Who doesn’t like more legroom, better food, more entertainment options, and better service on long flights? I certainly do. I also enjoy the new experience of flying an airline I haven’t flown previously, so I was quite pleased when American Airlines put me in partner Iberia Airlines’ Business PLUS Class for my recent flight to Amsterdam.

In my estimation, the benefits of flying business class on international flights start with access to airlines’ airport lounges. Although my home airport has no such facility, I was able to relax, check e-mail, and enjoy a snack at American’s Admiral's Club Lounge during my three-hour layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as I waited for my flight to Madrid. That respite from the maddening crowds in the terminals helped start my trip on a high note.

Boarding the Iberia A340, I was directed to seat 4D, a typical business-class arrangement with a fully reclining seat, entertainment unit, and amenities kit. And while I would take advantage of those items as the flight wore on, I was eagerly anticipating tasting the food and experiencing the service.

The food and drink were quite good.

Business Class meal aboard Iberia Airlines
First course
Service started with a beverage. Iberia’s wine list included three reds, two whites, Cava (the Spanish sparking wine), and liquors. A starter of chicken consommĂ© accompanying a smoked salmon and Parmesan salad was followed by the passenger’s choice of a main course of chicken, fish, or pasta. Dessert offerings included a selection of cheeses, fruit, or ice cream. As we neared Madrid, we were also treated to a light desayuno (breakfast).

As with many long-haul carriers, Iberia has an area toward the rear of the Business PLUS section, which it calls simply “bar service”. Passengers can help themselves to beverages, finger sandwiches, and other appetizers as the mood strikes them.

Business Class wine and cheese course aboard Iberia Airlines
Wine and cheese course
In-flight entertainment included a selection of both audio programs and on-demand videos. I used my own ear buds and candidly don’t recall if there were typical airline headphones provided. American Airlines provides its business-class passengers with the use of Bose noise-canceling headphones, which are a real treat; nothing similar was offered by Iberia.

When it came time to snooze, I found that my seat did go fully flat, but only reclined to 170° - off level enough to leave me feeling like I was about to slide off. More important, the seat wasn’t very well padded and was not comfortable in that position. A reclining position more like one’s easy chair at home proved to be more to my liking, and actually allowed me to get a little sleep.

The amenities kit contained footies for in-flight wear, a bag for your street shoes, a shoehorn, earplugs, moisturizer and eau de toilette, lip balm, toothbrush and toothpaste. For comparison, American’s business-class amenities kit contains footies, eyeshades, earplugs, mints, tissue, toothbrush and toothpaste, Burt’s Bees lip balm and – thoughtfully – a pen for filling out the requisite immigration forms.

The service. Ah, the service.

To Iberia’s credit, we had four flight attendants for 42 business-class seats. That’s a very good ratio of FAs to passengers and, for many, it meant excellent service.

I wasn’t one of the fortunate.

I don’t know why it happens to me so often but if there’s one sourpuss among the in-flight crew, that’s the one who’ll be taking care of my area. You guessed it; that was the case on my flight to Madrid.

Business Class meal aboard Iberia Airlines
Salad course en route to Amsterdam
The business-class section of the A340 had two aisles with two flight attendants serving in each. The aisle on which I sat was tended by a very pleasant gentleman -- and a woman whose attitude projected very clearly that she’d rather be somewhere else. She didn’t bother to speak more than a very few words to those who didn’t speak Spanish, nor did she respond favorably when I tried to use the Spanish I do know.

Before you protest that I’m being too hard on her or perhaps speculate that her English might not have been that good, remember that FAs don’t just stumble on to overseas flights; such runs are among the most desirable. Considering that they know the destinations of the flights and, by extension, the other languages that will likely be spoken by the passengers, it does no one a service to bid on a flight to a country where you don’t speak the language. It certainly didn’t reflect well on the airline, either.

The airport lounge.

Iberia Business Class lounge at Madrid's Barajas Airport
Iberia lounge at Barajas Airport
After arriving in Madrid, I checked in to Iberia’s lounge and headed straight for the showers. I’m always amazed at what a pick-me-up that is!

The lounge had more munchies and alcohol available (like I needed any more of either at that point) as well as computers, comfortable seating areas, and other amenities including a conference room for guests’ use (including a humorous misspelling in the English translation). The staff members at the lounge were all cordial and helpful, making sure guests felt welcome and had what we needed.

On the shorter (2-1/2 hour) flight from Madrid to Amsterdam, I was provided with yet another meal which was less grandly presented but no less tasty. And on this flight, the FAs actually deigned to speak with their passengers, making the time go by more quickly.

Overall, I’d give Iberia’s Business PLUS cabin a grade of a B- to a B, largely because of the service and seating issues. Better than average, but far from “best in class.”

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.


Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger size.

This entry was originally posted November 5, 2009.