Anatomy of a Flight – Madrid

Flights can be short – Chicago to Washington, DC – medium – the East coast to the West coast or the East coast to Europe – or long – flying to Japan or Australia. Flights may be non-stop, one-stop, or multi-stop.

I’ve flown short, medium, and long flights. I usually try to fly non-stop, but about half the time have flown with a stop somewhere. I’m lucky – I live near Chicago which has two airports. I use Midway, a Southwest Airlines hub, for most of my domestic flights and O’Hare, a hub for United and American Airlines, for international flights. From O’Hare there are non-stop flights to many cities around the world. One of my daughters lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Although there is an international airport in the city, she can rarely find non-stop flights to anywhere in Europe.

The Flights

My daughter and I flew to Europe with a plan to visit Spain and France. Our first flight started in Chicago. We flew to Paris, and then from Paris to Madrid. After touring Spain and France via trains and a rental car, we flew non-stop from Paris back to Chicago.

American Tails

The flights were not all booked at the same time. We had researched flight options and had determined that a non-stop flight from Chicago to Madrid would be difficult to find. There are very few available and the ones we found were expensive or not available to purchase with points. In addition, we hadn’t finalized our entire itinerary when we started watching flight prices.

We decided that our best option would be to fly round trip from Chicago to Paris. From Paris we could take a train, plane, or car to Madrid or Barcelona. Choosing Madrid over Barcelona as our starting point, we determined that flying there from Paris would be the most economical and timely option.

Booking the Flights
A Sea of Clouds

The first flight we booked was just over six months before the trip. We were able to secure round trip, non-stop tickets from Chicago to Paris. My tickets cost 54,000 points and $77 – my daughter’s were the same. Some points can be cashed in for 1¢ each, so these were worth a minimum of $540. The flights would have sold for well over $900, so it was worth using points.

My daughter and I finally booked the Paris to Madrid flight about two months before the trip. The nearly $150 ticket required under 10,000 points.

The Planes

Both legs of the round trip flight from Chicago to Paris were on American Airlines. We flew on a Boeing 788 – A Dreamliner, on the flight to Paris and the older 767 on the flight home. We had also flown on a Dreamliner on our trip to Tokyo. The wide-body Boeing 788 Dreamliner has nine seats across in economy in a 3-3-3 configuration.

The Dreamliners are wonderful planes, but we wanted to fly even more deluxe. We requested business class seats for an additional fee and more points. We were put on a waiting list, but were not able to secure the seats. No fee or points were charged, so it cost us nothing, but we were still a little disappointed. Maybe someday it will work.

Air France

Our flight to Madrid was on Air France. The plane was an Airbus A321 which is a narrow-body plane with six seats across in economy. The flight was only two hours long – just enough time for a short nap.

First Flight

American’s Dreamliners are newer planes and have the best in personal entertainment.

Seatback Entertainment Screen

A long list of movies, television shows and music is available. Flight tracking is also available on the seat-back screen. The seats are comfortable and seem roomier than others. The lighting, including the windows, automatically changes to encourage sleep when it is appropriate.

Filling the Overhead Bins

The overhead bins are large and easy to use. Since the configuration is 3-3-3, there are additional bins down the middle of the plane. I usually pack carry-on only, so overhead bin space is important to me.

For an overnight trip to Europe, dinner and breakfast are usually served. The meals in economy class are acceptable but not special. Many airlines offer complimentary wine and beer on international flights.

Layover in Paris

My daughter and I could have booked the three legs of the flights together using the open jaw option – flying into one city and out of another. Booking through one airline would shift the responsibility of missed flights to the airline and would have allowed for a shorter layover. Doing so, however, would have cost a lot more.

At Charles DeGaulle Airport

For example, American Airlines has flights to Madrid with a connection in Paris or another city. The connection time is often two hours or less. The flights available with American’s connection were $400 or more higher than what we paid. We saved a lot of money making our own connection.

The drawback of booking two separate itineraries, is that if the first flight is delayed, the airlines is not responsible to re-book you on a later flight. If you have to book your own last minute flight, the cost may be double, triple or quadruple what you originally paid.

One way to help insure there isn’t a problem is to intentionally book a longer layover. We booked a layover that was more than seven hours. Our flight landed a little late, but we still had several hours to hang out in the airport before our second flight.

Airport Lounge

Thankfully, my daughter and I had passes to the American Airlines lounge in Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris. After exiting the plane, going through passport control and additional security, we made our way upstairs to the lounge.

Attractive and Delicious Lounge Food

Airport lounges typically offer free food and drinks so pass-holders can eat in a relaxed atmosphere. The chairs are comfortable and spread out. There are often work stations with electric outlets and free WiFi so people can catch up on work or social media. Some lounges even have showers and private rooms for napping.

Artwork at the Entrance to the
Airport Lounge, Paris

The lounge was nearly empty, so we easily found a nice seat.  We had been told that the lounge would be closing early due to no American flights scheduled after 1 pm. We had time for an early lunch, emails home, and relaxing before the lounge closed.

Second Flight
Olive Groves near Madrid, Spain

I was struggling to stay awake because of jet lag and finally gave in and slept on the short flight to Madrid. I don’t usually recommend sleeping during the day when you first arrive in Europe, but I didn’t think this cat-nap would hurt too much. As it was, I didn’t have any trouble sleeping on our first night in Madrid.

I didn’t sleep the entire time – I was able to get some interesting pictures of the land surrounding Madrid before we landed. We were later told the groves of trees we saw were likely olives.

Flights to Madrid
Sunset Beyond the Wing

The flight to Paris, relaxing in the lounge, and then the short flight to Madrid were a great start to our trip. Just thinking about it makes me more excited for my next flight and trip.

How about you?  Do you like flying? Have you had any especially memorable flights?  Leave a comment below.


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