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.

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.

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

Transfer in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Schiphol overtook Frankfurt a while back as Europe’s third busiest airport. And I think it’s beginning to show. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. Where previously one of the airport’s strongest points was the abundance of space within the terminal building for passengers to move about, it’s now starting to get very crowded. But it’s still one of my favourite airports.

Airside

I decide not to take any photos of the lounge, because it’s crawling with people. And you don’t want to piss people off when they’re probably already tired from a long working day or just from the labours of travel, right?

It’s interesting to watch though, how quickly the lounge empties at some point, as KLM’s evening outbound wave of flights gets underway, including mine.

Boarding

The flight will be departing from C18, which is at the very end of the C pier. The flight is operated by a Boeing B 737-800 and according to the gate agent, it’s going to be a full flight. They’re making announcements offering to check Economy Class passengers’ luggage free of charge.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class on this flight, and a total of five passengers. I’m sitting on 1A and I have the whole row of seats to myself.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are fabulous. One is a gentleman who probably looks older than he is, because his hair and beard are completely white. The other is a younger gentleman of South Asian descent. And he’s just so camp. Which is totally okay, it’s just that his effeminate mannerisms are completely at odds with the fact that he’s built like a brick shit house, as my granddad used to say.

In any case, the two of them keep the whole of the Business Class well entertained throughout the flight and take excellent care of the passengers. 1D is an elderly lady. She’s alert but looks very frail. The care and gentleness with which the cabin crew treat her is just outstanding. They take all the time in the world with her, making sure she’s comfortable but without ever being patronising in that way many people tend to be around elderly people.

The older one of the two is the maître de. As soon as the doors close, he welcomes every passenger aboard by name and shakes each passenger’s hand. From then on, whenever he or the younger crew member address the passengers, it’s always by name. More on that later…

The Meal

The meal is comparable to the one I had on the Zürich to Amsterdam leg. Only on this flight it’s not shrimps but a very nice chunk of hot smoked salmon. And it’s very tasty! I don’t know if this is a seasonal thing or just a new feature, but on this flight KLM also has fresh apple juice on offer, and it really is very tasty. It’s quite addictive actually!

After the meal I ask for a cup of mint tea, which is served with one of those Punselies biscuits.

Arrival

We land in Bergen just before 23h. It’s been a long day! Since my last visit the terminal building in Bergen has been significantly expanded. And with the expansion they’ve also extended the city’s tram line to the airport. As a result, there are now a number of options to get into town: a taxi will take about twenty minutes and costs a staggering NOK700. Then there’s the airport bus, which takes about the same amount of time as the taxi but only costs NOK110. And finally, the journey by tram will take about 45 minutes, but only costs NOK36.

I take the bus, mainly because I know from a previous visit that it stops right in front of my hotel.

Epilogue

So about the KLM crew on this flight: I return home from Bergen the following day, on Wednesday. As I step aboard the plane, I recognise the crew from the previous day. They’ve obviously night stopped in Bergen. The maître de takes a look at me and says ‘Mr. A., you’re back again. You know, I think you travel too much! Where are you sitting?’ I mean, I’m already surprised they recognise my face. But the fact that they both still remember my name is quite surprising.

Later on, as I disembark the plane in Amsterdam, the maître de wishes me a safe onward journey, while the younger one says good bye and asks me ‘I guess we’ll probably be seeing you again tomorrow or so?’

I must say, I’m quite exhausted from all my travels at this stage. And I’m so happy that I won’t be getting on a plane again until week after next. But I also have to say that it’s people like the crew on this flight that make such a difference. Of course they can’t replace your friends and family back home, but at least they can relieve some of the hassle of travel, by making you feel just a little bit less anonymous as the passenger.

KLM, gents: you were just brilliant. Thank you!

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

Introduction

On Tuesday afternoon I leave the office just before 16h. I’m catching the 16h01 train to the airport for a 17h30 departure with KLM to Amsterdam. It’s a lovely day here in Winterthur, with nice sunny weather and balmy temperatures. And apparently it’s been like this since last week. Which is more than I can say about my recent trip to Malta.

Check-in

I’ve checked in using the KLM app, which has been working a bit more reliably recently. If you’re using the KLM app, the boarding pass of your next flight with them will show up on your locked screen, so you can just swipe it at the gate. In Zürich, KLM checks in at row 2 of check-in 2.

Airside

Today I am certainly not going to visit the contractor lounge, because… yes! It’s so nice out that the terrace of the sports bar is open. There’s no service out there yet. Or rather, if you want something you have to order it at the bar and then take it outside yourself. But hey, I’m here for the view.

And it really is a lovely view. The aircraft come up really close to the terrace and as they apply thrust to move off stand, you get a glorious whiff of kerosene fumes. And as my luck will have it, the KLM flight arrives just a short while later and comes to a stop on the stand closes to the terrace!

Boarding

Boarding starts on time, at 17h00. There is a first boarding call for Business Class passengers, before everybody else is invited to get aboard.

The Cabin

There are six rows of Business Class, for a total of 24 seats. The cabin is not quite full though, and as a result I have a whole row of three all to myself.

I’m not sure if this applies to all seats, but on row 3, where I’m seated, there are two electricity plugs on either side of the middle seat.

The seat pitch is good. The one thing I don’t like though, is that the recline of the seat back, even in the upright position, is just a bit too slanted. I always feel like I’m half lying down and about to slide off the seat.

The Crew

There are two middle aged ladies working the Business Class cabin. As usual on KLM, they’re chirpy and chatty. One of them is a big fan of Switzerland, and has even picked up a few bits and pieces of Swiss German, much to the entertainment of the passengers as she tries out her language skills with the m as the board. It’s really quite funny, but in a very charming way.

Like Lufthansa, KLM does not provide any service on the ground. No welcome drinks or anything of the sort. The flight time is announced as 1 hour and 15 minutes, which means we should be arriving in Amsterdam at 18h55, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

The Meal

As soon as the crew is released, the service begins. Every passenger is served individually from the galley. The meal consists of:

A small plate of salad with chilli shrimps, served with olive oil.

A small ramekin of marinated vegetables and feta cheese with couscous – served with rolls from the breadbasket.

To be honest, my opinion of the meal is… meh. The shrimps have an off-putting fishy smell, the salad is limp and the dessert is what it is. KLM has been serving this type of dessert for years, and I don’t know why they bother trying to explain what it is on the menu, because whether it’s passionfruit mousse or raspberry coulis, it always tastes the same.

At least that’s my excuse for asking for some of those fabulous smoked almonds KLM caters. I love those, they’re seriously addictive. A bit like the Twistees I had on Air Malta on Sunday… I ask the flight attendant if perhaps I could have a packet. She saunters off and returns a short while later with five packets of the delectable almonds. Hurrah! I think it would be a shame to waste them… and rude to turn them down.

And so I spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle, snacking on almonds and enjoying the spectacular sunset we’re being treated to.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Amsterdam at 18h55, just as the pilot had announced in Zürich. But we’ve landed on 18R, so that by the time we reach our stand at gate C4, we’re running five minutes late! I now have two hours to make my connection.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: London Heathrow to Amsterdam

Introduction

Heathrow is having one of those days. The gusting winds mean there is more separation between the approaching aircraft, and as a result, everything seems to be running late – in some cases even as much as one hour or more.

The SkyTeam Lounge

In Terminal 4 KLM shares the Business Class lounge with some of its other SkyTeam partners, including China Southern, Korean Air and Aeroflot. I rather like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow. It’s got a modern and fresh feel to it, and the choice of hot and cold food is rather good.

This evening though, the lounge is full of unhappy Frenchmen. The Air France flight to Paris is running nearly ninety minutes late and passengers with connecting flights in Paris have already been informed that they’re likely not going to make their onward flights. Which of course is a merde.

Boarding

My flight is running slightly late as well. Boarding is scheduled for 19h55, which passes without the ground crew announcing that there’s going to be a delay. Eventually, at 20h30 boarding for the flight begins.

Tonight’s flight is being operated by an Embraer 175 of KLM Cityhopper. The flight is more or less sold out, which is why the ground crew are offering passengers to check in their baggage free of charge. I’m guessing this is the reason why eventually it takes us until 21h10 to finally complete the boarding process.

The Cabin

There are two rows of Business Class seats on this flight, although on KLM Cityhopper it’s difficult to tell the difference, seeing as both seats on the row of two are sold, even in Business Class. Luckily, I’m on 1A, and by the time boarding is completed, the aisle seat next to me is still empty.

The Crew

There are two young ladies working the flight today. They’re your usual KLM friendly cabin crew. What they lack in finesse, they certainly make up for with their genuine and unpretentious approach to dealing with passengers.

There is no service on the ground. The flight time to Amsterdam is forty-five minutes.

The Meal

No sooner has the main landing gear left the ground, the aircraft starts shaking and swinging around as though it were a feather. Even so, before the fasten seatbelt sign is even turned off, the crew start their preparations for the service.

A while ago, KLM updated the boxes and the meals that are serve in Business Class on the Cityhopper flights. I’m mean, it’s still a box. But even so, I still think it’s an improvement in that the new box seems bigger and more spacious.

Inside the box there is a falafel and hummus salad, two pieces of bread and butter and a dessert.

The salad is good and very light. I soak up the hummus with one of the breads provided with the meal and that is still warm. I don’t try the dessert.

Arrival

Very soon we start our descent into Amsterdam. The weather here is no better and we dip and roll violently on the approach. Eventually, after a flight time of only forty minutes, we touch down on the Polderbaan. From here it’s another ten minutes taxiing to the Cityhopper apron. By the time we come to a stop on our designated remote stand, it’s just gone 23h00 and we’re running thirty minutes late.

We enter the terminal, which is deserted at this time of night. At least that means it doesn’t take long for the bags to start arriving…

KLM Cityhopper, Economy Class – Fokker 70: curtain call

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Introduction

This post is not so much about the flight experience – after all, KLM has received its fair share of coverage here over the years. No, today marks the end of revenue service for the Fokker 70 with KLM Cityhopper.

I managed to take no less than 90 flights on this little aeroplane. I experienced one burst tyre and three rejected take-offs on the Fokker 70. And so I figured it might be nice to send this sturdy and reliable workhorse a last salute before the curtain call.

Today will be my 91st flight on the F70. It will probably also be my last.

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The Skyview Lounge

Fortunately, the Swissport lounge in Basel has an open air terrace from which you have some good views of the runway and the approaching traffic. It’s quite breezy this afternoon. But hey, it’s not every day you have to say farewell to an old friend…

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My flight arrives in Basel with a slight delay. As the aircraft turns off the runway it comes into earshot and I am greeted with the familiar whining sound of the Rolls Royce Tay engines. This is where it starts to dawn on me that I’m probably going to miss this noisy little bugger.

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Boarding

Most stands at Basel are open, which is of course good news for me. There is a buzz of excitement at the gate and most of the Dutch passengers on the flight today are aware of the fact that they are becoming a part of history by taking this flight. And so, rather than having to feel self-conscious about taking pictures, I actually find myself having to elbow my way in between the Dutch grannies to get a good spot.

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The Crew

The crew are obviously in a good mood and this last flight is a special event for them too. During the turnaround they can be seen walking around the aircraft taking pictures and selfies as a souvenir.

Once we’re on board, the captain comes on the speaker to welcome us to ‘the last Fokker 70 flight out of Basel with KLM. Ever.’ Apparently, our particular flight will do another short hop to Hannover later on, and that will then be it. It’s quite sad actually.

The Cabin

The one thing I think I will always remember about the F70 is the noise of the ventilation system, which sounds as though it were directly linked to the engines. When ever the engine thrust is increased, the volume of air being pushed through the ventilation system increases too, producing roughly the same effect you might achieve by turning on your hair dryer to full volume and pointing it directly at your ear from a distance of about 1 cm…

Other than that though, the cabin is in good condition. KLM has taken good care of these aircraft and the facelift the cabin received just a few years back certainly gave the Fokker 70 a new lease on life. 

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Arrival

We land in Amsterdam with a slight delay and are then treated to the grand tour of Amsterdam, otherwise known as a Polderbaan arrival. As we turn the corner, the Fokker Farm comes into view, which is apparently the colloquial term for the ramp on which the KLM Cityhoppers are usually parked. The other seven remaining F70s are already here too. The crew of one of the aircraft is just disembarking, all of them taking pictures. And as we pass them, they all send us a cheery wave.

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The usurper

Conclusion

And so comes to an end my farewell trip on the Fokker 70. The aircraft is being replaced in the fleet of KLM Cityhopper with the Embraer 175, which is definitely newer, quieter and probably more fuel-efficient than the old Fokkers. From a passenger’s point of view though, I think the Embraer 175 can hardly match the Fokker for comfort.

Later on the same day operations will come to an end with the arrival of the last Fokker 70 flight from London Heathrow. The British capital was deliberately chosen for the last flight because the very first international revenue service of a Fokker aircraft on behalf of KLM had also been to London, back in 1920. And then the Fokker 70 will be relegated to history.

Good bye Fokker 70. And thanks for all the memories!

http://news.klm.com/the-fokker-70s-final-commercial-flights/

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KLM, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Copenhagen to Amsterdam

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Introduction

Time to head back home to the sweltering heat and humidity that is summer in Switzerland. Still, it was nice to escape the heat for a few days and the forecast is that the weather will start to cool down again over central Europe anyway in a few days.

Getting to the Airport

The journey by train from Malmö to Copenhagen airport takes thirty minutes to complete and will set you back SEK150 for a second class, one way ticket. The trains run frequently and are quite reliable.

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I arrive at Copenhagen airport and the escalators taking me up from the platform spit me out right in the middle of Terminal 3. You know those moments we’ve probably all had, when you look at something and just think ‘what on earth were they thinking…’? That is very likely to happen to you at Copenhagen airport. Terminal 3 is the railway and metro station, Star Alliance check-in and arrivals all in one. As a result, the place is always crawling with people and it’s hard to get through, even if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.

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But at least the airport authorities have identified the problem and both Terminals 2 and 3 are currently in the process of expansion, making the airport look more like a building site than an aviation hub.

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Check-in

KLM operates out of Terminal 2 in Copenhagen. I’ve already checked in using the KLM app for the flight, so upon entering the terminal I can go straight through to security.

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KLM status cardholders are entitled to use the Fast Track at Copenhagen airport, which really is convenient as the lines for standard security are very busy.

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The Lounge

KLM uses the CPH Aviator Lounge, which is a contractor lounge. The lounge is divided into two areas. The larger area is to the left and looks very crowded. To the right there is separate lounge, which is slightly smaller and much quieter. It also has good views of the apron.

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The lounge is nice and the interior decorators were definitely tapping into that whole Scandinavian design vibe when designing it. There’s even a fake fireplace and mantle piece.

The food options are good too, with a wide selection of breakfast options – things like cold cuts, cheese, different types of bread and pastries.

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Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. Apparently the aircraft was already late coming in and with the full load on the in- and outbound, turning around is taking longer than anticipated.

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The Crew

I think this is the first time I have a crew that isn’t up to the usual KLM standards. It was bound to happen one day… One of the things that always strikes me about KLM is the professionalism of their crew and the level of standardisation they achieve in their on board product. But today’s crew just seem a bit out of it. The purser is more or less improvising with the delivery of the safety on board instructions and it shows. Which rather unfortunate of course, because if even the crew can’t be bothered enough to deliver the instructions properly and conscientiously, they can hardly expect the passengers to take them seriously…

Later on, once the service begins, the lady on the first row of Economy Class asks for a Coke with ice, to which the flight attendant initially replies that he has Coke but no ice. Later on though he does bring her to Coke with ice from the Business Class trolley, which gives the impression that he couldn’t be bothered initially but then changed his mind.

But at least the views outside are nice.

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The Meal

With a flight time of only one hour, the service consists of a small box containing a piece of buttery cake and a cup of still water. In addition, the crew make a separate drinks round.

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Arrival

Eventually we land at 13:20, with a few minutes delay. A while back Amsterdam overtook Frankfurt in terms of passenger numbers and to be honest, I think it’s starting to show. The terminal is seriously overcrowded and the C dock is definitely not wide enough to accommodate all the passengers passing through it. We shall see what happens.

Conclusion

Perhaps I am being persnickety (to use one of the favourite words of the valiant M.) in my criticism of the KLM crew on this flight, and I’m aware of the fact that none of the things they did and that I mentioned in this post are overly bad. I’ve certainly experienced much worse on other airlines. I think it’s just that, having gotten used to their reliable service over the years, it comes as a bit of a surprise to be confronted with a crew that is not up to the usual standard I’ve grown accustomed to from KLM.

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

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Date: 02 October 2016
Departure: 11:05
Arrival: 13:30
Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side – upgraded from 6A

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Car rental
Journey time: 45 minutes because we got lost…

I leave The Coul House at 08h40. The air up here is just so fresh that it really is a pleasure to just stand there inhaling a few breaths of the crisp, cool air. It must have been cold last night, because the windscreen is covered in a thin layer of ice where the night’s dew froze on the car.

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The sun is just coming up over the highlands. The valleys are still thick with fog, and as the sun rises higher in the sky, the light creates strange and beautiful illusions.

Check-in

Location: On the ground floor of the terminal, on your right as you enter the building.
Counters: There are two counters for KLM, one is the drop-off counter and the other is the SkyPriority counter for Business Class passengers and Platinum/Gold card holders.
Facilities: Counter check-in, self-service check-in, Web check-in via the KLM app.

By the time the car has been dropped off and I reach check-in, it is 09h45 and my flight is scheduled to depart in about one hour. There is a bit of a hold up at the SkyPriority counter because there are two guys checking in weapons.

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The Swissport Aspire Lounge

Type of lounge: Swissport Aspire contractor lounge.
Location: Near gate 3
Facilities: Comfortable sofas to sit on as well as other seating options, toilets are available outside the lounge.
Catering: A selection of hot and cold drinks and small breakfast snacks – things like Cornflakes or scones with clotted cream.
Wifi: Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge, the password is printed on the wall.

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To be honest, I am quite surprised they have a lounge at all here in Inverness. It is a nice place with good amenities. The view in particular is brilliant because you are at ground level and have excellent views of the ramp. The lounge is managed by an elderly gentleman and he really is brilliant. He is very chatty and quite funny actually, and makes passengers feel instantly welcome with his joking. He keeps a low profile in the lounge, and most of the time you do not even notice he is there, but somehow everything is cleared up straight away.

Boarding

Priority boarding is available. A separate call is made for Business Class passengers and Platinum members only, then for Gold and Silver members and eventually for everybody else. There is also a separate queue.

The scanner issues an alert as my boarding pass is scanned and the gate agent informs me I have been upgraded to Business Class again. It is quite surprising just how often that seems to happen on KLM these days.

I take my new pass and head out across the apron, taking pictures of the shiny chariot that will be taking me to Amsterdam this morning.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Pitch: 32 inches, which gradually decreases to 30 inches by row nine.
Width: 17 inches
Seat: There are two rows of Business Class on this flight. The seat next to me is kept empty. The seat on the Embraer 175 looks slightly different to that on the Embraer 190. Other than that though, it feels pretty much the same to sit in. On the first few rows the windows on the Embraer 175 are properly aligned with the passenger seats, so at least you have a good view of the outside. Towards the back though, the windows are increasingly unaligned. As a result, you end up either cranking your head back to look out through the window behind you, or sharing the window with the guy sitting in front of you, which is likely to give you tunnel vision…

The Crew

There are two crew working the cabin. The purser is a young man in his mid-twenties, I should say. The other is a young woman who seems younger. Both of them are very professional and friendly, just your typical bog standard KLM flight attendants basically, which is what I like about KLM.

Before the doors close, the young man comes by offering a selection of English, French, German and Dutch newspapers.

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The Meal

Type of meal: Lunch
Selection: Two choices for the sandwich
Service: Individual service – the meal is served in a box on the Cityhopper lights, which looks better than it sounds.

  1. Greek salad with feta cheese and pumpkin, with a mango chilli and lime dressing.
  2. Salmon and egg wrap with spinach and cream cheese.
  3. Tropical Pina Colada mousse with a lime topping.
  4. A selection of hot and cold drinks.
  5. After the meal I have a coke Zero, which is served with two packets of some really tasty almonds.
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Arrival

It is a lovely day for flying and the views outside are spectacular. After take-off from Inverness we head out onto the North Sea, and stay there pretty much until we hit the coast of the Netherlands. The weather in Amsterdam is pretty bad though and we are required to circle over the sea before eventually we are cleared to make our approach.

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In Amsterdam I have two hours to make my connection to Basel.

KLM, Business Class – Boeing B 737-700: Zürich to Amsterdam and onward to Frankfurt

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Introduction

Finally, I really thought the moment would never come. But it has – at long last, it is finally time for my summer vacation. I normally tend to head East for my longer excursions. And of course it is always interesting and exciting to experience new cultures and exotic locations. But it is also very tiring. That is why this year, I did not really fancy straying too far afield. And so I find myself heading West instead for a change. Obviously, taking the most direct route to my destination would have been the most sensible thing to do. But where is the fun in that, I ask you?

And so my journey begins with a set of positioning flights from Zürich to Amsterdam and then from there on to Frankfurt, both on KLM. I already have quite a few posts about ‘my friends in blue’ – as my colleague the Flying Dutchman refers to KLM – so I think we can skip introductions and keep things short and simple.

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The Cabin

There are three rows of Business Class on this flight, with a total of twelve seats. The middle seat is kept empty. Only seven seat are occupied this evening. I am on 1C, which is the aisle seat on the port side of the aircraft. Just a piece of advice: 1C sticks out quite far into the aisle, because the bulkhead is not quite as wide as the row of seats. While this certainly allows you to stretch you legs, it can also be slightly irritating after a while. Every time somebody walks past, you end up with the curtain brushing against your legs or in your face.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are excellent. They are very attentive and address every passenger by name, which I always find rather a nice touch.

The Meal

  1. Carrot gazpacho with parsley and shaved almonds.
  2. Spanish chickpea salad with beef bresoala, Kalamata olives and fresh herbs, served with a chilli and lime dressing.
  3. Orange mousse and chocolate ganache.
  4. Selection from the breadbasket, the crew make two rounds.
  5. Diet Coke.
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I am not really all that partial to smoked meats. To be honest I find them rather off putting most of the time. But apart from that, the meal is nice enough. Especially the gazpacho is well seasoned. Throughout the meal, the crew are very attentive and make sure to keep drinks replenished at all times.

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Transfer in Amsterdam

We approach the airport from the North, to make an approach for runway 18R. Amsterdam has three parallel runways with a North-South orientation and very often, like today, 18R and 18C are in use for simultaneous approaches, which always look really cool, I think.

I exit the aircraft into the C concourse. I do not think I have ever seen Amsterdam airport so deserted. Obviously, it is the holiday season and most people have already left on vacation. Even the Crown Lounge is pleasantly empty.

The flight to Frankfurt departs at 20h45 and is operated by an Embraer 190 of KLM Cityhopper. There are still quite a few empty seats on the flight, despite a fairly large group of passengers who are obviously returning from a cruise in Scandinavia.

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The flight time is announced as 40 minutes. Even so, every passenger is given a small box with a container of still water and some BBQ flavoured crackers.

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In Frankfurt KLM uses Terminal 2, which is basically used for all the non-Star Alliance traffic. I will be staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is located above the railway station for the mainline trains adjacent to Terminal 1. Access to the railway station and hotel is via a footbridge from Terminal 1.

Transfer in Frankfurt

There is a shuttle bus that takes passengers from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1. The first thing the smokers do upon exiting the terminal building is light up. As a result, the waiting area for the shuttle bus is constantly shrouded in a veil of heavy smoke. So instead of milling about with the chain smokers, I decide to walk across to Terminal 1. It is not really that far to walk, but the path is not clearly marked. Even so, walking at a leisurely pace it should not take more than 10 minutes to reach Terminal 1.