KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Zürich to Amsterdam

Introduction

It’s the end of April and the last week of work before my sabbatical starts. My second attempt to go on sabbatical, that is. I arrive by train at Zürich airport at 16:15 with a little over one hour to go before my departure to Amsterdam. Online check is now possible again, after it had been suspended during Covid for them to be able to check certificates. So I bypass check-in at the airport and head straight fro security. Landside everything seems normal enough.

But the monent I step through the electronic gates to enter the security checkpoint, it’s a complete mess. There are people everywhere, and you can actually watch the queue getting longer by the second. Usually there’s a separate queue for First & Business Class passengers. But with nobody from the airport there to manage the queues, it’s just chaos and nothing else.

Airside

By the time I‘m through security, there‘s only half a hour left before boarding. In Zürich KLM uses the DNATA lounge, which is really nothing to write home about. So, I figure I might as well go sit outside on the terrace of the airside sports bar.

Boarding

As the result of the Covid pandemic, Zürich airport recently shelved its plans to demolish and reconstruct the A pier, which is a real shame because the place is just about bursting at the seams right now.

KLM’s handling is done by DNATA, and I‘m impressed by how religiously the gate agents stick to the boarding process, starting with zones 1 and 2. Mind you, I’m in zone 1, but I still wait until everybody elses has boarded to get on the plane.

Literally the moment I pass through the gate, an alert pops up on my KLM app, informing me that my return flight has been cancelled. But this is KLM, so I’m not really too bothered. Their irregularity team is great, so I’m confident they‘ll find a solution for me.

Boarding takes for ever, and by the time we push back from the gate, we’re running just over thirty minutes late. We depart from runway 28 and then make a wide left hand turn of 180 degrees to point us in the direction of Lake Constance, bringing us back over the airport.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. On row two, all four seat are occupied. However, on row one only the window seats are occupied. I’m on 1A, so I have a whole row of three to myself.

The crew

The purser is working the Business Class cabin. She’s in her late forties I’d say, and she really is brilliant. She’s very funny and an excellent hostess. For example, shortly after she serves me my tea at the end of the meal, we encounter some pretty severe turbulence. She immediately comes to clear everything away before I’ve even touched it, to prevent it from spilling over and scalding me. Later on, once the turbulence calms down, she brings me a fresh cup of tea without me even asking. That’s excellent service.

The meal

The meal begins with the drinks service. I ask for a Coke Zero, and the purser asks me if I’d like that with ice and sugar.

KLM’s Business Class meal tray service appears to have been permanently replaced with the cardboard box they previously only served on the Cityhopper flights.

Catering on KLM tends to be somewhat experimental, and that’s not always a good thing. The salad is fine though. However, as part of the cost cutting measures they no longer serve bread, which I think is just a bit of a shame.

The dessert is revolting. It’s basically a flavoured blob of gelatinous goo. Why can’t they just serve something normal, like a biscuit?

Arrival

Eventually we land with only a few minutes delay, after a flight time of one hour and fifteen minutes. The flight ends at gate C5, at the very beginning if the C pier.

Getting to Rotterdam

There are regular direct trains between Amsterdam Schipol airport and Rotterdam, where I will be spending the weekend. The regular trains take about 55 minutes to make the journey. However, there are also intercity trains which run nonstop in just 26 minutes. For those you need to pay a supplement though.

Conclusion

I suppose the tragedy of the airlines is that their customer base is so diverse, and different people appreciate or pay attention to different things when they fly. The food on this flight was a bit of a mixed bag, and then dessert was just… no. Having said that, the cabin crew were stellar, which is what I have come to expect from KLM and which they consistenly deliver. The cancellation of my return flight is of course inceonvient. However, with KLM consistency also means that I can rest assured they they will find the best alternative for me. And by alternative, I do not mean simply offering me to refund the half-return price of my ticket.

KLM, Business Class – Embraer 175 & Boeing B 737-800: Basel to Amsterdam and Oslo

Introduction

My first flight of 2022 sees me travelling from Basel to Amsterdam on KLM. I’m on my way to Trondheim. Originally, I booked a ticket on KLM for Basel-Amsterdam-Trondheim. But I wasn’t really happy with the itinerary, because both the flight to Amsterdam and then on to Trondheim would be operated by an Embraer 175. I don’t mind the little Embraer on a flight of one hour or so. But the block time for Amsterdam-Trondheim is over two hours, and the KLM Embraer 175 is very uncomfortable on longer journeys.

Then I decided to go to Paris to see Turandot on 30 December 2021 at the Opera de la Bastille. I figured there would be no point in returning to Basel in the evening of 1 January 2022, only to leave again the next morning at the crack of dawn. I was also still frantically looking for an excuse to get me out of having to spend so much time on the Embraer. Which is how I ended up booking a flight from Paris via Amsterdam to Oslo instead. First on an Air France A 320 and then a KLM B 737-800. Much better.

Then one week before I should have left for Paris, I decided to cancel the trip again because of Omicron. I’m double-jabbed and boosted, but I think it’s clear that the only way to get this pandemic under control is if we all show at least some restraint, by trying to keep our distance and avoiding any unnecessary travel. So probably not by spending over two hours in the Opera de la Bastille shoulder to shoulder with a couple of hundred culture vultures. Of course, that then meant that I had to change my ticket from Paris-Amsterdam-Oslo back to Basel-Amsterdam-Oslo… I really have to say, Air France KLM were excellent. No matter how often I called to change/refund me tickets, their staff were always friendly and competent.

Check-in

I’m carting a large suitcase with me on this trip, because I’ll be giving another course after the one in Trondheim. The check-in process at Basel airport is really slow. They’re checking in the flights to Paris and to Amsterdam at the same time. The majority of passengers are non-Schengen nationals heading back home after the holiday via either one or the other of the two hubs. Without a Schengen certificate though, checking that passengers have all the necessary documentation takes up a lot of time.

The Swissport Skyview lounge

The lounge in Basel is open again on both the lower and upper level, although half the upper level has been taped off, presumably to save costs on staff and cleaning. There aren’t that many passengers around either. The food options in the lounge are somewhat limited. There are three questionable hot items to choose from: a platter of rather dry looking samosas, sausages and soup. I don’t try any of them.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time and doesn’t take very long, as the load is very light. There are only about thirty passengers on the flight. There are two rows of Business Class, and I have the whole Business Class cabin to myself.

The cabin

So yes, the Embraer 175. There are a number of things that elude me about this aircraft. First, I’ve always wondered why it has a slightly nose-up attitude when standing on the ground. Especially seeing as its larger brothers, the E190 and 195, have a more nose-down attitidue. But that’s not really all that important. What bothers me though, is that none of the windows on the E175 ever seem to be properly aligned with the seat rows – no matter on which airline. You’re either having to crank back your neck to get a look outside, or you’re view is obstructed by the seat infront of you. The recline also isn’t very good, and pitch on row 1 could be better too.

In addition, this particular aircraft is having a toilet malfunction. As a result of which, the crew call button keeps going off every two minutes or so, even though there’s nobody in it.

The crew

The crew on the flight from Basel to Amsterdam are typical for KLM. Very professional and friendly. That is something KLM and Air France do well, I think. You always know exactly what to expect from their crews. And that’s exactly what you get.

The meal

There have obviously been a few changes and cutbacks to KLM’s European meal concept in Business Class. First, the food box that passengers previously only got on the Cityhopper flights has now been extended to the mainline fleet as well. Which is a bit of a let down. In addition, the meal is no longer served with breadrolls or butter. So it’s really just the main course, a dessert and a small plastic bowl with walnuts, which is just plain weird. Apart from that, KLM catering has a tendency to be a bit on the ‘experimental’ side…

Tonight’s offering is a bulgur salad with falafel, a few pieces of cheese and hummus. It may not look very appealing, especially the hummus, but the taste is surprisingly good.

On a positive note, those horrible little tubs of sweetened gelatine they used to pass for dessert have been replaced with these rather tasty little fruit pies.

KLM has also replaced the plastic cutlery with politically correct and biodegradable wooden cutlery.

Arrival

The weather in Amsterdam is not very nice when we arrive. It’s quite warm but raining. At least with such a light load it doesn’t take long for the passengers to disembark and the bus to bring us to the terminal. I think this is the first time I’ve actually been on a flight that parked on one of the remote stands between piers C and D. I’m guessing the aircraft will be heading to maintenance for some TLC and to check out the pinging loo.

Transfer in Amsterdam

I have one hour to make the connection to Oslo. Normally I probably wouldn’t bother with the lounge and would just browse through the shops until it’s time for boarding. Only, the shops have all been closed because of the lockdown measures in the Netherlands.

The flight to Oslo

The flight to Oslo is mostly unremarkable. As on my previous flight, the load is rather light. At least there are five passengers in Business Class in total. On this flight, the meal is the usual Cesar salad in a box. I seem to get that one quite often lately…

The crew

The really outstanding feature of this flight isthe crew. They’re just so nice! The purser is professional and competent. She makes excellent announcements and takes very good care of passengers during the flight. What’s more, when the pilot comes out of the cockpit during the flight, I even manage to pick his brain for my PhD. He’s just so friendly and helpful, just brilliant!

Arriving in Oslo

Eventually, we land in Oslo on time at 22h30. It’s very misty and there’s a thick layer of freshly driven snow. The pilot applies full reverse thrust to slow us down, and as we vacate the runway, the snow removing crew is already entering the runway to start clearing away the fresh snow.

As per 02 January 2022 visitors to Oslo from a Schengen country need to have a Covid test done upon entering the country. This can either be done directly at the airport, or at home. Arriving passengers also have to complete the registration form ahead of their arrival. The only problem is, nobody seems to be able to tell me what to do with the test result…

Conclusion

I’m assuming the diminished meal service on the European mainline fleet has less to do with Covid-related health measures and more to do with an urgent need to reduce costs wherever possible. Of course, one might argue that driving down the costs by making cuts where the passengers will easily notice them is rarely a good idea. But these are strange times, and if anything, my constantly changing travel plans showed how volatile and unpredictable air travel has become. With that in mind, it’s refreshing that KLM has taken that on board, making it easy and effortless for passengers to change their bookings, cancel trip altogether and request refunds – even at short notice. I’ll take that any day over a fancy meal and a plush seat. Furthermore, KLM’s strong point, as far as I can tell, has always been its staff. And that has certainly not changed, luckily.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class -Embraer 190 & Embraer 175: Basel via Amsterdam to Luxembourg

Introduction

On 15 March 2020 I should have left on sabbatical to Australia. In the two weeks before my departure, I was scheduled to give two more courses in Luxembourg. My last trip to Luxembourg was on 3 March 2020. I remember the flight from Zürich to Luxembourg was nearly empty. I also remember thinking that hopefully this Covid business would be over before it caused the airlines any serious damage… And that was the last time I visited Luxembourg for the next 20 months.

Today I’m on my way to Luxembourg once again. And even though it may not be the most exciting place on the planet, I must confess that I have missed it. In a way. Sort of. I dunno. And that, I think, is enough to warrant a blog post.

Getting to the airport

This isn’t even the proverbial crack of dawn, is it? Because I’m sure you’d need to see at least a hint, a subtle soupçon, the slightest sliver of daylight for that. What on earth was I thinking? I’m really getting too old for this… It’s just gone five in the morning and I sitting on the airport bus to Basel airport. Okay, maybe this home office isn’t so bad after all, if it means not having to be out and about at such an ungodly hour.

My departure to Amsterdam is at 06h20. So, I’m cutting it a bit fine today, by arriving at the airport at 05h26. But I’m hoping the priority access to the security check will work in my favour. At least, with this connection I’ll be in Luxembourg just after ten in the morning.

Check-in

Check-in opens 36 hours before departure. If you check-in on the mobile app, you will first have to run through what KLM terms the COVID health check, in which you have to confirm that a) you are healthy, b) will not travel if you’re feeling unwell and c) will not blame KLM for anything in case of a deterioration of your health during your travels.

The app will not issue a boarding pass for you though. All passengers still need to present themselves at the check-in counter to have their documents verified before a boarding pass is issued.

On a side note, KLM only does the inventory for its flights a few days ahead of departure. In practice, this usually means that the comfort seats in the front of the cabin are only released two or three days prior to the flight. So, if you prefer sitting up front, or need room to stretch your legs, it’s usually worth while to check for any changes in the cabin configuration a few days before you fly.

The Swissport SkyViewLounge at Basel Euroairport

The Swissport lounge at Basel airport has finally reopened again. It had been closed for more than a year because of Covid. However, only the entrance level of the lounge is accessible, which is fairly small and has no direct sunlight. Not that it matters. Still no slivers on the horizon…

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 05h55 for a 06h20 departure. Seeing as I’m sitting on 1F, I figure I might as well wait to get on the plane. From what I can tell, the load is pretty good this morning. There is a separate queue for SkyPriority passengers and they are invited to board first. Which seems rather awkward in times of Covid, because it means the Business Class passengers are expected to sit there while the whole cabin parades past them…

There are two rows of Business Class, for a total of eight seats. Six seats are occupied. I am seated on 1F, and I am one of the two lucky ones with an empty seat next to me. This is something I think KLM really needs to address.

The main difference inside the cabin between the E175 and the E190 is that the latter has a large storage area in the front of the cabin. Even if you’re last to board and the overhead bins are already spilling over, you can always put your hand luggage there, if you ask the crew nicely.

The crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight. A young-ish lady who, in all honesty, is rather vapid, and a young man who is also the purser. Both of them are very friendly, and even the vapid one manges to still come across as professional.

Welcome drinks on KLM are only served in cases of delay. A refreshing towel is served later on with the meal.

The meal

Since my last trip on KLM, they appear to have updated their meal boxes on the Cityhopper services. The box is larger. While I don’t think there’s more food in it, at least it seems to have more space to hold everything.

Due to the Covid restrictions in place, the two warm bread rolls they previously used to serve have been replaced with a pre-packaged single roll that has been preserved to within an inch of its life. The yoghurt though, is very good and comes with a small container of müsli.

I don’t bother with a hot drink, because coffee is something airlines really, really don’t do very well on short-haul. Instead, I have a glass of apple juice to drink.

Arrival

The flight time to Amsterdam is one hour and five minutes. Back in Basel it’s cold but dry. But in Amsterdam the weather is dreadful, with low-hanging clouds and rain.

As we roll in, the crew make an announcement that deboarding will be by rows, starting from the front, and that passengers should remain seated until the row ahead of them starts moving – and then they promptly forget about the whole thing and it’s the usual uncoordinated scrum to get off the plane.

The terminal is very busy. Throughout the pandemic, KLM’s approach has been to pretend that nothing unusual was going on. I have no idea if that has paid off for them, but it’s impressive to see the airport so busy.

Transfer in Amsterdam

By the time the bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me at arrivals, I still have an hour to go before boarding for my next flight. I go up to the Crown lounge, which is crawling with people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so busy, even in pre-Covid times. Where are all these people going?

The flight to Luxembourg

The flight to Luxembourg is operated by an Embraer 175. As on my previous flight, I’m seated on 1F.

The cabin

The E175 really is a very horrible little airplane, outdone only by Lufthansa’s Canadair Regionaljet. Everything is tight and cramped, there’s hardly any storage space and literally, none of the seat rows are properly aligned with the windows for an unobstrcuted view without having to contort into a pretzel. At least the gods were kind to me again, and I don’t have anybody sitting next to me.

The flight time is only 40 minutes and the service consists of a small paper bag with a bottle of still water and a cinnamon bun, which is quite tasty. In addition, the crew ask passengers if they would like any additional hot or cold beverages.

Arrival

The weather improves a lot as we make our way towards Luxembourg. We touch down at 10h10 in glorious sunshine. I step outside the terminal building on the upper level for departures and catch the bus line 16 to Kirchberg.

Luxembourg still seems a bit subdued. The Covid measures are stricter than they are in Switzerland, I would say. But it’s definitely nice to be back!

KLM gave another solid performance. There’s nothing overly elegant about KLM and their service from a cardboard box is more functional than stylish. But they don’t pretend otherwise either.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: Amsterdam to Bergen

Getting to the airport

My day begins at 06h45 when I exit the CitizenM in Amsterdam South to walk the short distance to the railway station. From there I catch one of the frequent trains to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The journey takes six minutes to complete and the train is nearly empty.

Check-in

There is no need for me to check-in for the flight to Bergen, as that was already done for me at Basel airport the previous day. The safety checkpoint area is in the process of being expanded at Schiphol airport. Premium passengers are segregated and go through security one floor up from the main check-in concourse. The only down side is that to access the upper level, you have to go via the SkyTeam check-in desk area.

The nice thing about the new regime is that once you’re through, there is a direct access to the airline lounges which leads you straight to the entrance of the KLM Crown lounge.

The KLM Crown lounge

As the result of the new security area on the upper floor, the shape and size of the KLM lounge has changed. They’ve also added some new furniture, since I was here the last time.

I spend my time writing a few office mails, until eventually it’s time to make the long schlepp to gate B32, from where the flight is departing. At a leisurely walking pace, the walk from the Crown lounge to gate B32 takes about 10 minutes.

Boarding

There’s been an aircraft change. The flight will now be operated by the smaller Embraer 175. I wait to board last, seeing as I’m seated on 1A anyway. From what I can tell, the aircraft is only two thirds full.

At no point are my travel or vaccine documents checked before the flight.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class with a total of eight seats, and I’m the only passengers seated in the Business Class section. If, like me, you enjoy looking out the window, I would not recommend taking a seat on row 1 on the E 175 though. In order to squeeze in an extra row of seats, row 1 is so far forward that the window on that row is abeam with the seat. So that you really need to crank your neck to be able to look out.

The crew

The crew is very attentive and friendly. As soon as the pilot announces there will be a short delay with our departure while they finish loading the luggage, one of the crew brings me a bottle of still and sparkling water and asks me which one I would prefer while we wait. She also brings me a wet wipe.

Once we’re airborne, the crew inform the passengers that the forward lav is for Business Class only, while the aft lav is for everybody else. And they actually enforce this during the flight, which makes for one rather entertaining conversation with a Japanese lady. As she tries to sneak past the crew to access the forward toilet, one of them stops her and explains to her that the Economy Class toilet is in the rear. To which the Japanese lady says “yes, but the one at the back is locked”. To which the cabin crew makes the rather obvious remark: “yes, because there’s somebody in it…”. “Oh” says the Japanese lady and walks off, quite as thought the concept of an occupied airplane loo were quite novel…

The flight time is one hour and 25 minutes.

The meal

With a departure at 09h15, breakfast is served on this flight. It’s a different meal to the one I had on the flight from Basel the previous day. Although I’m not sure if a small bowl of grapes already qualifies as a “fresh fruit salad”.

Arrival

Just before we reach the top of descent, the pilot comes on to inform us that the weather in Bergen is cold, wet and with limited visibility. Which is great, because I forgot to take a jacket on this trip – so I’m about to get soaked and freeze…

The airport is very empty. We’re the only international arrival and most of the terminal looks shut down.

As per 20 July 2021, upon arrival in Norway, passengers are segregated in two lines: one for passengers who are fully vaccinated and have the necessary documentation on them, and one for the passengers who do not. At the checkpoint I have to show both my Covid certificate and my passport. The immigration officer wants to know which vaccine I had received. The guy behind me is turned away and instructed to contact KLM about getting him back to Amsterdam, because he’s only had one vaccine. He explains that he hasn’t had a second dose because he’d already had Covid19. But when he is unable to provide a doctor’s certificate to that end, that’s it. Out.

Other than that, the rules seem to be more relaxed in Norway, or at least in the greater Bergen area. Nearly nobody is wearing a mask in public or on public transport. And social distancing is attempted, rather than implemented.

Getting to Haugesund

For the journey to Haugesund I could have taken the plane. However, that would have meant a boring four hours wait at the airport for a flight of 30 minutes. And let’s face it, the place is so eeriely quiet right now, it’s not like there’s anything much to watch going on outside on the ramp.

So instead, I decide to go for the more cumbersome, but certainly more scenic option and take the tram, a bus, a ferry and then the bus again to get me to Haugesund. The journey from the airport to Bergen by tram takes 45 minutes. I don’t have a bus to Haugesund until after 13h, so I’m not in a hurry. Otherwise, instead of going all the way into Bergen, it would also be possible to change from the tram to the Haugesund bus at Nestun.

From Bergen the X400 bus will take you straight to Haugesund. The journey takes about three hours and 15 minutes. After about one hour’s drive, the road abruptly ends by the water and makes way for a ferry landing.

The journey by ferry takes 45 minutes. And then it’s another hour to Haugesund on the bus.

Fortunately, the weather starts to improve and the rain stops. By Wednesday it’s simply glorious! So that I am at least able to stick my feet in the water at Akresand after the meeting I’m attending.

Conclusion

While I enjoyed my day in Amsterdam on Monday and the trip to the beach on Wednesday, I found the travelling part quite tiresome and inconvenient for the most part. My initial reaction to that being that travelling in times of Covid19 is simply a whole lot of hassle and not much else. However, upon closer inspection, it dawns on me that air travel has not really changed all that much because of Covid. But I have. And all things considered, I rather enjoy a much quieter life, working from home at my own pace.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

I’m on my way to Haugesund in Norway. In the old days, I would have taken a SWISS or SAS flight from Zürich to Olso and connected there to a domestic service to Haugesund. But then COVID happend.

In the summer of 2021 the connection via Oslo no longer exists. There aren’t that many flights between Zürich and Oslo anymore, making an overnight stay in Oslo unavoidable. So I figure I might as well do something completely different and make an outing of it. My first leg takes me from Basel to Amsterdam, a route I have now travelled more often than I can count. In as much, this post is not really so much about the cabin design or the food served on board. It is more of a time piece about European short-haul travel during COVID.

Check-in

As per 18 July 2021, you can still check in on the KLM app or online. You will need to complete a health declaration form, which has been integrated into the check-in process. Also, even if you have checked in online, you will still need to go to the check-in desk at the airport for the airline to verify your travel documents and issue the boarding pass.

So when I arrive at the airport the next day, I’m not really surprised to find a considerable queue at the Air France/KLM counters. Even so, the Platinum status means I can join the SkyTeam queue only have to wait about 10 minutes before it’s my turn. The check-in agent scans my passport and the COVID certificate issued by Switzerland and then issues the boarding pass.

Security is surprsingly painless and a fairly civilised affair. You get the impression that passengers are aware of the fact that we’re really all in the same boat in this, which is nice.

Lounge/Airside

The Swissport lounge has now been closed for over a year, and it doesn’t look like it will be opening any time soon, which is hardly surprising. It’s mainly a low-cost operation at Basel right now. British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa only fly sporadically, leaving only Austrian Airlines, KLM and Turkish Airlines.

So instead, I find myself a place by the window to admire the view. The nice thing at Basel airport is that the aircraft come up really close at some stands.

Boarding

Boarding is the usual scrum. Some things obviously never change. As I’m seated on row two anyway, I figure I might as well wait for everybody else to board. I would say the flight is three quarters full today.

The crew have obviously been trained, or at least briefed about, how to deal with difficult passengers and the COVID deniers. The passenger on 1C hasn’t got her face mask on, and the flight attenendant makes quick work of reminding her, and making sure she has, and keeps, her mask on.

The seat

An important point to note is that on the Embraer, KLM sells both seats on a row of two in Business Class, unlike the Lufthansa group, where the seat next to you always stays empty. I think I may have complained about this before… I’d say that KLM clearly has a disadvantage here, because I’m quite sure there would be quite a few passengers willing to pay a bit more for a Business Class seat in the current situation, simply to avoid having to sit next to a stranger who may or may not be contagious.

The Meal

I think we might as well go straight to the meal section of the report. And I’m happy to find that nothing much has changed in this department. The only differences I can tell are that there is only one bun, which is sealed in plastic, and that the salt and pepper shakers have been removed. Other than that though, the meal is just fine for a flight time of one hour. To drink with that I have glass of apple juice.

Arrival

After a flight time of just over one hour, we land in Amsterdam. It’s certainly busier than when I was here a year ago, but I think we’re still very, very far off from calling the place busy in the usual sense of the term. The airport has certainly made a huge effort to adapt to the new realities: there are hand sanitising stations everyhere and all counters with direct customer contact have now been decked out with glass or plexiglass partitions.

Getting into town

I’ll be spending the one night in Amsterdam at Amsterdam South, which is only seven minutes by train from Schiphol airport but still very close to the city centre in walking distance.

It’s a lovely day. So once I get to the hotel and finish off my work, I head out for a long walk. Okay, I head for scones and creamy cakes at De Bakkerswinkel. But at least I have the decency to walk back to work off the calories when I’m done. No judgement, okay?

KLM Cityhopper, Embraer 190 – Economy Class: Amsterdam to Basel

Introduction

I spend two whole days in the Netherlands. And I must say, the change of scenery did me good. Back home the monotony of working from home seems to make my days just fly by. Which isn’t bad either, but it leaves you with a sense of everything being rushed, even when it’s not.

In Amsterdam I stayed at the CitizenM South, which I think is in a great location. It’s close to the the railway and metro station at Amsterdam Zuid and the tram line number 5, which takes you all the way into the city centre, stops just outside the hotel.

The staff at the hotel were really great, and did a brilliant job of trying to put visitors at ease and make them feel comfortable. Occupancy was only at 10%.

Amsterdam was very quiet and subdued. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so calm and deserted. Of course, it probably didn’t help that the weather was atrocious during my visit…

Getting to the Airport

Trains between Amsterdam Zuid and Schiphol airport run frequently. The journey takes six minutes. The use of face masks is mandatory on public transport in the Netherlands right now.

The central plaza at Schiphol airport is very quiet. The place is usually crawling with clueless tourists trying to figure out how to purchase a ticket and which train to take. But not any more.

Only very few shops are open. It’s difficult to say though, if the closed ones are just opening later because of the reduced number of visitors to the airport, or if they are closed indefinitely.

Check-in

Check-in is surprisingly busy. The queue for security is quite long, and there is no longer a dedicated lane for SkyPriority passengers. Although I’m not sure if this may be due to the obvious construction that is going on.

I think the security check experience at Amsterdam really highlights the catch 22 the airlines and airports are facing right now: I would say most people in the queue were wearing face masks, but otherwise ignored the round markings on the floor indicating a distance of 1.5 metres. And in a way, I don’t blame them. Most of them looked like holiday makers that were probably relieved to finally get out and about and excited to travel again.

But that’s not the point and not so important. Ultimately, everyone must choose for themself if they want to play their part in bringing the situation under control or not. But Amsterdam, like many other hubs in Frankfurt, London or Paris, was built soley for the one purpose of operating a high performance hub, with many flights feeding a lot of passenger into their long haul networks. But right now, that seems rather difficult to reconcile with social distancing measures. First, because the airlines are all operating on a reduced schedule. This means that layovers at the transfer airports tend to be quite a bit longer than usual – which is precicely what the authorities are trying to prevent: a lot of people in a confined space for any length of time. And second, because Amsterdam Schiphol is probably already too small if the authorities were serious about properly implementing all the recommended social distanting measures – despite the diminshed network and the lower passenger volumes. As long as passenger numbers are down, the issue is manageable. But at airports arond the globe, the moment will come where the crowds will be too big to be kept under control.

The KLM Crown Lounge

The Crown lounge is open. It’s changed a lot since my last visit. The back part, which used to overlook the check-in area, is gone. Instead, the lounge has expanded sideways and now also covers an area which, I believe, was previously occupied by the Swissport lounge.

There is no longer a buffet in the lounge, and instead passengers have to queue at the bar to place their orders with one of the lounge attendants. Within the lounge, most people keep their masks on, perhaps only removing them to have a drink. As far as I can tell, there is hardly and food on offer.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight is from B02, which is a bus gate. Passengers are more or less evenly distributed across the two busses. The load is roughly 70 passengers.

The gate agents are very meticulous and stop anybody who tries to pass the gate without a mask. There’s a school class of mainly hormonal teenage boys. So as you can imagine, the gate agents have their work cut out before the last bus is finally allowed to leave for the aircraft…

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, but only two seats on row 1 are occupied. I am on 3F, the first Economy Plus row. The whole row behind me is empty and there’s only one other passenger on 3A. So we’re good.

There’s a bit of a delay because of a technical issue that needs looking into, and for a moment I dread that next the pilot will have to inform us that we’ve missed out slots But then I chuckle to myself as it dawns on me that, very likely, it’ll be a few years before Amsterdam is restricted for slots again…

Eventually, we taxi out with a delay of about 15 minutes. As we turn on to the runway, I catch a glimpe of the new A pier, which is gradually nearing completion. Although I think it will still be a while before it is in it’s final configuration. Right now, there is still a categing facility between the A and the B pier, which will have to go sooner or later.

The Meal

The service is more or less the same as on the outbound: a small box with a cheese sandwich, a cookie and a tub of water. In addition, the crew distribute an information sheet by the Swiss federal government as well as a contact form for every passenger to complete in case anybody on the flight develops symptoms later on. The forms are collected by the ground agent upon disembarking.

Arrival

The flight time is one hour, most of which I Spend looking out the window. I’ve missed the view from the wing so, so much…

The weather in Basel is much better than in Amsterdam. We make our approach from the south, which means we come in right over the swimming pool where I usually do my laps. Which is convenient, because the place looks deserted from above. So I guess that answers what I’ll be doing this afternoon…

We land, and literally ten minutes later I’m already sitting in the bus on my way home.

Conclusion

So, this brings to a close my report on the new normal of air travel. I think it is likely that it will be at least another five to six years before the airline industry fully makes a recovery. Until then, I fear a lot of jobs will be lost and many airlines will pass on into history as yet another casualty of the pandemic. Especially the coming winter will not be easy.

For the airlines that survive though, I think it is important right now that they work on their reputation management. For the time being, people may not be travelling because of the uncertainties of travelling abroad. But sooner or later, the restrictions will ease. When that happens, it would serve the airlines well to have regained the trust and confidence of their customers, many of which have been rather badly treated by the airlines in recent months.

I appreciate that refunding all the unsued tickets all at once would probably have more or less grounded all airlines within days. Fair enough. But this voucher business the airlines are currently offering instead of a proper refund is, for the most part, a scam. Treating your customers badly has never been a good idea. Treating them like idiots only adds insult to injury.

KLM Cityhopper, Embraer 190 – Economy Class: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

125 days ago, I returned to Basel from giving a course in Luxembourg. The week after, I was scheduled to make one last trip to Luxembourg before heading off to Australia on sabbatical for six months. While in Australia, I should have made a side trip to Bangkok, and then another to Ulan Baatar via Singapore and Hong Kong. But then the world shut down – slowly, gradually and irrevocably.

And my world slowed to a pleasant, leisurely pace. I was fully expecting to miss the flying. I was also fully expecting to well and truly get on everybody’s nerves once the withdrawal symptoms kicked in. If the effort it took to get me off the pacifier when I was four years old was anything to go by, I was convinced this was not going to be pretty…

But 125 days later, my watch has left a pale mark on my bronzed wrist from all the cycling and swimming I’ve managed to do. My PhD is on track and in the peaceful tranquility of my own home I have been so much more productive than I ever could have been in an office full of people.

And now today, I am taking my first flight. I’m curious to see how much aviation has changed in just 125 days.

Getting to the airport

I leave my flat at 10:25 to catch the bus line 50 to the airport. The 10:33 service runs nonstop to the airport, although I’m not quite sure what the point is, because it’s not really any faster than the regular service.

Since Monday, 06 July 2020 it is a mandatory requirement to wear face masks on all public transport in Switzerland. So today is the first time I’m using public transport and therefore, also the first time I’ve had to use a face mask. I don’t want to argue about the merits or disadvantages of wearing one of these things. But… first, I think my face is too big for a standard issue face mask. If I pull it up to properly cover my nose, then my chin keeps slipping out the bottom and the mask rides up to uncover my mouth. If I pull it down, my nose is uncovered… And second, the mask is a bit of a nuisance if, like me, you have varifocals, because it pushes the glasses higher up on your nose. And as a result, you end up looking into the distance through that part of the lens which is actually intended for short distances. And my breath is making the glasses fog up too. So basically, in the sum of all things I kind of feel like something out of Gorillas in the Mist… but cross-eyed.

Sixteen minutes later we arrive at the departures level of the airport, and the other four passengers and I disembark.

There’s a sign at the entrance to the terminal, advising passengers that wearing a face mask is mandatory inside.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online. As a Platinum member with Air France KLM I can select any seat on the aircraft free of charge. Originally I was seated on row 7, which was the first row in the Economy Class cabin. A few days before departure though, KLM does the inventory for its flights, which means that they usually open up seats further up front once the final position of the cabin divider is decided. And so I move forward to row 2 at check-in.

Check-in is eerily quiet. It looks as though everyone just left abruptly and forgot to switch off the lights.

Airside

I don’t think I’ve ever been through security at Basel airport this quickly. There are hardly any passengers, and even with just the one line open, the staff still have plenty of time to check every passengers very carefully and still manage to have a enough time to chatter and gossip.

I think I always understood that magnitude of recent events and their impact on the aviation industry. But today is the first time I have the opportunity to witness the devastation up close. It’s really quite upsetting.

The beautiful Swissport lounge is closed.

Boarding

The only place with signs of life is gate 1, from where the flight to Amsterdam will be departing. I count a total of 77 passengers, which isn’t a bad seat load factor for an Embraer 190 with a capacity of about 90 seats. Although having said that, KLM is currently operating just the one flight to Basel, where previously they had four.

Boarding is by seat rows from the back of the plane and takes a lot longer to ensure there are no queues in the air bridge or in the cabin. KLM strictly enforces the use of face masks on its flights, and it is stated at the time of booking and in the confirmation e-mail that passengers without a mask will not be admitted to the flight.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew, one female and one male. I think it’s quite obvious they’re making an effort to appear as though this flight is business as usual, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for trying to do a good job in seriously adverse conditions. But I’m not sure it’s working. Because the atmosphere on board is subdued. Passengers are wary and tense, as though they’d much rather be somewhere else.

The Cabin

There is one row of Business Class on today’s flight, and the forward toilet is reserved for the crew only. All passengers are required to use the toilet in the rear of the aircraft.

The Meal

The flight time is one hour. As this is a lunchtime service, every passenger in Economy is given a small box with a packaged half of a cheese sandwich, a biscuit and some water. In addition to that, there is a separate drinks service from the trolley.

While I applaud KLM for their effort to maintain a standard level of service in these strange times, I think on such a short flight they might as well do away with the service for the time being. Either that, or they should provide disinfectant wipes to passengers. From what I can tell, not that many passengers actually touch the food.

I stash mine away to eat when I get to the hotel.

Arrival

We land in Amsterdam on time. There’s definitely a lot more traffic here than there was in Basel, but it’s still a far cry from what it used to be like not so long ago. What’s more, there are aircraft parked everywhere. And obviously they’re there for long term storage. It’s really quite sad to see.

At least since my last visit the construction of the new A pier at Amsterdam has progressed quite a lot, although I still don’t quite get what the final layout of the building will be.

Our flight pulls up to a stand at the B pier. The weather in Amsterdam is atrocious. It’s raining and much cooler than Basel.

There aren’t many passengers in the terminal, and most of the shops appear to be closed. Half the luggage belts in the arrivals hall are turned off permanently.

Conclusion

I must say, this flight today has been quite an eye opener. As I previously mentioned, I was already aware of the disastrous consequences the events of the last few months have had on the airline industry. But seeing the devastation up close from the passenger’s perspective is sobering and really quite depressing.

It is difficult to assess the current situation without coming across as being overly pessimistic. But right now, things are really not looking very good for the airline industry – despite the significant rescue packages some of them have received from their governments and the slow resumption of flights. It is common wisdom in the industry that the airlines earn most of their money during the peak summer months. What they don’t manage to earn during that period, they will not be able to recover in the slower winter season.

Swiss International Air Lines powered by Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Luxembourg

Introduction

This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At some point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.

The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.

I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.

The SWISS Business Class lounge

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lounge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!

The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I keep back so I can board last. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.

The cabin

I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on row seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.

Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.

The Meal

The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.

Arrival

We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket.

Conclusion

To conclude, I’m just assuming the apparent lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network, and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.

Air Nostrum, Business Class – CRJ-1000: Madrid to Basel

Airline: Iberia
Aircraft: Bombardier CRJ-1000, operated by Air Nostrum
From: Madrid Barajas
To: Basel Mulhouse
Departure: 10h16
Arrival:
12h29
Flight time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Seat:
3F, window seat

Getting to the Airport

The 7 Islas Hotel is located just off the Gran Via in the centre of Madrid. I exit the hotel just after 7h00 in the morning and walk five minutes to Tribunal metro station.

From there I take the metro line 10 to Nuevos Ministerios, which is two stops away. And then from there I catch the metro line 8 to Terminal 4. The metro service starts at 06hoo in the morning, with trains running every eight minutes.

Check-in

At Terminal 4 I take the lift three floors up from the metro station to departures on level 2. Iberia Business Class counters are located on rows 780 to 799.

There is a dedicated security checkpoint for Business Class passengers, which is completely segregated from the other passengers and very efficient.

The Lounge

The Iberia Business Class lounge is hard to miss as you exit from security. The lounge is enormous and offers a wide range of seating options. It‘s a very nice looking lounge. As for food options though, it‘s a bit of a let down and only has very limited choices.

Boarding

Terminal 4 is huge, and recently the airport authority was given planning permission to expand this already vast facility. My flight is boarding from gate K95, at the north end of the terminal, which is equivalent to Amsterdam’s Fokker farm.

The Cabin

I must say, I really dislike the Bombardier CRJ1000, because it’s such a badly designed aircraft and from the passenger’s perspective, it’s just narrow, tight and unpleasant.

On the starboard side there is a row one, right behind the lavatory. On the port side though, row 2 is the bulkhead row. According to the seat map when I checked in, there’s one person on row 1, two on row 2 – one on either side – and one person – that would be me – on row three on the starboard side.

Just before the doors close, a middle aged gentleman and his son appear from behind the cabin divider and park themselves on 3A and 3C and I have the sneaking suspicion the shouldn’t actually be sitting there. The doors close and the crew go through their routine duties, with the passenger address and then the safety briefing.

The Crew

Unfortunately, for messrs father and son, the flight attendant notices something’s amisss and checks the flight manifest to figure out what it is. Of course it doesn’t take very long for her to realise that there are two passengers too many sitting in the Business Class section.

Sometimes the stupidity of humanity can be interesting to watch. If perhaps also a tad pathetic at times. The flight attendant asks the father what his assigned seat number is, to which he replies that he doesn’t know. So she then asks to see his boarding pass, only to find he should have been seated on row 16. When she explains this to him, he tells her he knows but suffers from an acute case of claustrophobia, which is of course made worse by sitting on row 16 and having to look all the way down this long metal tube.

But the flight attendant obviously has been doing this for a while, so she very sweetly explains just how bad she feels for him, and that he will have to move nonetheless once the seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off. So there you have it kids, don’t lie. It doesn’t pay off. You only end up looking like a dick in front of your son, at an age when he already thinks you’re nothing short of embarrssing anyway.

We take off towards the north. I’ll say this though about the CRJ1000: when you’re sitting up front, it really is very quiet and there’s something quite poetic climbing out of the vast expanse of the flat landscape around Madrid.

The Meal

No sooner has the seat belt sign been turned off, the crew are released to start their service, which begins with a glass of orange juice, followed by an unscented hot towel. One of the cabin crew comes through the cabin asking what we’d like for brunch. There is a choice between a melted cheese and ham sandwich and a tortilla.

The tray is served with the hot meal, a bowl of fruit and the cutlery on it. My first impression is that the tray looks very empty. But then the crew come though the cabin with warm bread and shortly after make a second round offering croissants and chocolate doughnuts.

The hot meal consists of a warm tortilla, spinach, pumpkin and a sausage.

To drink with the meal I ask for a coffee and some sparkling water. I’m surprised when the cabin crew brings me a half-litre bottle and leaves it there for me.

Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight reading with the warm glow of the morning sun on my face. Eventually we make our approach into Basel from the south. But the clouds are very low today, so that we’re already more or less past the city before we actually break through the cloud.

Our flight comes to an end on the non-Schengen side of the terminal. However, we are then bussed to the other side, which is also non-Schengen but for flights arriving from countries which would actually be in the Schengen area if France so much as respect the Schengen agreement. Every time I pass through Basel, they’ve thought up something new to make the process even more convoluted and complicated…

At least the airport isn’t too busy, so there’s next to no queue for immigration and my suitcase arrives quickly.

I now have three days in the office before I’ll be gone for a while… stay tuned.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

This year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is celebrating its centenery – one hundred years of continuous service under the same name and brand, making it the oldest airline in the world. This year, British Airways also decided it was time for a celebration, although somehow, that seems a bit like cheating, seeing as today’s British Airways wasn’t set up until 1974.

To be honest, I would have liked my KLM jubliee post to be something a bit more grand than just a short hop from Basel to Amsterdam. Perhaps a long-haul trip with the Queen of the skies, or so. Alas, the powers that be decided it was not meant to be. Even so, I didn’t want to ignore the Dutch jubliee entirely. And so, here you go: this one’s for KLM, happy birthday! You’re looking good at 100!

Getting to the Airport

My day begins very, very early. The flight to Amsterdam departs at 06:20, which has me taking the 04:55 departure of the bus line 50 from the main railway station to the airport.

The bus arrives at the airport at 05:09. The check-in area and security are already very busy processing the first bank of departures.

Luckily, my Air France Platinum status gives me access to the fast track for security, which is not quite so busy as the line for Economy Class.

The KLM flights usually depart from gate 18, which is in the Schengen area of the airport. And that‘s a good thing, because the queue for the non-Schengen gates is endless!

By 05:18 I‘m through security and on my way to the lounge. The place is still fairly calm. I get myself a coffee, find a quiet corner and slowly start to wake up…

Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 05:55 and is a somewhat chaotic affair. I don‘t think anybody quite knows what‘s going on. Initially there is just one queue. But then at some point a second one opens to speed up boarding. And then a while later, more or less as an after thought, one of the gate agents opens up a third queue for SkyPriority passengers, which is a bit pointless at this stage.

The Cabin

I‘m sitting on 1F, which is the bulkhead row, so seat pitch is very good. On the Embraer 190 stowage space is never an issue because there are two large cupboards up front.

The flight is busy but not completely full. By the time boarding finishes, the seat next to me is still empty. I think that‘s the one thing I really don‘t like with KLM. Even on the Cityhopper flights I think they should keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class By default. That‘s something Lufthans does better, for a change.

Outside it‘s still dark. Overnight the rain has set in again.

The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes. We take off in a northerly direction. The first stages of the flight is quite bumpy, as we ascend higher through layer after layer of thick cloud.

The Meal

As soon as the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. Okay, so the delivery in a cardboard box may not be an expression of the highest sophistiction, but then again you don‘t eat the cardboard, do you?

Breakfast is a nicely balanced meal consisting of a bowl of fruit, yoghurt and Müsli, egg salad, bread and butter, and a selection of Dutch cheese and cold meat.

To drink I have a coffee and orange juice.

Arrival

Sooner than expected we‘re already descending towards Amsterdam. The many greenhouses below produce a strange effect and illuminate the sky in a bright and unnatural looking yellow light.

Eventually we land 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Amaterdam is even more atrocious than it was in Basel. It‘s cold, windy and wet.

By the time the bus ejects me at the terminal, it‘s 07:30. I have one hour to go before my connecting flight. I can‘t be bothered with the lounge, which is in the opposite direction to pier B, from where my flight will be leaving. So instead I browse through the shops without the intention of buying anything.