LAN, Business Class – A 340-300: Madrid to Frankfurt

INTRODUCTION

In 2012 I spent the Easter break in the city of Cordoba in Spain. For my return home I picked the last scheduled Korean Air flight from Madrid to Amsterdam. The day after, Korean Air would operate to both Madrid and Amsterdam as nonstop services. Quite by coincidence I decided to spend the Easter of 2013 in Spain again – this time visiting the city of Toledo, 70 kilometres away from Madrid. For the return I decided to fly from Madrid to Frankfurt with LAN Chile. Quite by coincidence, I only realised when I got on board that mine would be the last flight from Santiago de Chile via Madrid to Frankfurt. Originally, LAN had planned to operate a daily nonstop service with the B 787 to Frankfurt with the beginning of the summer schedule 2013. The worldwide grounding of the B 787 fleet obviously put an end to those plans. However, one of the flight attendants on my flight did mention that LAN would only be suspending Frankfurt for three months and would resume the destination once they had received ‘the new product’. So I can only assume that LAN is expecting the B 787 to be operational within the next three months. We shall see…

LAN AIRLINES 3 col-fblanco

Airline: LAN Chile
Aircraft: Airbus A 340-300
From: Madrid
To: Frankfurt
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 1C, aisle
Date: 31 March 2013

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Toledo station is a truly remarkable building. It resembles a mosque more than it does a public building, with many Moorish influences incorporated in the structure.

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My train leaves at 10h25 and takes 32 minutes to complete the journey of 70 kilometres from Toledo to Madrid’s Atocha terminus.

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At Atocha I change trains to the suburban line that goes to Madrid airport’s new T4.

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CHECK-IN

T4 really is a remarkable building. It’s also quite apparent that the facility is in fact way too big for the amount of traffic it handles. But perhaps it’s just because of the Easter weekend. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

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I make my way up three or four floors – I stopped counting – to the check-in level for LAN, which has quite an extensive operation here in Madrid.

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A ground agent guides me to the check-in counters for Business Class passengers, where I am issued my boarding pass for the flight to Frankfurt straight away. I am then given instructions on how to reach the satellite, from where my flight will be leaving.

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The satellite is accessed by an underground automated shuttle, which means that I will have to take the escalators all the way down into the basement again to catch the shuttle and then up again on the other side. This place is simply massive.

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THE LOUNGE

LAN being a member of the Oneworld alliance means that I can use the Iberia lounge and I must say, it really is a very nice place. The lounge is quite large, has a good selection of food and drinks and offers some excellent views of the apron. My only complaint is that wifi access is limited to thirty minutes at a time and you have to get a scratch card from reception to gain access.

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DEPARTURE

Eventually my flight shows up on the screen as ‘Embarque’ – boarding – so I make my way to the gate.

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By the time I get there, boarding has already started. There is a separate line for Business Class passengers but it is cordoned off. ‘No such luck’ me thinks, when one of the gate agents sees me standing there. She greets me, scans my boarding pass and lets me through, wishing me a pleasant trip in the process.

THE CABIN

The bulkhead on this bird has a finish that is supposed to make it look like wood panelling, which obviously it is not. But even so, somehow it doesn’t look that bad. The seat covers are a dark grey colour, which goes quite well with the red tone of the faux wood bulkhead. The seat itself has a lot in common with the model Iberia has installed on its A 340s.

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THE CREW

The crew on this flight is a mixed bag. The men generally seem much friendlier than the ladies. It’s not that the females are rude or anything, they just seem a bit standoffish. The lead flight attendant in Business Class is a middle-aged female who speaks close to no English at all, which I find rather strange for an airline operating internationally. I also think her lack of English could potentially be a safety concern, particularly in case of a medical emergency or the likes.

SERVICE

This flight very much has the feel of a long-haul flight, which essentially it is, even though I just boarded in Madrid and the flight to Frankfurt is only two hours. When I arrive at my seat there is a fresh set of earphones in one of the seat pockets located in the side of the seat.

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And later on during the flight, once the meal service is over, I ask for a blanket and receive – much to my surprise – a proper duvet cover instead.

As soon as I am comfortably settled in my seat, a friendly young man arrives with a tray of drinks and warm nuts. On offer today we have champagne, water or something called a Pisco Sour. I decide to make an exception from my usual habit of not drinking any alcohol on a plane and try the Pisco Sour, which is in fact quite tasty (although I’m still not quite sure what it is).

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After that a selection of magazines is offered. Apart from the usual offerings like The Economist and Time Magazine, there is also a good selection of German magazines like Der Spiegel.

Departure is on time and the take-off roll is unusually nimble for an A 340-300.

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THE MEAL

As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service starts straight away. We begin with warm towels. They are not scented. Quite the contrary, they have a strong pong of chlorine.

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Then the table is set with a tablecloth.

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The meal itself is somewhat underwhelming and there are no choices.

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It consists of:

  • A mixed salad with slices of cold pork and an apple chutney.

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  • A plate of cheese.

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  • A bowl of fresh melon, grapes and pineapple.

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  • A small piece of Lindt dark chocolate.
  • A selection of warm bread.

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To drink my neighbour orders a still water, while I ask for a glass of sparkling water with ice. But seemingly it is too much to expect the flight attendant to remember two items at a time and so we both end up with just a glass of warm still water.

On a positive note, LAN use these huge mugs for their tea and coffee service. Pity the coffee itself is so vile!

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After the meal I put the seat into sleep mode, cover up with the duvet and doze off until it’s time for us to land in Frankfurt.

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ARRIVAL

Arrival in Frankfurt is pretty much on time. We land on the new runway. It’s quite a trek to our final parking position at terminal 2.

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CONCLUSION

So what did I think of LAN Chile? As I said, the flight certainly had the feel of a long-haul service about it, which is always nice. The crew were much more personable and friendly than the ones I had on Iberia and I think it is quite clear that LAN goes out of its way to reach out to its customers and tries to provide good service. Did they succeed? They were okay, in fact for a short-haul European sector I think they were more than okay. But then again that’s hardly a fair comparison.

Iberia, Business Class – A 340-600: London Heathrow to Madrid

INTRODUCTION

When British Airways and Iberia announced their intention to tie the knot a few years back, I simply didn’t get it. And I suspect I probably was not the only one. The smart and successful British Airways merging with the hopeless mess they call Iberia. So far I’ve only ever tried Iberia in Economy Class and to be honest, they have yet to impress me. High time therefore, to give them a spin in Business Class. I will even be so kind and gracious and give them a bit of a head start. Rather than try Iberia on a ‘normal’ European route, I’ve selected the 18h40 departure from Heathrow to Madrid. This flight is operated by an A 340-600 and thus promises a level of comfort that a narrow-body simply cannot match. So off we go. Iberia, do your worst!

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Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Airbus A 340-600
From: London Heathrow T5C
To: Madrid T4S
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 3A, window on the left side of the aircraft
Date: 28.03.2013

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I’m already in Heathrow actually. I arrived here on a KLM flight from Amsterdam. Heathrow is such a large place that it actually takes me over an hour to make the transfer from T4 to T5.

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I’ve just passed security, which took ages. But I have only myself to blame for that. I forgot to remove my Kindle from my case and subsequently ended up having to unpack every thing and repack it again. I have just over two hours before my flight leaves for Madrid. But what to do? I’m feeling a bit peckish. I could go to the lounge obviously, and get myself something to eat and drink there. But if I do that, I’ll miss my bird arriving and I may not get a chance to take another picture of her. It will be dark by the time we get to Madrid. So eventually I decide to go for a meal at Wagamama. I like their food and from the restaurant I have a good overview of what’s going on in and around T5. I’m all set.

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I’m just waiting for my passion fruit cheesecake to arrive when suddenly I see the reflection in the window of something big and yellow. And sure enough, shortly afterwards the mighty A 340-600 comes into view and graciously glides down onto runway 09L. For some reason I was expecting the aircraft to use one of the gates at the main building of T5. It only occurs to me as I watch her taxi back towards the terminal that the A 340-600 may perhaps be too long to use one of the stands there. And indeed, eventually the aircraft comes to a halt at T5C, the second one of the two satellites.

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BOARDING

Just before six I pay the bill at the Wagamama and make my way to the gate at C61. To do that I must first take a lift down into the basement of T5 and from there catch the automated shuttle. The shuttle calls briefly at the B satellite before continuing to the C satellite, the terminus station.

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As I arrive at the gate they’re pre-boarding families with children, of which there seem to be quite a few on today’s flight. Next up, is the boarding call for Business Class passengers and frequent flyers with status. I am impressed by how strict the BA ground crew enforce the boarding process.

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It’s quite a trek from the exit of the building to the door of the aircraft. At least I get some excellent views of aircraft approaching and landing on 09L. Eventually, I reach the door and I am greeted by no less than three male flight attendants. They seem friendly enough.

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THE CABIN

First surprise: the cabin looks rather nice. Admittedly the seat is not necessarily state of the art anymore. It’s what I would term something from the first generation of hard shell Business Class seats. But still, the seat has a nice finish with leather (Or is it just plastic?) on the armrests and around the frame of the seat. More importantly though, when extended into a bed, it is indeed fully flat, horizontal and has a good height above the floor. Would I be willing to undertake a long-haul flight in this seat? Yes actually, I think so and I would probably sleep like a baby.

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It is also worth pointing out that the aircraft as different luggage bins over the central row of seats. Instead of simply having a lid that opens upwards, the bins in the middle move down when opened, just like the ones used on the B 777 or the B 747.

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This is all wrong you know. I was expecting to not like anything at all about this flight!

DEPARTURE

Departure is pretty much on time. It’s just before 19h00 and I am starting to feel tired. After all, it’s been a long day for me. I arrived in Amsterdam from Montreal at 07h50. Although I managed to sleep very well, the flight was simply not long enough to get some decent rest. And then I spent the morning walking around Amsterdam before returning to the airport in the afternoon to catch the flight to Heathrow. So it’s hardly surprising that the unthinkable happens. For the very first time in my life, physical exhaustion gets in the way of my passion (That sounds so much better than obsession…) for flying. I nod off and actually miss our take-off roll – the best part of the flight. We go thundering down the runway and I’m happily dreaming away. One moment we’re moving backwards as we push back onto the taxiway, the next thing I become aware of is the flight attendant placing a menu on my armrest in preparation for the meal. I realise we’re already airborne. Well, at least I didn’t miss the food!

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SERVICE

How many flight attendants are there up front anyway? There are two ladies working my aisle. One of them is young, friendly and efficient, while the other is middle-aged, very friendly and takes things at a much more leisurely, pleasant pace. Two middle-aged men are serving the other aisle. And then there’s another guy, I think he’s probably the purser, working the galley.

THE MEAL

So what’s for dinner?

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As I already mentioned, Iberia still have menus in Business Class. Even on short-haul flights. Of course that should hardly make a difference, but still I think it’s a nice touch. Today we have:

  • Salad of fresh leaves with zucchini, carrot and raisins with a balsamico vinaigrette.
  • A choice of cheese battered chicken breast or baked merluza with citrus and tarragon.
  • Goat cheese with blueberries.
  • Tiramisu with red fruits cake.
  • Assorted breadbasket with extra-virgin olive oil.

From a glance at the menu it looks as though the salad and the chicken/fish are two separate dishes. But in actual fact it is merely of question of having a warm item added to the plate with the salad. I opt for the chicken breast. The meal if perfectly adequate for a flight time of only two hours and the taste isn’t bad either. The crew do two bread rounds.

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The only thing that is really vile is the dessert, the Tiramisu. Words cannot describe this abomination of artificial cream, artificial fruit flavour and probably also artificial bits of fruit.

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And then the trays are removed. Coffee and tea are served on a small, flat dish. The crew proactively offer spirits to go along with that. As a rule I don’t drink on a plane so I stick to coffee and a glass of water.

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ARRIVAL

And then comes the moment for me to give the seat a trial run. I’m exhausted and really need to get some forty winks. But again, my rest is but a short one as our mighty aircraft soon dips its nose and we begin our descent into Madrid. It’s rather cool of Iberia to keep the tail camera on for the approach. It’s dark by the time we reach Madrid so the runway is easily made out in the dark. Some passengers express their surprise as they notice that, although we’re moving in the general direction of the runway, the nose of the aircraft is in fact pointing in a slightly different direction. I think it’s called a cross-wind component.

I only take one last picture as we disembark.

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Madrid’s T4 is certainly impressive but I am simply too tired to care. I’ll take some pictures of the airport on my way back to Frankfurt in a few days.

We dock at the satellite. From our arrival gate it’s a walk of about five minutes to immigration. From there you take two sets of escalators down into the basement and then from there an automated shuttle to the main terminal. The shuttle journey is surprisingly long. Once I reach the main building I head for the Renfe station – the Spanish railways company. The journey from the airport to Atocha station takes about thirty minutes to complete and costs EUR2.50.

I will spend the night at the Radisson Blue close to Atocha station. Tomorrow I will catch a train and spend Easter in Toledo.

CONCLUSION

What can I say? I was really not expecting anything much from Iberia other than horrible service, bad food and worn hardware. But in fact Iberia exceeded my expectations. The seat was comfortable enough, the crew were polite and friendly and the food was okay, save for the dessert. Having said that, the whole experience was certainly not outstanding and seemed somehow very old-fashioned to me. So perhaps it is just too easy to simply say that Iberia is a horrible airline with bad service. Perhaps it might be more appropriate to say that Iberia is an airline with a product and service that are simply not competitive anymore.

KLM City Hopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Amsterdam to London Heathrow

INTRODUCTION

It’s 07h30 in the morning on Maundy Thursday. I’ve just arrived in Amsterdam on a KLM MD-11 from Montreal. I’ve decided to make the most of the long Easter weekend and visit Toledo in Spain. Of course the easiest thing to do would have been to catch a direct flight from Amsterdam to Madrid either by Iberia, Air Europa or KLM. But I’ve decided to go for something a bit more substantial, shall we say.

My first stop will be London’s Heathrow airport. The flight to Heathrow will not be leaving until later on in the afternoon. So I make my way to the luggage deposit area in the basement of Schiphol airport. Access to the area is via a lift or stairs located between arrivals halls 2 and 3. For one day of storage the charge is EUR 7.- for a mid-sized locker and EUR 9.- for a large sized locker.

With my luggage safely stored I head into town for breakfast at De Bakerswinkel. It’s a lovely bakery on the fringe of the seedier part of town, but don’t let that put you off. After breakfast I head for the botanical gardens. I need to walk and move a bit after spending 7 hours on the plane from Montreal.

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It’s a nice day here in Amsterdam. But it’s much colder than it was in Montreal.

Airline: KLM City Hopper
Aircraft: Embraer E-190
From: Amsterdam
To: London Heathrow T4
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 2F, window on the right side of the aircraft
Date: 28 March 2013

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Just after 13h00 I decide to head back to the airport – I’m feeling cold. My next connection is by Fyra train. The Fyra is the fastest way to get to the airport because these trains don’t stop anywhere on the way between Amsterdam Central station and Schiphol. Subsequently the Fyra trains is subject to a fare supplement.

The airport has calmed down since the morning. As the United Kingdom is outside the Schengen area, I’ll have to go through passport control. In Amsterdam security for the non-Schengen flights is not centralised and instead there is a checkpoint at every gate.

From passport control I head for the KLM Crown Lounge. On my way there I pass Audrey Hepburn, the MD-11 that gently carried me away from Montreal and safely brought me across the Atlantic to Amsterdam. She’s standing where I left her this morning at gate E2.

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I presume she’ll be heading back across the Atlantic later on in the afternoon. As I stand there admiring her classic good looks, it suddenly hits me with a stab of regret that in all likelihood I will not get another chance to fly the MD-11 again. I know I’ve said so before, but this time I think it may actually be true. And so I bid my farewell. I think back for a moment on the fond memories I have of flying on the MD-11. And then I move on.

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THE LOUNGE

The lounge is still quite busy when I arrive, so I resist the urge to take any pictures for the benefit of my fellow trip reporters. I manage to find myself a nice quiet corner, settle down and give my mum a call to let her know I’m back in Europe.

A cappuccino and some tasty spicy biscuits later and it’s time for me to make my way to the lounge for boarding. My flight will be leaving from gate D6. To reach D6 you have to take the stairs down from the main concourse level to ground level, which is also where the security check takes place. Behind that there is a whole series of gates that together make up D6 and which are designated with the letters of the alphabet. My flight will be boarding from gate D6-D. The designation evidently is a bit confusing and while the boarding process is going on, a whole bunch of people rush up to the counter for our gate, only to be informed by the gate agent that they still have loads of time and their flight will not be boarding from here anyway.

Here’s the view from D6:

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THE CABIN

Eventually the packed bus whisks us away to our awaiting chariot. From the D gates it takes about 5 minutes by bus to reach the Fokker farm where our bird is parked. We pull up next to a lone Embraer E-190. I take my time getting off the bus as I want to take some pictures and I’m sitting in the front section of the plane anyway.

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There are three rows of Business Class. Initially I’m on 3D, an aisle seat. The window seat is occupied. I’m a bit surprised. I’m not quite sure whether KLM has recently made some changes to its seating policy in European Business Class or if perhaps I’ve just been very lucky so far. As far as I know, KLM normally keeps the neighbouring seat in Business Class free to give you more space. This no longer seems to be the case. As it turns out though, by the time the door is closed row two remains empty and so I quickly change seats and move to 2F.

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The cabin of the Embraer is certainly more modern and attractive than that of the Fokker 70, which really is getting a bit long in the tooth. In particular, I like the very elegant and simple shapes and lines in the cabin. I’m not really much of a fan of the seats on the Embraer though. As far as that’s concerned, the Fokker 70 definitely takes the biscuit. The pitch is fine, but it always feels like the seats are a bit too low above the ground to make for a comfortable ride. But today’s flight will only be 45 minutes, plus the fifteen minutes trek to the threshold of the departing runway 36L. I’ll survive.

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THE CREW

The crew is an interesting mix. The two ladies in the cabin are both Dutch and very friendly. Actually I think I recognise one of them from a previous flight. The cockpit crew is one Englishman and a Scotsman with rather a pronounced accent. I’m not so sure how comprehensible his accent is to the international aviation community, but it certainly sounds cool.

DEPARTURE

Once all the passengers are seated, the crew come round offering newspaper. Their English selection is a choice of either the Herald Tribune or the Financial Times, both of which I’m not really keen on. Besides, the view outside is far more interesting I think. You know that song by the Talking Head? ‘We’re on a road to nowhere…’ always comes to mind when I’m sitting on a plane making the long trek to the Polderbahn.

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THE MEAL

Once we get airborne the meal service begins quickly.

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The meal consists of:

  • An amuse bouche of potato and shrimp salad with creamy Reypenaar cheese.

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  • A mixed salad with honeyed Goat’s cheese, beetroot and pumpkin seed, served with organic balsamic dressing.

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  • Assorted hot rolls.

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  • A vanilla mousse with green apple compote.

With that I have a still water to drink. In contrast to Economy Class, in Business Class you get the whole bottle to drink.

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As usual with KLM, the meal is very tasty and sufficient for such a short hop. It certainly beats Lufthansa’s ‘special moments’ offerings in terms of quantity, quality and presentation.

Coffee and tea are also offered – but I forget to take a picture.

ARRIVAL

By the time the meal is cleared away, we’ve already started out descent. We’re early today and fortunately traffic is not too busy. So we only have to make one holding circuit before we are vectored for the approach.

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We land on runway 09R. T4 is deserted at this time of day, with only a handful of aircraft parked at the gates. As we round the corner, KLM’s previous flight from Amsterdam comes in to view.

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TRANSFER IN HEATHROW

We deplane and I follow the signs for flight connections and T5.

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I’m rather surprised to find that I appear to be the only passenger on the flight who does not have London as their final destination. I walk straight ahead, turn left, down another corridor, turn right, then left again, then right again, then down the escalators until finally I am standing – all by myself – at the bus stop for the shuttle from T4 to T5. I wait for about 10 minutes for the bus to arrive. I am the only passenger making the journey, the bus driver seems surprised even to see just one person!

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The transfer takes 13 minutes to complete and offers some interesting views of the ramp and the extensive tunnel system under Heathrow. The whole ride has a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ feel to it. It’s really quite fascinating.

CONCLUSION

I like KLM. I have yet to have a bad experience with a KLM crew! My impression of the Dutch has always been that they are very pragmatic people, particularly when it comes to business. And I think a lot of that shows in the KLM product. Of course there are more polished offerings out there. Just to use the Amsterdam to London route as an example, BA will offer you a meal on a tray with metal cutlery and a proper plate – rather than presenting you with a meal in a box like KLM do. Nonetheless, the KLM approach somehow seems more sensible – to me at least – and I like that.