by Luigi Vallero
Flight: IB3601 & IB 3612
Route: Rome [Roma]-Fiumicino (IATA: FCO/ICAO: LIRF)–Madrid-Barajas (MAD/LEMD) and return
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200 & Airbus A320
Departure times: 1520 & 0900
Arrival times: 1740 & 1120
Passenger: Luigi Vallero
757 PHOTO: GARY JENNINGS
After the boarding call for the fewer than 80 passengers was made at 1445, the process went smoothly. At the main door three flight attendants—two females and a male—welcomed each passenger and directed them to their assigned seats in the spotless cabin. Two other cabin crewmembers positioned along the aisle assisted during boarding.
Seating and pitch were extremely comfortable, the SICMA seats providing the ultimate in terms of economy short-haul accommodation. All announcements over the public address system were in Spanish, English, and Italian. The safety briefing was conducted with the simultaneous use of crewmembers and a video presentation. Spanish, English, and Italian newspapers were distributed before pushback, which was right on time.
The departure gate on the return, E76, was in a recently refurbished area of the terminal. The aircraft originally scheduled to operate the sector, an Airbus A321, was already docked at the gate; but at 0815 it was replaced with a smaller A320, more than sufficient for the light load of fewer than 70 passengers.
Passengers were invited to board at 0855, but no reasons were given for the slight delay caused by the aircraft change. The interior of the A320 was pleasant, with comfortable seats similar to the 757’s spaced at a reasonable pitch. With boarding completed we had to wait another five minutes for pushback, which took place at 0913 and still within official punctuality limits. As on the inbound flight, Spanish, Italian, and international newspapers were offered before and during taxiing.
PHOTO: LUIGI VALLERO
The light load and a strong wind blowing off the sea helped the 757 during its takeoff run. As we climbed we backtracked over Sardinia before continuing toward Ibiza and Mallorca, to cross the Spanish coastline north of Valencia.
Catering was available only upon payment. Iberia’s program, in conjunction with Gate Gourmet, is dubbed Tu Menú (your menu). The choice of snacks―sandwiches, soup, and drinks—tends to be repetitive for frequent travellers, and overpriced. My selection of a fresh and tasty Spanish ham sandwich, apple muffin, and beer came to €9.00 ($11.75). The cheapest offering on the list was a 33cl bottle of plain water costing €1.50 ($1.95).
While the flight proceeded smoothly, TV screens featured short ‘just for laughs’ programs and documentaries. During the approach to MAD the crew gave detailed information about connecting flights. We blocked on punctually.
The return flight took off at 0926. Service was the same as on the earlier flight, but only a handful of passengers opted to pay for their breakfast. Not a single announcement was made by the cockpit crew while the flight proceeded through light turbulence toward the Mediterranean coast, before routing over the islands of Mallorca and Sardinia to approach FCo from the north. We landed at 1123, and arrived at Terminal B ten minutes behind schedule.
A320 PHOTO: JOHN WEGG
Even though Iberia’s inflight product is now more akin to that of a low-cost carrier, on both sectors the airline delivered an acceptable quality of service with professional, albeit excessively formal, cabin crews. Nevertheless, the flights highlighted the striking contrast between Iberia’s mainline European services—now reduced to Spartan levels—and the exceptionally high standards and ‘full frills’ offered to all passengers on regional services operated on behalf of the Spanish flag carrier by Air Nostrum (Airways, December 2005).
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