Trip Report: The Shortest Boeing 787 Flight in Europe

Trip Report: The Shortest Boeing 787 Flight in Europe

DALLAS — Air Europa (UX) is Spain’s second flag carrier and the country’s third-largest operator. Its operations are focused mainly on connecting traffic between Europe and South America through its main hub in Madrid (MAD), but it also serves additional routes to Northern Africa and the United States.

Since 2020, when the last Airbus planes left the airline, UX’s fleet has been exclusively composed of Boeing 737s for short-haul operations and Boeing 787s for long-haul flights.

However, when we take a look at the carrier’s route network, something strange comes up. There’s a twice-daily domestic flight between Madrid and Barcelona. While the distance is 300 miles, the route is operated with the Dreamliner, making it the shortest regular Boeing 787 flight in Europe.

In this trip report, we will experience what it is like to fly on this quick connection between Spain’s two largest cities on board the UX Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and we will discuss what makes this particular flight possible.

With 22 units today, the Boeing 787 has perfectly done its job of transitioning from the Air Europa A330 fleet. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Our Expectations

In commercial aviation, the passenger experience relies heavily on the expectations built up by the customer and how those expectations are met.

Knowing that UX defines itself as a “full-service carrier” and that this flight is operated by its long-haul flagship despite the length of the flight, we can expect to see:

  • Free seat selection only during check-in.
  • A decent seat pitch and legroom.
  • Adjustable headrests.
  • Universal power outlets.
  • A functioning IFE with a standard entertainment selection.
  • A complimentary snack or drink, but not a full meal service.
  • Paid Wi-Fi service, with a limited free messaging fare.
Air Europa operates its short-haul network with Embraer, Boeing 737, and ATR aircraft, although some routes are operated by their biggest jet. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Planning the Trip

I will be flying on flight UX7708, which departs Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) at 20:30 and arrives at Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) at 22:00. It is the first of the two daily flights that happen between these two cities.

The flight will be operated by EC-NCY, a 3.3-year-old Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that flies in a two-class, 339-passenger configuration. This is a standard configuration for all UX Boeing 787-9s delivered after September 2019.

Checking in online was quite easy, as the airline’s website is actually pretty intuitive and has a simple interface. However, when it came to seat selection, any seat other than the one assigned to you at the time could only be purchased with an additional fare.

These start at €5 in economy class, and it is a cost many people can afford if they want to switch seats, but it isn’t a good sign anyways and doesn’t meet the first expectation of free seat selection during check-in.

The Check-In webpage was simple and easy to use, but the lack of free seat selection started the expectations crisis. Screenshot: Air Europa

Boarding, Departure

My journey started half an hour earlier than expected, as we ended up having trouble getting out the boarding pass online via the website. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the site was not well designed.

However, the queue at the check-in desks rapidly moved and let me print my ticket very quickly, as there were three positions open, and the agents of Air Europa were very kind and solved all of my issues almost instantly.

The flight departed from gate C75, which is located in the southern sector of Barcelona’s modern Terminal 1. Perfectly on time, at 20:30, pushback started, and we departed 7 minutes later from Barcelona’s runway 06R.

Interestingly, boarding for the flight started 1 hour and 15 minutes before the scheduled departure. It is true that the capacity of this specific Boeing 787-9 would let anyone think this is a good amount of time in advance, but as the flight was not even close to a 75% seat occupation, boarding ended very quickly and we needed to stay seated in our cramped seats quite a while until pushback.

Even though I was seated at the back of the aircraft, the amazing and comfortable design of the Dreamliner really made it function, and I was able to experience one of my quietest takeoffs ever.

The Boeing 787 seat includes USB-C ports below the IFE and an adjustable headrest, although we missed power outlets under the seat. Photos: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

In-Flight Experience

Let’s talk about the seat. Air Europa offers quite a packed cabin in economy class, with a standard 3-3-3 configuration translating into 34 rows across the two last thirds of the fuselage. Even though the seat feels very cozy and the headrest is fully adjustable both in height and position, the legroom was not so good. The space for legs didn’t even reach 3 inches for a 6-foot-tall person.

This is tolerable for a 1:30 h flight, but knowing that this aircraft has flown days before long-haul routes such as Madrid (MAD) to Santo Domingo (SDQ), Asuncion (ASU), or Sao Paulo (GRU), which can last up to 9 hours, I can’t imagine being able to tolerate that small space for my legs.

Moving on, one of the benefits of this short Boeing 787 flight was that I could enjoy complimentary IFE entertainment throughout the flight, with UX offering a rather limited selection of 60 total series and movies, with few new or appealing titles to choose from. However, the selection was okay for this quick flight.

The IFE also featured USB and USB-C fast-charge ports, even though I wasn’t able to find any universal power outlets under the seat. This can be a problem for passengers who thought to rely on laptops during the flight, which again, for long-haul routes, can be a big issue. Also, Wi-Fi was available after takeoff, but all services were only available for purchase.

This is one of the issues of Air Europa: the airline does not include almost anything in the ticket price. While other close airline partners offer free unlimited Wi-Fi for messaging or give away complimentary drinks and little snacks on short-haul flights, all of these products were only available when paying an extra fee.

After arriving in Madrid, the de-boarding process was done by stairs, even though the aircraft was parked at jet bridge. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Arrival at Madrid

I ended up arriving more than on time, touching down 33 minutes before the scheduled time on the ticket. The infamously long taxi times for airlines flying out of Madrid’s Terminals T1, T2, and T3 nicely balanced the timings.

Even though my Boeing 787-9 was parked at a finger gate, the deboarding process needed to be made via stairs by both the front and rear doors of the aircraft. This is because the plane parked at a non-Schengen gate, which would have asked passengers to show their passports to the authorities even though this flight can be made using a European driver’s license instead of an ID.

The deboarding was actually quick and well organized, and we were transported by bus directly to the baggage-claim lounge, letting me exit the airside in less than 5 minutes after deboarding—totally a record time for such a big airport.

Soon we will release a trip report about the service on board KLM’s flagship, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, on transatlantic flights. Photo: Fabrizio Spicuglia/Airways

Overall Experience

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an amazing aircraft, and some might feel it’s a shame to see it wasted like this. Although UX is a seasoned member of the SkyTeam alliance and bills itself as “the second premium carrier of Spain,” the service provided during this brief flight places it behind other members of the alliance, such as Air France (AF) or KLM (KL).

Still, the intrinsic features of the Dreamliner—the big cabin, enormous windows, and the amazing quietness of the engines—really made my flight more enjoyable.

Also, the overall attention given by UX’s crew was absolutely great. I have seen in the eyes of every crew member their will to help and solve any problem that may have occurred during the trip.

However, crucial items missing, such as universal power outlets under the seat, a decent entertainment selection for the flight, and the fact that almost nothing was complimentary, ended up giving me a very bittersweet feeling about the flight.

All in all, the service was okay for such a short flight, and I could say it may have been good thanks to this modern aircraft. But, when it comes to long-haul flights, I would reconsider my thoughts about UX and would rather choose to pay more and fly with another SkyTeam member operating the Dreamliner, such as AF or KL.

Boarding flight UX7708 to Madrid: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

The Shortest European Boeing 787 Flight

But why does UX operate two daily connections between Madrid and Barcelona with a Boeing 787 airplane in the first place?

The Madrid-Barcelona route is one of the busiest connections worldwide. Every year, approximately 2.5 million passengers fly between these two cities, which translates into around 20 flights per day, operated by Iberia (IB), Vueling (VY), and my airline for today.

However, the blue airline does not actually receive most of its revenue from direct passengers flying between Spain’s two largest cities, but from connecting passengers.

Air Europa operates two transatlantic flights every day from its hub in Madrid (MAD). The first bank departs between 14:00 and 16:00, while the second departs between 00:00 and 02:00 at night.

Flights from South America arrive at MAD between 04:00 and 06:00, as well as between 11:00 and 13:00. We can see that most of the heavy UX aircraft need to stay on the ground in MAD for several hours.

To address this, UX decided to place some of their Boeing 787 aircraft on the busiest European rotations, which, interestingly, occur during the airline’s transatlantic valley hours.

This results in constant Boeing 787 Dreamliners departing MAD every morning and afternoon to SkyTeam hubs across Europe such as Amsterdam (AMS), Rome (FCO), or Milan (MXP), as well as busy destinations like Barcelona (BCN), Paris (ORY), and London (LGW).

These aircraft suffer long 3/4-hour turnarounds at their destination airports with the goal of returning home just in time to let passengers catch their connecting flight a couple of hours before the transatlantic departures.

Have you ever flown a widebody jet on short-haul flights? What was the experience like? Be sure to leave your comments on the shortest flight in your country!

Featured image: 15:00 local time in Madrid is colloquially known as the “Air Europa Hour,” as all of the airline’s flights to South America and Europe match their departures. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Commercial aviation enthusiast from Madrid, Spain. Studying for a degree in Air Traffic Management and Operations at the Technical University of Madrid. Aviation photographer since 2018.

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