Since the end of 2022, Iberia has had an Airbus A350 with a new business class in its fleet. This business class is from the German manufacturer Recaro, features fully closable doors, and has little in common with the old Iberia cabin.
I recently had the chance to experience it on my first Iberia long-haul flight as a freshly delivered aircraft with a new cabin was unexpectedly at the gate in Madrid. In this review, I will explore what the new seat offers and whether Iberia’s product is as bad as its reputation suggests.
In the interest of transparency: We paid for the flight ourselves and did not identify as bloggers or similar on board.
First, a brief look at the flight details:
- Flight: IB 6253 Madrid
MAD– New York
- Seat: 5E
- Plane: Airbus A350-900 EC-OAY (delivered in June 2023)
- Departure: 16:20
- Arrival: 18:55
- Flight time: 8h 35min
- Month: September 2023
Table of Contents
In early 2023, there was a flash sale by some Oneworld airlines with a range of superb prices for business class. Prices ranged from €600 to €800 for flights from various cities to numerous destinations in the USA. Among them was the following deal:
I booked the outbound flight from Paris to New York via Madrid with Iberia for just under €800, followed by a return flight from New York to Paris via London with British Airways.
This review covers only the long-haul flight between Madrid and New York, but I will also briefly mention the European business class feeder flight.
Surprisingly, there have been no schedule changes since booking in January. With other bookings, I had become accustomed to almost every non-refundable ticket being converted into a flexible ticket due to various cancellations. Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage depends on individual preferences.
My experience with the Iberia website has not been the best. When trying to redeem Avios through Iberia, I regularly encountered various error messages and often couldn’t even log in.
In this case, however, everything went smoothly. After booking through British Airways, choosing seats on the Iberia website worked without any problems. Seat reservations in Iberia’s business class are not complimentary, but the fee is waived if you hold a frequent flyer status (just like at British Airways). I had not used the online check-in because I had to check in a suitcase anyway.
Iberia flies to both Charles-de-Gaulle
CDG and Paris-Orly
ORY airports in Paris. The presence at Orly is the larger of the two, with roughly a 2-hour frequency to Madrid. We arrived there about 2 hours before departure with the hotel shuttle. Contrary to my expectations, there were no lines at either the economy or business counters.
Since I had not checked in online, I had to provide the lady at check-in (who was friendly) with the address of my stay in the USA. She also wanted to see the ESTA confirmation. With other airlines, the cross-check is now almost always electronic, but IT is clearly not Iberia’s strength.
After a successful check-in (about 10 minutes in total), we were able to go through the priority security check to the gate area and visit the mediocre Premium Traveler Lounge there.
European Business Class Feeder Flight
The feeder flight from Paris-Orly to Madrid was operated by an Iberia Airbus A321. As is unfortunately usual in Europe, the business class seats are identical to those in Economy. The middle seat is always left empty, and at least in row 3, the legroom was acceptable (Google Flights indicates 76 cm).
I was pleasantly surprised by the catering for the roughly 2-hour flight. There was a 3-course meal (served together on one tray), consisting of:
- Potato salad with vegetables
- Warm chicken on vegetables
- A chocolate cake (with the consistency of a Mousse au Chocolat on a 1mm thin pastry base)
I had no reason to complain here. The main course was good, and the dessert was excellent. Iberia uses Do & Co for catering, which has an excellent reputation among frequent flyers.
The service was consistently friendly and pleasant as well. The purser noticed that we were speaking German and briefly spoke to us in German.
In its home terminal 4 at Madrid Airport, Iberia has two large lounges: one in the Schengen area (Lounge Dalí) and one for all non-Schengen destinations. The latter is called the Velázquez Lounge and is located in the satellite of the terminal. Business class passengers and frequent flyers from Sapphire tier and above have access. If you’re coming from the main terminal, you’ll need to take a short train ride.
I had never flown long-haul from Madrid before and found the lounge to be pleasant overall: it is well-lit, nicely designed, and spacious (2,500 sqm).
However, there was initially a small disappointment: I remembered a review from 2018 mentioning a fridge with Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I couldn’t find it myself in September 2023, even after walking through the lounge twice. The staff also knew nothing about it, although the ice cream is mentioned in a Google review from July.
That aside, it’s really hard to find other points of criticism. There are two buffet areas in the lounge with almost identical contents. Among them were noodles with tomato sauce, a kind of fried potatoes, fish, and a chicken dish. Overall, the offering is roughly equivalent to what Lufthansa offers in its Senator Lounges.
The lounge also offers:
- Rest areas (all were occupied)
- A children’s play area
- Refrigerators with drinks in glass bottles (Coca-Cola, Fanta, beer, …)
- A staffed bar
- Numerous seating options with and without a view of the apron
In the rear, separated area, an à la carte service is offered in the evening. However, a look at the menu reveals that the meals are exactly the same as at the buffet, so you only save a few steps. In the afternoon, there was no staff here to serve us. However, we were pleased with the large, quiet seating area that we had all to ourselves.
Overall, Iberia offers a consistently pleasant lounge. However, what is missing in Madrid is a dedicated lounge for frequent flyers with Emerald status. I’m a bit spoiled in this regard, often flying via cities like London, Helsinki, and New York, which offer more in terms of lounge options. Iberia can’t compete in this aspect.
For our departure to New York at 4:20 PM, the boarding was initially scheduled to begin at 3:30 PM. However, the screen in the lounge predicted boarding at 3:55 PM (i.e., only 25 minutes before departure).
Consequently, we arrived at the gate at 3:50 PM and found that boarding had already started shortly before. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to photograph a relatively empty business class cabin.
Apart from that, the boarding process was well-organized, and all passengers adhered to the assigned boarding groups. In group 1, all business class passengers and frequent flyers with Sapphire and Emerald status were included.
Iberia offers a very consistent but somewhat dated business class product – much like Lufthansa. We hadn’t reviewed it properly yet (or only on a short flight from London to Madrid), so I took enough photos for a review in the lounge.
For once, I hadn’t checked the seating plan again before the flight, so I was surprised when I entered the aircraft and found a brand-new cabin. This new cabin has only been installed in about 5 new aircraft, so I hadn’t expected it at all. From that point on, it was clear that the review would be even more interesting.
Want to avoid such surprise moments? You can recognize the new business class by the fact that there are 28 seats in the premium economy class instead of 24. So, there are three rows of 4 premium economy seats in the middle instead of just two.
But let’s get to the cabin itself: First of all, the generous feeling of space with particularly high ceilings caught my eye. Sounds good, but it comes with a significant disadvantage: there are no overhead bins in the middle of the cabin.
As a result, the space for hand luggage is reduced by about half compared to the old configuration. This can be problematic, especially since each business class passenger is allowed to bring two trolleys and a personal item. On our flight, there were no space problems, but I’m not entirely convinced by this measure.
The design with light white, beige, and grey tones ensures that passengers don’t feel like they’re in a tight metal tube. However, the cabin does exude that typical hospital atmosphere, which I’m not particularly fond of. A few more splashes of colour would do the cabin good in my opinion, but that’s ultimately a matter of taste.
The last sections contained some criticism, but that doesn’t quite reflect reality, because I felt quite comfortable in the aircraft. You can definitely tell that the cabin is fresh from the factory, and it will probably stay that way for a while.
In the A350, Iberia uses a seat that was previously unknown to me, called the Recaro CL6720. Why a business class seat has to have a name as unattractive as a Lufthansa Cityline flight number is a question that should be directed to the manufacturer.
This new type of seat was first installed by Air China in their Airbus A350. There are some small differences compared to Iberia: the seat is blue for the Chinese and has a stylish lamp, but it doesn’t have a door. You can find some comparison pictures here. By the way, LOT will also be flying with the same seat in the future.
The arrangement of the seats does not follow the reverse herringbone principle. Instead, the individual seats are staggered. This is best illustrated by looking at the seat map.
From this configuration, one can conclude:
- If you’re travelling alone, it’s best to choose a seat in the A or L row. These are single seats with additional privacy by the aisle, but more importantly, they offer a better view through the window.
- If you’re travelling as a couple, it’s best to choose seats in the E + G row because they are much closer to each other than D + H.
Since we wanted to chat during our Iberia flight, we chose seats in the E + G row in the third row accordingly. Indeed, chatting there works relatively well; you just need to lean forward a bit so that there isn’t a plastic wall in between.
Upon request, a plastic partition can be electronically extended between the two seats. Then, you hardly notice that another passenger is just 5 centimetres away.
By now (thanks to Finnair), one has to point out some things that should be obvious: The seat can be electronically adjusted, allowing you to set the position freely between upright (for takeoff and landing), flat (for sleeping), and lounge (somewhere in between). This is done through a touch panel on the side of the seat.
And with that, we come to the first point of criticism regarding the seat: This control looks nice but has two disadvantages. Firstly, it provides no tactile feedback, neither through a tactile button nor vibration or anything similar. Secondly, the control is positioned exactly where I often rest my arm. So, I accidentally adjusted the seat and so did my companion several times. This is something the manufacturer should have noticed before beginning mass production.
Moving on to further features of the seat, especially the side panel. There, you’ll find:
- A remote control for the in-flight entertainment
- Two USB ports (1x USB-A, 1x USB-C)
- A universal power socket that accepts plugs from Europe (110V)
- A headphone jack
- Space for a water bottle (there were no water bottles on our flight; Air China places a lamp there)
Additionally, there’s a relatively large storage compartment. Besides the headphones provided by Iberia, you can easily store your smartphone, wallet, amenity kit, plush penguin, and other essentials you might need during the flight.
Between the seat control and the side panel, you’ll find a wooden-look platform. In my case, it was of medium size. You can just about fit a laptop or a meal tray here, but it will slightly overhang. The platforms in seats C, D, H, and J seem to be a bit larger than those in other seats. For drinks, this space seemed quite useful; just be careful not to knock it over when getting up.
While we’re on the topic of tables: The table, as is common nowadays, extends from the front. It’s very long but comparatively narrow. If you want to work with a laptop and a mouse, it gets a bit tight. In my case, the table was also somewhat damaged and sloping forward. You can see that in the picture.
I would rate the seat comfort as good to very good. I spent most of the time in the relaxed lounge mode (which I miss so much on Finnair), and I had no comfort complaints during that time. The only annoyance was the shoulder strap during takeoff and landing.
Iberia ordered the optional doors for their seats. These are probably most useful for seats directly by the aisle. With seats A/E/G/L, you hardly notice other passengers anyway. However, this only applies when sitting and lying down. The walls are relatively low, so a standing person can easily look over all the walls and doors. An additional 10 centimetres in height wouldn’t have hurt.
Here are some miscellaneous notes about the seats that don’t deserve their own section:
- You can see the individual seat numbers three times in total: once on the ceiling, on the side of the seat, and beamed onto the carpet.
- Storage space at the seat itself is sufficient due to the large side compartment, but there’s nowhere to store a laptop conveniently.
- There’s a small armrest that folds up for takeoff and landing.
- Since there are no overhead bins, light travels about 2 meters through the cabin before it reaches the seat. This works surprisingly well, and the seat neighbour isn’t blinded.
Although the seat was almost brand new, the construction left something to be desired in places. For instance, the plastic panel between the individual seats was quite flimsy. I even had a piece of the partition in my hand once, which seemed to be attached far too loosely.
Overall, the seat strongly reminded me of the United Polaris business class seat. However, the Zodiac Optima there seems to be a bit better thought out and refined overall. Neither of them is optimal for side sleepers, as the following paragraph shows:
Of course, the seat can be transformed into a 1.93-meter bed on request – anything else wouldn’t be up to date in 2023.
When I tried to get into the lying position after dinner, there were already some problems. The seat was flat for about half a second, but then it returned to an inclined position of about 150°. The same happened more than five times. It was only when I got up from the seat and tried again that I eventually succeeded. I think that either some component in my seat was blocking or the motor was defective.
Once you’ve got the seat into the lie-flat position, you should also extend the headrest. Otherwise, there’s a large gap between the seat and the plastic shell. Even with the headrest extended, it can’t fully close the gap.
As mentioned earlier, I didn’t find the sleep comfort optimal as a side sleeper. The footwell is quite narrow, and there’s no room for your knees to be bent in any way. However, I managed to sleep for at least three to four hours without getting leg cramps.
The sleeping surface is reasonably padded, and a mattress topper (rolled up) is provided at each seat. If you like, you can also use this as a neck pillow, lumbar support, etc. There were no complaints about pillows and blankets either.
Overall, I find the sleep comfort to be acceptable, but there’s still room for improvement. However, as a 1.98-meter-tall side sleeper, it’s not easy to sleep comfortably on a plane, so I can’t deduct too many stars here.
Food & Drinks
The onboard service began with a choice of orange juice, water, or Cava, a Catalan sparkling wine. I chose the orange juice and was once again surprised: it actually tasted like orange. This shows, on the one hand, how low expectations were, but on the other hand, it proves that you can’t fool Spaniards when it comes to citrus fruits.
About 40 minutes after takeoff, drinks and a small snack were served. This snack wasn’t pre-portioned, so each passenger could decide how much cheese and olives they wanted.
A bit later, there was the appetizer with a choice of:
- Marinated octopus on steamed peppers with olive paste and fried lemon
- Roasted sweet potatoes with garlic and salad
I decided to eat the octopus, which was served with a roll and optional butter and/or olive oil. Overall, it was a successful appetizer, although I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the half lemon.
For the main course, three options were available, including a vegetarian dish:
- Grilled chicken breast with Serrano ham, mustard mashed potatoes, and grilled artichokes.
- Grilled jumbo shrimp in tomato sauce with spinach and basmati rice.
- Panzerotti pasta (stuffed pockets) filled with mozzarella, served with vegetables and a tomato-parmesan sauce.
Since I already had chicken on the feeder flight, I opted for the shrimp. The dish looked good, and the flavorful tomato sauce, in particular, convinced me.
When it came to dessert, I couldn’t decide between chocolate hazelnut cake and raspberry ice cream, so I was forced to try both. The cake was more like a mousse again (and very good once more), but the exceptionally fruity raspberry ice cream was the real star.
An alternative option would have been a cheese platter.
According to the menu, there were snacks available in the galley between meals. After the lounge in Paris, the meal on the feeder flight, the lounge in Madrid, and a three-course meal, I decided to skip these additional calories.
About one and a half hours before landing, it was time for another meal:
- Spanish potato omelette served with ham and anchovies.
- Vegetable Millefeuille with mozzarella.
I had no idea what a Millefeuille was and hadn’t purchased an internet package to look it up. Interestingly, in row 5, I was the last one to be asked about meal choices (service started from both the front and the back). Since the omelette was already out of stock at this point, I had no choice but to take a chance on the Millefeuille.
The Millefeuille turned out to be a kind of vegetable casserole, generously covered with cheese. A delicious conclusion.
Below, you’ll find the menu for those who want to browse it themselves. I can’t say much about alcoholic beverages, so it’s best to form your own opinion:
The service was consistently pleasant, and the staff almost always had a smile on their faces. However, the organization of the service was somewhat chaotic. We sat as a pair in the middle, but strangely, my companion on seat G was served from the left side for warm towels, drinks, etc., instead of from the right aisle. It’s not a bad idea to avoid delays, but he was forgotten once or twice and had to actively request drinks.
Of course, such things can happen to anyone and are not a major issue. However, perfect service is done differently. Overall, we both remember the friendly staff who tried to fulfil all our requests.
From takeoff to the appetizer, about an hour passed, and the dessert was cleared about 2 hours after departure from Madrid-Barajas. This would be a bit long for a red-eye flight. However, since Iberia doesn’t (unfortunately) have supersonic aircraft, there was still plenty of time for a nap.
At the seat, there’s an 18-inch touchscreen monitor with 4K resolution (approximately 3,840 x 2,160 pixels). Due to the seat’s design, the screen isn’t far from your head, and the high resolution really shines.
Not only is the resolution impressive, but the screen’s contrast is also excellent. I can’t say if the movies (228 in total) actually make full use of the screen’s potential because I had the flight map on almost continuously. It responds quickly to inputs and offers numerous configuration options. It’s just a pity that there are no live cameras accessible through the IFE.
For those interested in the movie selection, you can always check it on the Iberia website. There, you can filter by language, among other options.
Besides the power socket and USB port, there’s also a wired remote control at the seat. What’s clever is the built-in touchpad, which I hadn’t seen in any other aircraft.
I briefly started the music playback once to assess the headphone quality. Unfortunately, the headphones are of rather poor quality. They don’t even offer noticeable noise cancellation, and if they do, it’s so weak that I couldn’t perceive it. Nevertheless, Iberia insists on collecting them 25 minutes before landing. They seem to have learned this from American Airlines, but unfortunately, they forgot to order correspondingly high-quality headphones.
However, it is possible to pair your own Bluetooth headphones with the entertainment system, which seems to be the better solution in terms of sound quality and convenience, assuming you have your own headphones.
Onboard, there is, of course, a hotspot to
google the word “Millefeuille” work from the plane. The following packages were offered:
- Messaging: free for the entire flight.
- Browse and Stream:
- 4 hours for €13.49.
- The entire flight costs €16.99.
Unlike many other in-flight Wi-Fi services, it’s officially allowed here to use the network for streaming internet videos. Therefore, I’m confident that the internet connection is sufficiently fast. The prices are also comparatively reasonable.
I only tested the messaging package myself. Occasionally, I could also send pictures through it, but most of the time, I could only receive messages. However, this wasn’t due to satellite reception; it seemed that blocking images was only implemented half-heartedly. Still better than nothing.
There were no pyjamas or slippers, but this is the norm for transatlantic flights. An amenity kit was available at the seat, as usual. Both the contents and presentation were nothing special. However, the kit can be quite useful as a cable organizer. Small plus points for the well-padded eye mask and the combination of a comb and a hairbrush.
As there are no overhead compartments in the middle of the cabin, there are no air vents either, not even at the window seats. After initially getting a bit warm, the temperature remained pleasant for the rest of the flight.
First, a brief summary – what did Iberia do well, and what wasn’t so great?
- High-quality food and drinks
- Modern cabin with plenty of space
- Mostly attentive, friendly service
- High-resolution, responsive entertainment system
- Modern seat with doors
- Limited overhead storage space
- Narrow foot and knee area, not ideal for side sleepers
- The seat feels somewhat flimsy and cheap in places
- The seat design doesn’t seem fully refined
- Seat reservation is not complimentary before check-in (without status)
Do you like this brief summary of the pros and cons, or not? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments.
- Check-in & Boarding
- Sleep Comfort
- Food & Drinks
- In-Flight Entertainment
- Extras & Wi-Fi
Among all the airlines in the Oneworld Joint Venture (BA, Iberia, AA, Finnair), Iberia arguably has the worst reputation. Based on my experience in business class, I can’t really understand why.
The biggest surprise for me wasn’t that a brand-new aircraft suddenly appeared at the gate but rather how well the catering and service performed on board. The new seat, on the other hand, offers some nice features but doesn’t seem entirely refined in some places. If it were just about the seat, I would prefer American and British Airways (Club Suite) over Iberia, but the difference isn’t significant.
Translated by Ditmar
Cover Picture: Peer Linder