Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Flight #: IB3167
Route: London Heathrow (LHR) > Madrid Barajas International Airport (MAD)
Date: September 26, 2021
Duration: 1hr 52mins
Cabin and Layout: Iberia business class, 31-seat capacity across 8 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration
Cash Cost: £230 (~$309) (open-jaw round-trip LHR-MAD (with Iberia), BCN-LHR (with British Airways))
Typical Miles Cost: 15,000 Avios + £17.50 (~$23)
Flying Proper Business Class in Europe Is a Rarity
Intra-European flights are more commonly operated by smaller, narrow-body aircraft like Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s.
There are some busier routes that operate with larger aircraft for cargo purposes, like the London to Madrid route that was operated by Iberia’s A330 and A340-600 aircraft before the pandemic.
The experience of flying business class on a wide-body aircraft like Iberia’s A350 is infinitely better than a smaller jet. While the food and service elements are scaled back compared to what you might expect on the same aircraft but on a long-haul flight, the hard product (the seat, etc.) is far superior.
Booking My Flight
I booked my flight about a month in advance, which is typically a little late for me.
At the time, I thought that £230 (~$309) for a return flight in business class from London to Madrid was some kind of sale, or even a mistake fare. Apparently, it’s pretty standard as at the time of publishing I was able to find round-trip business class fares over many dates from London to Madrid with a mixture of British Airways and Iberia for around £262 (~$350). It’s actually very good value, especially if you have a lie-flat bed.
I could have also used Avios for this flight. A one-way between London and Madrid can set you back a combination of different prices.
When I booked the trip I was chasing Tier Points, so earning the 40 Tier Points each way was definitely more appealing than the 5, 10, or 20 I’d have earned each way depending on the booking class of the economy fare I could have otherwise booked.
For every flight flown with British Airways and other Oneworld carriers, both Tier Points and Avios are earned when using cash to pay for the tickets. The higher your booking and cabin class, the more Avios and Tier Points you earn.
You can check how much you will earn per flight by using British Airways’ handy calculator:
So as you can see, I earned a total of 40 Tier Points. Due to BA website issues, the Avios I earned from that flight haven’t been awarded yet, but I expect either 1,572 or 2,358 Avios.
I was quite happy with the £230 (~$309) I paid for this business class return flight to Spain as sometimes even a Ryanair flight can cost upwards of £100 (~$133) when you include things like baggage and seat selection. More about that later.
Before the Flight
Part and parcel of being an AvGeek is being picky about the seat you sit in.
If I’m on a work trip, I like to make sure I’m by the window. In fact, I always like to be at the window.
Frustratingly, when booking an Iberia flight through ba.com, you can’t change your seat. Instead, you get directed to Iberia’s website where you’re supposed to be able to log in using the booking number, but I’ve never had any luck that way.
Thankfully, as if the airline knew, I was auto-selected a window seat. Had that not been the case, I’d have probably spent some time trying to get that rectified.
London Heathrow (LHR)
I hopped on the Heathrow Express straight to Terminal 5. It always amazes me just how quick the train is — just 21 minutes from London Paddington Station to Terminal 5 and just 15 minutes nonstop to Terminal 2 and 3’s joint station.
As it was a last-minute decision, I paid £22 ($30) for the privilege. Depending on where I am in London, getting the Heathrow Express doesn’t always make sense in terms of time or money. If it’ll take more than 15 to 20 minutes to get to Paddington from wherever I am, I’ll just stick to the good old Piccadilly Line (the line that runs from central London all the way out to Heathrow).
According to the Heathrow Express website, you can get one-way tickets for as low as £5.50 (~$7.40) when you book at least 90 days before your trip, though I’ve never been lucky enough to find such low fares.
I arrived at the front of the business class check-in line with only another couple in front who were already being checked in. I waited less than 2 minutes.
I’d never seen huge screens at manned check-in desks like this one at Iberia’s in London. It seems kind of unnecessary given a staff member would be checking you in. I don’t think the screen was even turned on.
I normally like to have a bit of rapport with my check-in agents, and at Heathrow (especially with BA) this is usually great. This time I was out of luck as my check-in agent didn’t seem to be up for any light-hearted banter.
The line for economy was considerably longer.
Lounge Options at Heathrow
My business class ticket with Iberia granted me access to the 3 British Airways Galleries Lounges located in Heathrow’s Terminal 5: the Galleries North, South, and B Gates lounges.
I headed to the largest of the 3 — the Galleries South Lounge. It’s usually my go-to, purely for the runway views.
If the runway being used doesn’t cater to my inner AvGeek, I’ll often head instead to the quieter, more secluded Galleries B Gates Lounge that’s situated a short shuttle train ride away in the Satellite Terminal B.
Overall, I enjoyed my stay in the lounge. The food was tasty and it came soon after I ordered it. I much prefer the new at-table ordering system that was brought in because of the pandemic. Here’s hoping it becomes permanent.
On the other hand, the lounge could have been cleaner and tidier. On one bathroom visit, I was quite appalled at the dirtiness, especially given the pandemic era we’re living through.
Check out the full write-up of my experience at the British Airways Galleries South Lounge to find out more.
I could have also used my Priority Pass and headed to the Aspire Lounge in Heathrow’s T5. While the BA Galleries Lounges could do with a refresh, I’d only ever really visit the Aspire Lounge if I was flying economy and had no elite status.
Boarding London to Madrid
I usually aim to get to the gate in plenty of time, mainly so I can be one of the first to board and get some decent photos of the cabin before it gets too full.
This time I lost track of time while working in the lounge. By the time I’d noticed the departure board flashing “Go To Gate” and taken the transit from the main A concourse to the B satellite terminal, boarding was well underway.
I had just enough time to snap a photo of the beautiful Airbus A350 that would fly me to Madrid (MAD).
They say a shoddy workman blames his tools, but the sunlight and dirty windows really weren’t in my favor here — I’ll do better next time, promise.
Iberia Business Class [LHR to MAD]
We seemed to be on the ground a while before we eventually pushed back at 7:13 p.m., 23 minutes later than the scheduled departure time of 6:50 p.m.
When I’m sat by the window and have views like this, sitting on the tarmac for an extra bit of time doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
Hola y bienvenidos to the spacious 3L on Iberia’s A350-900.
I had never flown Iberia’s business class before and had no expectations, but was initially very impressed with the hard product.
As you’d expect with a new aircraft like the A350, my seat reclined into the all-important fully flat position. As comfy as it looks, I was too busy enjoying myself to waste time napping on such a short flight.
When fully flat, the seat is 76 inches long, so there was more than enough space for me to stretch out.
The seat was also super-wide, perhaps the widest business class seat I’ve sat in so far. The Iberia website states that its business class seats offer anywhere from 19 to 23 inches of width.
I can confirm that its A350 variation is definitely on the larger side.
Over my shoulder to the left were the only (rather small) storage spaces available and a little reading light.
Within easy reach underneath were 2 USB ports, a headphone port, and a power outlet for any variety of plug.
One of the cabin crew spied me taking a close-up of the sign advising “No stowage during taxi, takeoff and landing” and asked me why I was taking a picture. He then said that it was fine for me to store things there.
The very large tray table was stowed in a flip-down, swivel-out manor from the back of the seat in front of me. While I liked how big it was, the pivot was fixed in 1 position, meaning it couldn’t be moved closer while eating.
The padded headrest was comfy, had foldable wings for added support, and could be easily adjusted vertically.
Lower down to my left were the control panel for the seat, a hand-held IFE control, and a large, fixed side table with a built-in cup holder.
Iberia’s Airbus A350 business class cabins comprise 30 seats in 8 1-2-1 configured rows.
The cabin felt bright and spacious despite being full.
There was more than enough space for storage in the large overhead bins.
My seat and surrounding area felt clean and sanitary. As the aircraft was only 18 months old at the time of flying, wear and tear were at an absolute minimum.
I was a little surprised by the bathroom, which, before we had even taken off, was in an unacceptable state. There was toilet paper all over the floor and even some blocking the sink.
As this was only a short, sub-2-hour hop from London to Madrid, there was neither an amenity kit nor a bottle of water waiting for me at my seat upon boarding.
Instead, passengers were presented with a small packet of hand gel, which is now commonplace when boarding most airlines no matter what cabin you’re traveling in.
It was also rather warm onboard, so I asked for some water. Rather than a bottle, I was given a tiny cup which I drank the contents of in 1 gulp.
Headphones (unnecessarily wrapped in plastic) were also available upon request.
The headphones were by no means noise-canceling, but the sound quality was surprisingly good.
My IFE screen advised me from the get-go that Wi-Fi was available.
Packages started from just €4 (~$4.50) for 1 hour of a 20MB connection that would be just enough for instant messaging.
The most expensive package had over 1 hour of service with 100MB speeds for €15 (~$17), which would have been fast enough for browsing the internet and checking social media.
Personally, I prefer to use my time above the clouds to disconnect from the world below for a while, so I didn’t connect to the internet on this occasion.
Food and Beverage
As is usually the case, no pre-departure drinks were offered. This is a service reserved for long-haul flights, though it does feel like something is amiss when you don’t start a flight with a glass of bubbles on a wide-body aircraft like the A350.
The evening meal service started promptly around 15 minutes after we departed Heathrow.
I had the choice between a vegetarian dish or some kind of beef. I try to eat as little red meat as possible, so I opted for the vegetarian dish.
It arrived covered in a selection of foil, cellophane, and plastic lids. Airlines really need to start doing better when it comes to single-use plastics — especially in business class when food should ideally be served plated and not covered over.
At first glance, that meal tray looks no more premium than what you’d get served on a long-haul flight in economy.
Once unwrapped, it was colorful, fresh, and tasted delicious.
Not a bad dinner setup, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The tricolore salad to start was wonderfully light and fresh.
The entrée was impressive. The veggies and rice were perfectly cooked and the curry-style sauce added just the right amount of moisture and flavor.
Shortly after meals were served, water was offered around the cabin followed swiftly by tea and coffee.
We hadn’t even reached the Bay of Biscay and I was already onto dessert — a telling sign of how much I was enjoying my meal.
I have to say, I’m rather partial to a Do&Co dessert. However, this cheesecake was a little too on the creamy side for my digestive system to handle, but the couple of bites I allowed myself were definitely worth it.
It wouldn’t be business class without bubbles, would it?
No Champagne here, though. In true Spanish style, Iberia’s premium wine option was served up in the form of Jaume Serra Cava. If only the bottle they served it in was a bit bigger…
Going back to my comment earlier on the awkward position of the tray table, I took a picture to help you visualize my gripe.
Here you can see that when I’m sat in the upright position, my table was fixed at more than a knife and fork’s length away from me.
I’m now wondering whether I could have adjusted my seat to slide forward, closer to the tray. If that is the case, please feel free to let us know in the comments.
I was nearing the end of my veggie rice dish and spotted this little critter lurking. I know inflight food is prepared in the most sanitary of conditions, but my hair is longer and nowhere near as dark as that…
I like that I was able to set my dinner tray on the huge side table (or cocktail table as the airline refers to it) rather than having to wait until it was cleared away to get my space back.
Other than the tiny mishap with the stowaway hair, I really enjoy my evening meal.
The IFE screens are at least 15.4 inches and a lot bigger than my hand. Similar to the situation with the tray table, the TV screen was also in a fixed position, making for an awkward viewing angle when in the lie-flat position.
However, the screen responded in an instant when touched, and the picture quality was crystal clear.
There were more than enough films and shows to keep me entertained on the brief flight.
It’s always a pleasure to be able to follow a moving map on such a short flight, too.
I can’t remember a time that I’ve ever been blown away by the service on Iberia, and this flight was no exception.
The experience was similar to the kind of service you can expect in Spanish restaurants: very impersonal with the bare minimum, albeit professional, effort.
Here’s an example — in my experience, no matter the distance of the flight, when flying in premium cabins, the crew is generally proactive when it comes to noticing when drink levels are low and offering top-ups. This was not the case with Iberia. I flagged one of the crewmembers down as she whizzed through the cabin paying little-to-no attention to passengers. When I asked if I could please have another Cava, she responded with a split second of eye contact and just said, “¿Otro?” (another). She came back a couple of moments later and plonked a second miniature bottle on my cocktail table without saying a word.
A little bit more warmth and proactivity from this crew would have definitely made for a more premium experience.
There were also a couple of interesting PA announcements that I’d never heard before:
- The first was while taxiing to the runway. A crew member explained that those who signed up to the Iberia Avios program while onboard the flight would receive a bonus of 1,000 Avios. I seem to remember having heard something similar while flying domestically in the U.S. but never on this side of the Atlantic.
- The second was also during the initial pre-take-off announcements. Passengers were asked to minimize the use of their individual air vents. I can only assume this to be COVID-related, but given I’d never heard it on any other airline in all my pandemic-era flying, I found it a bit strange.
Other than the industry standard obligatory mask-wearing, the only other noticeable COVID-19 changes to service were the widely-used hand sanitizer on board and the strange PA announcement asking to reduce the use of the individual air vent.
I popped back to the dirty bathroom about halfway through the flight and it had indeed been given a quick spruce-up.
The bathrooms on Iberia’s A350 business class don’t appear to be any different than what you’d expect in a normal economy bathroom.
Flying in business class should feel premium every step of the way, even when going to the bathroom.
Many airlines, especially Middle Eastern and Asian carriers, provide premium passengers with mini vanity kits and premium soaps and creams, as well as a larger space for changing purposes. This is definitely not the case on board Iberia’s A350s.
We landed in Madrid at 8:04 p.m., a few minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival time of 8:10 p.m. We then pulled onto the stand shortly thereafter.
I was one of the first to disembark and headed straight downstairs to the transit area. Landing from another continent or non-Schengen area country within Europe means landing at Iberia’s satellite terminal, which is quite a distance from the main terminal building.
Once off at the train, I whizzed through the “all other passports” section of immigration and then was greeted with an army of hazmat suits. At the time, on arrival in Spain, you would have your COVID-19 vaccination status and Spanish health form checked again at this point before being able to collect your baggage.
I would absolutely choose Iberia’s A350 again when considering my options to fly to Madrid.
While the service wasn’t amazing on this trip, I can’t speak for all Iberia crew. The food and drink on offer were more than satisfactory (minor the tiny hair incident), and I love the comfort of the A350’s business class seat.
Flying short-haul on a wide-body aircraft, especially in premium cabins, is almost always worth it in my opinion.
The price I paid — £230 (~$309) — for a round-trip in business class is more than value for my money, especially when you take into consideration the 40 Tier Points and increased Avios earning.
Strictly speaking, this one-way flight actually cost £115 (~$155). You could pay similar to that when flying a low-cost option when you take into consideration the cost of getting to the airport, checked luggage, seat selection, and then any food and drink you might purchase on the journey.
If you want to see what a direct comparison of Madrid business class and Ryanair economy looks like, check out these Instagram Stories Highlights where my friend and I directly compare low-cost vs. business class every step of the way on our journey.