone with status and in premium cabins, but also anyone with a Mastercard World Elite or any of a number of other Mastercard cards. I was also behind a painfully slow American family and got randomly selected for explosives screening, but was out at 10:12am, and then through the massive duty-free shop into the crowded but nice terminal.
There were two lounges: an Alitalia lounge for SkyTeam and its partners, and the airport-affiliated Marco Polo Lounge for everyone else and also accepts Priority Pass. The Marco Polo Lounge was very crowded, but I managed to find seating. There was a main large room by the food with mostly tables and chairs, another area with standard lounge seating, a “green” room with lots of plants, and two not-very-quiet quiet rooms. There was also a large bar with outlets for working, but it was stacked with unsupervised children. For some reason, there were a ton of Orthodox Jews when I was there, so perhaps a group tour. (The daily El Al flight had already left.) Finally, there was a small outdoor area, which had some nice views of the tarmac.
The food spread was decent for a contract lounge, with sandwiches, cakes, yogurts, croissants, weird empanada things, and fruit cups. There was a barista making coffee drinks, and a refrigerator that had juices, water, soft drinks, prosecco and beer. For part of the time it appeared to be self-serve, but then part of the time there was an attendant pouring prosecco. It was fine for my less-than-one-hour stay.
Back in the main terminal, I was impressed by the airiness, but it just couldn’t handle the capacity – there were people sitting on the floors everywhere and the bathroom lines snaked through the terminal. There were no seats in the area around my gate, as there were three flights at adjacent gates departing within twenty minutes of each other (AF to CDG, KL to AMS, and my Iberia flight). Boarding was scheduled to begin at 11:10am and at 10:09am, business class and families with children were welcomed to board…i.e., go to the bus that would take us to the plane. As the long line was starting to move, an American woman asked me if I was on the line for Madrid. I said yes, and she proceeded to cut right to the front of the priority line before business was called. Did I say something to her on the bus? You bet. She said she thought it was the regular line. There were two lines, Karen. It also doesn’t really matter, since they put coach on the same bus and just fill it up. The passenger mix was mostly Spaniards and North Americans, probably about 60% the former and 35% the latter.
At 11:17, the bus took off, and I realized that nearly every narrow-body plane was at a remote stand. I only saw three planes connected via jetbridge: The Delta, AA, and Air Canada Rouge widebodies. Once we got to the plane, we had to wait awhile to get off the bus, before climbing the steps to board the A320neo.
There was one flight attendant welcoming everyone on board. The plane had a standard European business class set-up, with an adjustable number of rows set at 4, with the middle seats blocked off. There was both USB and standard power between each seat, but I couldn’t get it to work the whole flight. Legroom did feel tighter than usual, though. I noted Row 1 had good legroom, unlike a lot of other bulkheads on narrow bodies. At boarding, there was one pillow placed on the middle seat of each row which was odd. All the vents had been closed, so the plane was quite warm.
As we neared scheduled departure, nonrevs took 2 of the three empty seats in business class, and the boarding door closed and the steps pulled away at 11:42am. There were four flight attendants on board, though no predeparture service. At 11:53am, they did a manual safety demonstration with an English and Spanish audio recording. At 12pm, the pilot announced that the flying time would be longer than usual because of wind, and also said we had a delay for a reason I couldn’t understand. We didn’t actually start moving until 12:13pm, and weren’t wheels up until 12:29pm.
Once in the air, there was heavy turbulence, but the seatbelt sign was turned off about fifteen minutes later. At that time, menus were distributed. There were two choices: veal burger or pumpkin-filled pasta, neither of wish sounded particularly appealing on a summer flight. By the time the lead flight attendant working business got to me, though, there was only one choice left, the veal, which was weird seeing I was in row 3 of 4. The meals were served off of a cart at the same time as drinks, and the single flight attendant did the whole service herself. A single tray had the main, a small salad with dressing, two pieces of cheese and a single grape, and a dessert of strawberry yogurt. There was also a piece of Guylian chocolate with a creamer, sugar, and stirrer for coffee. I had a small bottle of Rioja along with it, as well as bread from a bread basket. The salad was very bare, just arugula, walnuts, and a few apple slices. The veal burger main was actually pretty good, though I could not taste any foie gras or truffle as the menu suggested. The potatoes alongside it were quite flavorful. The yogurt was a strange dessert, though. There was a second pass of the bread basket mid-meal. In all, a fine European business class lunch, but a bit weird. Overall, I found the service very unfriendly, and the flight attendant was much friendlier to my neighbor who was a Spaniard, even though I was very polite and spoke to her in Spanish the whole time. My tray was cleared around 1:26, and I asked for a Coke Zero.
After lunch, there was more turbulence, and I did some photo editing. There was no wifi on board. I tried to doze, but my neighbor had taken the sole pillow for behind his back and the seats are not very conducive for sleeping. At 3:01pm, we were on the ground, at the gate at 3:11pm, and off the plane at 3:14pm, 45 minutes late.
What should have been a leisurely two-hour-and-twenty-minute connection in Madrid ended up being a bit of a disaster. I had to get from Madrid’s T4 to T4S, where its US flights operate out of. First, I had to fight my way through the crowded terminal to escalators to the train. It was a five-minute ride, and then I ended up on the most insane passport control line I’ve ever been on. They only had two counters open and there were literally hundreds of people. People kept cutting saying they had flights to make, although we were all on flights leaving at the same time. There was shouting, pushing, all of it. It ended up taking a full half-hour, even though all they were doing was stamping passports.
I finally got through and was dumped into a large duty-free store, which is actually where the new Iberia lounge is located. I had been excited to try it, but my flight was boarding in 17 minutes by then, and the gate was nowhere nearby. So, I headed right to the gate, which ended up being a ten-minute walk away.
All of the U.S.-bound flights leave from the far end of T4S, and there is a document and security check just to enter that area. I got through and to my gate area at around 4:00pm, five minutes before scheduled boarding time. The gate area was a bit of a mob scene, and at 4:16pm, they announced the boarding of Groups 1 and 2 (which included business and priority) through Gate 48, and Groups 3 and 4 through Gate 47. Families with children were boarding at the same time, and there was a lot of pushing and cutting, including a partner from a large law firm who was traveling in business class with his wife, who insisted his adult children needed to board at the same time as him, even though they were in coach.
It was a bus gate anyway, so we all ended up the same place at the same time. The plane wasn’t ready yet, so we ended up waiting standing on the bus for a very long time – the cleaning crew came off the A350 at 4:41, and we were finally allowed to board after thirty minutes on the bus.
Boarding an A350 via stairs is quite the climb and I don’t know if I’ve ever boarded a plane that large that way. I was probably the 100th person on the plane giving the boarding method, but only the third in business class. The cabin was very similar to Iberia’s A330, which I’d flown the year before. The seats were the same, staggered in a 1-2-1 layout. I had a window/window seat, with a large table area separating me from the aisle, and a small armrest by the window. The space between the armrest and the fuselage seemed huge and like a lot of wasted space. The seat had a large television screen, which worked on the ground, and had a decent movie selection, but a poor TV selection. In addition to the touch screen, there was a remote in the seat that had its own mini-screen on it. On the side of the seat, there was a little cubby without a door, and a universal power outlet, two USB ports, and headphone jack. For some reason, using the power outlet caused significant interference with the headphones, so you couldn’t use both at the same time.
At boarding, there was a duvet, a pillow, noise-canceling headphones, and an amenity kit at the seat. The kit included the longest socks I’ve ever seen, which were also super soft. The case itself was a cream and grey fabric and leather, which matched the colors of the cabin. It was a huge change from the bright red neoprene one from the previous year, and the contents also seemed a bit more luxurious. It included a very soft, padded sleep mask, a hairbrush/comb, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, and Germaine de Capuccini facial mask, hand crème, and lip balm (a Spanish high-end cosmetics company I’d never heard of).
As was my prior experience with Iberia, while predeparture beverages were offered, they were limited to water and orange juice, which seems cheap. There seemed to still be a lot going on with ground staff getting the plane ready. I settled into the seat though and found it pretty comfortable, as I could lie down with the seat upright or just curl up.
About 25 minutes after boarding, menus were distributed. I was surprised that a lot of the things in the menu had asterisks and notes indicating they were only available on certain routes, like teas that were only available for the Tokyo flight. Most airlines print different menus for different routes. An audio-only safety announcement played, and we finally pushed back at 5:28pm, without any explanation for the delay. By 5:47pm, we were airborne, about an hour late.
About forty minutes into flight, there were hot towels, and the WiFi turned on. You were supposed to be able to access 20 MB free sponsored by Visa, but I couldn’t get that to work. The other options were super-expensive, and good for “continuous use” on one device only:1 hr/40 mb 8.99 EUR, 3 hr/100mb 19.99, and “full flight” 29.99 but only 200 mb. At 6:25pm, meal orders were taken, followed by table setting and a drink cart. The meal service was probably the warmest interaction I had from Iberia the whole trip. To drink, I had cava and was given a choice of nuts or olives, which were portioned tableside.
At 6:55, the main meal service started. It was actually quite a hefty starter course, with a green salad, a tasty cold chicken breast and apple dish (which also had lettuce), and a cold salmorejo soup, topped with hard boiled egg. Salmorejo is a tomato and bread puree, and tasted good, but they poured it at your seat out of the mass-produced plastic bottle, complete with the label, which was a little tacky. There was also a bread basket, which would appear again and again throughout the meal.
For the main, I went with the turbot to be healthy, and it was fine. It was the second dish of the day to feature artichokes, so Iberia must have gotten a deal. For dessert, I mistakenly went with the ice cream which was an inedible banana caramel flavor, with a passion fruit topping served tableside.
At 7:40, water bottles and chocolates were distributed. I found the bedding to actually be quite comfortable—a thick pillow and a soft but not-too-heavy duvet. I got about two hours sleep. I wanted another drink, but after waiting a while, it seemed there weren’t any flight attendants circulating through the cabin, so I got up and headed towards the galley myself and asked for a Diet Coke. There were packages of almonds and chocolates set out in the front galley, and the bread basket was left out.
About 5.5 hours into the flight, the lights came on, followed by hot towels. Twenty minutes later, the second meal was served along with beverages. The meal was quite sparse, a tiny tuna pie and the smallest caprese salad I’ve ever seen, along with a small fruit cup. The bread basket came in handy. About fifteen minutes later, trays were cleared along with a coffee service. It was more than an hour before landing and that was the last of service. Headsets were collected about 30 minutes before landing, so I just watched the actually pretty cool assortment of flightpath views on the IFE as we approached JFK.
We had a rough landing at 7:12pm New York time, more than 40 minutes late. Oddly, the flight attendant announced we had landed “on time.” We didn’t actually get to our gate at Terminal 7 until 7:40pm. Global Entry was a breeze and the first bags were on the belt at 7:57pm. Although mine had a priority tag, it didn’t come off until 8:14pm.
In all, I wasn’t impressed with Iberia, particularly its Madrid operation. But the price was right, and the hard product is quite good.
Anyways, more than four months later, I’ve now finished reviewing my June/July Slovenia and Venice trip. Thanks for reading if anyone still is. Work should be quiet the next few weeks so I hope to catch up on some posts I have in the hopper. And Happy Thanksgiving!