Iberia's Madrid-Barcelona Air Shuttle vs. the AVE Train

Travel between Spain's biggest cities have never been quicker or more efficient

Iberia Air shuttle pick your seat
••• The next flight leaves in 20 minutes. And there's still space on board!. Image: (c) Damian Corrigan

The route from Madrid to Barcelona has been the busiest flight route in Europe for several years. Spain is unique in Europe for having two cities with such an equal split in tourists and business travelers, meaning people try to get between the two cities as quickly as possible here more than in any other city in Europe.

When the AVE train launched, it was expected that fewer people would fly between the two cities, thanks to the train stations' central locations and the fact you don't need to check in at the train station.

And while this is true, the AVE did eat into air travel between these two cities, flying from Madrid to Barcelona is still the busiest route in Europe.

And this is largely thanks to Iberia's Air Shuttle.

How Does Iberia's Air Shuttle Work?

Iberia has streamlined their check-in and boarding times on their Madrid-Airport route with their shuttle service. The service works like this:

  1. Book the shuttle service online. You have to click on 'Aereo Puente' or 'Air Shuttle', not the standard booking engine. There is no need to specific when you wish to travel.
  2. Arrive at the T4 terminal of Madrid Barajas airport or T1 at Barcelona El Prat airport and go straight to the Puente Aereo, the dedicated Madrid-Barcelona area.
  3. Check the departure time of the next plane. A screen shows how many seats are left on the next train. At peak time there are flights every 20 minutes.
  4. Register your seat at the machine. You can then go straight through the dedicated Madrid-Barcelona check-in terminal and board within 15 minutes.

    Is the Train or the Plane Quickest?

    Obviously, in terms of travel time alone, the plane is twice as fast as the train. But that doesn't take into account getting to the airport or train station and other factors. The overall time it takes to get from Barcelona to Madrid is actually quite close, but the plane just takes it.

    Check out: Madrid to Barcelona by Train and Plane: Which is Quickest?

    Advantages of the AVE High-Speed Train from Madrid to Barcelona

    • Train station is easier to get to. But not always! It depends on where you are in the city and if you want to travel by metro/train or by taxi. Visitors in the north of the city might find it quicker to get to the airport than the train station.
    • No need to check-in. Boarding closes just two minutes before the train departs.
    • Train travel is more comfortable than flying. Trains are more spacious and there is none of that ‘electronic devices must be switched off during take-off and landing'. (However, with imminent changes to electronic devices regulations on aircraft, this particular advantage may disappear soon.) Your phone will work throughout your journey.
    • The train is much cheaper than the Air Shuttle. Even departing this afternoon, tickets are half the price of the Iberia Air Shuttle (Puente Aereo). There are cheaper flights, but they don't have the benefits of the Air Shuttle. 
    • Check prices on trains from Madrid to Barcelona 

    Now check out the less well-known advantages of taking a plane.

    Advantages of Flying from Madrid to Barcelona

    Note that many of the advantages below only apply to the Iberia Air Shuttle, which costs quite a bit more than standard flights from Madrid to Barcelona.

    • Travel Time is Much Quicker. The high-speed train can take from two-and-a-half hours to three-and-a-half hours, while the plane is scheduled to take one hour and twenty minutes, though actual travel time will be shorter.
    • Madrid airport is closer to north Madrid. Particularly if driving. Driving from Santiago Bernabeu, the Real Madrid football stadium in the business district, it will take approximately the same to get to the airport as to train station. From anywhere further north than this, it will probably be quicker to get to the airport.
    • The check-in time at Madrid airport is only slightly slower than the train. With the Iberia Madrid-Barcelona shuttle service, you can be on the next plane within 15 minutes of getting to the check-in area. 
    • If you miss your flight, you can jump on the next one! Iberia’s Madrid-Barcelona route allows you to take the next flight available, which will usually be within the hour. There is no need to know when your business meeting, concert or football match ends,  just turn up at the airport and board.
    • There are Later Flights than Trains. The last flight from Madrid departs 75 minutes after the last AVE and still gets to Barcelona before the last train!

    Who Should Take the AVE Train between Madrid and Barcelona?

    Travelers on a tighter budget. People who are happy to take the metro to the station. They have a fixed departure time and are sure they will not miss it. Or perhaps they want the comfort of being able to stretch their legs and have use of their telephone and computer throughout their journey.

    Travelers staying in the following areas: If you are staying around Atocha, Sol, the Prado museum, Lavapies or La Latin will find Atocha closer than the airport.

    Who Should Fly between Madrid and Barcelona?

    Travelers who are willing to pay extra for a better service. People who don’t know when exactly they’ll be able to get to the airport. Travelers they are on a business trip, perhaps they are going to a concert and want to depart straight after the show. People who are staying in the north of Madrid and want to drive (or take a taxi to the airport.

    Travelers staying in the following areas: If you are staying north of Santiago Bernabeu, the business district or other northern destinations. The train from these areas directly to the train station takes around the same time as the train to the airport, but by taxi it is often quicker to get to the airport.

    Is there a similar shuttle service to Valencia or Seville?

    Unfortunately not. For travel to these cities, the AVE is a much better service than the plane.