KLM, Business Class – A 330-200: Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal

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INTRODUCTION
Normally I make a point of arriving at the airport about two hours before departure – just in case. But I have now been travelling for five weeks – sixteen flights later and to be quite honest, I think I have had enough. Besides, this is Basel airport, so it is quite enough for me to arrive just over one hour before departure.

I am on my way to Montreal for another visit to ICAO. I am flying via Amsterdam, as usual. The only difference being – and it really does give me quite a pang to have to accept it – that the flight is no longer operated by the mighty MD-11 and has been transferred to the Airbus A 330.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Bus line 50.
Departs from: Outside the main entrance to Basel’s Swiss railway station on the station square.
Frequency: Every 10 minutes.
Journey time: 15 minutes.
Fare: CHF5.60

CHECK-IN
Location:
In the French sector.
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and counters.
Counters: Check-in for all KLM flights is done by Air France at Basel airport.

There is a fast track for security if you are a status card holder or travelling in Business Class. But the boarding pass scanner is only able to read the bar code on the boarding passes printed at the counter. Passbook and online check-in boarding passes will not gain you access to the fast track.

LOUNGE
Location:
Near gate 44, where the terminal forks for the non-Schengen area – there is no lounge in the non-Schengen sector.
Type of Lounge:
Swissport Skyview lounge.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, bar, work stations, hot and cold snacks.
Internet:
Free wifi is available, no password is required but you must provide your details when you log in.

Passengers flying with KLM are entitled to use the lounge, Air France passengers are not because the flights from Basel to Paris are treated as domestic services.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There are two lines for boarding and a dedicated queue for SkyPriority passengers. Inevitably nobody bothers to take the right queue and priority is not enforced either.

CABIN
Aircraft:
Embraer 190.
Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat: It is the standard European Economy Class seat with one of the seats on every row left empty. There are two rows of Business Class.

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I am the only passenger flying Business Class on today’s flight, so I have the entire cabin to myself. The Embraer is a strange plane. On the one hand, I rather like the layout and design of the cabin, which feels a lot more modern than that of the Fokker 70, which KLM also operates on this route. On the other hand though, the seat is not particularly comfortable. I always find that the seat is too low. As a result, my legs usually start to ache after just a short while.

SERVICE
The service in Business Class is done by the lead flight attendant, who seems friendly enough. In total there are two cabin crew on the flight.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Bottle of still water.
Pre-meal drink:
With just me in the cabin, the crew take things at a leisurely pace. There is even time for a drink before the meal. I have a Diet Coke and some of those tasty smoked almonds.
Choice:
Vegetarian sandwich (cheese) or beef sandwich.
Delivery:
Cardboard box.
Type of meal:
Light lunch.
Menu:

  • Cheese sandwich.
  • Mixed salad with mozzarella pearls.
  • Speculatius crumble for dessert.

The meal is tasty and perfectly adequate for the duration of the flight.

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TRANSFER IN AMSTERDAM
I enter the terminal building at around 13h20. I now have slightly less than two hours to make my connection to Montreal.

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I already have the boarding pass for my flight to Montreal and my suitcase has been checked through as well. My flight will be leaving from the D gates, passed immigration. The immigration counters are located next to the stairs leading up to the KLM Schengen Crown Lounge and the C gates.

At immigration there are machines available for travellers with biometric passports, but from what I understand, these may only be used by holders of a European Union passport.

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LOUNGE
Location:
The non-Schengen Crown Lounge is located above the F gates, if you are walking at a leisurely pace it may take you about ten minutes to reach the D gates.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated KLM lounge.
Facilities:
Showers, bathrooms, quiet rooms, work stations, hot and cold snacks, bar.
Internet:
Free wifi, the code changes daily and is displayed in various locations throughout the lounge.

Amsterdam airport is currently undergoing modification and extension. As a result, most of the windows in the lounge have been covered over to mask the constructions site.

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
The boarding pass shows a boarding time of 14h15, which is exactly one hour before departure. This is due to the fact that passengers will have to undergo a further security screening before entering the holding area of the gate. If you arrive at the indicated boarding time, you usually end up having to queue quite a bit. So it is better to arrive about thirty minutes prior to departure, when most passengers are already in the holding area.

There is a dedicated queue for security for SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. The actual boarding normally starts about thirty minutes before departure with a call for Business Class passengers and then families with children.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 2 + 2.
Seat: KLM currently offers three different Business Class products on its wide-body fleet. There is the new fully horizontal life-flat, which is only installed on the Boeing B 747-400. Although from what I understand this seat is about to be introduced to the B 777 fleet as well.

And then there is the angled lie-flat seat installed on the Boeing B 777-300 and the Airbus A 330-300. If I am not mistaken, this is pretty much the same seat Air France has installed in its wide-bodies right now.

And finally of course, there is the old angled seat on the Boeing B 777-200 and the Airbus A 330-200, which is what I shall be travelling in today. This seat is really passed it. It is comfortable enough to lounge in but it can be a tad difficult to sleep in unless you really are completely exhausted. It is the same seat KLM used to have on the MD-11 until she was decommissioned. But somehow, on the A 330 it just seems very dated. Legroom on the first row is very good, but nowhere near as good as on the MD-11.
Facilities: Reading lamp, power outlet, noise cancelling earphones.

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Upon entering the cabin, there is already a blanket and a pillow at every seat. Menus are distributed after departure. Luckily enough for me, the seat next to me is one of the few to remain empty on today’s flight.

SERVICE
As usual with KLM, the cabin crew are quite senior and very professional. In short succession one flight attendant comes to hang up my coat before I am offered a welcome drink and a vanity kit. There are different kits for men and women. For a welcome drink there is a choice of sparkling wine, beer, orange juice and still water.

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We push back on time. We shall be departing from runway 18L today and there is a queue of six aircraft ahead of us and another six behind us. As we taxi out, I look across to KLM’s huge MRO facility on the other side of the field. And that is when I suddenly catch a glimpse of her, standing quietly in the shadows. The last time I flew to Montreal it was the might MD-11 that carried me there. Such fond memories… Oh Audrey, Maria, Florence; we could have been happy together…how could you desert me like that?

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink on the ground:
Fresh orange juice.
Hot towel before the meal: The scented hot towels KLM has on offer in Business Class are truly excellent, much better than those flimsy little things BA offers in First.
Pre-meal drink:
Another fresh orange juice, the drink is served with a bowl of nuts or a selection of Dutch cheese.
Choice:
Two starters and three mains.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Full meal.
Menu:

  • Shrimps with grapes and mint oil with garlic and almond soup
  • Rice salad with beetroot, goat cheese and pine nuts with a raspberry dressing
  • Braised veal with gnocchi and vegetables
  • A selection of warm breads
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Skewer of fruit

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The food on KLM is normally quite good in Business Class, as is the service. And today’s flight is no exception, at least as far as the quality of the food is concerned. But for some reason the service is taking an eternity to complete. In fact it lasts for more than two hours and thirty minutes from the moment I am served a drink and the bowl of nuts to when eventually everything is cleared away. I do not really mind that on a flight of maybe twelve hours. But on a flight of only slightly more than seven hours I really do think it should be possible to deliver a faster service.

Once the meal is over I settle in with my Kindle and spend the rest of the flight reading and gazing out the window. The scenery outside is quite beautiful. We are routing relatively far up north, grazing the southern tip of Greenland.

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SECOND SERVICE
Type of meal:
Snack.
Choice: There are two main dishes to choose from.
Menu:

  • Waldorf salad
  • Vegetarian club sandwich
  • Warm Dutch apple pie
  • Crisps

With slightly less than two hours to go to Montreal the second service begins. Before the meal starts, a second hot towel is offered by the crew. The meal is perfectly adequate for the time of day and the duration of the flight.

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ARRIVAL
The crew clear the trays. The distribution of the famous little Bols houses marks the end of the flight.

We arrive exactly on time. Quite surprisingly, the airport is completely deserted. There is no queue for immigration and the suitcases arrive in next to no time at all.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Taxi.
Departs from: Dedicated taxi stand.
Journey time: About 25 minutes.
Fare: Fixed at CAD40.-

CONCLUSION
This was another good flight by KLM today. Their service is perhaps not as refined and elegant was what you get on Cathay Pacific or Swiss. But what always impresses me about KLM is that their service is very consistent and I have as yet to experience a bad crew.

This was my first trip to Montreal on KLM that was not operated by an MD-11. For sure, the A 330 is the more modern aircraft. Even so, personally I think the MD-11 was just so much more fun.

Emirates, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Dubai to Amsterdam

Folie1

I just spent the last week giving a course in Dubai together with my colleague, the valiant M. The course was held in the control tower building at the new Al-Maktoum International Airport Dubai. Since my last visit here two years ago, traffic appears to have increased at the new facility, although it is still far from reaching capacity and most of the traffic is freight. There are a few passenger services to and from Al-Maktoum. But as far as I can tell, Qatar Airways is currently the only carrier offering a daily schedule. Other passenger services include charter flights by Finnair or BH Air from Bulgaria.

Fortunately, my flight home from Dubai to Amsterdam will be leaving from the old airport, which lies much closer to the city.

Getting to the Airport
Transport:
chauffeur driven car
Price: complimentary for Emirates Business Class passengers
Duration: 30 minutes
Frequency: n/a

The Emirates chauffeur service is free of charge for passengers travelling in Business and First Class. As my flights had been booked through a travel agent, I had to call Emirates to make the booking for the car, so I could not really say whether it might also be possible to make a booking online at the time you make the flight reservation. The service will pick you up or drop you off at any location within the UAE.

For this service Emirates operates a large fleet of Volvo station wagons, which is particularly convenient if, like me on this trip, you are travelling with a lot of luggage.

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CHECK-IN
Terminal: 3

Emirates has its own dedicated premium terminal for passengers travelling in Business and First Class. We arrive at the curbside where a young lady in the smart Emirates uniform is already expecting me. She opens the door for me while one of the porters unloads the copious amounts of luggage onto a trolley. We are then escorted to the check-in counters. It really is quite amazing to see an entire facility of this size dedicated exclusively to premium passengers.

The young woman checking me in is highly efficient. I explain to her that my luggage shall be continuing on from Amsterdam to Basel, while M.’s things will need to go on the KLM flight to Zürich. But obviously all of this is not really a problem for her. She duly tags all the bags and even labels the boxes with the fragile instruments we are carrying with us to make sure they are handled with care. She also gives me my boarding pass for my onward connection to Basel.

THE LOUNGE
Type of lounge:
dedicated Emirates Business Class lounge
Facilities: toilets and showers, business centre, transfer desk, newspaper stand
Catering: hot and cold dishes, international cuisine
Wifi: available for free, there are signs with the password on the tables

My flight shall be leaving from gate B17 today. I still have about an hour or so to pass before boarding starts, so I figure I might as well check out the Business Class lounge located one floor up from the common departures area.

Terminal 3 is an interesting facility that was clearly built with the Airbus A 380 in mind. Passengers in First and Business Class are segregated from the Economy Class passengers more or less from the moment they enter the premium check-in area to setting foot aboard the aircraft. All the gates at the B dock are equipped to handle the A 380 and are therefore accessible from the upper level as well for premium passengers.

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The lounge itself provides a good selection of hot and cold international dishes. Other than that though, it is more functional than elegant or luxurious.

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THE CABIN
Configuration:
1 + 2 + 1
Pitch: 48’
Length as a bed: 76’
With: 18.5’
Recline: 180 degrees, fully horizontal
Facilities: reading lamp, handset, mini bar with drinks, USB and power outlets, divider screen for more privacy
Entertainment: AVOD – the Emirates ICE entertainment hardly needs an introduction, the screen is quite large and is operated either via touch screen or via one of the two handsets, there are noise cancelling earphones as well

The configuration of the seats is convenient. If you happen to be seated in the middle row of seats, you have two options. The seats in the even numbered rows are quite far apart. As a result, you have more than enough privacy. On the down side, seats on the even numbered rows are adjacent to the aisle, so people might brush passed you as they walk by.

The seats in uneven numbered rows are not directly on the aisle. However, this then means that you end up sitting shoulder to shoulder with your neighbour. But there is a privacy screen that can be raised and which is rather large.

Apart from that, the seat is indeed very comfortable and spacious. The only thing I really do not like, are the colours and materials that were used – plastic painted to resemble varnished wood is not for me. I also think it clashes with the mother-of-pearl and blue panels of the back of the seats.

The seat is partly leather upholstered, which I usually find a bit uncomfortable to sleep on because the leather will make you sweat. With Emirates this is not so much of an issue as they provide you with a mattress to place on the bed.

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VANITY KIT
Emirates does not provide a vanity kit and I salute them for it. Does anybody actually ever use those things anyway? Instead, eyeshades and socks have already been placed at each seat before the passengers start boarding. Toiletries such as shaving kits and toothbrushes are available in the lavatories. Incidentally, the toothbrushes and toothpaste are both by Colgate and very good.

A pillow, blanket and the menu have also already been placed at my seat.

DEPARTURE
Our departure is to the southeast, I believe. We line up on the runway and immediately accelerate. I really do think that there are only few aircraft out there that can match the A 380 in terms of overall ugliness. Having said that, the absence of any noise in the cabin, even on take-off, and the acceleration really are quite amazing.

FIRST SERVICE
Hot towels:
one before pushback and another after the breakfast service
Welcome drinks: orange juice, champagne is also available (Veuve Cliquot)
Choice: none
Menu:

  1. apple of orange juice
  2. still water
  3. a selection of fresh fruit
  4. Blueberry yoghurt
  5. croissant, various buns
  6. additional pastries served from a basket
  7. tea or coffee

Service begins on the ground with a round of welcome drinks and hot towels. The hot towels are nicely scented and very refreshing.

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Being an early morning flight, Emirates has reversed the order of the food service. The first meal is just a breakfast snack. But it hits the spot nicely. My only complaint is that the service lacks a certain amount of coordination: Emirates provides an individualised tray service, which is nice but tends to take longer. As a result, by the time I was asked if I wanted any juice I had already more or less finished the meal. Coffee and tea were only served after the meal.

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The meal concludes with the distribution of another hot towel.

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SECOND SERVICE
Menu:

  1. local Arabic Mezze – Hummous, Muhammara, Makdous, Moutabil, Tabouleh, Shanklish salad
  2. salad with a choice of balsamic and olive oil dressing
  3. roast chicken with mushroom sauce, vegetables, mashed potatoes and chives
  4. bread basket

The second service starts just over two hours out of Amsterdam with the distribution of the third hot towel of this flight and an aperitif with warm nuts.

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The appetizer is very tasty. The individual dishes are full of flavour and taste quite authentic. The only drawback is that bread appears to be in short supply. Most passengers around me have already finished their starters by the time the crew eventually do a round with the breadbasket. Furthermore, the service process seems somewhat uncoordinated.

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Next up comes the main dish, which takes seemingly for ever for to arrive. And when it does, the portion seems rather small. The taste is alright though, but certainly nothing special.

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I finish the main course but it looks as though the crew is hardly in a hurry to remove the tray. Apparently there would have been dessert or cheese, but the crew appear to have forgotten all about that and do not bother to ask anybody if they would actually like dessert, tea or coffee.

THE CREW
Apparently there is a crew complement of twenty-five in the cabin on today’s flight, speaking no less than seventeen languages. Generally speaking the crew are very attentive, polite and friendly. So it is all the more of a pity that the service should take so long and be so negligent.

ARRIVAL
The flight eventually draws to an end. We land in a southerly direction on the famous Polderbahn, from where it takes ages to reach the apron area. Perhaps it is because of the size of the aircraft or because the pilot is unfamiliar with the airport, but today the taxi seems to take even longer as we are moving at a very low speed. At long last we pull onto our stand at the very end of the G concourse in Amsterdam.

I now have another four hours to make my connection to Basel with KLM, which is a good thing because I only realise once I’m in the KLM crown lounge that I have actually forgotten my wallet on the plane. So I quickly head landside and make my way to the Emirates ticketing desk at the departures level of the G sector. Fortunately my wallet has already been found and brought to the desk.

CONCLUSION
I have never fully understood what all the fuss is about with Emirates. And to be honest, I still don’t. Indeed I found them quite okay. Their Business Class product is not at all elegant or refined, but it offers a lot of convenience to passengers, starting with the chauffeur service – which would also have been available for me in Amsterdam – to the on board experience. The only issue I have is with their service concept on the A 380. I really do not think that it was a case of the crew not doing their job properly but quite simply that the service concept they have is unsuitable to be able to efficiently serve 76 Business Class passengers with the number of cabin crew available.

The European legacy carriers in particular are always keen to use and abuse Emirates and the other carriers from the Middle East as an excuse for their own failures and deficiencies. But I don’t really think that’s quite fair, is it? From what I can tell, Emirates is an airline just like any other. But where the old legacies try to pretend as though Business Class were something exclusive and luxurious – presumably to justify the extortionist fares – Emirates is far more pragmatic in its approach. And I rather like that.

Would I fly Emirates again? With out a doubt: yes!