Flying Air Nostrum (Iberia) to the Spanish enclave of Melilla
Take a flight to a slice of Spain within Morocco.
When talking about where my trip would take me in Spain, each time I mentioned Melilla I was asked ‘why’? It’s a fair question as it’s hardly on the visit Spain tourist route. So this route was somewhat about trying a new airline, but mostly about trying an off the tourist track destination. Melilla is an oddity in that it is part of Spain and thus part of the European Union, but it is located in North Africa. To be blunt, it’s a 12.3 square km pocket of Morocco that’s Spain. In my experience, unless a river or coastline marks a border, most international borders are hard to see from the air. In the case of Melilla, the border is stark. Sitting on the southern Mediterranean coast, Melilla is surrounded by water or the tall border fences separating it from Morocco. A double layer fence cuts a line around the city clearly visible on approach to land.
Unlike some of my other travels where the flight is the main purpose, this flight was to explore a strange international relationship, and then to explore a busy little regional airport. Brining it back to aviation, I also got to try a new airline, in this case Iberia operated by Air Nostrum.
Route: Seville to Melilla
Airline: Iberia (Air Nostrum)
Flight: IB 8256
Aircraft: ATR 72-600 (EC-LRH)
Cabin Class: Economy
Scheduled Departure: 6 May 2022 @ 16:35 Departed at 17:21
Scheduled Arrival: 6 May 2022 @ 17:45 – Landed at 18:11
Duration: 1:10 scheduled, 0:50 actual
I’d spent a few days exploring Seville and after a couple of Ubers cancelled the trip, I made my way to the airport to continue my travels. Arriving into the terminal the Moorish influence that I’d enjoyed learning about over the past days continued into the departures hall of the airport. Tall arches broke up the long check in hall. A nice connection to the history of the region, or maybe I’m reading too much into architecture now.
On a practical level, the departures hall is flanked by check in counters along the back wall for the length of the terminal. Iberia were using counters 14-20, but unfortunately only one was open when I arrived. An apparently issue with a passenger at the front of the line resulted in a painfully slow moving line until that was resolved. Once that was dealt with the line moved quickly and I was able to check in, drop my bag and obtain the last window seat on what was a full flight. While I had selected a seat during the booking process, that seemed to be irrelevant as it was wiped from my booking when I tried to check in online, where I was allocated an aisle seat. I suspect this had to do with the front emergency exit being kept free to allow for social distancing from the crew. Fortunately there was one remaining window seat available and the check in agent kindly moved me to that seat.
Security was located at right end (or far right?) of the building. Security was very efficient despite coins in my bag requiring a secondary screening. That’s now 2 from 2 European flights where my bag has been selected for a secondary examination. Once security was cleared there is a walk through the obligatory duty free shop before arriving in the ‘A gates’ of the terminal. This end of the terminal seems quite a bit newer than the B gate area, while the C gates appear to be either non existent or under renovation. There are good views of the tarmac and charging stations available in the A gates area while the B gates are restricted access as they seem to be used for non Schengen area flights that require passport control. There are a few cafes, a Burger King and some other shops in the terminal area, with plenty of seating available and good airport views. Waiting at the gates were Vueling, Ryanair, Air France and EasyJet aircraft taking passengers across Europe. As an Aussie traveller, its nice to see a variety of airlines while looking out the windows of European airports.
There is a generic VIP lounge that serves all airlines at Seville. Iberia passengers with loyalty status can access as well as priority pass holders. Within the lounge there are 3 seating areas, 2 of which consist mainly of 3 seater lounge seats, which is an odd choice for a lounge which normally have more paired seating. The lounge offers beer, wine, soft drinks and some spirits as well as a selection of cold snacks. There are no views onto the tarmac from the lounge which instead looks into the terminal through semi frosted glass. There are bathrooms available within the lounge. It’s a small yet comfortable lounge but I’d only recommend access if it’s not costing you anything extra. I saw one guy use his priority pass to access the lounge then leave again with nothing other than a bottle of water. I’m hoping he is on the unlimited access plan. I relaxed here, ate a few snacks but it did have a waiting room feel rather than that of a relaxing space.
Departure was approaching so I left the lounge to watch the incoming aircraft land. I made it to the window in time to watch the landing and rushed to the gate to get footage of the aircraft arriving on stand only to discover that boarding has already commenced. This was odd given the plane hadn’t even arrived at the gate yet. I discovered that the plane would be boarding by bus from a remote stand and to speed up the turnaround we would be checked in for boarding then wait in the stairs for the bus to arrive. Running on time is more important in Europe than other destinations due to the compensation payments available for significantly delayed flights. As such, I wasn’t able to take any photos of the plane from the gate.
The bus ride was short and soon we were waiting for permission to board the plane. Once on the tarmac most passengers headed for the baggage cart to drop luggage that wouldn’t fit in the smaller overhead lockers on this regional aircraft. Boarding is done from the rear of the cabin and upon climbing up the few steps I soon made my way to my seat only to find someone already in it. After explaining using hand gestures that F was the window and D was the aisle the man moved out of my seat and I got set up for departure. He promptly fell asleep almost instantly, locking me in my seat for the rest of the flight.
The flight was full, but with all passengers on the one bus everyone was seated quickly. Shortly after the door was closed and the engines were started ready for departure. The plane was uncomfortably hot during this time as there was no air conditioning or airflow within the cabin. Once the propellors were spinning we began getting coolish air through the vents as we headed towards the runway for takeoff. You could hear a collective sigh of relief once that cool air started flowing.
We made a long taxi past the terminal and taxied the full length of the runway before lining up and taking off to the west, interestingly with a tail wind. I’m not a pilot, but from the flying I have done you normally take off and land into the wind. I thought it might be a noise mitigation thing, but alas this flight path took us over the city centre after take off and was in the opposite direction to the way were were heading. After take off, we made a left hand 180 degree turn over Seville and unfortunately I was on the side of the plane without the view of the main city centre. The flight was smooth as we tracked across southern Spain towards the Mediterranean at an eventual cruising altitude of 15,000 ft. We crossed the Spanish coastline south of Malaga and then proceeded in pretty much a straight line towards Melilla.
Shortly after the seat belt sign was turned off the crew walked the trolley through the cabin offering buy on board service. No one took them up on the offering. With no in seat menus it was difficult to see what they were selling with just one menu being held up as they strolled down the aisle. I later found the menu available through the inflight entertainment web portal, but given the short flight and ample snacking in the lounge I opted against a purchase on this flight. The expected flight time of under an hour probably also reduced the demand for purchases on board. I made a point of trying the buy on board on a later flight – you’ll have to wait for that review to hear my views on the offerings.
I’m flying on the ATR 72-600 operated by Air Nostrum for Iberia on this flight. The ATR series of aircraft board from the rear of the plane with row 1 at the rear and row 17 at the front of the plane. While I guess this makes sense as row 1 is the first row you see when you board, it also feels strange having row 1 at the back of the plane. The seats are in a 2-2 layout and each seat has a small amount of recline available – an interesting feature for a regional prop plane. I was seated slightly behind the wing. The engine noise, while noticeable wasn’t overly loud. I had originally selected an exit row seat, which would have been at the front of the plane but I was happy enough to have a window seat. Overall its a pretty comfortably cabin, despite being overly warm for most of the flight and being unable to leave my seat due to my sleeping seat companion.
In a surprise to me, inflight entertainment is offered on the ATR-72-600 aircraft through a BYOD streaming portal. I think this is the first regional aircraft I’ve flown with some sort of IFE available. While no internet is available there was a wide selection of TV shows, audiobooks, music and even movies available to stream to your device. I thought it was particularly interesting that movies were available given the shorter sector lengths for regional aircraft, but there they were. I spent most of the flight looking out the window listening to my own music, but it’s good to know that other options are available.
The flight was short and before long the seat belt lights came on and the pre landing check was conducted. We crossed the coastline over Morocco before flying low over the tall border fence that separates Spain from Morocco. The traditional style of homes on the Morocco side of the fence further differentiated this little Spanish enclave from this bigger neighbour. A gust of wind just before landing provided an entertaining bump before we touched down and applied the brakes. There is no taxiway at Melilla so we turned around and backtracked on the runway before arriving at the terminal area. Deplaning was a relatively quick process and as I was one of the few that didn’t have carry on bags loaded into the hold. I made a leisurely walk across the tarmac and was one of the first into the small arrivals hall waiting for baggage to arrive.
There are two small carousels in the baggage hall. While waiting for the bags to arrive, the flight from Madrid landed, interestingly in the opposite direction to how we had landed. Oneworld priority baggage tags seemed to work as mine was one of the first out, allowing me to snare one of the few taxi’s waiting outside the the small terminal building. Melilla is small, so 10 minutes later I was checked into my hotel, looking out the window to a view of the fortress that has long protected this Spanish enclave in northern Africa.
I’ve spoken a lot about what is a relatively short flight that few tourists probably take. That said, it was full and having explored the flight board at Melilla, it serves a busy regional airport. While the flight to Seville isn’t as regular as other destinations, Melilla airport is the main link between Spain and it’s enclave with flights to a range of destinations including multiple flights a day to Madrid and Malaga. Despite the heat, the ATR was a comfortable ride even if I felt guilty even thinking of reclining on such a short flight. A complimentary cup of water and a small snack would however have gone down well given the €80+ one way fare for what is a rather expensive short hop. Overall, I enjoyed the experience of flying somewhere new, but would probably grow tired of the flight if it was part of a regular commute.
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