Iberia Express A320 parked at the gate on a sunny day

Viva España: Iberia Express is effective if uninspired in economy

Cartoon of passengers, flight attendant and pilots onboard an aircraftIberia subsidiary Iberia Express, which feeds its Spanish parent by providing short- and medium-haul flights from Madrid, is a curious offering.

Though the carrier offers a business class cabin (EuroBiz-style with blocked middle seats), its economy class model is similar to that of a low-cost carrier, with the compromises that go with it, as I learned on a recent flight from Lyon to Madrid.

I arrived at Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport having already easily checked in via the Iberia app.

The queues at security were outrageously long, so I didn’t think I’d have much free time before boarding. I was wrong. A slight delay on the inbound arrival meant that I arrived at the gate with time to spare, despite having to navigate this scrum. 

Masses of people at Lyon.

Lyon Airport can often be chaotic. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

At the gate, a queue had already started to form around the seating area. Since I was in boarding Group 3, I hedged my bets and sat close to the gate in the hopes that I could get ahead of the masses. 

My gamble paid off, thankfully, and I boarded swiftly after business and oneworld status passengers. Our plane, an Airbus A320, featured the most recent Iberia livery with the “express” decals subtly added on. I snagged the overhead bin space right above my seat and settled in.

The first thing I noticed was that the seat (20D) was tight. Whilst one does not expect acres of legroom on European short-haul flights, the legroom was noticeably less than what I’m accustomed to flying on British Airways or even easyJet.

It’s worth noting that the seat on my return flight — 19C on the same aircraft type — did have a bit more legroom. In any case, I felt uncomfortable. 

A man's knees are shown up against the seatback in front of him on the Iberia A320. It looks very snug indeed.

Admittedly, I am 193cm tall, but this configuration nonetheless seems a bit too tight. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

The seat itself, a Recaro slimline, was rudimentary but comfortable enough and featured USB power points. The dark grey leather-like material complemented the red branded antimacassars (there are no formal headrests). 

Economy class seats on the Iberia Express A320. The seats are grey with red antimacassars.

The interior was restrained, with only the antimacassars giving it colour. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

After takeoff, I logged into Iberia Express’ digital entertainment offering. It is common for European low-cost carriers not to offer inflight connectivity (parent Iberia does offer it). Iberia Express instead provides wireless IFE that passengers can access on their phones.

This web-based service features movies (including a Warner Bros. tie-in), a flight tracker moving map, and some free games such as solitaire. I tried some of the games, which were frankly terrible. These buggy and awkward versions of flash games from 15 years ago did not match up to even the free games you can download from the App Store. 

A screenshot of Iberia Express' inflight game options.

I wonder why Iberia express keeps these games on board when they don’t really add anything. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

Frustrated by Tower Game, I decided to peruse the inflight menu. It offered some nice-looking Spanish choices, with sandwiches that could be considered akin to the sort of buy-on-board menus pioneered by easyJet and Ryanair. But the vegetarian options were a bit bland, so I stuck with the water I had purchased at the airport. 

The crew members were professional and quick, however, which created a calm, pleasant, and welcoming environment.

An image of the menu with various sandwich options for passengers to buy.

The sandwiches did look very appetizing. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

Once the meal service was completed I went to the bathroom to freshen up. It was clean and functional. But, surprisingly, it smelled of tobacco! 

A drawer full of soap sachets is open in the aircraft lavatory.

Soap offered in sachets was also a new one for me. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

Before too long we began our descent into Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport. And as I deplaned into the enormous Terminal 4, I felt…fine.

Iberia Express doesn’t really do anything differently to anyone else, but it doesn’t do it badly either. The crew members were professional and courteous, and the plane itself was clean and tidy.

There were some Spanish cultural points, such as serving Cava instead of Prosecco and sandwiches with Spanish ingredients, but Iberia Express could lean into its Spanish heritage a little bit more, to stand out from the crowd. 

Iberia Express A320 parked at the gate on a sunny day.

I arrived at Madrid feeling rested and ready to head into the city. Image: Fintan Horan-Stear

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Featured image credited to Fintan Horan-Stear