The Airbus A330 has been my ride back to the United States from Europe a couple of times lately, most recently flying in American Airlines economy class from Madrid to Philadelphia. While I missed the business class seat I had on my previous experience aboard this plane, I can actually say that the A330 is currently one of my favorite planes to fly on in any class of service. This is a really great flight by economy standards, one that I am sure we'll take again.
Flight: American Airlines #741
Date: 20 February 2017
Origin: Madrid (MAD)
Destination: Philadelphia (PHL)
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
I've written extensively about the experience at Madrid Barajas Airport, so have a look there for more details, but suffice it to say:
- It's an architecturally beautiful airport that always seems to work very efficiently for me, but be prepared to do a lot of walking through the immensely large concourses. Build that time into your schedule.
- OneWorld Sapphire and Emerald members (so any status with American Airlines that has the word "Platinum" in it) can use the overall pretty nice Iberia lounge found in the duty free area of Terminal 4S.
- Don't ignore my warning about walking. The American gate from which we departed is quite literally further away from the check-in counters than any gate in the entire terminal.
- On the subject of check-in counters... there are specific counters for AAdvantage members that may or may not be behind the regular counters depending on the direction from which you approach them. Look around so you can avoid the line.
Gate and Boarding
It is true, our departure gate was further from the front door, counter, security, Iberia lounge, you name it (pretty much any other useful point in the airport) than (again) quite literally any other gate in all of Terminal 4. Build in time to get from point to point. American Airlines actually suggests that it takes about 45 minutes of transit time to get from counter to gate, and we believe them. Otherwise, all else is efficient according to the usual routine. Have your passport handy (get this wallet to help you do so). MAD uses those great glass jet bridges that give you a nice look at your plane and keep you from feeling too claustrophobic while waiting to board. Nice!
American's A330 feels bright and modern. I am not a big fan of the newer, thinner, leather seats that have been installed -- they lack the cushion of the classic, dare I say "cushy" fabric models -- but these are not completely unreasonable. Each is equipped with a USB jack so that you can keep charged in flight.
I particularly love that the rows in economy are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, meaning two seats next to window, aisle separated from four in the middle, aisle separated from two on the opposite window. This means that companions traveling together can get two seats together, no more and no less, on the sides so that one person gets the window, one gets the aisle, nobody gets the middle, and one does not have to deal with strangers in close quarters. While not as ideal as the Boeing 767 that is arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration such that only the one dead center seat in each row is a true middle seat, I'll definitely take this A330 configuration over the larger planes that don't have the little 2-seat deals on each side. This alone gives me cause to recommend you pay ahead to pick your seats on the side rather than leaving it to chance on a long flight.
You will also find there is plenty of room in the overheads for your typical international carry on size suitcase (I happen to like the Tumi Alpha 2). International flights have so many people on them that they can often be a zoo during boarding, so I recommend that those without early boarding privileges due to status or credit card invest in the paid early boarding option. However, if you're pinching pennies and choosing between that or picking your seats, ALWAYS take the option to pick your seats.
Crew and Communication
This is an American Airlines flight, so English is standard. I've also found that American does a nice job mixing the cabin crew such that there are speakers of the native language at both origin and destination, though of course that is much easier to do when you're working with the likes of Spanish and English rather than a more obscure language. We had a great fellow taking care of us on our side of the plane, though the woman he spent most of the time working with was rather nasty. Her cavalier butchering of the Spanish language came across as downright offensive. Our buddy (and I am so sorry I misplaced the slip of paper on which I wrote his name) was a class act, though, who definitely knew he was compensating for his cabin crew partner's poor behavior.
Food and Beverage
I'm not generally offended by the meal in international economy, and this was no different. My meatballs and rice worked out just fine when paired with the red wine, though keep in mind we're not talking gourmet on the tray or the in the glass here. I was satisfied. International travel novices note that, unlike traveling domestic in the United States, this meal is baked into the price of your ticket... the wine, too, so don't hesitate to order an extra glass!
Aircraft and Destinations
The American Airlines fleet is the product of its merger several years ago with US Airways, so they're operating a mix of Airbus and Boeing airplanes. The Madrid-Philadelphia route, though, was one previously operated by US Airways, so we're finding they've stuck with the Airbus there. Fly between Madrid and New York or Dallas, and you'll likely find yourself on a Boeing 767 or 787 respectively. American is very much tied up with Spain's flag carrier, Iberia, which itself is owned by International Airlines Group that also owns British Airways. Bottom line is that these three very much allied-with-one-another airlines really dominate the skies between America's east coast and both Madrid and London (two of Europe's westernmost capital cities), so there's a good network to route you around on either side of the ocean.
This is a really workable flight whose 1:05pm departure time from Madrid means that you can sleep in a bit in the morning to start re-calibrating your internal clock, and whose 3:55pm arrival time in Philadelphia means you land in time to go about your business in the evening. PHL is a much-lamented airport, but geographically speaking it puts you in a good place to be connected to any number of other cities in the US. We actually rented a car and drove home to Washington, DC once we landed, arriving in time for dinner and a good night's sleep. This sweet spot time of day for Europe to North America travel (in my book) combined with a beautiful departure airport and a clean airline product make American Airlines from MAD to PHL one of the better options for a westward journey across the Atlantic.