KLM crisis management at its best

On Friday I return home on TAROM after spending most of the week in Bucharest, where I was giving a course. In Amsterdam I have one hour to make my connection to Zürich. Upon arrival in Amsterdam, we vacate runway 36R safely, but instead of turning left to head for the D concourse, we turn right and eventually come to a stop on one of the deicing pads. The captain then announces that there will be a bit of a hold up as our gate has not yet been vacated.

A few minutes later, one of the engines is shut down and I figure I might as well wave farewell to my connection to Zürich. The captain comes on again and announces that there has been a power outage in the northern part of the Netherlands and that things are taking longer, despite the airport having its own alternative power supply.

Eventually, after about thirty minutes we move off the deicing pad and head for one of the gates on the D concourse. The terminal building is crawling with people, but there is no chaos and everything seems fairly well organized. My original flight to Zürich has been cancelled and instead I have been rebooked to the flight at 21:00, which is in more than nine hours! The problem is, with the power outage it is not even as though you could head into town to pass the time – the trains are not running either! However, by the time I arrive at the KLM Crown Lounge in the Schengen sector, the agent at reception informs me that there has been an improvement and that we have been rebooked to an earlier flight at 15:15.

By this time it is clear that I shall have to cancel the meetings in the office I had scheduled for the afternoon anyway, so I figure might as well try to get back home to Basel instead, where I live, rather than flying to Zürich only to have to take a train to Basel. So I return to the KLM desk, where I am promptly seen to. The KLM agent proceeds to rebook me onto the flight to Basel all the while chatting pleasantly about the day’s events.

The flight to Basel departs on time and eventually I arrive back in Basel just before six in the evening.

Once again, I must say I am mightily impressed by KLM and their very pragmatic and proactive way of dealing with the problem. Not just because of the way they proactively change my booking once the original flight to Zürich has been cancelled, but also by the effort they make to accommodate my travel plans.

KLM gets quite some bashing on online forums like Flyertalk, which I have never been able to fully understand. All I can say is that the airline has certainly understood what good customer service means, and I have yet to be disappointed by them. So thanks again and well done KLM!

Tarom, Economy Class – Airbus A 310-300: Amsterdam to Bucharest

Folie03

INTRODUCTION
I am sitting in the lounge at Zürich airport feeling rather excited, I must say. I am about to board a KLM flight to Amsterdam. Admittedly, there is nothing much really to get excited about there. But it is the next flight from Amsterdam that I am really looking forward to. For two reasons. First of all, this shall be my 1000th flight ever, quite a milestone, me thinks. And as faith would have it, the mighty aviation geek gods have decided to look upon me with favouring eyes.

From Amsterdam I am travelling with Tarom to Bucharest. Originally a Boeing B 737-300 should have operated the flight. But there appears to have been a last minute aircraft change and now, instead, I shall be travelling on a veritable veteran, the granny of all Airbuses, so to speak. Yes, after a hiatus of – I am not quite sure how many years – I shall finally set foot on an Airbus A 310-300 again. A very worthy aircraft to celebrate my 1000th flight on.

No need to worry though, I will not bore you with an agonising trip down memory lane of my aeronautical exploits that will leave you feeling comatose and me feeling decidedly past my sell by date. I will also refrain from giving you yet another KLM trip report. And so, my narrative will begin as I step of the plane in Amsterdam and make my way to the D concourse for the connection Bucharest.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
We arrive in Amsterdam with a bit of a delay. In fact, the aircraft taking me to Amsterdam already arrived in Zürich with a slight delay. But then four passengers who had already checked in for the flight failed to turn up so eventually their luggage had to be offloaded.

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All in all, by the time I enter the terminal building in Amsterdam it is already 11:25. My onward flight to Bucharest starts boarding in five minutes.

CHECK-IN
I received both my boarding passes for the flight to Amsterdam and the onward connection to Bucharest when I checked in this morning in Zürich. I am travelling with hand luggage only.

My flight will be departing from a gate on the D concourse, which means that I will have to go through immigration and then passport control again. From the bus drop off point to passport control it is only a five minute walk.

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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.

No time to visit the lounge this time though. Got a plane to catch you know…

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
A leisurely walk down the length of the D concourse I arrive at D53, from where my flight will be departing. The security check in done at the gate and by the looks of it, there would be a separate queue for SkyPriority passenger. However, but the time I finally arrive at the gate, there is barely anybody left there anyway.

I take a few pictures of this very special aircraft taking me on this very special journey – at least for me. But the gate dragon is obviously totally oblivious to any of this, that this is the granny of all Airbuses and that I about to embark on my 1000th journey.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 4 + 2.
Seat: I am sitting on 18A.
Facilities: Reading light, ashtrays, plug for earphones, there are no air vents.

I must say that despite its age, the aircraft appears to be in pretty good condition. It is only little things that give away her true age, things like the monitors displaying the flight information. Forget about flat screens, here you have those heavy old school tube monitors.

But apart from that, leg space on this bird is truly excellent. Before we boarded I was worried for one horrible moment that my colleague would eventually end up with deep vein thrombosis with his longs legs, but in fact there is more than enough space to stretch out. Of course it helps that the aircraft in no more than half full.

There are pillows and blankets available in the cabin.

Another thing that strikes me about this aircraft is the noise, which is different to what you get on the younger Airbuses. On this bird, you can hear the sound of the brakes be released, the motor driving the flaps sounds, well, like a motor really.

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SERVICE
There are seven cabin crew working the Economy Class cabin.

The crew seem friendly enough and quite willing to engage with the passengers. They are also very attentive. During the drinks service, the flight attendant asks me what I am having. I ask for sparkling water. When she realises I will not be having any alcoholic drinks, she asks me if then perhaps I would like a second cup of water, which I gladly accept.

THE MEAL
Pre-meal drink:
No.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Full hot meal.
Menu:

  • Sweet and sour chicken with vegetable rice.
  • Bread roll with butter.
  • Some tasty Milka chocolate thing.
  • A selection of hot and cold drinks.

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I think I rather like the way the meal is served on Tarom. Every passenger receives a plastic bag containing all the items except the hot meal. The idea obviously being that the bag should be used for waste once emptied. The hotmeal is served separately, of course.

The meal serves its purpose, although I must confess that once I have finished, I am still feeling quite hungry. But I guess that is not really Tarom’s fault. Ever since I started doing more sports I tend to need more food. In fact I feel hungry most of the time. But this will have to wait until we are on the ground in Bucharest.

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ARRIVAL
We land. And to add the icing on the cake, we are deplaning via stairs, instead on an airbridge. I always prefer this as it give you a chance to glance at the machine you have just travelled with at close quarters.

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We go through passport control and just as we reach the conveyor belt for our flight, the suitcases have already started arriving.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Car.
Journey time: About 20 minutes.
We are picked up in Bucharest by the company for which we will be running the course in Bucharest this week. The journey to the hotel is only about 15 kilometres, depending on traffic it should take between 20 minutes and half an hour.

CONCLUSION
All in all this way a great flight, in fact I think it was certainly worthy of the occasion. I liked Tarom a lot, much better even than on my previous flight with them. I found the crew friendly, hospitable and very attentive. And the cabin really was very comfortable. And now for the next thousand…

Oman Air, Business Class – A 330-200: Muscat to Zürich

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
I just arrived in Muscat on an Oman Air flight from Dubai. In a few hours time I shall continue my journey to Zürich.

TRANSFER IN MUSCAT
The transfer in Muscat is easy, convenient and quick. The bus from the aircraft drops me off at arrivals. Straight ahead is the counter for visas on arrival and immigration beyond that.

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Transit passengers however, turn left and then take the escalators one floor up to security and the transfer area. There are quite a few flights leaving around this time of day, even so, the line for security can hardly be described as being busy.

LOUNGE
Location:
The Oman Air lounge is located behind the duty free shop.
Type of Lounge: Dedicated Oman Air lounge.
Facilities: Toilets, showers in the lounge.
Internet: Free wifi, the password is available at reception.

The lounge is a good size. It is not really very big, but then again there do not seem to be that many passengers using it either. The facility is currently undergoing construction and extension.

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The selection of food and drinks is very good, with a wide choice of Arabic and Western dishes, both hot and cold.

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BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There is a separate shuttle bus for passengers travelling in Business Class. In Muscat Oman Air boards Economy Class passengers first. Business Class passengers are boarded last. Theoretically you could try boarding one of the Economy Class busses, but the gate dragons are certainly not amused if you try to pull that one on them.

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More than anything, I am just delighted by the opportunities the ramp boarding gives me to get up close and personal with the aircraft.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
1 x 2 x 1.
Pitch: 88 inches.
Length as a bed: 5 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities: One AC port, two USB ports, Ethernet socket and audio video assumption (RCA) socket per passenger in Business Class. There is also wifi available on board, provided by onair, which is the same provider Emirates uses. So if you have an account already, you will be able to use it on Oman Air as well. However, passengers in Business Class also have to pay for wifi connectivity.
Audio and Video: The selection is limited and the choice of films is somewhat strange.
Seat: There are twenty seats in the Business Class cabin, which is divided in two separate cabins. The larger cabin is located between the front galley and the second galley and has a total of twelve seats on three rows. The rear Business Class cabin is behind the second galley and has another eight seats on two rows.

The Oman Air seat is really very nice for a Business Class product. In actual fact, it is more akin to the First Class seat on many other carriers. The cabin is kept in shades of brown and beige. Upon entering the cabin, the first thing you notice is the smell. I do not know where it comes from, but I think it is quite obvious that it is a smell that is intentionally fed into the air conditioning system. It is very subtle and instantly gives you the sensation of having stepped on board a carrier from the Middle East.

I am seated on row 10, which is the bulkhead row in the forward Business Class cabin. Today’s flight has a good load in both classes. In the forward Business Class cabin only two seats remain empty. In the rear cabin there are also only few empty seats.

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SERVICE
The Business Class crew on today’s flight is made up predominantly of females of southeast Asian descent. They are much friendlier than the crew on the previous flight and interact with the crew in a very pleasant manner.

THE MEAL
Welcome drink:
There is a choice of water, orange juice or lemon and mint juice. I have the orange juice.

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Hot Towel: Hot towels are served before the doors close. And they really are very hot towels!

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Choice: There are five choices for the first course and four choices for the main course, with at least one vegetarian option for the first and main course. For dessert there are three options plus cheese.

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Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Late lunch.
Meal:

  • Drink with warm nuts.
  • Arabic red lentil soup with pita bread croûtons.
  • A selection of cheese with fig bread, served with dried apricot and walnuts.
  • Selection of ice cream.
  • Tea or coffee.

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To be honest, I am not really that hungry yet. I am still rather full from the meal I had on the short hop from Dubai to Muscat. So instead of indulging in another full meal, I go for the red lentil soup and some cheese after that.

The soup is excellent. It is flavourful and quite spicy for an airline meal. The cheese platter which follows is good, although it is way too much cheese for just one person.

For dessert I have the ice cream, which is described in the menu as ‘a selection of ice creams’, which I take to mean that there are different choices. But in actual fact, when it arrives the dessert consists of three scoops of ice cream in one plate, with chocolate sauce drizzled over them and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts.

SECOND SERVICE
Towel:
Hot scented towel.

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Choice: No.
Delivery: Individual tray service.
Type of meal: Light snack.
Meal:

  • Mixed salad with chicken.
  • Crumbed chicken goujons with sweet chilli dip.
  • Grilled vegetable and cream cheese panini.
  • Frosted mini chocolate muffin.

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A bit more than two hours out of Zürich I start to get hungry. I ask one of the flight attendants if perhaps there might be something to eat before the second snack service. A few minutes she returns and sets the table for me. She then brings me a very tasty salad with marinated chicken breast.

By the time I am finished, it is time for the second service and I figure I might as well have that too.

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ARRIVAL
Eventually the flight draws to an end. The aircraft gently dips its nose and we start our initial descent over Austria. Along the way, we pass the Alps, which look beautiful still covered in their coat of white. They are quite a contrast to the landscapes we left behind just a few hours previously.

Like most of the long-haul flights, Oman Air uses the E dock in Zürich.

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GETTING INTO THE CITY
Transport:
Train
Departs from: The railway station is located under the central terminal facility. The station is connected to the Swiss national and international rail network and offers services to many parts of Switzerland.
Journey time: One hour and twenty minutes, there is a direct train to Basel at 4 minutes past the hour. The last train leaves for Basel at 21h04.
Fare: CHF35 one way.

CONCLUSION
I last flew with Oman Air three years ago on the same routing. I think what impresses me most about the carrier is the consistency of their product. In fact, the flights I took with them on this trip were an exact replica of the previous trip, save perhaps that horribly flashy vanity kit they used to have which has since been replace by something a little more subtle.

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The new airport in Muscat is quickly taking shape and will probably open not too long from now. With this new facility, Oman Air will have a hub that will be comparable to the products in neighbouring Dubai or Doha, at least in terms of comfort if not in size. Having said that, I do think it is a pity the old airport at Seeb will be closing down. One of the things I have always liked about Oman is that it is a very traditional country. And to me, to a certain extent, the old airport exemplifies that very well. But I guess you cannot stop progress.

And now what? Now I have the luxury of being able to spend an entire week in the office in Switzerland without travel. And then the week after that I will be going to Luxembourg, the week after that to Bucharest, the week after that to Tokyo and the week after that to Luxembourg again.

Oman Air, Business Class – B 737-700: Dubai to Muscat

Folie1

INTRODUCTION
This has been an interesting stay in the United Arab Emirates. On Friday we completed a course in Al Ain, which is in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and lies about ninety minutes by car due east of Dubai, close to the boarder with the Sultanate of Oman.

Al Ain is very different from the hustle and bustle of hectic Dubai. The entire region is much greener, it is less densely populated and the sand dunes have a spectacular red hue that the sand is the area around Dubai does not have. Al Ain is not really a tourist destination, mainly due to the fact that it is nowhere near the sea and there are not really that many things to do.

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In Al Ain I stayed at the Hilton. It is not a bad place to stay, although it is somewhat disconcerting how empty the place is. The hotel also functions as the city’s local recreational facility, and thus boasts a fully equipped gym and a lap pool of 25 metres.

On Saturday morning, my colleague – the valiant and intrepid M. – and I decide to head for Dubai. Our flight will be leaving from Dubai on Sunday morning at 10h00. Originally we had planned to stay in Al Ain until Sunday and leave the hotel at around 05h30 in the morning to be at the airport with enough time to spare to bring back the car. But then the course participants told us all sorts of stories about the horrific traffic in the Dubai area, until eventually we decided to spend our last night a bit closer to Dubai airport.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport:
Rented car.
Journey time: 30 minutes.
First we need to fill the tank before we return the car. We pay AED75 for 43 litres, which is roughly CHF20. Just in case you were wondering, in Switzerland you would have to pay something to the tune of CHF68 for the same amount of petrol…

The journey to the airport is pleasant enough. The traffic is still light, but I suspect it will be picking up shortly. We drop off the rented car at Parking A2, on the departures level opposite the terminal.

CHECK-IN
Location:
Oman Air operates out of Terminal 1 at Dubai airport, which is the facility most carriers use. Terminal 2 is used by Flydubai and a few others.
Counters: The Oman Air counters are located on row E. There are four Economy Class counters and two Business Class counters.
Check-in for all flights opens three hours before departure, which means we are still a few minutes early, thanks to the expert driving skills of the valiant M (Let me just say it was one of those moments when you see your entire life flashing by….).

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At 07h00 sharp two young ladies appear to start check-in for the flight. I am quickly issued my boarding passes and an invitation to the Gulf Air lounge. My suitcase has been tagged all the way to Zürich.

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LOUNGE
Location:
Just past gate C22.
Type of Lounge: Gulf Air lounge.
Facilities: Toilets and showers in the lounge.
Internet: Free wifi available in the lounge. The password is signposted throughout the lounge.

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BOARDING
Dubai airport uses a closed gate system. Subsequently, my boarding pass states that boarding for the flight will begin at 09h00, one hour before departure. But in actual fact, 09h00 is just the time the gate opens.

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CABIN & SEAT
Configuration:
2 x 2.
Pitch:
40 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities:
None.
Audio and Video: Not available.
Seat: There are twelve seats on three rows in Business Class on the Boeing B 737-700. It is nice to travel on a narrow-body with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat, even if the flight time from Dubai to Muscat is only a short forty minutes.

The seats are in leather, or probably plastic that looks and feels like leather. Given the hot temperatures in this part of the world, this is not necessarily the best idea, seeing as leather does not really ‘breathe’ and has a tendency to leave you hot and sticky.

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SERVICE
There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin today. Their manner is what I would call business friendly. But in a way, you cannot really blame them for that. With a flight time of only 45 minutes, they are all too busy trying to serve a full cabin of twelve passengers in time.

It is very hazy here in Dubai today. In fact, the visibility already started deteriorating the previous evening. As a result, there is a bit of a queue for departure and we are number nine in line. It is really interesting to see how ATC sets up the aircraft for departure in Dubai. Aircraft are lined up simultaneously on four taxiways in parallel on both sides of the active runway.

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Eventually, after waiting in queue for about twenty minutes, we take-off in an easterly direction with a delay of one hour.

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THE MEAL
Welcome drink:

  • A selection of water and juices. I have the lemon and mint juice, which is very refreshing.
  • Once the doors close, the crew pass through the cabin offering fresh dates and Arabic coffee.

Hot Towel:

  • There is a choice of hot or cold towels. Both of which are very lightly scented.

Choice:

  • There is a choice of two main dishes.

Delivery:

  • Individual tray service.

Type of meal:

  • Lunch.

Meal:

  • Mixed salad with feta, cucumber and bell peppers.
  • Tortellini filled with meat on a cheese sauce with tomatoes, broccoli and pumpkin.
  • Cheesecake for dessert.

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The meal is very tasty. More than anything though, I am amazed that Oman Air not only provide a choice of main course on a sector of only 45 minutes, but that they also offer a hot meal as one of the choices!

Halfway into demolishing the cheesecake, the seatbelt sign goes on again and the pilots informs us that we have started out initial descent into Muscat.

The weather in Muscat is pretty much the same as in Dubai. It is a balmy 25 degrees Celsius with low visibility due to the haze. In Muscat, the new terminal infrastructure is quickly taking shape. The construction of the terminal appears to be finished, it is now only a question of putting in the fittings. We land on the newly built runway, which runs in parallel to the existing one but on the other side of the newly built apron. Out taxi time to the old apron, which is still in use is about 5 minutes.

 

TRANSFER IN MUSCAT
In Muscat there are no air bridges, so all passengers have to be transported to the terminal by bus. There is a dedicated shuttle bus for Business Class passengers only. I always find it a tad uncomfortable on Oman Air to watch one of the flight attendants rush to block the Economy Class passengers from disembarking before all the Business Class passengers have left the aircraft.

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