Madrid Barajas Int’l airport is known for its fancy Terminal 4, which houses OneWorld carriers and a host of other foreign airlines serving MAD. However, as I was flying out on Turkish Airlines a few weeks back, I was sent to Terminal 1 at MAD, sometimes dubbed as the “pre-Franco” terminal at Barajas.
I was booked on a midnight departure on TK1358 back to Istanbul. One of the best assets about Madrid, aside from its cleanliness, is its very modern and efficient public transit system. There is a train running every half-hour from the Atocha station downtown for less than 4 Euro, and it drops passengers conveniently at Terminal 4 at the underground level within a mere 30 minutes. It’s extremely safe, spacious and certainly far superior than paying 40 EUR for a cab ride. From the T4 drop-off location, passengers can catch an inter-terminal transit bus to T1, T2 and T3.
I roamed around T4 for a bit before proceeding to the bus stop. The check-in area was teeming with late-night red-eyes to Latin America and the Middle East. I felt nostalgic for my study abroad semester in Chile when I saw the LAN check-in counters. Then, I caught the bus to T1 a short while later, which felt like taking a trip across town. For those unfamiliar with MAD, the airport is gigantic. Terminals 1-2-3 are within proximity, whereas Terminal 4 is miles away.
Lines at check-in were not long at T1 (as I used the Star Gold/Business Class counter) and I inquired about lounge access for Star Gold members, as there was nothing displaying on the Star Alliance website. I was surprised to discover that TK elite fliers do have access at Madrid to the Cibeles VIP Lounge at T1, open 24 hours a day for non-Schengen flights.
This was actually a godsend as Terminal 1 at MAD is pretty much shut-down at that hour, despite the plethora of traffic at that time. There were several departures aside from the TK flight to MAD, including a few Air Europa long-haul red-eyes to Buenos Aires and Lima, and a (very delayed) Aeroflot departure to Moscow. While not overcrowded, T1 was busy at that hour. Security took about 10 mins to flow through, despite the long look of the lines. Most duty free shops and restaurants were, however, on the verge of closing.
The SALA VIP Cibeles lounge at T1 is located on the second floor of the terminal, and is actually owned by Lounge Club, which is part of Priority Travel Group, a company established in 2011. I’m not exactly sure what membership criteria entails (my guess is that like any airline-branded lounges, it functions as a paid service designed for business and elite travelers) but also allows airline tenants to contract with them for services. Up until now, I had never heard of Lounge Club, but after checking out their website, it appears they are actually present in two of my hometown airports, Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth. Air France uses them at T5 at ORD, and foreign flag carriers use them at Terminal D at DFW.
More information about their global lounges can be found here, and they also have an app available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry.
Per its website, Lounge Club locations offer the following amenities:
- Reception and customer services.
- Press and Magazines.
- Air traffic information.
- Internet access.
- Wi-fi (1 free hour).
- Disabled access.
- Piped music.
I’m not necessarily sure what “piped music” means, nor did I find any obvious representation of Air traffic information, but I must say that on the whole, I was impressed by the lounge.
The decor was nothing to write home about; in fact, upon entry, one would think that they’re entering into an old Indian airport from 1996. I did admire the list of airlines that admitted PAX to use the VIP lounge – definitely not your every day airline crowd. The mix was indeed eclectic, ranging from commonplace airlines such as United, Qatar, Korean and Air Canada to Cubana, Air Mauritius, Tunisair, Libyan Airlines, SBA Airlines and Boliviana de Aviacion. Sprinkled in with your regular TAM, US Airways and Saudia. Hmm…sounded like a spotters’ dream!
At reception, the agent scanned me in without any hassle, and I had to pass through a few more corridors to enter into the lounge. At first glance, the interior doesn’t look particularly pleasing to the eye, perhaps somewhat “Soviet-esque,” but in reality, there were plenty of redeeming qualities. First, though the lounge felt “busy” and active with plenty of members, it also seemed quiet enough, with tons of free space to roam around. It was very clean, with plenty of unoccupied real estate in the furnished areas, allowing one to eat, drink, relax and charge up.
There were also several magazine racks. I would like to especially call out Korean Air for providing magazines. I’ve lately been griping a lot about how more airlines ought to stock their lounges with the latest copy of the monthly in-flight magazine. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the travel experience, mainly because I am still a sucker for print media, and I love to learn about all the on-goings within the airline by pawing through the pages. Korean even had their DutyFree magazine, SkyShop, available on display!
The Food and Beverage options were pretty plentiful, especially at this late hour. I was particularly impressed by the number of healthy options available for customers, including fresh fruits, cheeses, crackers, salads, sandwiches, pastries and pasta bowl trays. All of it was self-serve from the mini-fridge and/or cooler areas. All types of beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were represented as well, along with an assortment of teas and coffee. Virtually every label was available and, consistent with what I have experienced in SO many lounges, a bloody mary station was available – people seem to really enjoy bloodies around the world these days!
After preparing myself a cocktail and an assortment of snacks on a plate, I settled down to connect and get some work done, which brings up my only grievance with this lounge:
In this day and age, free WiFi is pretty much something that all players in the services industry should offer to guests. This wasn’t so much the primary issue with the Cibeles lounge, but rather, the fact that customers were handed tiny slips of paper with usernames and passwords limited to 30 minutes of free usage. This was a HUGE pain in the rear, as the username and password data was unique and perishable. As such, I had to get up after 27 minutes and retrieve another slip as I was only halfway through catching up on some of my work e-mails. The walk to the front desk is a bit long, and I was somewhat anxious about leaving all of my belongings out in the open.
I only chose to go back once to get a second slip of paper, but even for just 1 request for “refills,” the lounge agent handed me the credentials somewhat begrudgingly. Granted, this is far superior than being told, “sorry, only 1 free half hour per guest,” but seriously, 30 minutes of block time is simply ridiculous. If this HAS to be done (for whatever inane reason) then at least disseminate the login data in a more centralized location.
This annoyance aside, the lounge was overall a very enjoyable place to inhabit before my flight to Istanbul. It wasn’t too crowded, the food and beverage options were above-par, the furniture was comfortable and the actual location wasn’t too far from the gate areas. Overall, I highly recommend using it if you are a Star Alliance Gold traveling out of T1 at Barajas.