Is premium economy really just lipstick on a pig?  For one thing, it definitely isn’t the same as standard economy class with an extra three extra inches of legroom.  With cabins akin to North American regional first class and food served with proper chinaware, premium economy is trending within the industry and for good reasons.  As more and more airlines unveil their own versions of it, it’s abundantly clear that there’s a market for higher flyers who want something better than cramped, poorly-padded chairs but also don’t want to pay fortunes for business class.  Iberia’s Turista Premium, as it’s called, does a good job catering to these travelers; it’s an obvious step above steerage and usually doesn’t carry significantly higher price tags.  The product isn’t perfect, but if you’re trying to fly to Europe in comfort while maintaining a budget, you should look to Iberia for a smart solution.


Turista Premium existed prior to Iberia taking delivery of its A350s in mid-2018 — the carrier started retrofitting its “legacy” A330s and A340s to include premium economy in mid-2017 — but the A350 offers what’s undoubtedly the premier longhaul experience.  Its cabins are noticeably quieter than the A330s’ and the A340s’, especially during the takeoff roll, and its windows are markedly bigger too.  The A350s are also pressurized at around 6,000 feet, which is significantly lower than the others’ 8,000 feet.  I sense a difference, but it’s unclear whether or not that’s because of a placebo effect…  In any case, if you’re flying premium economy one way on a popular route, say New York to Madrid, Iberia is going to want a lot of your money.  A lot.

2019 iberia premium economy 00 google flights
$3,288?!?  For a one way flight?!

You’d think that this is a glitch in the ticketing system, but barring a few exceptions here and there, 3,000-plus dollars seems to be the going rate for Turista Premium one way.  You’d be better off just paying for business class.  For whatever reason though, round trips are much more affordable.  Airfare pricing can sure be screwy sometimes!

2019 iberia premium economy 00 google flights alternative
$794 round trip is more like it.  But also, a round trip costs a quarter of the price of a one way? #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmm

As an important point of comparison, regular economy on this particular round trip  itinerary costs $623.  In other words, Turista Premium commands an extra $171.  At that price point, an upgrade could be justifiable.  It all depends on what you value most, and hopefully the following review can give you ideas on what to expect and help you decide if the added features are worth the extra cash.

2019 iberia premium economy 00 google flights economy alternative
$623 for a flight between New York and Madrid is… meh, not bad.  Also not great either.

Even if you’re funding your trip with miles, you still might want to analyze the costs and benefits of upgrading from regular economy to premium.  Iberia’s award chart is dreadfully convoluted, with distance and segments and travel dates factoring in to the final costs, but you can generally expect to pay about 12.5% extra during the offseason, and 25% extra during the peak dates.

As noted in this trip report’s introduction, I paid for this flight with miles.  Economy class was going for 35,000 Iberia Avios — hardly a good deal — but Turista Premium was only marginally more expensive at 40,750 Iberia Avios AND it would be on a brand-spanking-new A350.  Why not take a chance?


Iberia’s set-up at New York JFK’s Terminal 7 is decidedly lame, although seeing that it only runs a paltry two flights per day, “good enough” seems to suffice here.  Sister company British Airways operates the terminal, and the two carriers share most everything from check-in facilities and gates to lounges.  BA isn’t exactly renowned for its on-the-ground facilities, so if you know that already, you’re far less likely to be disappointed by what you find (although the newly renovated first class lounge — available to oneworld Emeralds — is admittedly a huge improvement).  If you don’t hold oneworld status and/or are flying in Premium Economy, all of this is moot as you won’t have lounge access anyway.  In either case, don’t feel obligated to show up especially early for your flight…

2019 iberia premium economy 01 JFK terminal 7
JFK’s delightfully “meh” Terminal 7, image from One Mile at a Time

…Although that comes with a huge caveat.  Because BA operates a whopping 12 frequencies per day between New York and London — seven of which occur after 7pm — it may be in your best interest to arrive early in order to avoid brutal rush hour security lines.  All seven of these evening flights are operated by either 777s or 747s, each with respective capacities for over 220 and 340 people.  If each of these planes are sold out, you could, in a worst-case-scenario, find yourself behind more than 2,000 London-bound passengers along with the thousands more flying on other airlines.  The fact that TSA Precheck is extremely limited in Terminal 7 doesn’t do anyone any favors either.

2019 iberia premium economy 01 jfk security
Security here was far more manageable though

Fortunately for me, going through security at around 8:30pm was a breeze.  I didn’t have to wait more than just a few minutes, and went from curb to jet bridge in under 10 minutes.

Iberia 6252
New York (JFK) – Madrid Barajas (MAD)
Scheduled Departure:  21:05 (22:50 wheels up; 1:45 delay!)
Scheduled Arrival:  10:15 (10:58 wheels down)
Duration:  6:08
Aircraft:  Airbus A350-900
Seat:  11A

Boarding was done through door L2, so those flying in business class turned left and passed through a partition.  Everyone else went to the right and were immediately in the Premium Economy “cabin,” which may be a bit of a misnomer.  Despite the fact that Iberia markets Turista Premium as being separate and exclusive in its own right, there aren’t all that many physical features to distinguish the space.  There’s no divider between the first row of seats and the “foyer” for example, and that arrangement honestly looks and feels awkward.

2019 iberia premium economy 02 cabin looking forward
Shouldn’t there be a wall up front?

If you do indeed choose one of the “bulkhead” seats, there’ll be times when you feel like you’re getting in peoples’ ways.  Being so close to the exit and a flight attendant jump seat…

2019 iberia premium economy 02.5 seat view
What you see from 11A

…as well as the galley…

2019 iberia premium economy 02.5 seat view galley
What you also see from 11A

…Don’t exactly help to create a sense of seclusion.  You’ll feel especially exposed during boarding and the meal services, when other passengers and flight attendants are buzzing around for what seems like forever.  My particular flight wasn’t without some extraordinary predeparture drama either, and being in the first row adjacent to the main cabin door proved to be an uncomfortably long experience.  After the plane pushed back and we began our taxi to the runway, a belligerently drunk passenger started causing a ruckus.  We were prepared to take off, but because he was so unruly, the flight crew ordered that he be “involuntarily disembarked.”  So back to the gate we went, where the police were eager to meet us.

2019 iberia premium economy 09 police arrive
The whole squad’s here!
2019 iberia premium economy 09 police board
Well hello to you too!

The disruptive lush was swiftly and unceremoniously led off the plane for questioning, and was then subsequently arrested on the jet bridge.

2019 iberia premium economy 09 police exit
Be gone of this aircraft!

He was being detained in an ambulance the last we saw him.  “Vamonos,” coolly muttered the purser as he closed up the door, more than an hour and a half after we were schedule to depart (!!!).

2019 iberia premium economy 09 police detain
And that was that.

Regardless of whether or not something so riveting happens on your own trip, the flurry of activity surrounding these exit row seats calms down soon after takeoff.  It becomes a lot easier to settle in and appreciate the near-unlimited legroom and direct aisle access from the window.  As an added bonus, because there are no lavatories in this section of the plane (they’re located further back), you’ll seldom have to worry about foot traffic while you’re in flight.

It’s hard to see in the photos, but the curvature of the fuselage mildly restricts the room for your knees, just as the bulge in the door (that contains the emergency raft) does the same for your feet.  A claustrophobic person might disagree with me, but you won’t get any more space elsewhere in Turista Premium than you would in row 11.  If you’re tall, there’s simply no better place to sit.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat first view
11A, in all of its (exposed) glory

That’s not to say that the other options are bad.  This is an excellent hard product for what it is, and it’s an improvement over what you would get if you were flying in a domestic first class cabin.  That said, the two, at first glance, could easily be confused for one another.  The chairs share basic dimensions and their designs are comparable; there’s extra space for shoulders, adjustable headrests and better padding, greater recline and, most importantly, longer seat pitches.  Instead of the 30 to 32 inches of pitch you’ll get in standard steerage, you’ll be treated to 36 or 37 inches in both Iberia’s Turista Premium and (for example) American Airlines’s domestic first.

2019 iberia premium economy 02 premium economy window seats
This could easily be on a regionally equipped 737 in the United States
2019 iberia premium economy 02 seat pitch
There’s markedly better legroom and personal space compared to just ordinary economy class

There’s one obvious difference though between the two:  you’ll never see a 2-4-2 layout on a narrowbody aircraft.

(duh!)

2019 iberia premium economy 02 premium economy mid section
Eight seats in a row would be quite the sight on a 737!

When you look more closely, you’ll start appreciating the smaller features that elevate the quality of Iberia’s product over its counterparts on regional planes.  It’s cliche to say that the difference is in the details, but it’s true.  In addition to a deeper recline and more supportive padding that you’ll get in premium economy, the chair’s base tilts upward ever-so-slightly to create a cradle effect.  It’s hardly noticeable in a photograph, but when you’re actually sitting down and trying to sleep, it makes all the difference in comfort.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat recline
The seat on the left is reclined, but look at where the base cushions are compared to one another.
2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat recline crop right
This is the non-reclined seat.  You can see that at least an inch separates the cushion from the lower seat control button.
2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat recline crop left
This is the reclined seat, and the distance between the knob and the cushion has been halved.  This is the cradle effect at work.

Of course, the most recognizable differences/improvements that Turista Premium offers are the leg and foot rests.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat partial leg rest
A partially extended leg rest
2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat leg and foot rest extended
The leg and foot rest fully extended

Getting them to extend fully is a two part process, requiring you to press one of the seat control buttons in order to raise the leg rest up to an angle.  After that springs up, you have to manually release the foot rest with a little red button, and then use your hand to pull the foot rest out from a cutout in the leg rest.  If you couldn’t tell, undertaking this task is awkward and cumbersome.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat legrest
The leg rest has been extended, now it’s time to get the foot rest out

But there are bigger problems than this.  Not only is it all really unhygienic — who wants to grab at a surface where people, quite literally, rest their feet? — but the red buttons are prone to jamming, thus rendering the foot rest unusable.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat legrest release
You may not actually be able to push that…

Those who aren’t in the bulkheads don’t face these problems, as the foot rests merely drop down from the seats in front and, better yet, don’t require the use of hands.  Still though, while these are innovative to say the least, I can’t help but wonder if the seats’ designers missed out on some potential.  Sure, there are issues with spacing in relatively cramped quarters, but it would be much better if the leg rests could go higher up and extend further out.  Likewise for the foot rests.  The chairs, when fully reclined, feel similar to what you’d sit in at a dentist’s office, and that’s not a compliment.  Don’t get me wrong though:  I’d rather have this than whatever is in regular economy.

Nevertheless, go figure:  a cushion’s ability to pivot up and down may not be glamorous, but it is more effective at improving the passenger experience.  Furthermore, in an ironic twist, the bulge in the emergency exit row gave me a decently comfortable place to rest my feet.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 alternative foot rest

Speaking of things that aren’t flashy, the head rests in Turista Premium shouldn’t go unheralded either.  They’re large and plush, especially compared to what you’d get in standard economy, and are also surprisingly flexible.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat headrest default
The standard head rest position

They can be extended upwards by nearly six inches…

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat headrest up
The head rest as high as it can go

…and the outer parts can be worked into various shapes without requiring much effort from the user.  They also do, for the time being, an excellent job at holding their positions.  They seldom lose their forms once you set them in place, although that could change with age…

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat headrest stylized
The far end can come out much further if you prefer

Beyond all of these features, each seat has everything you’d expect in an average domestic first class cabin in the United States.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat first view portrait

On one armrest you’ll find seat controls and a remote for the in flight entertainment system, plus a two pronged headphone jack.  If you wish to listen with your own cans, that’s fine, as the top plug is independently capable of pushing stereo sound without needing an adapter.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat column controls left
Nothing special, but still good to have.  The top button triggers the seat’s recline, while the bottom releases the leg rest.

Everyone also has their own international power outlet — which is an improvement over the one-for-every-two-passengers ratio in regular economy — and a single USB port, both of which are on the front-facing sides of the armrest.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat column left

There’s a small table on the opposite armrest that’s shared between the two chairs.  It’s perfect for storing predeparture beverages, but not much else.  It’s too tiny to serve any other practical purpose; not even two iPhones can sit side-by-side on it.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat column right
If you’ve flown domestic first class before, then this feature should look familiar

Directly beneath that is a spring release for the inflight entertainment screen.  This button is unique to the bulkhead row, as the displays in other rows are built in to the backs of the seats ahead.  Unfortunately, this also means that people in the front row have to stow away their entertainment for taxi, takeoff, and landing, whereas everyone else can watch movies (or whatever) from gate to gate.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 seat column controls right
If you’re not in a bulkhead, this space is empty

The display is comparatively huge.  It measures 12 inches as it is, which is 33% greater than the 9-inch screen found in coach.  Because it’s positioned pretty close to your face, you’ll perceive it to be even bigger than that.

2019 iberia premium economy 03.5 ife extended seat
The display is bigger than it appears here

The tray table folds out from this side of the chair too, and is fine but unremarkable in terms of its design.  Just flip the top of the armrest up, and then pull the table out.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 tray table folded
The tray table, right after it’s pulled out from inside the armrest

The table isn’t as wide as the seat, and that’s a shame because it would be a whole lot more stable if it could rest on the opposite armrest.  You can also never have too much surface space, whether it be for work or for eating or for something entirely different (but not changing your baby!).

2019 iberia premium economy 03 tray table extended near
The unfolded tray table

The tray table is mounted on a track that allows it to extend outward, but it can’t go so far out that you can get up while the table is in use.  In other words, you have to clean up and put everything away if you need to visit the lavatory or want to stretch your legs.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 tray table extended far
The extended tray table

That last part (“put everything away”) is particularly problematic.  It wouldn’t be an issue if the bulkhead seats offered any storage space, but they don’t.  In fact, extra space for your belongings is impossibly minimal here.  When you board, you’re given four things, a blanket, a pillow, an amenity kit, and headphones, and while they’re all nice to have, they cause almost as much as trouble as they’re worth.

2019 iberia premium economy 05 goodies
Great amenities (that I’ll discuss in further detail later on), not great storage options

When you’re in a non-bulkhead, all of these goodies can fit in the (expandable) literature pouch and under the seat in front of you, so it’s a non-issue.  Those in the first row do not have these luxuries.  Take the plastic “literature pouch” for example, which is mounted on the wall and is technically shared between two passengers:

2019 iberia premium economy 03 literature pocket
Honestly, this looks like a magazine rack at the dentist’s (to keep the metaphor going)

When the note says “Magazines only,” it really means just those.  There’s not enough room for anything else, except maybe a pair of headphones and an amenity kit or two.  Forgive me for breaking the posted rules, but there weren’t any alternatives to this solution…

2019 iberia premium economy 03 literature pocket storage
Not pictured:  an amenity kit somewhere inside there

Finding a spot for the pillow and blanket requires a little bit more creative thinking.  The floor is probably out of the question, as the package impedes on your already limited foot space.  Also, if you’ve taken either or both out of the original plastic wrappings, they DEFINITELY should not go on the floor.  Mind you that every single person on the airplane stepped on that surface, and Lord knows what horrors they tracked onboard with them.  NO THANKS!

2019 iberia premium economy 03 floor space
Ugh, not great

There’s a small nook between the edge of the chair and the wall of the fuselage, and that can do the trick, albeit with a compromise…

2019 iberia premium economy 03 goodie storage
Could this be fashioned in to some kind of storage cubby?

You’ll have to cram the two packages into that space; they’ll hold there no problem, but you’ll lose comfortable use of that arm rest in the process.  As is the case with the floor, you’ll potentially be exposing the things you cuddle up with to sleep to an unspeakable number of germs, so I’d also hesitate before stuffing an unwrapped pillow and/or blanket down there.

2019 iberia premium economy 03 goodie storage occupied
Eh, kinda!

Heaven help your neighbor in the aisle seat, who won’t have access to anything other than an equally filthy overhead bin.  The passengers in both bulkheads are faced with the same question though:  where exactly should they stow their other belongings, like a laptop or a phone that needs to be charged?  The solution isn’t obvious, but if you’re worried, you can always sit a little bit further back where there are more apparent locations for storage, or in the middle section where there are at least dedicated, individual literature pouches.  Those, however, unfortunately come at the cost of having “unlimited” legroom.

There are no individual air vents overhead, but that’s probably okay when you sit so close to the exit.  The seats near those are notorious for being chilly.

2019 iberia premium economy 02 cabin overhead panel

And lastly, if you do indeed fly on an A350, you might also notice the digital seatbelt signs.  They’re oddly pleasing to look at.

2019 iberia premium economy 02 cabin overhead digital signage

Because of the drunken fracas in the back, I had quite a bit of time to settle in to the seat.  To recap, the plane had to return all the way back to its gate after being cleared for takeoff at 21:15.  By the time the tantrum-throwing passenger had been removed and detained, we had lost the departure slot originally allocated to us.  It wasn’t until 22:50, nearly two hours after our scheduled departure time of 21:05, that the runway was free and we were actually wheels up.  While we weren’t allowed to deplane during the brouhaha, the flight attendants at least served a round of predeparture beverages, offering a selection of orange juice and water and sadly no alcohol.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 predeparture beverage
A large cup of OJ offered during the delay

Passengers were also allowed to use the in flight entertainment system during this time, and if need be, pay a visit to the loo.

2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife 00 welcome screen
The main menu on Iberia’s IFE system is both on-brand and somewhat customized to the seat
2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife 01
The main menu

There’s a respectable collection of movies and TV shows — with most choices predominantly from Spain and Hollywood — to choose from, as well as some basic games and a surprising amount of audio programming.  Everything is easy to navigate thanks to a quick and responsive display, and some of the more memorable (albeit hidden away) options include “Attenborough and the Giant Fossil” and a Spanish audiobook recording of the 14th Dalai Lama’s own In My Own Words.  While they’re both legends in their own rights, it’s not too often that you’ll get to enjoy both of their work at 38,000 feet.

2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife 05
Nothing like some soothing David Attenborough to entertain you through the flight
2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife 08
Aha, the Dalai Lama en español

And if you’re on the market for a pen or sunglasses OR noise cancelling Bose headphones, you can peruse a digital duty free catalog.

2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife 11
Goota get that several-hundred-dollar pen and Ray-Ban collection for this redeye flight

The GPS was also functional from the time of boarding.  Users are presented with a variety of options and views to choose from — you can manipulate the map’s orientation and “camera” angles to your preference — or alternatively, you can just let the system cycle automatically through a few dozen presets.

2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife moving map pre dinner
The moving map prior to actually going anywhere
2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife 13
To be honest, we weren’t even going 20 km/h at this moment in time

As the delay grew increasingly agonizing with each passing minute, these detailed maps and comprehensive stats seemed seemed to be taunting everybody who looked at them.  Reading “Distance Flown:  0 Miles” after sitting in an airplane seat (as comfortable as it is) for more than two hours is kind of demoralizing.

Visiting the bathroom proved to be even more disheartening though.  We were still on terra firma, but the lavatory was already trashed.  Toilet paper was strewn about and stuck to the floor because of unmentionable fluids (not pictured below).

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory 1 toilet
UGH!  What’s that on top of the toilet?!?

If the toilet is in such a sorry state this early on, that doesn’t bode well for the remaining six-and-a-half hours of flight time.

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory 1 garbage
Yuck.

One of the culprits in this particular location (beyond those who defiled the floor, toilet rim, etc.) was obvious:  the severely mangled, torn up seat covers being dispensed above.  Despite this issue existing prior to the cabin door closing, this problem was never fixed.  That doesn’t reflect well on the crew either.

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory 1 shreds
This is also gross

There are two other lavatories (three total) easily accessible to passengers in Premium Economy.  Fortunately for me, the other two were in better shape than the one shown above.  None of them are exclusive (like they are in business class), as they’re located in the middle of the regular coach cabin.  That’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things; if you’re getting picky over who can and cannot use certain bathrooms, that’s more of a “you” problem than anything else.

For all I know, the cleaner restrooms could have been just as dirty as the first, but at least they looked sterile.

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory 2 sink
Clean lines, clean surfaces, zero personality

Emphasis on the looking sterile.  Every single lavatory has shelving units affixed to its main mirror, although nothing is ever stored in it.  Not only does the set-up look strange, but you can’t help but wonder, or wish, for something a little bit more.  A bottle of moisturizing cream couldn’t be that expensive, could it Iberia?  What about a decorative flower?  Or an air freshener?  Anything?

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory 1 storage area
C’mon Iberia.  Would it kill ya to fill this space?

Unless you count industrial-grade hand soap as a luxury, expect the bare, bare minimum.

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory soap
You can practically smell the chemicals

Iberia does its part to promote and remind passengers of hygienic airplane habits.  That deserves some sort of recognition in my book.

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory friendly reminder
I CANNOT SAY IT ENOUGH:  DO NOT DRINK AIRPLANE TAP WATER!

A sign by the toilet asks you to shut the lid before using the motion-activated flusher. Doing both works wonders for personal inflight hygiene.  If you abide by these suggestions, then you won’t have to worry about particles of human waste being kicked up into the air when the toilet is in action, nor will you have to come in physical contact with a button previously pressed by hundreds of soiled hands.

2019 iberia premium economy 07 lavatory hand sensors
Follow steps one AND two, please.

Once back at my seat and still waiting to leave New York, I poked through the amenities provided to Turista Premium passengers.

2019 iberia premium economy 05 amenity kit and headphones

While the kit isn’t the biggest one in the skies, it’s certainly much-appreciated outside of a truly premium class of service.

2019 iberia premium economy 05 amenity kit comparison

The contents were sparse, but better than nothing.  It’s nice to see a dental kit in the mix to make up for an otherwise lame/non-existant offerings in the bathroom, and you can never go wrong with socks and eyeshades and earplugs and… a hair-tie?

2019 iberia premium economy 05 amenity kit contents
Not a lot but more than expected

The Turista Premium passengers were also issued what were marketed as noise-cancelling headphones, but they didn’t seem to deliver on that promise.  They just seemed to be louder.  In any case, they’re nowhere near as comfortable as what you’d get from Bose or Sony, and don’t get me started on the weak, tinny sound quality.

2019 iberia premium economy 05 headphones
These sound as cheap as they look

Is reading more your scene?  Feel free to entertain yourself with an overpriced duty free catalog marketed towards the bourgeoisie (the cheapest thing for sale was a $37 box of chocolates), or Iberia’s official inflight magazine, Ronda.  For what it’s worth, the latter was surprisingly well-written… in the sense that it didn’t read like it was exclusively “sponsored content.”

2019 iberia premium economy 04.5 literature
One is a giant advertisement, the other is entertaining

When it was finally time to leave New York, the safety demonstration was screened, but rather strangely, there seemed to be an issue with the video file.  The video kept freezing on the exact frame shown below.

2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife safety video
Plenty of time to study what to do when I (hopefully never) have to inflate my life jacket

The flight attendants annoyingly kept restarting the video from the beginning, subjecting all of the passengers to repeated messages about what to do if the plane goes down.  That’s not exactly inspiring to listen to over and over again right before takeoff, but they thankfully gave up once we turned on to the runway.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 runway on departure
Time to go!

The takeoff roll was surprisingly quick for a fully loaded plane, and soon we were jetting off over a beautiful-looking Long Island.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 long island coast line 2
Nice

Within fifteen minutes of being wheels up, the cabin lights were raised, the seatbelt sign was switched off, and the wireless internet system was turned on.  Connecting to Iberia’s network was fast and easy, and the main landing page contained some rudimentary flight facts (some of which were blatantly incorrect) and an offer for complimentary wifi.

2019-iberia-premium-economy-04-wifi-01.png
Welcome to the internet!

You’re entitled to 20 megabytes of wifi, which isn’t exactly a lot.  But however small it may be, a free wifi allowance is still better than nothing.  Thanks, Visa (?)!

2019-iberia-premium-economy-04-wifi-03.png
Hmm, something is amiss with “km travelled/km to go” tracker…

Once you exhaust your 20 megabytes, you can opt to purchase a more substantial package.  Prices are slightly more expensive than average — having both time and data restrictions isn’t optimal — but you won’t break the bank either if you need to do a little bit of light email.

2019-iberia-premium-economy-04-wifi-02.png
“Full Flight” should not be “200mb of the full flight,” but oh well.

Based on how short the flight was expected to be — a hair over six hours on a redeye — you’d think that the cabin crew would be hustling to get passengers served.  Unfortunately, they were not.  45 minutes dragged by before there was any activity from the flight attendants, and no one bothered to turn down the harsh cabin lights in the meantime.  At least there were eyeshades in the amenity kit for those who wanted to maximize their sleep…

When the drink cart finally rolled by…

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner beverage cart
About damn time!  It was getting late, even by Spanish standards.

…dinner thankfully came with it.  The stewardess pushing the cart was friendly enough, although we shared a weird interaction.  “¿Carne o pasta? she asked my seat mate and me.  We both stared at her blankly. ¿Que tipo de carne?  ¡Carne! Ah, okay, sure.  Seeing that she refused to go in to any further details about what animal was being offered, the pasta seemed like the superior choice to mystery meat.  A single tray that seemed too small for its contents was hastily set down.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner presentation

The presentation is good although unremarkable.  This, at first glance, looks like the same old stuff you get in regular economy.  After taking the tinfoil and plastic covers off, it’s apparent that Iberia plates its ravioli with more care than American does in its business classes.  That has to count for something, whether it be praise of Iberia or a condemnation of AA (#condemnAAtion).

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner uncovered
The food looks a lot better than the containers they come in, but oh well.

Iberia promises actual silverware and a moist towel to its customers in Turista Premium. It delivers, but they both come jammed in together in a plastic-wrapped package that you might get at a seedy fast food restaurant.  This is a minor nitpick, of course, but a tightly wound cloth napkin would be a noticeable improvement.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner utensils packaged
Eh, not the best look
2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner utensils unpackaged
This would be a markedly nicer experience if this were a real napkin and not a glorified tissue

Also, marketing a tissue soaked in some cleaning fluid as a “towel service” is blatant false advertising.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner refreshing towel
LAAAAAME

There are even more goodies to be found in the bundle:  packets of salt and pepper (that come with less than a pinch of both) and sugar.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner condiments
It’s really impressive that so much can be squeezed in to a plastic baggie

The wine selection, consisting of one red and another white, also leave something to be desired.  An old professor once told me, “never trust anything alcoholic that comes out of a plastic bottle.”  His words of wisdom ring true again; the Tempranillo Shiraz served in Iberia Premium Economy is downright vile.  It was too sweet and the taste of it brought back memories of some regrettable college nights.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner wine poured
Yeah this is…not great

And don’t even get me started on the initial presentation!  In domestic first class the wine’ll be poured for you into a real glass!

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner wine presentation

But of course looks aren’t everything and you shouldn’t be drinking all that much wine on an airplane anyway.  The food is far more important, and Iberia knocks this aspect of the soft product out of the park.  Obviously I can’t compare this ravioli to the carne, but I do know for sure that this trounces what you’d get on a first class flight within the United States.  The flavors were rich, the sauce wasn’t too watery or greasy, and the pasta itself didn’t taste like rubber.  Those last two aren’t particularly high standards to clear, but seeing that “disappointing” is just about what you should expect in economy class, you gotta take all that you can get!

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner ravioli

A side salad was paired with the entree, which had an interesting combination of corn, beans, tomatoes, and red peppers, all on top of a bed of lettuce.  It tasted almost like a mildly-spicy salsa.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner salad

To round out the main meal service, there was a roll that was far more photogenic than it tasted…

2019 iberia premium economy 06 01 dinner roll
It tasted like it had been sitting in an airplane for a day or two

…and a brownie, which was so tasty that there wasn’t enough time to take a picture of it! 😉

The cabin crew was slow in delivering the food, but thankfully plates were cleared soon after everyone was finished eating.  Only about an hour and half had elapsed since wheels up, and then the lights were turned down for good.  The purser made his way to each passenger in the Premium Economy to ask how the meal was — the only bright spot of the otherwise lackluster service — and to ask people in the window seats to close their shades.  That seemed to be a strange and unnecessary request for a redeye; why bother shutting those at nighttime?  Isn’t that redundant?

2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife moving map post dinner
Our location when the meal service was complete
2019 iberia premium economy 04 ife moving map pre descent
Our location when the crew started waking us up

But then the answer became obvious three hours later when we were getting ready to land.  Wake up calls began about an hour out from Madrid, all of the lights in the cabin were turned on 10 minutes after that, and then lastly, flight attendants made their ways through the cabin, asking everyone to raise their shades.  A blindingly blue sky was on the other side.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 engine above the clouds

 

While our retinas burned, crew members distributed breakfast boxes and glasses of water.  They may not look like much, but don’t let the low-grade cardboard box fool you:  its contents are excellent.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 02 breakfast presentation
More food!

There were never any menus distributed in flight — I can’t say for certain what this was — but it seemed to be a Bagel McMuffin with ham.  It genuinely tasted delicious and was substantial enough to hold me over for the morning.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 02 breakfast sandwich
It may look wimpy, but trust me, it’s not.

There was also some raspberry yogurt, a granola bar, and a KitKat.  Maybe that’s not the best example of a balanced meal, but at least there’s something for everyone.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 02 breakfast bars

There was also supposed to be coffee served with breakfast too, but because of another hiccup in the service, a tiny cup didn’t appear until after I had eaten everything else on the tray.   It would’ve been nice to have had that a little bit earlier, but oh well.

2019 iberia premium economy 06 02 breakfast coffee
The photo doesn’t capture how small this cup was

Iberia’s flight attendants takes an ambitious approach to the pre-landing meal service.  As soon as the trays were cleared, we were on final to land.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 on approach

It was an overcast day, and there wasn’t a lot of interesting scenery to look at… unless you find birds’-eye views of industrial parks to be particularly titillating.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 on approach over industrial park
About two miles from wheels down

Madrid Barajas is the 11th largest airport in the world by surface area, a fact that you might be reminded of when you’re still hundreds of feet above the ground and flying over taxiways…

2019 iberia premium economy 08 on final high above the runway

…and near parked planes…

2019 iberia premium economy 08 on final fed ex
Look at all that wide open space!!!

…until you finally…

2019 iberia premium economy 08 on final pre touchdown

…touch down!

2019 iberia premium economy 08 wheels down

Because Barajas is so expansive, you’ll have, at the minimum, a 10 minute taxi to the gate.  If you go by the old terminal, you’ll see the hamlet of the same name, which backs right up to the tarmac.  It’s unsettling to see a “skyline” of residential buildings and a church steeple so close to the action, but I guess it’s all part of the charm.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 barajas old town

Our plane was set to gate at Terminal 4S, which is where the majority of international/intercontinental flights leave from.  This building is decidedly more modern.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 iberia at the terminal
Is that the control tower or a UFO?

We passed quite a bit of interesting traffic on the way, including the plane that would be taking me back to New York in a few days…

2019 iberia premium economy 08 airplanes of the future
An American Boeing 767

…and an Avianca Dreamliner that had just arrived from Bogota.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 avianca
A Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Finally we got to the spot where we would be turning in, and STILL had to pull forward quite a bit.  Barajas is so, so huge.

2019 iberia premium economy 08 turning in to the gate
Well, ya never have to worry about planes clipping wings or anything like that!
2019 iberia premium economy 08 seatbelt sign is off
Gate side!

After two jet bridges had been extended out to the plane — one for the bourgeoisie passengers in the front and us plebes in the back — Premium Economy got to disembark first.  Given seat 11A’s proximity to the door, I could quite literally stand up, say good bye, and walk off the plane.  It was so convenient, and a perfectly pleasant ending to what was a serendipitous passenger experience.

2019 iberia premium economy 01 madrid long walk
Onwards!

Premium Economy, in general, seems to be the victim of a regrettable misnomer.  Instead of being standard steerage with three extra inches of legroom, it’s really more “business lite,” and Iberia does a good job of rising to that standard.  While its Turista Premium is not without its flaws — and what product isn’t? — it’s a more than capable entry in to an increasingly crowded market.  It benefits from a stellar seat and excellent catering, but in the long term, will both be able to hold up?  As the cushions degrade, buttons stop working, and food budgets are inevitably cut, will there be enough here to justify paying a premium?  We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there; we’ll see.  In the meantime however, the answer is an enthusiastic yes.  If you’re looking for a higher flyer experience on the (relatively) cheap, look no further than Iberia.

The good, the bad, the ugly of Iberia Premium Economy

  • The Good
    • The seat is both a step up over regular economy AND domestic first class in the United States.  While the leg rest is a little gimmicky, the cradle effect definitely is not.
    • You get amenities similar to what you would in business class, which help make the experience that much more enjoyable over standard economy.
    • The food was flavorful and the quality was, rather surprisingly, closer in quality to business class…
  • The Bad
    • But the wine was genuinely vile (although with my unrefined palette, I could certainly be missing something too).
    • And the service was definitely closer to economy class.  None of the flight attendants were actively rude, but they didn’t go out of their ways to make the experience any better for anyone.
  • The Ugly
    • The delay caused by the drunken passenger is of no fault of Iberia, but a brutal delay nevertheless hurts the experience
    • The lavatories were uninspiring at best, unacceptably filthy at worst.
    • Don’t ever pay $3,288 (or something like that) for this.  It’s a good product, but it’s not that good.

“Another Weekend to Europe” Trip Report

  • Introduction:  Another Weekend to Europe
  • Iberia Premium Economy, Airbus A350-900, JFK-MAD
  • DoubleTree Madrid-Prado, Spain
  • American Airlines Business Class, Boeing 767-300, MAD-JFK
  • American Airlines Flagship Lounge, New York (JFK)
  • 54 Hours in Madrid

Have you flown Iberia Premium Economy? What are your thoughts?