Personal experience: 6 facts that surprised me while flying business class - ForumDaily
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Personal experience: 6 facts that surprised me while flying business class

Kevin Martinez from The points guy revealed what surprised him on his first business class flight outside the United States. Next - from the first person.

Photo: IStock

Before my first trip to Europe, I thought flying business class was overrated. The lie-flat beds, gourmet meals and luxurious amenities seemed over the top to me and not worth the astronomical prices airlines charge for business class. Economy class was enough for me. I even developed a proven system for adjusting the chair to the right angle for a good nap.

Even after two years at TPG, I'm still relatively new to the world of points and miles. Like most travelers, I usually look for the lowest prices on airfare or use points for an award experience.

I prefer to use the money I save for unique experiences at different destinations and accumulate points to stay at nicer hotels than I can usually afford.

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However, when the transfer bonus and award ticket availability appeared on the website at the same time, I decided to book my dream trip to Madrid and fly there in Iberia business class.

Booking a business class ticket was easier (and cheaper) than I expected

Back in August, American Express Membership Rewards offered a 30% bonus for transferring to the British Airways Executive Club. I found a business class deal on British Airways partner Iberia flying non-stop from JFK to Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport (MAD) for 34 British Airways Avios. Thanks to the transfer bonus, all I had to do was convert 000 Amex Membership Rewards points into British Airways Avios and use them to book my flight. That's fewer points than required for most transatlantic economy flights.

In addition to the benefits, I was delighted by the opportunity to fly for the first time on a non-American airline. I have flown to other countries before, including often to visit my family in the Dominican Republic, but these were always flights on American carriers.

In short, I was eager to try something new, and the trip to Madrid was a trip with a lot of firsts. It was my first time traveling to Europe, specifically Spain, my first time flying on a foreign carrier, and my first time flying in international business class.

When booking my ticket, I chose an off-peak time to travel to Madrid. If I had chosen a peak time to travel to Madrid, I would have had to spend more points as demand is higher. I was booked on Iberia flight 1652, which departed New York at 22:00 pm and arrived in Madrid at 10:00 am the next day. Needless to say, I was in for a long night.

I set off with an open heart and more than a little excitement, and I'll be the first to admit that the business class experience definitely lived up to expectations.

Next, I’ll tell you about other facts that surprised me during my first business class flight outside the United States and which became the highlight of my entire trip.

Early boarding and pre-flight drink

Since joining TPG, I have made it my goal to earn airline status at some point during my time with the company; I wanted benefits such as priority access at airports and boarding, as well as upgrades.

I wasn't expecting to reach levels as high as Delta Diamond or United Premier 1K, but if I could get at least Silver status, I would consider it a win. After a lot of lively conversation (and seeing some of my colleagues take advantage of airline status first hand), I wanted to join in the fun.

While I'm still on the path to achieving some sort of airline status, flying business class gave me the opportunity to see what benefits I could expect. It was fun to experience the life of being a premium airline status holder without having to work hard to achieve that status.

When I checked in for my flight online, received my boarding pass, and saw that it was designated Group 1, it dawned on me. I will actually be one of the first to board the plane. While this isn't a dream for most people before a long-haul flight, for me it meant more time to enjoy the comforts of business class. It also meant that I wouldn't have to worry about finding rare but coveted space in the overhead compartment for my carry-on luggage.

My ticket entitled me to two free checked bags weighing up to 23 kg (50 lbs) each. My trip was relatively short and I love stuffing my carry-on luggage to capacity. Do you know people who sit on their bags to get them to zip up? It's me.

When the agents at the gate called group 1, there was almost no line, and I practically flew into the plane, set down my bag and settled into my seat. It's great that you don't have to rush to find a place; I had the opportunity to relax and catch my breath before takeoff - that's why it was my first vivid impression.

As soon as I sat down, a friendly flight attendant approached me and offered me a choice of orange juice, water or wine. Since I was already filled to the brim with adrenaline and excitement, I decided to make do with orange juice. There will be many evenings for wine tasting in Madrid, I thought.

The flight attendant returned a few minutes later with orange juice in a signature Iberia glass. I don't condone or encourage theft, but to tell the truth, I really wanted to take this glass home with me. I have never drunk drinks on a plane in branded glasses, only in plastic ones.

Smooth takeoff

Sitting in the back of the plane, you can feel, hear and physically see when the plane takes off as you notice how the cabin tilts. However, sitting up front, things are completely different. The engine sound was much weaker, the angle of climb felt softer, and the impacts of the wheels on the runway were less.

The most pleasant thing during takeoff is, of course, looking out the window. Given the design of the Iberia seats and their 1-2-1 forward-facing layout, I had a single outboard seat with two windows; This is a great alternative to being pinned against the wall of the cabin by two other passengers, as is the case in economy. I could take in the views from both windows and not have to worry about invading anyone's privacy.

Dinner and movie somewhere over the Atlantic

I'm no stranger to airline food and entertainment systems, but the business class amenities were surprisingly good.

While the IFE screens in Iberia's business class aren't the largest in the industry, they're still respectable at 15,4 inches diagonally. The airline offers a wide selection of popular Hollywood films and some classic Spanish films, so I started browsing, figuring I had a few hours before I wanted to sleep.

I put on the noise-cancelling headphones provided (they actually worked) and watched movies as if I were back in my New York apartment on a regular Thursday night after work.

About 45 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants arrived to take our dinner order. I'm not the biggest fan of airplane food, but then again, I didn't have an international business class ticket. Perhaps Iberia converted me into an airplane food devotee.

I received a paper menu with a choice of options, not just chicken or vegetarian.

When I hear the phrase “airplane food,” I immediately think of food in plastic or aluminum packaging, nothing fancy. However, Iberia showed me that eating at the front of the plane is a whole different world.

After some serious internal debate about whether to have beef cheeks or gnocchi for the main course, I settled on beef cheeks with polenta and a glass of red wine (Spanish, of course).

When dinner arrived, the flight attendant laid out a white tablecloth on the tray table with metal cutlery, real glassware, and the most adorable little salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas. I asked if I could take them home and the flight attendants gave me a new set as a souvenir.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many options Iberia offered, from different types of cheese to a separate plate for a bun. Not to mention, I ate from real plates and not from plastic or aluminum trays like economy passengers. It's all in the details. Do I think it was a little over the top? A little. But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the excess.

The beef was melt-in-your-mouth, and the smoothness of the polenta mixed with the vegetables was an amazing combination, especially considering I was enjoying it at 35 feet (000 km).

To top it off, for dessert I was given a choice of fresh fruit or passion fruit panna cotta. I immediately opted for panna cotta and washed it down with a cup of mint tea to help me digest the food.

I never imagined falling into a food coma on a plane before, but it seemed like it was another first. Let's just say the delicious dinner helped me sleep.

Toiletries Sets

Many people love to collect and discuss airline amenity kits.

Since I had never received such sets, I was indifferent to them. They resembled mini-supplies you might get from hotels that don't use more eco-friendly reusable containers.

However, as soon as I sat down and saw the beige Iberia toiletry set waiting for me, I immediately fell in love with it. When I opened it, I saw an eye mask with the Iberia logo, socks, a toothbrush, a comb, lip balm and a rose-scented face mist.

Was this the most unusual set of amenities? No. But now I completely understand all the hype about the sets. What's not to love about trying new products in a travel size and getting a convenient pouch to take home? In fact, I still keep the rose scented lip balm and face mist. You can be sure that I will take them with me on my next flight to experience the Iberia atmosphere again.

The unexpected comfort of a flat-back chair

Being a restless pilot, I have tried every trick to fall asleep during a flight. From natural supplements to doctor-prescribed medications, nothing helped. I just gave up trying to sleep on the plane.

However, for the longest flight of my life, and an overnight one at that, I knew I had to at least try to get some sleep. My flight took off around 22:00 pm New York time, and while I wouldn't have minded spending the entire night on the plane, I wanted to make the most of my first day in Spain. I had things to do and limited time to complete them. Arriving in a state of sleep deprivation would not have helped.

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Being a budget traveler, I couldn't figure out how to recline the seat into the bed. There were a lot of buttons, but none of them worked, and no matter how many times I pressed the preset position button, it didn't work. For a brief second, I almost waved the white flag and was ready to declare that I was not meant to live in a lying position.

Finally, after a lot of trying, I decided to call customer service and spoke to the flight attendant. In two milliseconds they helped me figure it out. Before I knew it, I was watching Ocean’s Eleven while lying down.

After about two hours of entertainment, I felt my eyes getting heavy, so I took out an eye mask from the comfort kit, fluffed up a thick pillow, settled under a light gray blanket and quickly fell asleep for three hours. In prone mode, the seat was 76 inches (193 cm) long and almost 19 inches (48 cm) wide—not huge, but roomy enough that I could get some sleep without my arms or legs hitting anything.

It was 100% not like sleeping in a real bed, but it was much better than my experience in economy class. I arrived in Madrid feeling at least moderately rested and ready to meet the Spanish capital.

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