It’s Sunday morning. Exactly 72 hours after I arrived in Amsterdam from Montreal on the mighty MD-11 I find myself, again, taxiing off the runway towards the apron. It’s even the same runway we used three days ago! It’s just gone 07h50. This time round though, I am travelling on something a little less substantial, shall we say. I’m on a Fokker F 70 of KLM Cityhopper and I’ve just arrived from Basel.
In the meantime my mood has improved significantly: I arrived at Basel airport at about 05h45, presumably with ample time for my 06h45 departure to Amsterdam. Or so I thought. But the queue for security is a complete mess. With now eight Airbuses stationed in Basel, Easyjet runs quite an operation at the airport. And by the look of the queue, their flights will be going out full this morning. Eventually I stand in the queue for no less than 40 minutes. By the time I reach my departure gate I am the last passenger to get on board.
Perhaps you’re wondering why on earth I didn’t use the priority lane for security. Well, it’s complicated. The priority lane uses an automatic scanner. But unfortunately the scanner doesn’t read the bar code you get from KLM when you do online check-in. So I would have had to go an Air France counter on the French side of the airport to obtain a paper boarding pass first. Of course I did contemplate the idea – that is, until I reached the French sector and found a queue for check-in not much shorter than the queue for security.
Well, eventually I made it. Obviously. So let’s put an end to the rant and move on. It’s now 12h14 and I decide to leave the comfort of the Crown Lounge and head for the gate.
While I wait for the queue to clear I take a few pictures of my chariot for this flight.
My aircraft for today is a Boeing B 737-800. There are three rows of Business Class, with a total of twelve seats. It’s the standard European row of three, with the middle seat left empty in the Business Class configuration. Although up front the seat pitch is greater than in the back. Apart from that I’m sitting on 1A, which always helps. Ten seats are occupied today.
There are power sockets in every seat row, but they’re a bit hard to find seeing as they are located in the leg of the seat.
There is a bit of a delay for pushback. Apparently traffic is quite heavy in the north of France. Eventually we are moved onto the taxiway, then at 13h05 we are released and make our way to the active runway, just a short distance away.
The crew on this flight are excellent. KLM crews are normally very friendly anyway, but this lot is very professional and very polished. I am addressed by my family name throughout the flight and even after the service is over, the crew make sure to regularly ask passengers if there’s anything they can do to make them comfortable.
Service begins on the ground with the distribution of the newspapers.
The flight time to Lisbon is announced by the captain as two hours and thirty-five minutes, which makes for a very pleasant and unhurried service (take note Austrian Airlines!).
We start with a drinks round. I have a Ginger Ale which is served with two packets of salty almonds.
This is followed by a hot towel ahead of the meal.
The First Course
Smoked salmon, with a fish terrine, served with green asparagus, boiled egg and a Hollondaise sauce.
Mixed salad of greens and potato, served with a vinaigrette.
The Main Course
Chicken in a green curry and coconut sauce.
A plate with two different types of cheese, with a slice of candied ginger and a walnut.
The size and quality of the meal is really quite excellent and very flavourful. By the time I finish, we’re just leaving the French coastline behind us and heading out across the bay of Biscay towards Spain, where we should make landfall close to Asturias.
To completed the meal I have a cup of coffee, which is served with one of those excellent Punselie’s biscuits. I’m rather full.
We continue in a more or less straight line and eventually coming in right above a rather densely populated area of the city.
I’m staying on Avenida Liberdade. There is the direct Aerobus Line 1 which takes about 20 minutes to complete the journey. The fare is EUR3.50. There is also a metro station on Avenida Liberdade, which also runs to the airport. Perhaps I shall give that a try on the way back.
I think I’m depressed. This is just so sad. Because I think this time, this really is it: my last trip on the beautiful MD-11 before she is decommissioned from passenger service with KLM at the end of the summer schedule of 2014. I know, one shall not be greedy and I’ve had a few very good flights on this magnificent aircraft. But it’s still a shame to have to watch her go.
I have promised my colleague not to embarrass him by crying my eyes out at the end of the flight, or by clinging to the MD-11 as we disembark and refusing to let go. But to be honest M., I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. Just pretend you don’t know me…
So, this is what I’ll be doing over the next three weeks: fifteen flights. With the exception of Warsaw the whole thing has a decidedly Atlantic theme going on and is perhaps a tad KLM heavy. Forgive me.
Another trip to Montreal for a meeting with ICAO marks the beginning of my flying extravaganza. This report covers the return flight form Montreal back to Amsterdam.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Bus line 747 Departs from: various stops in downtown along René Lévesque street Frequency: every 10 minutes Journey time: ca. 30 minutes Fare: CAD 10.-
The appropriately numbered bus line 747 runs from downtown Montreal to the airport at Dorval. The trip normally takes about 30 minutes to complete, but can take as much as an hour, depending on traffic. There is also a train station at Dorval, but that is not in walking distance to the airport. I board the bus at Mansfield, which is the closest station to ICAO HQ and the main railway station.
The bus stops on the ground floor of the terminal, which is the arrivals level. Also keep in mind that you can only use coins to purchase tickets on the bus.
Multipurpose check-in kiosks & check-in counters for baggage drop
Separate counters for SkyPriority passengers.
Check-in and departures are located on the first floor. The staff are always very friendly here in Montreal. The check-in agent comments that she’s never seen a passport like mine. No wonder. We have a little natter about her job, then she checks me in, gives me directions to the lounge and sends me on my way.
There is no priority queue for security. There always something rather anticlimactic about leaving Canada I find. You trundle down a long corridor after you’ve passed security until you reach a sign marked as ‘International zone’. There is a gentleman standing near the sign to check your boarding pass and to make sure you’re alright to enter the international zone. You don’t even have to show your passport. And with that, you’ve left the country.
The Air France KLM Lounge
Location: one floor up from the departures level, the entrance is right next to gate 55, from where the Air France and KLM flights normally leave. Type of Lounge: Air France and KLM lounge Facilities: showers, washrooms, buffet with salads, cold dishes and a buffet with warm snacks Internet: free wi-fi, with passwords available at reception
The lounge in Montreal is quite large, and rightly so: Air France operates up to three daily flights from Paris, in addition to the daily KLM flight to Amsterdam. What’s more, Florence Nightingale, the MD-11 carrying me across the pond this evening, is parked right in front of the lounge. The elevated location of the lounge provides an excellent vantage point from where to admire the elegant lines of the MD-11. I feel a kind of melancholy to look out at this magnificent aircraft, with the sun slowly setting behind her, and knowing that very likely this will be my last flight before she quietly slips into aviation history.
The lounge is quite full but not crowded. Apart from the KLM flight there is also the last one of the Air France flights to Paris, which also hasn’t started boarding yet. Boarding announcements are made in the lounge. Passengers are also advised to wait in the lounge to avoid having to wait in the queue.
Eventually a boarding announcement is made at 19:40, inviting passengers to Amsterdam to board.
I’m one of the last passengers to enter the plane. I am greeted at the door in the usual friendly KLM style and given directions to my seat on 2G, an aisle seat in the smaller forward Business Class cabin.
Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2 in the forward Business Class cabin, 2 + 3 + 2 in the rear Business Class cabin Seat: angled seat Pitch: 60 inches Width: 20 inches Facilities: electricity outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp, stowage next under the seat (not on the first row) Audio and video: individual screens, video on demand, noise cancelling earphones
As soon as I take my seat, one of the flight attendants brings me the menu, vanity kit and earphones. She takes my jacket and asks me if I’d prefer champagne or orange juice to drink. As usual I take the orange juice.
And then comes that magical moment. I’m sitting there sipping my glass of orange juice, when suddenly I become aware of the fact that the strobes have been turned on in preparation for out departure, I can see the red light reflecting on the cowlings of the Air France A 340 parked next to us. There is a silent sense of anticipation, our journey across the Atlantic is about to being. And that is perhaps what makes the MD-11 so special to me. On this aircraft you do not travel, it’s not a question of making a flight from A to B. But rather, it is a journey in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a grand event, a voyage.
Gently the aircraft is pushed back from the gate under the watchful eyes of the marshallers, their illuminated red batons waving in the dark. The engines come to life with a sorrowful wail. We disconnect from the tug vehicle and then, very gently we start to move under our own power. We’re on our way.
We’re departing from runway 24 this evening. There are two other aircraft ahead of us before eventually it is our turn to line of for take-off. We stand there on the piano keys for what seems like a very long time. I can feel the excitement rise as I wait with bated breath for the mighty MD-11 to give her guests this evening a powerful demonstration of her abilities. And then it comes, the engines spool up and we go thundering down the runway with a lightness that always surprises me and an effortless acceleration that never seizes to amaze me.
We climb into the night sky, leaving the city of Montreal behind us. As we ascend we execute a wide left hand turn, I suspect it must be something like a 180 degrees turn, to point us towards the sea.
Hotel towels before the meal: Scented hot towels Pre-meal drinks: Ginger Ale, served with a bowl of nuts Choice: There are three dishes to choose from Delivery: Tray from a trolley Type of meal: Dinner Menu: Wine list and menu together
The First Course
Smoked salmon filled with cream cheese and mango on a bed of cucumber and served with a spicy Thai chilli sauce.
Mixed salad of green leaves, served with cherry tomatoes and bread croutons.
The Main Course
Pan-fried halibut with a tomato and olive sauce, green beans and mashed potatoes.
Panna cotta with mango and fresh fruit.
The crew on this flight are very professional and obviously determined to get the meal service through as quickly as possible in order to give passengers a chance to rest. Refreshing hot towels are distributed ahead of the drinks service. I have a Ginger Ale.
The tray arrives with the first course and a side salad already on it. Cherry tomatoes and croutons are added at the passenger’s seat. The service is well timed and as soon as I have finished my starter, a flight attendant arrives to remove my plate, to make some space for the main course.
It’s a very tasty meal. And what it obviously lacks in terms of sophistication and complexity, it easily makes up for with the fact that it’s a lovely, meaty chunk of fish.
After the main course, the crew remove the trays before serving dessert. I decide to have the panna cotta and a small bowl of fresh fruit. Alas, I only remember to take a picture of the dessert after I’ve already tucked in.
The meal concludes with a selection of pralines and chocolates and the distribution of water bottles.
Incidentally, on the subject of water, I found this rather cool feature on the MD-11 while I was waiting for the lavatory: a water dispenser:
By the time the meal service is over, it’s only another four hours and five minutes left to Amsterdam. This will be a short night. Then the lights go out. I extend the seat as far as possible and fall into a deep slumber.
I awake abruptly from deep and restful sleep. As I remove my eyeshades I am surprised to find the lights have already been turned on again and we’re only just over an hour out of Amsterdam. As soon as the crew notice I’m awake, one of them comes to ask if I’ll be joining for breakfast. I say yes, despite the fact that the last meal was only three hours ago.
The Second Service
Hot towels: After the meal Choice: There are two choices for breakfast Delivery: Tray service from a trolley Type of meal: Breakfast
Bowl of fresh fruit
Selection from the bread basket
Ham and cheese
I choose the broccoli strata, which is a kind of egg omelette with broccoli, as far as I can tell. I suppose the dish is okay, but it’s just a bit too eggy for me. Besides, I really am still quite full from the first meal.
The trays are quickly removed and shortly thereafter we’re already descending through the murk to make our final approach into Amsterdam. I decide to head back to economy class to capture a few last shots of the wing before we land.
The service ends with the distribution of the little delft houses.
Fortunately we’re able to make a straight in approach into Amsterdam.
We land and I decide to ask the crew if perhaps I might just be allowed to visit the cockpit before I bid the MD-11 my last farewell. Luckily the crew are very obliging, and once the aircraft is safely parked at the gate and the other passengers disembark, I make my way to the front office to have a look around. The captain tells me that the MD-11 has the best cockpit of the entire KLM fleet because of all the space it provides. And it’s true, eventually we’re five guys standing in the cockpit and there is still some room left.
If any of the crew of that flight read this, thank you very much. You were very kind and very patient with me!
And with that my last flight on the mighty MD-11 comes to an end. What remains? What remains are very fond memories of enjoyable journeys to exotic and far away places. The MD-11 has safely carried me away, across the globe to cities I only used to dream of visiting when I was a child. And so I will always remember the MD-11 with a lot of fondness. For certain I don’t think I will ever forget her.