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aristoph Jan 3, 07 5:19 pm

IB BusinessPlus MAD-HAV
Christmas this year took us to Havana and out of loyalty to OW we flew from LHR via MAD with IB. (Also because the direct alternatives were VS for three times the price or Cubana!) After reading some of the reviews on here I was pretty apprehensive about the service we would get so I am pleased to report that IB's BusinessPlus compares very favourably with BA's Club World, at least with regards to the "soft" parts of the offering. This isn't a blow-by-blow trip report but, hopefully, gives a taste of what they do right or wrong.

First off, I simply don't understand all the complaints on this site about IB staff not speaking English. Everybody we dealt with - check-in staff at MAD and HAV, both cabin crews and pilots as well as lounge staff - spoke perfectly acceptable English and was happy to do so. We tried to be polite with our few words of Spanish (we have just started learning) but it really wasn't necessary. Plus everyone was at least perfectly civil and in most cases positively charming, contrary again to the general view of IB employees. (The only exception was the lounge staff at HAV but I put that down to the general surliness of service in Cuba, not a specific IB issue.) Staff got 9/10 from us and MAD-HAV and MAD-LHR compared with the best we have experienced on BA.

MAD airport is a dream. I had read the complaints about long distances to walk, transfers between T4 and T4S etc, and I can see where they are coming from. But, compared with LHR, all the travelators worked, the queues were minimal and the general atmosphere is uplifting instead of beating you into a depression before you board. Plus once you realise it is always quicker to take the lifts rather than the escalators you can get between levels very efficiently. The IB lounge in T4S (Velazquez) is beautiful with plenty of seating, several bars and best of all clear views over the apron. Boarding was handled efficiently but with no priority boarding except, ironically, from HAV-MAD. (Communists still know how to treat the elite traveller well ;) ) Luggage made it through with no problems in both directions, including an overnight at MAD from LHR.

My first impression of the BusinessPlus cabin was a bit disappointing. The seats seem much closer together than in BA J and they are arranged almost perfectly in line with each other, which means it really feels like you are in a row of 6 (2-2-2 config). There was too little storage space around the seat and the overhead bins on the A340 seem much smaller than BA's 747 lockers. I liked the brown fabric covering but my partner felt is was a bit too 70s retro for his tastes. The washbag was standard issue with nothing remarkable though I did snaffle the nice Occitane lip balms. (BA, please bring back the MB lip balm sticks!) We had window and aisle seats in both directions but if I were travelling alone I would definitely go for a middle as, even when the seats are not reclined, it is surprisingly difficult to get out past your neighbour from the window seat. (There is also no screen or hood between the seats so you are very intimate with your neighbour when sitting or sleeping.) The controls were logical and easy to operate as was the AVOD though the selection of movies was pretty dire and the touch-screen was annoyingl hyper-sensitive. For the day time flight outbound the seats were more than comfortable but as a bed they fall far far short of the BA product. The angle felt like maybe 160 degrees and the only way to prevent yourself from feeling as if you are sliding off is to raise the bare metal footplate at the foot of the bed which is a) uncomfortable and b) reduces the length available by maybe 15cm. Still it was better than coach ;-) and with the help of a sleeping pill we both got 5-6 hours sleep on an 8 and a half hour flight so not at all bad.

Where IB really outshone BA, however, was on catering and the service arrangements. The food was significantly better than BA's offering. The starters were fixed but included a delicious pheasant salad as well as a consomme. For mains we chose beef which was nothing special but at least as good as BA's staple offering. Then we were served a selection of four cheeses individually plated for us from the trolley followed by a delicious cake dessert. (Yes, BA, cheese AND dessert!) What we really liked about the dinner, however, was the way they arranged the drinks service. With two crew members working each aisle the first passed by with drinks (including a really excellent Penedes Cabernet Sauvignon) and the second immediately behind with the meal choices, which had been plated first in the galley. This meant that you never had food without a fresh drink, a pet hate of mine on BA where both crew tend to do either drinks or food at the same time. By the end of the meal they had refilled my (generous) glass five or six times without me once asking and I was feeling very warm and fuzzy towards the crew..... Plus, as befits a European airline, the coffee was very drinkable.

While overall we were very happy with the service there were inevitably some gripes. On the outbound the temperature was stifling and two requests to have it lowered made little difference. (On the inbound, however, when the a/c kicked in I did notice a Spanish lady immediately put on a heavy woollen jumper so maybe this is a genuine "cultural difference"?) And in both directions they closed the forward toilet, I presume because it is immediately behind the cockpit and in an area which is not constantly monitored by cabin crew. This bad cabin design meant just two toilets between 42 J passengers which caused queues of 3-4 people at some times.

Just a final word on the IB short-haul leg. We had flown LHR-MAD with BA and had one of BA's best crews so we thought the return with IB could only be a disappointment. Wrong again. The 2-2 config (achieved by blocking B and E seats) creates a very spacious feel and the light grey leather makes the cabin much brighter than BA's. Printed menus were handed out and the food was pretty decent, though not as good as BA CE on a similar length journey. Again, however, it was the crew which really made us happy with IB. With 10 rows of business, nearly all full, and just 2 crew we nonetheless found service to be excellent. Meals were served efficiently with the same drink-food split of responsibilities as on long-haul. The crew kept passing through the cabin throughout the flight and offered refills of water, coffee and cava (not bad, though I think I prefer even the Heidsieck Monopole....) right up until the 20 minute bell. It was certainly on a par with the BA crew on the way out which is high praise indeed.

I will stop here before I risk sounding like an IB apologist. To sum up I would not choose IB over BA for a comparable price as the BA bed is miles ahead of the sloping IB seat. However IB long-haul J often costs less than half BA's and it is far more than half the value. And on short-haul I might even be tempted to prefer them over BA next time we fly to Spain, maybe if only to see if we really did just strike it lucky this time round.....

Fraser Jan 3, 07 6:11 pm

Very interesting! It's not often you hear about IB J. The food sounded pretty decent. Pheasant salad and consomme :p^^

Interesting you highlight the drinks and food issue with continuous top-ups as I did the BA J thing the other evening and the crew had this mastered. Both on the trolley, one handing out food and the other doing drinks. I was quite impressed ^

PresRDC Jan 4, 07 3:24 pm

I flew IB from JFK to MAD in J last October and enjoyed it very much.

SEAUAKID Jan 8, 07 2:31 pm

For some reason, I was under the impression that the MAD-HAV-MAD flights were operated by a 3rd party, like an outsource or something. Am I totally wrong about this? Or was it previously this way but has now changed?

aristoph Jan 10, 07 7:58 am

Originally Posted by SEAUAKID (Post 6975577)
For some reason, I was under the impression that the MAD-HAV-MAD flights were operated by a 3rd party, like an outsource or something. Am I totally wrong about this? Or was it previously this way but has now changed?

You're right, they are operated by Audeli using an IB livery plane but their own crew in a different uniform. I should have put this caveat on my glowing review of IB, though ground staff, ground handling and short-haul J crew were all mainline and exceeded my expectations.

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