The Madrid-Barcelona Air Bridge is one of Europe’s busiest routes.

An Iberia A320neo parked at an airport gate.
Photo: Iberia

In commercial aviation, air bridges are flights between two cities with high-capacity traffic. The term air bridge was first used after the Second World War when on June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ road, rail, and canal access to West Berlin.

In response to the blockade, the Western Allies organized the “Berlin Air Bridge” to fly supplies to the people of West Berlin. At its peak, American and British planes landed at Berlin Tempelhof Airport (THF) every 45 seconds.

Where were the first air bridges in commercial aviation?

The first commercial Air Bridge commenced on July 5, 1959, when the now-defunct Brazilian carriers Varig, Cruzeiro do Sul, and VASP offered a flight every hour between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Two years later, on April 30, 1961, Eastern Air Lines began a shuttle service along the northeast corridor linking Boston, New York, and Washington DC. With no reservations needed, no assigned seating, and hourly departure times, Eastern promised passengers that once the plane was full that they would add on another flight. Using Lockheed 1049 Super Constellations, Eastern offered competitive fares, charging $12 between BOS and LGA and $14 between LGA and DCA. One of the significant innovations was that passengers boarded the aircraft and paid for the ticket on the plane.

The Madrid-Barcelona Air Bridge commenced in 1974

Inspired by the Air Bridge in Brazil and shuttle flights between Boston, New York, and Washington, Iberia introduced a system where people could buy a ticket and get on the next available flight. It was like waiting for the bus to arrive and then getting on. Wanting to be different from other routes within Europe, Iberia constructed special terminals at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) and Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN).

An old photo outside of Madrid International Airport

Photo: Iberia

The planes parked directly at the terminals allowing passengers to board and deplane quickly on foot. When a plane arrived, its passengers got off, and new ones got on. Once the plane was full, it departed the airport regardless of its scheduled departure time.

Iberia’s first Air Bridge flight took place on November 1, 1974, and became one of the Spanish airline’s most profitable routers. Over the next 20 years, Iberia had a money-making monopoly until Scandinavia’s SAS used its Stockholm-Barcelona flight to stop in Madrid on the way to Barcelona and back. Even though it was just one flight per day, it broke Iberia’s monopoly and opened the door for rival Spanish airlines Air Europa and Spanair to commence flights between Spain’s two largest cities.

Passegners checking into a flight via kiosk.

Photo: Iberia

Unfazed by competition by the beginning of the 2000s, Iberia was offering 45 flights a day in each direction. In the early days of the Madrid-Barcelona Air Bridge, the preferred aircraft for the route was the Boeing 727. When something of interest occurred in either city that would increase demand, Iberia would use larger planes like Boeing 747s and Douglas DC-10s.

Iberia faced competition from high-speed rail

While Iberia still offers up to 26 flights a day in either direction, with Airbus A320neo aircraft departing every 30 minutes at peak times, everything changed in February 2008. On February 20, 2008, Spanish national rail operator Renfe inaugurated its high-speed rail line connecting Barcelona Sants Madrid-Puerta de Atocha stations.

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Atocha train station in Madrid, Spain.

Using AVE trains that travel close to 200 mph, it takes two and a half hours to travel between the two cities. Meanwhile, the flying time is only one hour and 15 minutes. The big difference is that the Sants and Atocha stations are located in the heart of the city, whereas the airports are miles away. Taking the train is far more convenient if you factor in getting to and from the airports and the time needed for security checks. The only exception to this would be if you were connecting onto another flight, in which case airport to airport is better.

Passenger walking through an airport terminal.

Photo: Iberia

Iberia has done its best to make taking the Puente Aereo flights as hassle-free as possible. Passengers can change tickets as often as they want using Iberia’s App without charge. Also, exclusive security checks at the airport mean you can show up as late as 15 minutes before your flight departs.

From Madrid, check in at Terminal 4 and in Barcelona at Terminal 1.

  • Iberia Airbus A350-941 EC-NDR
    The Airbus A350-900 is a key part of Iberia’s long-haul operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying


    IATA/ICAO Code:

    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier

    Madrid Barajas Airport

    Year Founded:


    Airline Group:

    Javier Sánchez-Prieto



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