KLM, Business Class – MD-11: Basel to Montreal via Amsterdam

Preamble

I’m heading for Montreal, Canada to present a paper at ICAO HQ. I like visiting ICAO. If you’re an aviation nerd like me, ICAO HQ is like some sacred place. It’s also a fascinating building to visit, quite like a museum. There are many artifacts sponsored by the various contracting states, including a beautifully Garuda carved of wood.

The last couple of times I visited ICAO in Montreal, I flew with Air Canada from Geneva and then returned to Zurich with Swiss International Air Lines. Essentially I guess there would have been nothing wrong with doing that again. But I felt compelled to check my other options, to see if there might be any cool routings, airlines or types to get me to Montreal which might convince me to forfeit the comfort of a nonstop, direct flight.

Before long my search brought me to the KLM website. In fact, initially I was wondering if perhaps there might be an opportunity to fly the Air France A380 to Montreal. But by the looks of it, the type no longer serves that route. In any case, my search with KLM yielded that the connection from Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal was not ideal: a layover of seven hours on the outbound and another one of five hours on the inbound. Even so, there was one very convincing argument for me to choose the KLM option just the same: most probably my last chance ever to secure one last flight on the MD-11 before she is withdrawn from service with the Dutch airline.

Date: 17. July 2012
From: Basel
To: Amsterdam
Aircraft: Fokker F70
Airline: KLM Cityhopper
Cabin: Business
Seat: 1A

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Rather an early start today. My flight to Amsterdam will leave at 07h15 and although there is a fast track for security at Basel airport, I’m not really quite sure what the situation will be. After all, the summer holidays have only just started.

I leave my place at 05h30 to make my way by bus to the airport. Contrary to what I had been expecting, the airport bus is not at all full and security is calm as well.

AT THE AIRPORT

I arrive at the airport just before 06h00. I still have loads of time to kill but alas no lounge of which to avail myself. So I settle for a cappuccino at the bar at the end of the terminal. The young lady there is quite apparently having a bad hair day and evidently trying hard to pretend as though she hasn’t actually seen me.

I pass my time at the bar sipping my drink and watching the mindless music clips of equally mindless pieces of music they’re showing on MTV.

Shortly before boarding for my flight is expected to begin, I’ve had enough of the mindless music, so I collect my belongings and go for a walk about. I’ve been doing quite a bit of travelling lately, and like some trip down memory lane, I spot some of the types and airlines I recently had the pleasure of using.

My ride to Amsterdam: Fokker F 70

BOARDING

Judging by the queue to board the flight, I’d say KLM is doing a roaring trade between Basel and Amsterdam. I’m on 1A, so I decide to board the plane last. As I approach the aircraft, one of the gate attendants approaches me to take my carry-on suitcase off me and label it as hold baggage. I don’t mind actually if she does. But then she spots my Platinum tag and explains that I’m free to take everything on board with me.

The seat next to me is kept empty and the legroom is good.

THE CABIN

As with my last KLM experience, the cabin on this bird is in excellent condition. She may be old, but time and some TLC by KLM maintenance have been kind to her. Even so, I can’t wait for the Embraer to come on this route with the beginning of the winter schedule.

SERVICE

I am greeted at the door by a friendly young man in a sharp uniform – the purser of the flight. I place my briefcase in the overhead bin and take off my suit jacket. Before I even have the time to wonder where to place it, the purser stretches out his hand and takes it from me. ‘Shall I hang that up for you, Mr A.?’

I must confess I am a bit impressed. This guy has obviously done his homework and checked the passenger list. I’m also a bit surprised he got my name right. Most people don’t, even after repeated attempts.

This sets the tone for the service of the entire crew on this flight. They are outstanding, very professional and friendly.

Next the purser brings me one of the Swiss daily newspapers. He has others he says, just in case I’d prefer one of those.

DEPARTURE

The doors close, we push back and subsequently begin our taxi to the runway for a departure in a southerly direction from runway 15.

At least we have some good views of the city of Basel before doing a sharp right turn to point the aircraft in a northerly direction towards Amsterdam.

THE MEAL

‘Mr. A. will you be joining us for breakfast this morning?’ This is the female flight attendant. I answer with an emphatic and enthusiastic ‘yes’. It was rather early this morning when I left home. The flight attendant opens the meal box for me and places it before me. She explains she will also open the other table for me to put the drinks and my other stuff on it.

The meal consists of an excellent fruit salad of apple, pineapple, grapes and melon; yoghurt of maracuja and orange; a selection of cheese with smoked meats and a small pot of marmalade; and two warm buns with that. There is even a menu!

Overall, it is a very pleasant and filling meal and really hits the spot on such an early flight. As soon as I finish, the meal is removed and I continue to read the paper until we begin the descent.

THE ARRIVAL

The weather in Amsterdam is not too hot. It’s drizzling, with low cloud and bad visibility.

We land on the infamous ‘Polderbahn’, which is a 15 minutes taxi away from the apron. In fact it’s so far away from anything that the runway that has its own tower.

We park at the Fokker farm and are subsequently bussed to the terminal.

I have seven hours before my next flight. The plan is to check in for the onward flight to Montreal and then deposit my luggage in the Schengen Transit area before heading into the city. Like that, when I return, I will not have to go through security again with all my stuff.

If only the check-in devices would let me. This is certainly not one of KLM’s finest moments! The first machine won’t read my passport, or the barcode on my boarding pass from the previous flight. So I have no other choice but to manually type in the number of my e-ticket. I finally manage to complete all the necessary information for immigration, the machine confirms that it is printing my boarding pass but in fact nothing actually really happens. No boarding pass. No KLM staff to assist in case of a problem either. Of course not, that’s why they put these machines there, because apparently some financial controller figured the machine could do the job of a human being just as well and hey, who needs human interaction or a personal touch anyway? So eventually I have no choice but to move to the next machine and try my luck again there. This time it works!

I dump my carry-on and my briefcase in a locker, go through customs and head for the city.

Date: 17. July 2012
From: Amsterdam
To: Montreal
Airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Aircraft: MD-11
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1J

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

In the early afternoon I head back for the ‘Centraal’ railway station and get on a train for Schiphol. The journey is not even 20 minutes.

AT THE AIRPORT

I pass through security, collect my luggage from the locker and then from there head up to the KLM Crown Lounge. I figured it would probably be calmer than the lounge in the non-Schengen area as there seem to be quite a few long-haul flights leaving around the same time as us.

THE LOUNGE

I like the Crown Lounge and when I arrive it is not too full either. The midday rush seems to have calmed down already.

BOARDING

About 45 minutes before departure I leave the lounge and make my way to the gate. I still have to go through immigration and I’m assuming I will have to go through a further security check.

Immigration is a quick affair. When I arrive at the gate though, there is already a long queue at the entrance. Fortunately there is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers. Otherwise I would have been right at the very back of the queue of a very full MD-11 load of passengers. First my passport is checked, then my boarding pass is scanned and then eventually comes the security check before being released into the gate. It’s also my first experience with a naked scanner.

And then finally I am in the gate and I have an intimate moment with the hot bird taking me to Canada this afternoon. The MD-11 really is a quite a babe!

I barely have enough time to take a few pictures when already boarding begins. I’m quite excited!

I am greeted at the door by one male and one female flight attendant. I am instructed to take the second left to me window seat on 1J.

THE CABIN & SEAT

When I arrive, I am left well and truly speechless. The legroom available on row 1 is simply ridiculous! What’s more, there are no overhead bins over the middle row of seats, which only enhances the overall impression of space in the cabin.

The seat itself is everything but state of the art. To be honest I find myself wondering how I’ll possibly be able to sleep on the return leg, which is a night flight. But we’ll get to that in due time. All the same, just like the rest of the cabin, the seat gives the impression of being very well maintained and is really quite comfortable.

The IFE system could do with a revamp as well. But it serves its purpose and works sufficiently well. But it’s no KrisWorld!

One thing I find very interesting is that where other airlines have a curtain to divide the cabin from the space by the front door and the cockpit, KLM has a sliding door. Strangely enough though, only on one aisle, the other side has a curtain.

THE SERVICE

As on the previous leg, as soon as I take of my jacket a flight attendant appears and offers to put it in the wardrobe for me. This is then followed by the distribution of the vanity kits and a welcome drink service. I just have a glass of still water.

The crew are all very friendly and chatty, but without being nosy.

DEPARTURE

We push back more or less on time and make our way to the runway. We taxi out behind a company A330. On our way we pass an Aeroflot B767-300 standing at the gate. I had no idea they operated those to Amsterdam as well.

Other than the A330 there is no queue for departure and shortly after the Airbus takes to the skies, it’s our turn. And this is where I am reminded what I like so much about the MD-11: the acceleration, the power and – above all – the noise! Beautiful!

THE MEAL

Quite evidently, my suspicion from the previous flight – namely that catering must be one of KLM’s strong points – is confirmed. The meal is not only very tasty but also plentiful.

We start with a drinks and warm nuts. I have a Ginger Ale.

Then come the hot towels.

First course: grilled shrimps with cherry tomatoes on potato salad with avocado mousse.

This comes with a side order tomato salad. As the attendant places the tray before me, she offers me some cheese and croutons for topping on the salad.

Main course: chicken breast in a rich gravy with onions, served with mashed potato and mushrooms.

There is a selection of three different main courses, but I can’t remember what they were anymore. My apologies!

Dessert: lemon tart on a digestive biscuit base, served with strawberries.

What strikes me about this meal is the nice presentation. First the black tray makes a change from what you usually find on a plane these days. And then there is this rather intricate pattern, a recurring theme that you find on the tablecloth, the cutlery as well as the chinaware. It’s quite elegant I find and a nice detail.

After this tasty meal I settle down to watch ‘The best exotic Marigold Hotel’. I’m in two minds about the film. First of all it has an interesting line up of some of the finest actors Britain currently has to offer, such as the sublime Judy Dench and the amazing Maggie Smith. At the same time however, the story line seems a bit thin.

And then after that, yes, it’s time for the pre-arrival meal.

Chicken breast strips on a pasta salad with a tomato sugo. This is accompanied by a warm focaccia with mozzarella and tomato sauce. And for dessert a fruit Tiramisu.

And then, as we begin our descent, the cabin come through the cabin with a small farewell gift. It’s quite well-known by now across the world: a little delft house filled with BOLS.

THE ARRIVAL

We arrival in Montreal just after a heavy thunderstorm has passed over the airfield. We reach our parking position. I gather up my belongings, thank the crew for their great service and head for the exit. As I disembark it feels like walking into a brick wall. It’s so oppressive. The temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius, and with the recent storm the humidity in the air is unbearable.

CONCLUSION

This was a great experience with KLM, not just because of the MD-11. First of all the crew were all just so nice and attentive. It’s little things: throughout the meal they made sure drinks were replenished and repeatedly asked all the passengers if everything was alright and to their liking. They made sure to address every passenger by name, which made them more personable. As for the food, KLM certainly exceed my expectation here. The meals were plentiful and tasty.

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