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.
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
To: London Heathrow T4
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 2F, window on the right side of the aircraft
Date: 28 March 2013
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.
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.
The KLM Crown 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once we get airborne the meal service begins quickly.
An amuse bouche of potato and shrimp salad with creamy Reypenaar cheese.
A mixed salad with honeyed Goat’s cheese, beetroot and pumpkin seed, served with organic balsamic dressing.
Assorted hot rolls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Transfer in London Heathrow
We deplane and I follow the signs for flight connections and T5.
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!
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.
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.