KLM MD-11 – The curtain falls

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INTRODUCTION

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

CHECK-IN

Facilities:

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eventually a boarding announcement is made at 19:40, inviting passengers to Amsterdam to board.

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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.

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

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SERVICE

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

FIRST MEAL SERVICE

Hotel towels before the meal: yes, scented
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: dinners
Menu: wine list and menu together
Meal:

  • 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
  • pan-fried halibut with a tomato and olive sauce, green beans and mashed potatoes
  • panna cotta with mango and fresh fruit

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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.

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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:

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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.

SECOND MEAL SERVICE

Hot towels: yes, after the meal
Choice: there are two choices for breakfast
Delivery: tray service from a trolley
Type of meal: breakfast
Meal:

  • bowl of fresh fruit
  • broccoli strata
  • selection from the bread basket
  • ham and cheese

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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.

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The service ends with the distribution of the little delft houses.

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ARRIVAL

Concourse: D

Fortunately we’re able to make a straight in approach into Amsterdam.

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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.

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If any of the crew of that flight read this, thank you very much. You were very kind and very patient with me!

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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.

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KLM, Business Class – Embraer-190 / MD-11: Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal

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INTRODUCTION

Hello, and welcome to my latest trip report. On Sunday, 2 December 2012 I returned home to Basel from a business trip to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific. Two days later, on Tuesday, 4 December 2012 and I’m off again. First with KLM from Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal for one night, and then from there again with KLM via Amsterdam to Southampton for another meeting. From Southampton I will catch a train up to London, where I will spend the weekend soaking up the atmosphere in the madness of the run up to Christmas before returning home to Basel. This report covers the first two legs from Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal.

Date: 4 December 2012
From: Basel
To: Amsterdam
Aircraft: Embraer 190
Airline: KLM Cityhopper
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1A

CHECK-IN

This report begins at the Air France check-in counters on the French side of the terminal. Although the KLM flight is normally parked at the Swiss side of the facility, the fact that Air France does all the handling means that passengers have to check-in for the flight on the French side and then cross over into the Swiss part of the terminal once they are airside.

The good news is that Business Class passengers now receive a voucher for a free drink at the bar to compensate for the lack of a lounge facility. This is, however, not entirely true. There is of course the former Swiss lounge, which is now the Swissport Skyview lounge, but apparently Air France KLM chose not to contract this lounge.

In any case, I make the mistake of ordering what is alleged to be a cappuccino and it is an abomination. So I sit by the gate reading my Kindle, waiting for the flight to be called.

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BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts on time. As I am seated on 1A, I wait for all the other passengers to board first so as not to get in the way.

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When eventually I make my way to the aircraft, I am given a warm welcome by a friendly young Dutch female flight attendant. By the looks of it the flight is only about 70 per cent full and in Business Class there is only one other passenger seated right behind me on 2A.

THE CABIN

I like the Embraer, although I must also say that the seats are a tad too low and as a result, tend to give me a back ache after a while. They’re okay for a short one hour hop to Amsterdam, but I wouldn’t be so sure about longer segments.

My pair of seats on the way to Amsterdam.
My pair of seats on the way to Amsterdam.
Looking across the aisle.
Looking across the aisle.

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The view at the gate.
The view at the gate.

DEPARTURE

We depart towards the southeast from runway 15. With the light load we don’t even need to taxi all the way to the end of the runway. So we line up on the runway about halfway down.

Taxiing out for departure.
Taxiing out for departure.

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The city of Basel, shortly before we start the turn.
The city of Basel, shortly before we start the turn.
Turning north over the Allschwil suburb.
Turning north over the Allschwil suburb.
Climbing through the gloom.
Climbing through the gloom.

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SERVICE

Service begins once the seatbelt sign comes off. There are two young females working the cabin on this flight. Both of them are friendly enough and very relaxed, which makes for a pleasant atmosphere on board.

THE MEAL

The meal consists of a salad with olives and a Thousand Islands dressing.

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The dressing.
The dressing.

There is a choice of two different sandwiches available: multi-grain roll with Mozzarella and tomato or maize and pumpkin seed roll with sliced chicken breast. I go with the Mozzarella sandwich.

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For dessert there is an orange praline thing, and it is very good too.

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To drink with the meal I have a Diet Coke.

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After the meal I have a mug of coffee with those tasty KLM biscuits filled with caramel.

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ARRIVAL

Our Arrival in Amsterdam is quite unusual, for me at least. We land on runway 36C, which is a first for me, even though I travel through Amsterdam quite often. The weather in Amsterdam is even worse than what I left behind in Basel!

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A last glimpse of the bird that brought me here.
A last glimpse of the bird that brought me here.

TRANSFER IN AMSTERDAM

Once I enter the terminal I head straight for immigrations to reach the E gates from where my flight will be leaving. The guy at the counter has obviously never seen a Maltese passport before in his life, so the whole process eventually takes about 30 minutes to complete while he checks and rechecks. But never mind, I prefer my officials to be conscientious and not slack. Besides, Amsterdam is looking all festive and I have a chance to look around while they check my passport.

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Once I’m through I can’t be bothered to head for the lounge, there isn’t that much time left anyway. So instead I get myself a pancake from the self-service restaurant at the beginning of the Holland Boulevard and wait until the security screening for my flight opens.

I think it's art. It's right behind immigration.
I think it’s art. It’s right behind immigration.
On my way to the E pier.
On my way to the E pier.

Date: 4 December 2012
From: Amsterdam
To: Montreal
Aircraft: MD-11
Airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1A

My flight is scheduled to leave at 15h00. So at around 14h20 I make my way to the gate to see if security is already open. As I reach the gate and spot the bird taking me across the pond today, I am overcome by her stunning beauty and embark on a photo shooting frenzy. The queue for security will take a while to clear anyway!

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Ready for your close up Ma'am?
Ready for your close up Ma’am?

BOARDING

Eventually I join the line for security as the flight is called for boarding. There is even a separate lane for Skypriority passengers. Boarding for the flight is called just as I go through the scanner. So I collect all my belongings, take a few more picture of my elegant ride across the pond and head on board.

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The load is very light on this flight. There are only nine passengers in Business Class with only four in the forward Business Class cabin, giving the flight a very cosy atmosphere.

THE CABIN

The cabin on this bird is well maintained and looks nice, all decked out in KLM blue. As on my previous flights with the MD-11, I am absolutely smitten by the amount of leg space there is on row one. You actually have to stand up from your seat to reach the pocket mounted on the bulkhead!

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SERVICE

The crew on this flight are friendly and obviously in a very good mood. Perhaps it has something to do with the light load today. As soon as I am seated, one of the flight attendants takes my coat and jacket, while her colleagues bring me the vanity kit, earphones and a glass of still water.

The amenity kit has changed since my last flight in July.
The amenity kit has changed since my last flight in July.

DEPARTURE

Take-off is from the notorious Polderbahn, which means a very long taxi from our gate. The MD-11 is obviously out to impress today and we are treated to an amazing take-off, such as you usually don’t get on a bird of this size.

Leaving the clouds behind us after departure.
Leaving the clouds behind us after departure.

THE MEAL

As soon as we get airborne and the fasten seatsbelt sign comes off, the service begins. Incidentally, there are now refreshing towels on this service, which is quite a contrast to my flights with Cathay Pacific the previous week.

We begin with a large bowl of mixed nuts and a glass of Ginger Ale on ice. One of the flight attendants comes by and asks me what I’ll be having for the main course. I’m having the chicken.

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After that the table is set with crisp white linen, and the meal tray arrives.

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It contains a small salad and the first course: smoked salmon with Hollandaise mousse, capers and shallots, served with cucumber soup and sour dough bread. The first course is excellent and quite unusual. The final preparation of the dish is actually done at your seat, which is a nice touch. To drink with that I have still water.

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There is also a basket with warm bread.

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And here are a few details of the cutlery and condiments that come with the tray.

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For the main course I have the winter casserole with Volwaard chicken, accompanied by new potatoes, pearl onions, cabbage, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms.

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And for dessert I have the cheese plate with Beemster Lite and St. Aubin cheese, together with a fruit kebab.

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To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin with a box of chocolate pralines with the coffee. I’m undecided about which one to choose, so flight attendant encourages me to take more than one and eventually chooses three for me.

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I spend the rest of the flight reading, dozing and watching the beautiful colours outside until it’s time for the next service.

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About an hour out of Montreal the second service begins. The meal consists of a dish of Vitello Tonnato with asparagus, pine nuts and roasted bell peppers.

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With that there is a croquette roll of deep-friend beef ragout in a bread roll. I try this but decide not to finish it…

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And for dessert there is a Dutch waffle mousse with caramel sauce, which is very tasty.

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After that we are given the landing cards for Canada to complete. The flight concludes with the distribution of the famous Bols houses.

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ARRIVAL

Our approach into Montreal at dusk is quite beautiful. We cross the mighty St. Lawrence and are treated to a lovely view of the city of Montreal. We fly past the old Olympic park, which is clearly visible.

Immigration does not take long to complete and just a few minutes after I reach the luggage belt, my suitcase arrives. I grab a taxi and make my way into town.

CONCLUSION

On these two flights KLM gave yet another solid performance. The quality of the food on both flights was very good and the crew displayed a lot of enthusiasm for their job and were very friendly in the way the dealt with their passengers. Because I only spent one night in Montreal I ended up flying back with the same crew. Not only was I very surprised that they all recognised me again, they evidently went out of their way on the return leg to make me feel at home. I was really treated like an old friend, and I thought that was rather nice.

The service on KLM may not exactly be as elegant as that on other airlines, but it is certainly very personable and welcoming and I like that.

As for the hardware, I’m happy I managed to get another two flights on the MD-11. The last time I flew to Montreal with KLM I suspected it might be my last opportunity to catch this attractive looking bird. But it seems as though I got a second chance. My next trip to Montreal will be in the spring. By the looks of it, with a bit of luck, that trip might also feature the MD-11. I certainly hope so! Having said that, it really is high time KLM rolled out that new Business Class seat.

KLM, Business Class – MD-11: Montreal to Amsterdam

Date: 19. July 2012
From: Montreal
To: Amsterdam
Airline: KLM
Aircraft: MD-11
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1A

It’s 16h10. My speech before ICAO is over and I am sitting in a taxi on my way to the airport. The trip to the airport costs 40 Canadian dollars, it’s a flat rate.

AT THE AIRPORT

The driver drops me off at the international terminal, right outside the entrance to the section where Air France/KLM have their counters. I reprint my boarding pass and head through security. Strangely enough, there does not seem to be any sort of immigration, just a guy standing in the middle of the aisle who wants to see my passport and then that’s it. I have left the country.

THE LOUNGE

The Air France lounge is rather nice. In fact I’d say it’s much better than any of the lounges of Air France I’ve ever seen in Paris. Luckily enough the place is not very busy, the earlier one of the Air France flights has just been called. For me this means that I will not have to wait for my turn for a shower.

The showers are nice. As I enter, I am given a kit of l’Occitane cosmetics and a set of nice, fluffy towels.

I change from my suit back into my travel gear and feel refreshed and clean.

BOARDING

Boarding for the 19h15 departure begins very early at 18h20. I’m kind of bored in the lounge so I figure I might as well go for a walk about and then get on the plane.

THE CABIN & SEAT

I’m the first passenger in the forward Business Class cabin, which gives me the chance to take a few pictures. As on the previous flight, the general impression of the cabin is a good one. The plane is old, but well maintained. Today I’m sitting in the forward Business Class cabin.

DEPARTURE

Our departure from  Montreal is everything I had hoped for: its powerful and noisy. The engines spool up and I can feel the vibration of their rumble somewhere in my rib cage. And the views are nice too!

SERVICE

Again the crew on this flight is very friendly and very professional. As soon as they spot me, two of them come up to me and offer to take my jacket. I am informed that the flying time will only be a short five hours and 48 minutes today and that the flight will be full in all classes.

Next another flight attendant brings me the vanity kit – the same as on the previous leg – and asks if I would like a drink. Orange juice it is.

Once the seatbelt sign goes off, the inflight service begins with the distribution of hot towels and then the menus. Outside the sun has started to set. It’s going to be a short night.

This is followed by the first drinks service and the taking of orders for dinner. I have a Ginger Ale with the warm nuts.

THE MEAL

For starters: Jamaican-style chicken with aubergine and cherry tomatoes.

Nice warm bread.

The salad.

Salad dressing.

The cutlery.

For the main course there are three options: Braised beef with mashed potatoes, carrots and onions; pasta with artichokes and a Marinara sauce or Atlantic salmon with rice. I go with the beef and it is very tasty!

For Dessert: Camembert and Cantal Cheese with seasonal fruits. But I am tired and already full, so I give this one a miss and try to get some sleep. I think in our cabin nobody had the cheese.

Surprisingly, the seat turns out to be a lot more comfortable than expected. Even so, I think I would not want to have to endure a flight of 12 hours or so in one of these seats.

I manage to get some decent sleep. When I awaken again, we are only 80 minutes out of Amsterdam. One of the flight attendants notices I’m awake and asks if I’d like breakfast. Of course I do!

Breakfast consists of cold cuts and cheese, a bowl of fruit and a choice of either a Frittata or a pastries selection consisting of a cinnamon roll, croissant and a bun with butter and strawberry jam. With that I have a coffee and an orange juice.

 ARRIVAL

The scenery outside is spectacular and dramatic with low clouds and the early morning sun penetrating through the different levels of cloud to produce some spectacular effects.

We land on runway 18R, that’s the far away one. They’re also doing approaches on the parallel runway 18C, which for us means an even longer taxi than usual as we have to taxi to the end of 18C and go around the threshold so as not to interfere with the landing aircraft.

And thus my possibly last MD-11 flight comes to an end and I really feel reluctant to get off the plane.

CONCLUSION

The MD-11 was not a lucky aircraft and she was certainly no commercial success. But I also think she is better than her reputation. As for the MD-11 operation at KLM, I think it is quite apparent that without further heavy investment to upgrade the cabin of the aircraft, the airline will no longer have a competitive product here. Quite understandably though, at this stage of the game it seems unlikely that the new KLM long-haul Business Class cabin will ever grace the inside of an MD-11. I think KLM offers a really sound product in terms of the professionalism of the crew and the quality and quantity of the food. The only draw back right now is their hardware, the seat.

KLM, Business Class – MD-11: Basel to Montreal via Amsterdam

Preamble

I’m heading for Montreal, Canada to present a paper at ICAO HQ. I like visiting ICAO. If you’re an aviation nerd like me, ICAO HQ is like some sacred place. It’s also a fascinating building to visit, quite like a museum. There are many artifacts sponsored by the various contracting states, including a beautifully Garuda carved of wood.

The last couple of times I visited ICAO in Montreal, I flew with Air Canada from Geneva and then returned to Zurich with Swiss International Air Lines. Essentially I guess there would have been nothing wrong with doing that again. But I felt compelled to check my other options, to see if there might be any cool routings, airlines or types to get me to Montreal which might convince me to forfeit the comfort of a nonstop, direct flight.

Before long my search brought me to the KLM website. In fact, initially I was wondering if perhaps there might be an opportunity to fly the Air France A380 to Montreal. But by the looks of it, the type no longer serves that route. In any case, my search with KLM yielded that the connection from Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal was not ideal: a layover of seven hours on the outbound and another one of five hours on the inbound. Even so, there was one very convincing argument for me to choose the KLM option just the same: most probably my last chance ever to secure one last flight on the MD-11 before she is withdrawn from service with the Dutch airline.

Date: 17. July 2012
From: Basel
To: Amsterdam
Aircraft: Fokker F70
Airline: KLM Cityhopper
Cabin: Business
Seat: 1A

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Rather an early start today. My flight to Amsterdam will leave at 07h15 and although there is a fast track for security at Basel airport, I’m not really quite sure what the situation will be. After all, the summer holidays have only just started.

I leave my place at 05h30 to make my way by bus to the airport. Contrary to what I had been expecting, the airport bus is not at all full and security is calm as well.

AT THE AIRPORT

I arrive at the airport just before 06h00. I still have loads of time to kill but alas no lounge of which to avail myself. So I settle for a cappuccino at the bar at the end of the terminal. The young lady there is quite apparently having a bad hair day and evidently trying hard to pretend as though she hasn’t actually seen me.

I pass my time at the bar sipping my drink and watching the mindless music clips of equally mindless pieces of music they’re showing on MTV.

Shortly before boarding for my flight is expected to begin, I’ve had enough of the mindless music, so I collect my belongings and go for a walk about. I’ve been doing quite a bit of travelling lately, and like some trip down memory lane, I spot some of the types and airlines I recently had the pleasure of using.

My ride to Amsterdam: Fokker F 70

BOARDING

Judging by the queue to board the flight, I’d say KLM is doing a roaring trade between Basel and Amsterdam. I’m on 1A, so I decide to board the plane last. As I approach the aircraft, one of the gate attendants approaches me to take my carry-on suitcase off me and label it as hold baggage. I don’t mind actually if she does. But then she spots my Platinum tag and explains that I’m free to take everything on board with me.

The seat next to me is kept empty and the legroom is good.

THE CABIN

As with my last KLM experience, the cabin on this bird is in excellent condition. She may be old, but time and some TLC by KLM maintenance have been kind to her. Even so, I can’t wait for the Embraer to come on this route with the beginning of the winter schedule.

SERVICE

I am greeted at the door by a friendly young man in a sharp uniform – the purser of the flight. I place my briefcase in the overhead bin and take off my suit jacket. Before I even have the time to wonder where to place it, the purser stretches out his hand and takes it from me. ‘Shall I hang that up for you, Mr A.?’

I must confess I am a bit impressed. This guy has obviously done his homework and checked the passenger list. I’m also a bit surprised he got my name right. Most people don’t, even after repeated attempts.

This sets the tone for the service of the entire crew on this flight. They are outstanding, very professional and friendly.

Next the purser brings me one of the Swiss daily newspapers. He has others he says, just in case I’d prefer one of those.

DEPARTURE

The doors close, we push back and subsequently begin our taxi to the runway for a departure in a southerly direction from runway 15.

At least we have some good views of the city of Basel before doing a sharp right turn to point the aircraft in a northerly direction towards Amsterdam.

THE MEAL

‘Mr. A. will you be joining us for breakfast this morning?’ This is the female flight attendant. I answer with an emphatic and enthusiastic ‘yes’. It was rather early this morning when I left home. The flight attendant opens the meal box for me and places it before me. She explains she will also open the other table for me to put the drinks and my other stuff on it.

The meal consists of an excellent fruit salad of apple, pineapple, grapes and melon; yoghurt of maracuja and orange; a selection of cheese with smoked meats and a small pot of marmalade; and two warm buns with that. There is even a menu!

Overall, it is a very pleasant and filling meal and really hits the spot on such an early flight. As soon as I finish, the meal is removed and I continue to read the paper until we begin the descent.

THE ARRIVAL

The weather in Amsterdam is not too hot. It’s drizzling, with low cloud and bad visibility.

We land on the infamous ‘Polderbahn’, which is a 15 minutes taxi away from the apron. In fact it’s so far away from anything that the runway that has its own tower.

We park at the Fokker farm and are subsequently bussed to the terminal.

I have seven hours before my next flight. The plan is to check in for the onward flight to Montreal and then deposit my luggage in the Schengen Transit area before heading into the city. Like that, when I return, I will not have to go through security again with all my stuff.

If only the check-in devices would let me. This is certainly not one of KLM’s finest moments! The first machine won’t read my passport, or the barcode on my boarding pass from the previous flight. So I have no other choice but to manually type in the number of my e-ticket. I finally manage to complete all the necessary information for immigration, the machine confirms that it is printing my boarding pass but in fact nothing actually really happens. No boarding pass. No KLM staff to assist in case of a problem either. Of course not, that’s why they put these machines there, because apparently some financial controller figured the machine could do the job of a human being just as well and hey, who needs human interaction or a personal touch anyway? So eventually I have no choice but to move to the next machine and try my luck again there. This time it works!

I dump my carry-on and my briefcase in a locker, go through customs and head for the city.

Date: 17. July 2012
From: Amsterdam
To: Montreal
Airline: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Aircraft: MD-11
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1J

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

In the early afternoon I head back for the ‘Centraal’ railway station and get on a train for Schiphol. The journey is not even 20 minutes.

AT THE AIRPORT

I pass through security, collect my luggage from the locker and then from there head up to the KLM Crown Lounge. I figured it would probably be calmer than the lounge in the non-Schengen area as there seem to be quite a few long-haul flights leaving around the same time as us.

THE LOUNGE

I like the Crown Lounge and when I arrive it is not too full either. The midday rush seems to have calmed down already.

BOARDING

About 45 minutes before departure I leave the lounge and make my way to the gate. I still have to go through immigration and I’m assuming I will have to go through a further security check.

Immigration is a quick affair. When I arrive at the gate though, there is already a long queue at the entrance. Fortunately there is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers. Otherwise I would have been right at the very back of the queue of a very full MD-11 load of passengers. First my passport is checked, then my boarding pass is scanned and then eventually comes the security check before being released into the gate. It’s also my first experience with a naked scanner.

And then finally I am in the gate and I have an intimate moment with the hot bird taking me to Canada this afternoon. The MD-11 really is a quite a babe!

I barely have enough time to take a few pictures when already boarding begins. I’m quite excited!

I am greeted at the door by one male and one female flight attendant. I am instructed to take the second left to me window seat on 1J.

THE CABIN & SEAT

When I arrive, I am left well and truly speechless. The legroom available on row 1 is simply ridiculous! What’s more, there are no overhead bins over the middle row of seats, which only enhances the overall impression of space in the cabin.

The seat itself is everything but state of the art. To be honest I find myself wondering how I’ll possibly be able to sleep on the return leg, which is a night flight. But we’ll get to that in due time. All the same, just like the rest of the cabin, the seat gives the impression of being very well maintained and is really quite comfortable.

The IFE system could do with a revamp as well. But it serves its purpose and works sufficiently well. But it’s no KrisWorld!

One thing I find very interesting is that where other airlines have a curtain to divide the cabin from the space by the front door and the cockpit, KLM has a sliding door. Strangely enough though, only on one aisle, the other side has a curtain.

THE SERVICE

As on the previous leg, as soon as I take of my jacket a flight attendant appears and offers to put it in the wardrobe for me. This is then followed by the distribution of the vanity kits and a welcome drink service. I just have a glass of still water.

The crew are all very friendly and chatty, but without being nosy.

DEPARTURE

We push back more or less on time and make our way to the runway. We taxi out behind a company A330. On our way we pass an Aeroflot B767-300 standing at the gate. I had no idea they operated those to Amsterdam as well.

Other than the A330 there is no queue for departure and shortly after the Airbus takes to the skies, it’s our turn. And this is where I am reminded what I like so much about the MD-11: the acceleration, the power and – above all – the noise! Beautiful!

THE MEAL

Quite evidently, my suspicion from the previous flight – namely that catering must be one of KLM’s strong points – is confirmed. The meal is not only very tasty but also plentiful.

We start with a drinks and warm nuts. I have a Ginger Ale.

Then come the hot towels.

First course: grilled shrimps with cherry tomatoes on potato salad with avocado mousse.

This comes with a side order tomato salad. As the attendant places the tray before me, she offers me some cheese and croutons for topping on the salad.

Main course: chicken breast in a rich gravy with onions, served with mashed potato and mushrooms.

There is a selection of three different main courses, but I can’t remember what they were anymore. My apologies!

Dessert: lemon tart on a digestive biscuit base, served with strawberries.

What strikes me about this meal is the nice presentation. First the black tray makes a change from what you usually find on a plane these days. And then there is this rather intricate pattern, a recurring theme that you find on the tablecloth, the cutlery as well as the chinaware. It’s quite elegant I find and a nice detail.

After this tasty meal I settle down to watch ‘The best exotic Marigold Hotel’. I’m in two minds about the film. First of all it has an interesting line up of some of the finest actors Britain currently has to offer, such as the sublime Judy Dench and the amazing Maggie Smith. At the same time however, the story line seems a bit thin.

And then after that, yes, it’s time for the pre-arrival meal.

Chicken breast strips on a pasta salad with a tomato sugo. This is accompanied by a warm focaccia with mozzarella and tomato sauce. And for dessert a fruit Tiramisu.

And then, as we begin our descent, the cabin come through the cabin with a small farewell gift. It’s quite well-known by now across the world: a little delft house filled with BOLS.

THE ARRIVAL

We arrival in Montreal just after a heavy thunderstorm has passed over the airfield. We reach our parking position. I gather up my belongings, thank the crew for their great service and head for the exit. As I disembark it feels like walking into a brick wall. It’s so oppressive. The temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius, and with the recent storm the humidity in the air is unbearable.

CONCLUSION

This was a great experience with KLM, not just because of the MD-11. First of all the crew were all just so nice and attentive. It’s little things: throughout the meal they made sure drinks were replenished and repeatedly asked all the passengers if everything was alright and to their liking. They made sure to address every passenger by name, which made them more personable. As for the food, KLM certainly exceed my expectation here. The meals were plentiful and tasty.