This trip started because last Christmas, my wife gave me a challenge - a daytrip costing £55 cash or less, all included. This is how much I spent last year on the Warsaw trip, including all costs from home in Norwich, so it would be tough to beat. What I originally wanted to do was use some Avios to bag a trip on one of the BA crew training flights for their A380 (or 787), but it became clear that they wouldn't be advertising these in the same way as Air France did - there would only be a couple of days notice. It was also suspected that Frankfurt and Stockholm would be the destinations, which made things difficult for me as I had some Natwest points to use as well, which would only be usable on Easyjet, for one of the directions.I therefore started looking for alternatives. I had read that once a day, Iberia use an A340 on their Madrid - Heathrow route, in the early afternoon, and this could be booked in Business Class for 15000 Avios and £20 for the taxes (including a "free" BA domestic connection, which I booked to Edinburgh in March, a 6 month "stopover" later). Had I wanted to spend more time in Madrid for sightseeing, I could have taken a later flight, but that would have meant an A32x instead of the widebody. Easyjet outward to MAD from Gatwick was booked for about 6000 Natwest points (and £0 cash, the taxes included in the points total), with an early start. I could have taken a train to Gatwick the evening before, and stayed in a Travelodge at the airport, but this would have cost more, and still a short night as the flight was at 07.25, so I booked an overnight National Express from Norwich for £18. Finally I bought a First Class train ticket back from London for £13.
Route map, courtesy of www.gcmap.com
When I did the booking for Iberia, it was on the BA website, and I could pick my seat, unlike the case if it had been operated by BA - Iberia don't charge for seat selection at booking. I chose the front row, seat 1L. I also paid £3 to select a seat on Easyjet, to guarantee a window.
Easyjet mobile boarding pass. I also had an Iberia one from its app, but they have disabled the option to take a screenshot.
Tuesday 24th September, evening
After putting the children to bed, I left on my way to the bus station.
Passing the city's Catholic cathedral
Arriving at the bus station
I guess this would be a BIDS? ;)
The bus that would take me to Gatwick
There were a few people waiting for the bus, and when it arrived I counted about 15 people in total. Strangely, most seemed to be heading for Gatwick. I didn't have any "hold luggage" so could board straight away, and I made my way towards the back. I managed to get the emergency exit seat on the driver's side, so plenty of legroom! I couldn't get a photo as I didn't want to use a flash, and without it the picture was completely black. We headed off, missing out most of the small towns en route as it appears now that the bus will only divert off the main road if there is a pre-booking. After Newmarket, when we hit the motorway proper, I managed to sleep for a while until Stansted, where there was a driver change. Then again, I could sleep until Heathrow (another driver change) and finally Gatwick. The bus arrived on time, so I had plenty of time until my departure. I took a ride on the little train to the North terminal, but it was so foggy that I couldn't see anything in the gloom. I headed back to the South and went through security.
The South Terminal shopping centre (with some planes nearby)
After security, I wondered about getting some breakfast. I'd heard good things about The Bridge, but the prices looked a little on the high side, certainly for a budget trip (which also ruled out a lounge visit), so I headed to McDo for a breakfast wrap and a cup of tea. Suitably filled, I hung around one of the FIDS until our gate was announced. Once it was, I followed the crowds through the dim passageways to the gate area. I wasn't sure if it would be a bus gate, but I took a picture through the window anyway, in case it was our aircraft. It was.
U2 to Madrid
It appeared to be a busy flight, I was about halfway back in the boarding queue but I wasn't bothered - I had pre-booked my window seat and my satchel was small enough to fit by my feet. There were plenty of people though, who had to test their bags in the metal frame thing, and have them checked. People who had two bags were made to pay for the second, but the first was free if it was close to fitting in. As my seat was the penultimate row (last row had no window) I headed to the rear door.
Under the wing, you know
From my seat
I don't remember much of the take off, other than it was unremarkable, and we were soon up through the clouds into sunshine.
And some more
The crew performed a BOB service, but I didn't buy anything.
I must have dozed because before long at all the clouds had parted and we were descending.
I can't remember what this one was!
Landing was smooth, and we taxiied over to Terminal 2.
Pulling onto stand
I knew I had about 5 hours until my return flight, which I thought was just a little too long to be sitting in the lounge, especially as the city wans't too far away and easily reached by train. The district around the Real Madrid stadium was on the correct side of the city, so it was an idea choice for a quick visit. I bought a travelcard for the metro and took it to Nuevos Ministerios, then changed for one stop to Santiago Bernabeu. I then had a look around the stadium, declining a guided tour due to time and cost.
Church behind the stadium
I then popped into a small shopping centre next to the stadium which had a supermarket, to buy a drink, and some edible souvenirs (saffron and chorizo). I thought it best to start making my way back to the airport by now.
As well as the metro, there is also a Cercanias suburban train service to the airport, only to Terminal 4, and running only every half hour, but it is cheaper than the metro (not that it mattered to me with a travelcard). The nearest Cercanias station was Chaumartin, another couple of metro stops away, so easily reached.
RENFE train to Salamanca
The ride was very fast, and soon I was in T4. I headed upstairs to get a souvenir boarding pass from a kiosk. It's not often I fly business!
Heading to fast track security
Fast track security was hidden around the side of the main security, beside a bar. There were only a couple of x-ray machines, but the whole area was empty. I was quickly through, and followed the signs to the T4S transit train. Up plenty of escalators and I was looking for the lounge, the Sala Velázquez. The area outside it didn't give a good impression, a complete building site, with broken glass and tiles strewn across the pathway to the lounge. At least once inside, it was an oasis of calm.
First thing, I needed some lunch. Food was plentiful, a huge choice. There are two buffets, one at each end of the lounge. I had chosen the one to the left as you enter. There were plenty of salads, hot options of vegetables, lasagne, tortillas, grilled fish, pastas. There were also packet sandwiches, which I didn't sample. Also lots of cakes, ice creams, and plenty of drinks - I took a cava. After stuffing myself, I took a shower. They operate a key system, where you leave your boarding pass as deposit.
Bathroom shower cubicle
Wifi was free for 30 minutes only, but with another device I could get a further 30 minutes. Before long, it was time to head to the gate.
There were lots of people crowding around the gate, as boarding had started, but business passengers could use the Business queue to the side and board straight away.
Short haul neighbour
Luggage door open
My seat, 1L
Plenty of legroom
Eventually the big bird was full of passengers. J was only about half full, so I had an empty seat next to me. I was disappointed that there was no pre-take off drink offered.
As expected from an A343, take off was slow. However half way along the runway there was a loud bang noise, and the door from one of the cupboards swang open with some force. Nobody did anything, or said anything - I guess that door must be known to have a weak catch.
The open door, once we had taken off
There was plenty to see as we slowly climbed.
Meal plate. I opted for the chicken
And Roni's signature drink, a Bloody Mary. Sorry Roni, I think I prefer Gab's G&T!
A few minutes later I needed to visit the small room. Here it is in all its glory - no bigger than those in Y.
Little wooden flower design
More aerial views
The IFE shows we're nearly in UK airspace
Approaching the Isle of Wight
I've stayed in this hotel (Hilton Cobham) with work before
Of course, being Heathrow bound, we had to hold for a while.
Neighbour in the holding pattern
After about 15 minutes circling, and about 4-5 circuits, we peeled off and approached over the City.
South Bank and the Oval cricket ground
Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC
Any idea what this impressive looking building is?
Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC
And some more
Touchdown. And the new T2
Peeling off the runway
And onto stand
Driverless pods to and from the T5 car park
Aircraft stands at T5A. I didn't stay long as this was the outside smoking area.
More parked aircraft
On the Tube. Really busy with LHR workers, presumably because it's the first off-peak one
Departures board at Liverpool St
Onboard snacks are complementary in First.
Easyjet, are, well, Easyjet. Good service, good staff, punctual, but tight legroom.
Iberia, well, I've still yet to have a bad flight with them.This ranks as my best, 2nd only to the flight I had years ago in the jumpseat of an AF A320. I was highly impressed with the lounge, though I don't have many to compare it to. The seat was spacious and comfortable, I'd be happy there on a long haul. Overall, well worth 15k Avios and £20!