Review: Iberia Economy Class A321 Madrid To London

Filed Under: Iberia

I had booked a paid economy ticket for this trip, and managed to upgrade my American flight from London to Los Angeles using a systemwide upgrade. However, there was no easy way to upgrade the Madrid to London flight, so I was in economy for the short sector. That’s not much of a loss, though, given that intra-Europe business class is simply economy class with a blocked middle seat and slightly better service.

Iberia 3162
Madrid (MAD) – London (LHR)
Tuesday, November 3
Depart: 8:20AM
Arrive: 9:50AM
Duration: 2hr30min
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 17A (Economy Class)

I was among the first economy passengers to board, given that oneworld Emerald members can board via the fast track lane with business class.

The business class cabin on this particular flight was huge, as it extended to row 10. Given that business class is simply economy with a blocked middle, it’s easy for the airline to adjust the size of the business class cabin to meet demand on every flight. Given that this was a flight to London, I guess I’m not surprised the business cabin was so big.

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Iberia A321 business class cabin

At the door I was welcomed aboard by the cabin manager, Francisco, and directed to my seat.

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Iberia A321 economy class cabin

At check-in I was assigned seat 17A, which was just over the wing, towards the front of the economy cabin.

Apparently Iberia’s A321 economy seats have 31″ of pitch and 17″ of width, which seems tight. But I actually found it to be reasonably spacious. When I fly economy it’s usually in an exit row or seat with extra legroom, so I was expecting to feel like it was super tight, but it wasn’t.

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Iberia A321 economy class, seat 17A

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Iberia A321 economy class, seat 17A

The seats were slimline Recaro seats, which means they’re quite “thin.” The inflight magazines were in the rack on top of the tray table, leaving extra space around my knees.

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Iberia A321 economy class, seat 17A

As is the norm on non-US airlines, the boarding process was super efficient, and everyone was seated within 20 minutes. This flight was especially full, with every seat taken. Two ladies settled in next to me, and they were the ideal seatmates — they both had small frames and didn’t speak a word the entire flight.

Since Iberia doesn’t have inflight entertainment or wifi, I loaded some shows onto my iPad, and began watching “Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles” the second I settled into my seat, and I managed to get through about three episodes on the flight.

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Seatback entertainment

While we were scheduled to depart at 8:20AM, the door didn’t close until 8:25AM, and then we didn’t move for a while. At 8:30AM the captain came on the PA to welcome us aboard and apologize for the delay, which was due to some late inbound passengers, as we were just waiting on their bags to be loaded.

The captain’s English was adorably bad, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I barely speak any Spanish, but I understood his announcements better in Spanish than English. The way he parsed words together was actually sort of endearing — “uhhh apologize delay due late passengers we fly now to London in two hour flight.” Alrighty then!

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Rainy morning in Madrid

We pushed back at around 8:35AM, and five minutes later were cleared for takeoff. Our takeoff roll was rather long. I quite enjoy taking off in rainy weather, as it’s kind of cool when the water “runs” down the windows.

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Taking off Madrid Airport

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View after takeoff from Madrid Airport

As usual, it was a gorgeous day once we were above the clouds.

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Climbing out of Madrid Airport

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Climbing out of Madrid Airport

The seatbelt sign was turned off less than 10 minutes after takeoff, at which point the curtains were closed between economy and business class.

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Cabin after takeoff from Madrid

About five minutes after the seatbelt sign was turned off the crew was through the cabin for their service. I didn’t actually realize till I looked at the menu that Iberia has a super low cost carrier approach to intra-Europe service, as they charge for everything.

Here’s a small sampling of the economy buy on board menu:

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The good news about this service model is that it took them less than 10 minutes to serve the entire cabin, which caused less blockage in the aisle.

About 1hr20min after takeoff we began our descent into London, though halfway through the descent the captain came on the PA to inform us we’d be in a holding pattern, which he didn’t expect to last too long.

Within 10 minutes we were cleared to continue our descent, and at 9:45AM we had a smooth touchdown at Heathrow Airport.

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View on final approach into London

Our taxi to the gate took quite a while, though, as it was 15 minutes before we pulled up to our stand at Terminal 5. Fortunately the traffic enroute was interesting, as we passed Terminal 3.

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Taxiing Heathrow Airport

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Terminal 3 Heathrow Airport

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Cathay Pacific 777-300ER Heathrow Airport

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Terminal 5 Heathrow Airport

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Terminal 5 Heathrow Airport

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Terminal 5 Heathrow Airport

We eventually pulled in next to a British Airways 767. I actually didn’t even realize until the day before the flight that Iberia operates out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, as that’s a fairly recent change. While I realize Iberia is part of IAG, I can’t quite rationalize that, especially given the number of British Airways frequencies which operate out of Terminal 3 (you’d think British Airways would just keep their own flights at T5 instead).

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British Airways 767 Heathrow Airport

Upon deplaning I began the marathon to Terminal 3, where my American flight was departing from. My connection time was only 1hr45min to begin with, so with a further 10 minute delay it was a bit of a hustle.

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View upon arrival at Heathrow Airport

I first navigated my way through Terminal 5. Even leaving the terminal is a complete maze. I eventually made it down to the transfer bus, where there was a decent size queue for Terminal 3 transfers.

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Transferring terminals Heathrow Airport

The bus arrived within a couple of minutes, and it was literally the most crowded bus I’ve ever been in. And I’ve taken airport buses in Egypt, China, India, etc. My face was literally stuffed in a mature British man’s armpit, though at least he was kind enough to hold onto my carry-ons, which I had become separated from due to how crowded the bus was. Heathrow transfers aren’t quick either, as the T5 to T3 one takes over 10 minutes.

At T3 it was then a 15 minute wait to clear security.

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Terminal 3 Heathrow Airport

Did I mention I hate transiting Heathrow Airport? 😉

Iberia economy class bottom line

While Iberia’s intra-Europe service is truly no frills, the flight was pretty close to on-time, the staff were friendly, and I didn’t find the seat to be all that uncomfortable. I certainly object less to Iberia economy class than I do to Heathrow Airport.

I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Iberia intra-Europe again, though I’d be curious to try their business class product, to see how it compares to other “full service” European airlines.

If you’ve flown Iberia economy class, what was your experience like?

  1. @john, I have at times wondered if there will eventually be a problem with a pilots English skills. I don’t think it would likely occur going into USA or UK. it seems to me like the greatest risk is two people speaking English where it is a second language for both the controller and the pilot. Normal communications are routine and well practiced but if something unusual happen I could see communication difficulty causing safety concerns.

  2. Ben,
    Nice to see your report Y class on IB flight – It is not offen we see you travel Y class inside Europe. Myself I haven’t try IB flight for several years so it was a surprice that it seem to be a NO FRIIS airline. The good news is that there is still lots of good service (free food) airline in Europe – here just to mension a few – Germanwings (4U) amazing service – freebottle water-Sandw-soft drink – great coffee-cream –AF – even HOP (lowfare) free newspaper-sandw/croissant-softdrink-great coffee – SWISS (LX) free great coffee w. cream-croissant-AUSTRIAN (OS) again great coffee w. cream-croissant -Air Malta (KM) free hot meal-beer/wine/soft drink -Aegean (3A) amazing service hot meal – free greek wine/beer – great coffee w. cream – I am not surprise this airline got the price for best Airline in Europe for best service 2014.
    Some I the worth airlines in Europe for almost no service I had used recently SAS (SK) only free bad coffee NO cream – Norwegian (DY) seem to be like IB where everything cost.
    Bye the way it could be nice to know first if we (your fans of your blog) can send photo of our airline – flight experience
    Thanks for taking your time.

  3. Iberia have an evening service Heathrow to Madrid most evenings on the A340 series with lie down flat beds! Wonderful. The food tray is standard intra-Europe food but complimentary in business.

  4. @John
    I find it strange as well. I remember that the avianca crash in new york back in the 90s had a captain who couldnt speak english well, and that ultimately contributed to the cause.

  5. Wouldn’t it be easier to clear immigration (Use EU passport) and take heathrow express for free to Terminal 3?

  6. Intra-Europe business class on IB A321 gets you 2in. more of recline with same 17in. width seat.

    The last supper consisted of stuffed chicken in a saffron-butter sauce, arugula-tomato-cucumber salad, rolls, a Basque cheese slice, an orange and a disposable wet wipe.

    The pilots are fluent in English, but the Castillian accent makes c’s, s’s and z’s sound like English th’s. Glad you found the enunciation adorable. It must be hard for Spaniards to keep up with Catalan, Galician, Basque and dozens of dialects.

  7. Funny that you say the difference between Economy and Business is “… with slightly better service” – and then fly Iberia 🙂 – because with their low cost approach in Economy the service difference to Business Class is one of the biggest ones in Europe.

    Iberia Business Class has full service with usually a hot meal (often times better than their long haul meals which are a desaster most of the times) and free flow bar. Iberia is particular strong in their wine offerings if you like Spanish wine. Add into the mix a more generous seat pitch (34 inch for the first rows, I don’t know how many) and it’s an airline where you can actually justify a higher business class fare to a certain extend.

  8. Hi, I flew Iberia economy from LAX to Madrid last Fall. I am 5’3″ and not fat. I had a window seat and it was one of the worst flights I have ever had. There was no behind the seat entertainment and I could not see the TV screen above the aisle. Luckily I had my books and iPhone fully loaded. I felt very swished as there was hardly any room to put my stuff under the seat and have a place for my feet. The person in the middle seat was very miserable. He was a big person, at least 6’5″ tall and he could not even put his tray down for the food service as his knees were in the way. I will never take a long haul trip in economy on Iberia again. Luckily, my flight back was British Air to London and then American (one of their new planes.) I agree, London Heathrow is horrible. What a maze. Security and passport control takes forever even when you are changing planes and they don’t care if you miss your flight. I always seem to get some jogging in! I try to avoid it, but sometimes options are limited.
    Cheers, Nita

  9. The late afternoon/eve flight from MAD-LHR is in fact now operated by a A330 with there new business class flat bed seats. I snagged two seats for Dec the other week during the avios sale. Cost just under 8,000 avios one way…bargain! The rest of the flights during the day are with short haul aircraft.

  10. I flew IB round trip MAD to LHR to MAD last week. Got the 50 euro upgrade going (A321)…only three rows and more space and a very nice full lunch. Other than, nothing stood out. Return on A320, no upgrade offered (it was actually a BA flight operated by IB) but seat 12A, emergency row, was spacious, great seat mates so all was well. Didn’t sample the high priced stuff on offer. Being AA emerald, I got through everything in five minutes or less, including LHR security. I agree about the pain of transferring terminals at LHR. I had no connections either way so it didn’t matter but what a hassle. Nice to get on the LAN 787 for the flight home to Santiago.

  11. Reading your stupid reviews just get my frustrated. All you do is fly business/first EVERYWHERE you go, without even bothering to fly economy class. I bet if you flew economy class, your review would be nothing but negative remarks. You live the high life drinking champagne at 35000ft, while we’re cramped in cattle class trying to sleep. I hope that when your old on your deathbed, you finally realize that you haven’t accomplished s*** with your life.

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