Today begins an extended period of travel for me. Some trips I will be taking by plane, whereas for others I will be taking the train. By the time I am permanently back home in Switzerland it will be the middle of February. This first leg to Amsterdam also marks my first flight on the KLM E 195-E2, and I have been geeking out about it all day with excitement!
Gettin to the Airport
The first part of my journey from Basel to Zürich is on one of the more recent acqusitions of the Swiss Federal Railways. The Dosto was built by Bombardier and is intended as a double decked composition with high speed tilting capabilities to accommodate the mountainous Swiss terrain. Too bad the technology is a complete and utter fail. The staff complain that their joints ache after working on the train for a whole day. And I know from experience that working on your laptop on this train can be treacherous. The constant jolts mean that you are very likely to accidentally open the wrong file or application…
But at least they look nice inside…
At Zürich HB I transfer to one of the many trains running to the airport. Zürich airport is still looking very festive.
The airport is surprisingly busy. There are two security lanes open for premium passengers, but the process is taking some time, mainly because there are families with kids ahead of me in both lanes.
I do not bother with the lounge a) because I do not have much longer to wait until boarding starts, and b) because KLM recently changed lounges in Zürich, and the new one is really nothing to write home about. Unless, of course, you enjoy sitting in a broom cupboard.
Boarding starts on time, and I am delighted that the DNATA staff strictly enforce boarding by zones.
When I step on board, the cabin lights are dimmed and set to a funky mood lighting in shades of pink and blue. It looks rather cool, I must say. Other than that though, I think some more brightness would be great, as passengers are struggling to find the seat numbers in the near-darkness of the cabin. The lights remain like this for the entire flight, except during take-off and landing, when they are turned off completely.
I am seated on row 3, which is one of the rows with extra legroom. The seat is very comfortable, and obviously a lot of thought has gone into maxing out the available space.
There are two power sockets for every pair of seats. There is an adjustable head rest with ears for support, and there is also a holder for iPhones and iPads for passengers to watch their own movies.
We push back from the gate at 17:31, on schedule. The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.
There are three crew on this flight. All three of them are quite young. None of them are overly friendly. However they are perfectly polite and efficient in their interaction with passengers.
The crew swiftly prepare the cabin for departure and turn off the funky disco lights as we mae our way to runway 28 for take-off.
The meal service consists of a cheese sandwich with Beemster and some spicy mayo. As I previously mentioned in another post, I think KLM’s European Economy Class sandwiches are really quite tasty, and I honestly prefer them to the content of those Business Class cardboard boxes any day!
To drink I have a cup of sparkling water.
Arrival in Schiphol
Somewhere along the way we must have taken a few short cuts, because we eventually land in Amsterdam after a flight time of only one hour and 15 minutes, bringing us into Amsterdam 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
We park on a remote stand and are then bussed to the terminal building. It is cold and windy here in Amsterdam.
This was another enjoyable flight with KLM, which is now one of only a few airlines left in Europe with complimentary catering in Economy Class. The E2 is nice, and in the KLM configuration it offers a lot of comfort and space. The mood lighting gives the cabin a very modern and funky appearance, and the crew obviously enjoyed trying out different settings. However, I wonder if perhaps it would speed up boarding and deboarding to have brighter lights on during the process…
Today I’m flying back home from Bogotà. Once I’m fully awake, I check my iPhone to find that my colleague, the excellent B, has sent me a Whatsapp message. And it’s one of those messages with a very angry smiley. You know, the one with the orange face and steam coming out of his nose. You see, in my last post on the flight from Paris to Bogotà I referred to the pasta, or should I say pâtes, in the picture below as ravioli. And the excellent B took umbrage, because apparently they’re not Italian ravioli but French ravioles. Trust my luck they happen to be a speciality from the excellent B’s home town, Valence, in France…
Of course, my inner foodie is telling me that it doesn’t really matter what you call those squishy, tasty little buggers – they’re just seriously delicious. Having said that, as a linguist I am compelled to agree with Winston Churchill, who argued that a man should always say what he means, otherwise he can never mean what he says. And a gentleman should always mean what he says. So there you have it.
I suppose my saving grace is that the excellent B is a Frenchman. In as much, his message to me simply includes a demand to correct my mishap, which I hereby do. If he were Italian, I’d probably have a dead horse’s head in my bed tomorrow…!
I can’t really say that I saw anything much of Bogotà, seeing as this was a work visit. What I can say though, is that the people here are really just so friendly. It’s quite heart warming, and even though I don’t actually speak any Spanish worth mentioning, and many of them don’t speak any English either, they’re easy to interact with, always helpful and generous to a fault.
Other than that, I certainly felt the 2800 metres altitude at which the city lies during my stay. Just going up a flight of stairs here has me out of breath and gasping for air. It’s quite disconcerting in the beginning. The one thing I honestly have to say I don’t like, is the food. If you’re not much of a carnivore and don’t enjoy overly greasy food much, you may want to pack a few boxes of crackers before you visit.
Getting to the airport
In Bogotà I am staying at the Hilton Garden Inn El Dorado, which is conveniently located five minutes away on foot from the course venue. The hotel runs a shuttle to the airport every hour on the hour, and the journey time is fifteen minutes.
International flights operate out of Terminal 1. Air France checks in on counters 42 through 48, which are located exactly opposite entrance number 7 to the terminal bulding.
There are two SkyPriority counters available. The young lady checks in my suitcase and hands me a voucher to visit the El Dorado lounge opposite gate 47.
The El Dorado lounge
The El Dorado lounge is a Priority Pass lounge. And from what I can tell, most of the guests in the lounge are there with their Priority Pass, not because they’re travelling on a Business Class ticket. The Priority Pass will get you entry into the lounge. But if you’re looking for grub and booze there’s a USD8.- surcharge. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother.
The lounge is a very odd, long shape. It’s gloomy and feels more like a factory canteen than a lounge. Normally there would be a buffet. But with Covid measures still in place in Colombia, there are two ladies behind a separation that are serving passengers.
I have rice and melanzane parmigiana, because that was the least meaty option – and it’s so disgusting. I mean, you can’t really screw up rice. But the melanzane…
The flying Dutchman and I spend a grand total of about seven minutes in the lounge. After that, we leave again and head for the Juan Valdez coffee shop to get some real food that does not taste like, look like and make you want to puke.
The views from the public lounge are also much better. It’s not everyday you get to see some of these babies below (at least not if you live in Switzerland).
KLM operates to Bogotà routing AMS-BOG-CTG-AMS, which means that there are Cartagena-bound passengers on the aircraft from Amsterdam, who then have to spend ninety minutes loitering about before continuing their journey for another hour to Cartagena.
Boarding starts rather unceremoniously, first boarding the passengers with Cartagena as their final destination, and then the passengers boarding in Bogotà for Amsterdam.
The cabin & seat
The cabin and seat configuration KLM has on the B 787-9 is nearly identical to that of Air France. Mostly, the differences are because of the branding. This time, I’m seated on 1K, so the opposite side from where I sat on the inbound from Paris with Air France.
Privacy on 1K is great, as there are no middle seats. However, behind the curtain is the toilet. Although I have to say this is not an issue during the flight and there are never any queues.
The menus, vanity kit and water are already on the seat when I arrive – together with the pillow and blanket.
The Bogotà to Cartagena service
The crew operating the flight to Cartagena is the same one that flew the inbound from Amsterdam. Even so, they’re still friendly and don’t look too worse for wear. While we’re on the ground there is a welcome drink service with a choice of champagne, water, apple juice or orange juice.
The flight time from Bogotà to Cartagena is one hour.
During the short flight the crew serve more drinks and a packet of nuts. This time I have the apple juice to drink.
Transit in Cartagena
As soon as we touch down in Cartagena, the aircraft’s window’s start fogging up with the humidity. It’s also a lot warmer here. In Cartagena passengers need to stay on board the plane while a security team searches the aircraft. The turn around is about one hour. I still manage to snag a few photos from the door. Cartagena international airport makes Heringsdorf airport look like a major international hub…
In Cartagena the crew changes. And I can tell this crew is having a bad day straight away. I couldn’t really say what it is. Perhaps they’re just tired and jetlagged, but they seem a bit dull and distracted.
Service on the Cartagena to Amsterdam leg
Once more a welcome drink is served on the ground.
After take-off there’s an aperitif service with some warm nuts, which are served in an incredibly ugly plastic cap that looks a bit like the lid you get when you order a Frappuccino – just without the hole in the middle. I mean, would it have been too much to ask for something a little more attractive…?
There are two choices for the starter. I go with the soup, which is served on a tray with butter and the salad. The salad contains peppers and palm hearts. During my stay in Colombia I was always careful not to eat anthing raw – and I make no exception on KLM with their catering.
Where Air France takes orders for the meal in order of passengers’ seniority as Flying Blue members, KLM just go row by row.
Only one round is made by the crew with the bread basket, which I think is just a bit shabby, to be honest.
Initially, when the tray arrived there was no dressing. That is served quite a while later, by which time I’m sure most passengers have already finished their salads.
For the main course there are three options, and so I go with the egg noodles with pak choy, and even the flying Dutchman agrees with me that the catering on this flight is really quite digusting and more or less inedible.
For dessert there is a choice of something sweet or cheese. But by this time, everything has take so long that I just give up. I only want to sleep and I’m pretty convinced I won’t miss much by skipping dessert.
The second service
Ninety minutes out of Amsterdam the crew serve breakfast. And here too there is a choice for the hot meal. I have the pineapple filled pancakes with mango and they really are beyond belief. They’re hard as a brick and near impossible to cut. There’s also a funky smell of burning plastic coming off them. There are only croissants in the bread basket, and again the crew only make one round.
To drink with that I have a coffee and orange juice.
And then to end the flight, the crew come through the cabin with the Delft houses.
Eventually we touch down in Amsterdam just after 11h00 in the morning, after a flight time just short of ten hours. Everything looks so colourful and lush here!
Schiphol is very busy when we land, and all the gates at the non-Schengen pier are occupied, which does not bode well if I’m to believe all the stories these last few weeks about the staff shortages at Amsterdam airport.
Indeed, the stories turn out to be true. But I’ll leave the description of my horrific transfer at Amsterdam for the next post…
All in all, this flight was a bit of a let down. The crew were clearly not feeling it and it showed. They were unfocussed and seemed distracted. Other than that, the food was so bad it was really unacceptable. And the routing via Cartagena unnecessarily make a long journey even longer. The only thing this flight has going for it, is that it departs from Bogotà and arrives in Amsterdam at a civilised time. The Air France flight to Paris doesn’t leave until after 23h00. Even so, if I ever have to visit Bogotà again, I would still consider the Air France flight for the return.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to regale you with yet another blog post of a brief hop from Basel to Amsterdam. And I’m also not going to go droning on about crap catering. No, this time I come in peace. And as a peace offering I bring a useful and constructive suggestion of how to make things better. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!
So yes, this morning at the a** crack of dawn I was already on my way, on a Saturday no less, to catch a flight to Amsterdam. I was sitting in Economy Class. On early morning flights KLM will offer its passengers a small sandwich, which is either filled with cheese or, as in my case, a boiled egg mix with mayo and herbs, dill.
In any case, two things struck my as I sat there really very much enjoying my egg sandwich: first, Air France KLM are one of the few remaining airlines in Europe that will give you complimentary food in short-haul Economy. And second (and more importantly) I became aware of the fact that I enjoyed this sandwich a lot more than I did my last Business Class meal on KLM Cityhopper.
I identified several reasons for this unexpected, and quite frankly shocking and very disturbing, turn of events. First is of course the fact that a small sarnie is a lot more convenient and easier to eat than having to juggle that stupid Business Class box on the tray of an Embraer jet, which is not all that big. Second, there is the issue of that horrible müsli and yoghurt combo which is simply impossible to eat while attempting at least a modicum of decorum…
Okay, moving on before this does inadvertently turn into another rant after all… So, my big idea was this: why does Air France KLM still serve passengers in Economy Class complimentary food? After all, Marie-Antoinette said that if the plebs can’t have bread, let them eat cake.
But seriously, my point is this: the sandwich that was offered in Economy Class today was far more superior to the dreaded Wandels box KLM throws at you in short-haul Business Class these days. Therefore, they should do away with that thing, and instead start serving these lovely sandwiches to Business Class passengers. Of course, this would then either mean not offering complimentary food anymore in the back of the bus, or at least drastically curbing what’s on offer.
Consider this blog post a time piece. It was written in a state of emotional turmoil and upset, but still is, I think, fair.
Transfer in Amsterdam
The transfer in Amsterdam could not be easier. When I arrive at the security checkpoint, coming off my flight from Dubai, the place is deserted. The fact that you don’t have to remove anything from your bags makes the process very swift.
To be honest, I had been expecting the worst. On a daily basis the Dutch newspapers are reporting on acute staff shortages as Schiphol airport: passengers having to queue for security for five hours, passengers passing out in the queue from exhaustion and others getting into a brawl to vent their frustration…
In any case, I just have enough time in the Schengen Crown lounge to post my trip from Dubai. And then I leave the lounge to make my way to the B pier, where my flight should be boarding for Basel at gate B 36, starting at 08h00.
You’d think I’d know better. The B pier is crawling with passengers. Only once I finally manage to find a place to sit, do I bother to check on the location of my aircraft – it’s not at the gate. Crap, it looks as though the aircraft won’t be arriving from Stavanger until until 08h06, so after it should start boarding.
But never mind, I have a window seat. All is good. Eventually, boarding starts at 08h30, the original departure time. The last passengers arrive and the crew close the L1 passenger door. Next, the pilot comes on the mic to inform passengers that “due to staff shortages at Schiphol”, we were still waiting for catering to come and remove the trolleys from the Stanvanger flight and to replace them with the catering for our flight. And so we wait…
Evnetually, we take off at 09h10, forty minutes behind schedule. Which is not too bad considering the two hours delay on my way from Paris to Dubai.
You delayed the flight for this…?
There are two rows of Business Class on the flight this morning. With only three passengers that means that we all get a whole row of two to ourselves. I’m on 1F. The crew pass through the cabin handing out the dreaded European Business Class meal box. KLM has taken the Covid pandemic as an opportunity to abolish bread rolls from its European catering. Instead, there is a larger plastic container with fruit, and another with what the menu describes as “scrambled egg” with smoked salmon. And then there is the granola mix with plain yoghurt.
I guess we can negotiate the fruit. But the main dish? I mean, KLM’s European catering has always leaned towards the adventurous, but this is where I draw the line. The scrambled egg is more of a curried egg salad and mainly tastes of mayonnaise and fish – from the salmon. I think we’ll skip that. And that brings me to the healthy option.
Whoever designed this box? So, KLM will give you a plastic container with granola (exhibit a) and a second container with the plain yoghurt (exhibit b). The main idea, of course, is to prevent the granola from getting all soggy. Only, there are two problems here. First, there’s no point in keeping the granola and the yoghurt separate because there’s not enough liquid in the yoghurt for that. And second, there’s way more granola in exhibit a than there is room for in exhibit b. So I gingerly attempt to pour just a bit of the contents of exhibit a into exhibit b and proceed to make a complete and utter mess. There’s granola everywhere, even on me. I try to mix the granola with the yoghurt as a precaution, to avoid asphyxiation by granola. But honestly, eventually I just give up. But at least KLM now has wooden cutlery, which is of course a lot more sustainable than the plastic the whole meal is poured into…
Oh yes, and the menu says that the crew will distribute additional items of catering during the flight. Depending on the time of day, this may vary. We get a carrot, pumpkin and mango smoothie which, quite frankly, I wish I’d never opened. I wonder if anybody at KLM ever bothered to try this before unleashing it on its unsuspecting customers?
Eventually we land in Basel with twenty minutes delay. I’m so glad to be home, everything looks so green and lush!
This time, we park in the French sector, so at least there are no long queue for immigration. At Basel airport the rules changes so often and so quickly that you’re never quite sure what to expect when you land.
For some reason our flight is not showing up on the arrivals screen, which makes it kind of difficult to know which belt the luggage will be arriving on. The Air France luggage is being delivered on belt 4, so I figure that’s where the KLM luggage will arrive to – which it does eventually.
KLM and Schiphol airport have been very busy playing the blame game these last few days. Unfortunately, as these thing usually happen, their petty little strife is being played out on their customers’ back. I’m willing to believe that the airport authority in Amsterdam is trying to save money by rostering less staff at the security checkpoints. But the staff shortage that resulted in the late delivery of the catering had nothing to do with that. Catering is the airline’s responsibility, not the airport’s.
Other than that, as you may have guessed, I was not amused by the food that was served on this flight. There’s no need to make a big thing out of it, as I had enough food on the flight from Dubai and ample time to gorge myself in the lounge, if I’d wanted to. The fact that they no longer serve bread rolls is unfortunate, but no biggie either. However, what I find more problemantic is that those vile little boxes of… food have now become the standard also on KLM’s mainline fleet. And that is a mistake. Even BA can do better!
The airlines and airports around the world, not just KLM and Amsterdam, are relentlessly lamenting in the media the dire state of their staff shortages. As a result, they’re having to cancel flights and thin out their schedules with seemingly little consideration for the disruption they cause to passengers. While I can see that these shortages are quickly becoming something the travelling public is going to have to deal with, I do wonder just exactly who the airlines and airports think they have to blame for this misery? Furthermore, what I find particularly annoying is that they have the gall to shamelessly deliver their sob stories in the wake of literally billions in tax payers’ money that was given to them without even as much as a thought to how they would repay these “loans” and what they would use them for.
KLM, I know you read my blog. And I’m still one of your greatest fan. Be that at is may, you really need to pull your socks up. And I mean presto!
When I originally booked this trip, my return was supposed to be on the Air France flight from Dubai back to Paris. However, an aircraft change meant that instead of the classy B 777-300ER in the reverse herringbone configuration, Air France would be sending one of the aircraft they normally deploy on the holiday routes to France’s overseas territories. Those aircraft do not have a La Première cabin and are equipped in a rather unpleasant and outdated two-three-two configuration, which means that you unavoidably end up climbing over somebody, or getting climbed over. So I decided to rebook to the KLM flight, which leaves around the same time. That flight is operated by a Boeing B 777-200 in a two-two-two configuration. I’ve selected a seat on the middle row of two, which means I will have free access to the aisle and nobody clambering over me in the middle of the night. And it’s been a while since my last trip on a KLM widebody. So there is that too.
I arrive at Dubai’s Terminal 1 at 23h00. Air France KLM check in on row 1. The terminal is very quiet this evening, with just my KLM flight, the SWISS flight to Zürich and a Syrian Arab Airlines flight to Damascus preparing to depart.
There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers for check-in. I can walk up to a counter immediately, where a friendly young man checks me in and tags my suitcase all the way to Basel.
Emigration is a bit of a mess. At the entrance a vapid young lady is sending all passengers in the direction of the smart gates, clearly oblivious to the fact that you need to have a biometric passport for that to work. As a result, the whole process is a mess, as half the passengers have to be turned away and pointed in the direction of a manned counter. Still, the advantage is that it spreads out the distribution of passengers in the queue for security, which is swift and really painless. Behind security I take the metro to the D gates.
The Dubai SkyTeam lounge
The SkyTeam group of airlines have their own lounge in Dubai. It’s actually a really nice place and looks a lot like the SkyTeam lounge in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 – including the living wall. Although here in Dubai, judging by the many gaps in the wall, it’s more like a half dead wall.
Inside the lounge there is a large buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes. Perhaps just a word of warning here though for the vegetarians among us. Non-meat options are seriously lacking in this lounge.
Just after midnight I leave the lounge and head for gate D17, where boarding should be starting at 00:10.
Boarding is something Air France KLM do really well, and this evening’s flight is no different. After passengers with young children and other disabilities, it’s the turn for zone 1, which is Business Class passengers.
The general appearance of the cabin is nice. It has aged well and looks as though KLM takes good care of the aircraft. The twin seats on the window rows are angled to point outwards. The row of two in the middle is angled to the right in the direction of travel. I can’t say I’m a fan of this seating configuration, although I guess it is nice that having angled seats means that they are not fully adjacent. The seat to my left is slightly further back for a bit more privacy.
The seat is not really very practical. There is little storage space and what storage space there is, is rather inconveniently placed behind the seat.
When I arrive at my seat, there is a nice large pillow, a blanket, the vanity kit, menus, and a bottle of still water.
In future I think I’m only going to fly Emirates to the UAE, by merit of the fact that they have departures back to Europe at civilized hours of the day. In contrast, most of the European airlines depart from Dubai at the most ungodly hours of the night. And KLM is no different. We push back at 00h55 and honestly, I just want to sleep. But instead I have to keep my seat upright while we taxi for twenty minutes to the active runway.
As soon as the landing gear leaves the ground I don the earplugs and shades and extend the seat into a lying position. By the time I drift off to sleep I think we probably haven’t even passed 10’000 feet yet. And then I sleep for nearly five hours.
The seat is comfortable enough in the lying position, and the pillow and blanket make for a pleasant rest.
About ninety minutes out of Amsterdam the lights come on and the crew start a leisurely breakfast service for those passengers that are already awake. The breakfast is quite extensive and includes all the items on the menu. And it’s rather tasty as well.
We land in Amsterdam at 05h50, five minutes ahead of schedule. We taxi to our stand at E3, at the beginning of the E pier. On my way to security I have the opportunity to take a few potos of the mighty B 777 that brought me here.
Security in Amsterdam is a breeze. There are hardly any transfer passengers on my flight. It also helps that you don’t need to remove any items from your bag or any pieces of clothing to pass through security. Why can’t all airports be like this?
The dreadful departure time aside, this was another pleasant flight with KLM. The crew were very friendly and professional and the quality & quantity of the meal were very good, much better than I had expected actually. Normally, catering ex Dubai tends to be not all that good. On the down side, the seat KLM currently has installed on the B 777-200 is not so good. The angled position gives you the feeling of constantly having to compensate how you sit to face in the direction in which you’re moving. Furthermore, the seat is tight and the storage space is limited and very inconveniently located. There’s also very little privacy. Luckily, KLM has already announced that they will gradually refit these aircraft with the reverse herringbone they have installed in the B 787. And it’s about time too, because the current product is getting old.
As for Dubai, I think I see problems looming on the horizon. At a glance, I’d say Dubai has definitely lost its luster. Dubai has always tried to position itself as a premium destination. But to all good intent, it’s now just another mass tourism spot for deranged people who think it’s healthy to lounge by the pool all day in plus 40 temperatures. And quite frankly, some of them have the cultural sensitivity of a bulldozer.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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…
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?