Helvetic Airways, Business Class – Fokker F100: Zürich to Luxembourg

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Introduction

I’m in my second week of a five-week travel marathon. I was in Luxembourg last week. Today I shall be heading in the same direction again, before continuing farther afield on Tuesday. It’s Easter Monday and the sun has finally decided to make an appearance after a really nasty and long spell of cold and grey over central Europe.

I’ve decided to do a trip report of this leg for two reasons. First, because I haven’t ever posted on Helvetic’s Fokker F100. Given how old these aircraft are, I probably better get this out of the way sooner rather than later, while they’re still in service. Secondly, so far I’ve only ever experienced the Business Class breakfast service on the flight to Luxembourg. So I’m curious about what SWISS will dish out for ‘dinner’.

Getting to the Airport

I catch the train from Basel’s Swiss station at 14h33, which arrives in Zürich main station at 15h26. From there I have a train to the airport at 15h37, which should get me to the airport just before 16h00. Roughly one hours before boarding for the flight begins.

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Check-in

I’ve checked in using the SWISS app as usual. The boarding pass still won’t show up on my locked screen and SWISS still doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to change that. Am I the only one who finds that a bit irritating?

Airside

The airport is quite busy. Although mostly it’s shoppers taking advantage of the airport’s convenient opening hours during the public holiday. There’s a bit of a queue for security, but all in all, the whole process is fairly smooth.

In case you’re wondering, there are currently no SWISS lounges in the Schengen area in Zürich. Apparently they’re closed for refurbishing and expansion. I’m not sure what to think of how SWISS is handling the issue though. They’ve set up a small desk in front of where the lounges used to be. From what I overheard one of the evicted lounge dragons telling one passenger, you have two options. You can either try the Aspire or DNATA lounges. Although the understanding is that passengers of other carriers have priority over SWISS’s. Or, if those lounges are full, you can request a voucher for a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants in the terminal.

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Boarding

We’re boarding from gate A55, which means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand, away from the terminal. It also means I will get a chance to take a few pictures of my chariot. The downside is that gate A55 is in a building that was initially put there as an interim solution but which later on they somehow forgot to tear down again. Because of the limited space, before boarding begins all the passengers are herded into a holding pen like sheep. And there they wait until the bus arrives.

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The Cabin

Apparently, my aircraft for today’s flight is now 25 years old. But I have to say, time and some serious TLC have obviously been kind to this old bird. Of course, you notice small things, like the overhead panel and the fixtures for the overhead lamp or the air vents, which look dated. But apart from that, the cabin is neat. The seats are dark grey, which contrasts nicely with the read curtain in the front of the cabin. The crew’s uniforms have the same combination of grey and red, and the ensemble really does look quite fetching.

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The seating configuration is 2 + 3, with the middle seat on the row of three kept empty. I am on 1F, which is the window seat on the bulkhead row of three. Fortunately for me though, the middle and the aisle seats both remain empty, so I can really spread out. Other than that, the seats are also pretty old school, which essentially means you get some decent padding and a very comfortably flight!

There is no cabin divider between the Economy and Business Class sections. The same goes for the Embraer 190 operated by Helvetic as well as SWISS’s CSeries.

But apart from all that, I think what really impresses me most, is the noise. Or rather the lack thereof. It’s quite amazing. Even when the pilot applies full thrust for us to take off, up front you cannot hear the engine noise at all.

The Crew

The cabin crew consists of two young ladies and they really are excellent. This is one of the friendliest crews I’ve encountered in a long time. Although, having said that, my experience recently has been that the Helvetic crews tend to be better than the SWISS ones.

Once the doors are closed, the service begins with the distribution of the packed refreshing towels and a small bottle of still water. As the lead flight attendant comes through the cabin distributing the water and towels, she addresses every passenger individually by name and wishes them a pleasant flight. Blimey!

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Our taxi out to the active runways is short, given that we’re parked on a stand adjacent to runway 28. The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

The Meal

No sooner has the crew been released that the meal service begins. I rather like the way the meal is presented in three small ramekins. The first contains some sort of chicken curry salad with melon and almond flakes. The second is a vegetable omelette with cherry tomatoes. And the third one is the dessert. It’s a kind of panna cotta with orange slices and pieces of chocolate sponge cake. And I suspect a bit of Cointreau. It’s rather nice! To drink with that, I have a Coke Zero.

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Arrival

The flight is so short that there isn’t even enough time for the crew to come through the cabin with the obligatory Swiss chocolate before we land. So instead, as passengers disembark the aircraft upon arrival, the captain himself is standing by the door, wishing everyone good bye and holding the basket with the chocolates. It’s only a small but rather charming gesture.

Austrian Airlines, Economy Class – Fokker F 100: Munich to Vienna

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Transfer in Munich

Transferring in Munich is easy enough. My flight to Vienna will be leaving at 19h25 and is boarding from gate G 38.

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Boarding

Available but a bit useless. The first boarding call is for Business Class passengers and Senators only, which seems a bit superfluous given that a bus will be taking us to the aircraft. So priority basically means that you get to choose the best seats on the bus…

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 3
Seat: 15A, window seat on the row of two. The seat looks rather nice and the dark colours give the cabin a very classy appearance. It looks as though Austrian has refurbished its F 100s. The overhead bins for example have a much more modern look and feel compared to KLM’s F 70s. Having said that, the capacity of the overhead bins is limited in comparison to KLM. And as a result, this being a full flight, passengers and crew are having difficulties finding enough space in the cabin to store the copious amounts of luggage people have carted on board.
Pitch: 30 inches.
Width: 17 inches.

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The Crew

There are three female cabin crew on this flight. And to be honest, all three of them exude the warmth and charm of a corpse. The most senior one of the three witches of Eastwick is standing at the door to welcome passengers as they board. At least that is what I think she should have been doing. But in actual fact she is standing there eyeballing the passengers with this serious couldn’t-give-a-fuck expression on her face. She also seems to have lost her ability to speak somewhere along the way. I say ‘hello’ when she looks at me and I all I get in return is another glare and silence. Oh yes, she’s definitely a really class act this one.

The Meal

The meal consists of a small packed of savoury biscuits and a cup of still water.

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Arrival

Fortunately, our flight time is only 40 minutes and we land in Vienna right on time at 20h20. Unfortunately, it is going to be yet another bus to the terminal. I wait for all the other passengers to disembark before I get up to collect all my stuff and put on my coat. Obviously, by this time the bus is completely packed. There are still passengers standing around on the apron trying to figure out where to sit. And that includes me. Not that the crew or the bus driver could give a shit.

Getting to the Hotel

I shall be leaving Vienna again fairly early tomorrow morning, so I will not bother to go into the city. The NH Hotel is located just a short distance from the terminal and is easily accessed via the subway that leads to the airport’s railway station. Just follow the signs marked ‘Hotel’.

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Conclusion

Lufthansa, whatever happened to you? I mean, I know it has been a while since my last intra-European flight with the Lufthansa group. Even so, I really am quite amazed at how service standards have deteriorated – even by Economy Class standards. On the Lufthansa flight from Luxembourg to Munich the crew were anonymous and completely exchangeable, there was nothing about them that made you think ‘ah yes, this is what I like about Lufthansa’. And I assume that is probably because it is not even really Lufthansa anymore. The aircraft was branded as Lufthansa Group and an announcement was made that apparently the flight was operated by Germanwings. God who pays the crew’s salary. The overall effect though, is of a totally soulless and undefined carrier that really does not in any way stand out from the competition and probably even looses in some areas, like inflight service, when compared to operators like Easyjet.

And Austrian Airlines are simply bizarre. I just do not understand. Their crews are like the aeronautical equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On long-haul flights I find that Austrian Airlines really shines and its crews are something else. But on European short-haul they just suck very much.

A while back I abandoned Lufthansa and Miles & More, mainly because I could achieve Platinum status with Air France and Silver status with British Airways with only half the effort it takes to remain a Senator. Unfortunately, my experience with Lufthansa and Austrian on these two short flights did nothing to make me want to reconsider and return to the fold.

So long Lufthansa, it was nice while it lasted but all good things must come to an end…

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Fokker F 70: Haugesund to Amsterdam

Introduction

You may, perhaps, be wondering where on earth Haugesund is. It is a small town located more or less halfway between Stavanger and Bergen in Norway. I am in Haugesund with the tall and blond M. to visit a business partner who lives and works just outside town.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Car rental
Journey time: About two hours
Haugesund lies due north of Stavanger. The journey by car is very scenic and takes you along the coast. To get from Haugesund to Stavanger you need to take through three road tunnels that go under wanter. The tunnels are between four and six kilometres long, the deepest one we passed through was 228 metres below sea level! Possibly the freakiest thing I have ever seen is that one tunnel even has a roundabout in it where two independent tunnels merge…!

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You will also need to take a ferry. The journey takes approximately thirty minutes to complete. I am not sure if there is actually a schedule or if the boats just run on an ad hoc basis. The price for one car and two adults is NOK206. The ferries have excellent facilities, clean toilets, a self-service restaurant offering hot and cold dishes, and plenty of space to sit.

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Check-in

Location: Departure area on the ground floor. Arrivals and departures are on the same level landside. Airside departures are one floor up.
Facilities: Check-in machines, Web Check-in, dedicated Air France / KLM counters.
Counters: One counter for SkyPriority passengers and two counters for all other travellers.

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Airside

KLM does not provide a lounge in Stavanger. And as far as I know, there is no other lounge in the terminal either. However, two floors up from the check-in area there is a semi self-service restaurant serving typically Norwegian fare and which also offers excellent views of the apron.

So we order ourselves two plates of meatballs in some brown sauce with boiled potatoes and mashed peas, park ourselves in front of the window and settle in to watch the world go by.

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Stavanger plays an important role in Norway’s booming oil industry. The airport serves as a hub for the many operators that fly personnel out to the oilrigs in the Atlantic. Bristow’s Helicopters is obviously the most important operator out of Stavanger and it is rather interesting to watch the mix of commercial fixed wing and rotary wing movements at the airport. They even have a dedicated helicopter terminal.

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Boarding

We wait to watch our aircraft land safely and taxi to the gate, before eventually we decided it is time to head one floor down for security. The place is fairly quiet, despite the fact that there are quite a few flights leaving, including an Icelandair B 757 parked next to us.

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Apparently the flight is severely overbooked, and so I end up being upgraded again. Instead of 8C I shall now be sitting on 5A, which is a window seat on the last row of Business Class. To be honest, they should not really have bothered. I mean, it is not as though I am going to eat again, having just had a full meal on the ground. Still, being in Business Class means I have the seat next to me empty and have a lot more space to spread out and sprawl.

The Cabin

If it is all the same to you, I shall spare you yet another description of the new KLM Cityhopper seat. As I already mentioned above, in Business Class the seat next to you is always kept empty. Which means that on the row of two you can sit on either the aisle or the window seat. On the row of three seats, the middle seat is kept empty to provide some extra space between you and your neighbour.

The Crew

The service is provided by two smart Dutch young ladies. With most of the passengers being male oilrig workers fresh off a platform stuck out in the Atlantic, the two flight attendants can hardly complain of not getting enough attention. In fact they look slightly uncomfortable.

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The Meal

  1. Mixed salad and sun-dried tomatoes with pepper jack dressing.
  2. A choice of vegetarian (falafel wrap with curried hummus, cucumber and bell pepper) or non-vegetarian (club sandwich with chicken, served with potato crisps) sandwich wrap.
  3. Quark mousse with strawberry topping.
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Arrival

We arrive in Amsterdam on time. I know have 40 minutes to make my connection to Basel. Only two more days at work and then finally, I shall be off on holiday.

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Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Fokker 70: Vienna to Basel

Transfer in Vienna

I have one hour before my flight to Basel departs. Fortunately there are not that many people at the airport and so I manage to quickly clear immigration and security. Since my last visit to Vienna last summer, they appear to have improved the signage. Or maybe it is just me and I am getting used to the place. Even so, I really cannot help but wonder who on earth designed this facility? It does not even feel like an airport. Instead, the narrow aisles and long corridors give the impression of walking aimlessly in the Ministry of Truth. You turn the corner and expect to find yourself standing by the door to room 101. The worst thing in the world.

The Lounge

Location: Uhm, good question. Just follow the signs for the G gates and then you should find the lounge. There is a common entrance to the lounge. The Business Class area is to the left and the Star Gold section is to the right.
Type of Lounge:
Austrian Airlines Business Class lounge.
Facilities:
Business centre, toilets in the lounge, no showers, a small selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks, newspapers and magazine.
Internet:
Wifi is available throughout the terminal building. No password required.

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What with it being Easter Sunday, the lounge is fairly quiet. There are only a few people here and there. The food options are somewhat limited, not that I am hungry after all the food we were served on the plane.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: Boarding is from Gate F 13, which is the same gate at which my flight from Narita arrived. In fact the aircraft is still standing there. In any case, our aircraft for the short hop to Basel is parked at a remote stand, so we are having to take a bus to the aircraft.

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When eventually the bus pulls up on a remote stand, I am surprised to find there has been an aircraft change and instead of the scheduled Dash-8-400, the flight will now be operated by the larger Fokker 70. I take my time to get on board the aircraft – I am sitting at the very front anyway – which gives me the chance to take a few pictures of my aircraft and watch the other action on the ramp.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2
Seat: European style Economy Class seating, with the adjacent seat being kept empty in Business Class.
Pitch: 30’.
Width: 17’.
Facilities: Reading lamp, air vents.

There are two rows of Business Class on today’s flight and there are only two passengers. Seating on the Fokker 70 is 2 + 3, although on Austrian Airlines the adjacent seat is kept empty to provide more space. Thus, on the left hand side, the two-seater, the aisle seat is blocked, while on the right hand side, the middle seat in the row of three is blocked.

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Just a word of warning: on Austrian Airlines’ Fokker 70 you should try to avoid sitting on row 1 because while the pitch is the same as in the rest of the aircraft, not being able to stick your legs under the seat in front seriously limits leg space.

The Crew

There are two cabin crew on the flight. They seem friendly enough, but they are not exactly gushing. But I do not think it is a question of them just doing the job and nothing else, they just both seem very reserved.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: None.
Hot towel before the meal: None.
Pre-meal drink:
None.
Choice:
None.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Snack.

  1. Fish in a batter, on potato salad, corn salad and tomato.
  2. Selection from the breadbasket.
  3. Chocolate mousse with cherries.
  4. Milka Easter Bunny.
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The contrast in service between Austrian Airlines’ long- and short-haul operations never quite seizes to amaze me. While the meals on the flight from Tokyo to Vienna were opulent, on this short-haul flight to Basel service is kept to the absolute minimum.

One way or another, the meal is quite tasty. Especially the chocolate mousse is delicious and rich.

Arrival

Our routing takes us past lake Constance and north of Zürich airport to approach Basel airport from the east. You can see the airport below on the right hand side of the aircraft. Approaches are from the south this afternoon, which means we continue for a short distance past the airport heading west, before eventually doing a left turn and heading south, away from the airport. Two more left turns later and we are lined up for the approach pointing north. I like this approach because it means we will be coming in over the city of Basel. Fortunately the weather has cleared and it is a beautiful afternoon.

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Conclusion

That was fun. Admittedly, it was rather a short trip but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it. This was now my sixteenth visit to Japan and I still have not had enough yet. What I did notice about myself on this trip is that the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese and their culture no longer have the power to intimidate or confuse me. What I do not know, is whether this is due to the fact that the Japanese are becoming more relaxed in their dealings with foreigners or if perhaps I have simply become accustomed to their ways.

KLM, Business Class – A 330-200: Basel via Amsterdam to Montreal

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Introduction

Normally I make a point of arriving at the airport about two hours before departure – just in case. But I have now been travelling for five weeks – sixteen flights later and to be quite honest, I think I have had enough. Besides, this is Basel airport, so it is quite enough for me to arrive just over one hour before departure.

I am on my way to Montreal for another visit to ICAO. I am flying via Amsterdam, as usual. The only difference being – and it really does give me quite a pang to have to accept it – that the flight is no longer operated by the mighty MD-11 and has been transferred to the Airbus A 330.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Bus line 50
Departs from: Outside the main entrance to Basel’s Swiss railway station on the station square.
Frequency: Every 10 minutes.
Journey time: 15 minutes
Fare: CHF5.60

Check-in

Location: In the French sector
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and counters
Counters: Check-in for all KLM flights is done by Air France at Basel airport.

There is a fast track for security if you are a status card holder or travelling in Business Class. But the boarding pass scanner is only able to read the bar code on the boarding passes printed at the counter. Passbook and online check-in boarding passes will not gain you access to the fast track.

The Skyview Lounge

Location: Near gate 44, where the terminal forks for the non-Schengen area – there is no lounge in the non-Schengen sector.
Type of Lounge:
Swissport Skyview lounge
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, bar, work stations, hot and cold snacks.
Internet:
Free wifi is available, no password is required but you must provide your details when you log in.

Passengers flying with KLM are entitled to use the lounge, Air France passengers are not because the flights from Basel to Paris are treated as domestic services.

Boarding

There are two lines for boarding and a dedicated queue for SkyPriority passengers. Inevitably nobody bothers to take the right queue and priority is not enforced either.

The Cabin

Aircraft: Embraer 190
Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: It is the standard European Economy Class seat with one of the seats on every row left empty. There are two rows of Business Class.

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I am the only passenger flying Business Class on today’s flight, so I have the entire cabin to myself. The Embraer is a strange plane. On the one hand, I rather like the layout and design of the cabin, which feels a lot more modern than that of the Fokker 70, which KLM also operates on this route. On the other hand though, the seat is not particularly comfortable. I always find that the seat is too low. As a result, my legs usually start to ache after just a short while.

The Crew

The service in Business Class is done by the lead flight attendant, who seems friendly enough. In total there are two cabin crew on the flight.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Bottle of still water
Pre-meal drink:
With just me in the cabin, the crew take things at a leisurely pace. There is even time for a drink before the meal. I have a Diet Coke and some of those tasty smoked almonds.
Choice:
Vegetarian sandwich (cheese) or beef sandwich
Delivery:
Cardboard box
Type of meal:
Light lunch

  1. Cheese sandwich.
  2. Mixed salad with mozzarella pearls.
  3. Speculatius crumble for dessert.

The meal is tasty and perfectly adequate for the duration of the flight.

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Transfer in Amsterdam

I enter the terminal building at around 13h20. I now have slightly less than two hours to make my connection to Montreal.

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I already have the boarding pass for my flight to Montreal and my suitcase has been checked through as well. My flight will be leaving from the D gates, passed immigration. The immigration counters are located next to the stairs leading up to the KLM Schengen Crown Lounge and the C gates.

At immigration there are machines available for travellers with biometric passports, but from what I understand, these may only be used by holders of a European Union passport.

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The KLM Crown Lounge

Location: The non-Schengen Crown Lounge is located above the F gates, if you are walking at a leisurely pace it may take you about ten minutes to reach the D gates.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated KLM lounge.
Facilities:
Showers, bathrooms, quiet rooms, work stations, hot and cold snacks, bar.
Internet:
Free wifi, the code changes daily and is displayed in various locations throughout the lounge.

Amsterdam airport is currently undergoing modification and extension. As a result, most of the windows in the lounge have been covered over to mask the constructions site.

Boarding

The boarding pass shows a boarding time of 14h15, which is exactly one hour before departure. This is due to the fact that passengers will have to undergo a further security screening before entering the holding area of the gate. If you arrive at the indicated boarding time, you usually end up having to queue quite a bit. So it is better to arrive about thirty minutes prior to departure, when most passengers are already in the holding area.

There is a dedicated queue for security for SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. The actual boarding normally starts about thirty minutes before departure with a call for Business Class passengers and then families with children.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2.
Seat: KLM currently offers three different Business Class products on its wide-body fleet. There is the new fully horizontal life-flat, which is only installed on the Boeing B 747-400. Although from what I understand this seat is about to be introduced to the B 777 fleet as well.

And then there is the angled lie-flat seat installed on the Boeing B 777-300 and the Airbus A 330-300. If I am not mistaken, this is pretty much the same seat Air France has installed in its wide-bodies right now.

And finally of course, there is the old angled seat on the Boeing B 777-200 and the Airbus A 330-200, which is what I shall be travelling in today. This seat is really passed it. It is comfortable enough to lounge in but it can be a tad difficult to sleep in unless you really are completely exhausted. It is the same seat KLM used to have on the MD-11 until she was decommissioned. But somehow, on the A 330 it just seems very dated. Legroom on the first row is very good, but nowhere near as good as on the MD-11.
Facilities: Reading lamp, power outlet, noise cancelling earphones.

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Upon entering the cabin, there is already a blanket and a pillow at every seat. Menus are distributed after departure. Luckily enough for me, the seat next to me is one of the few to remain empty on today’s flight.

The Crew

As usual with KLM, the cabin crew are quite senior and very professional. In short succession one flight attendant comes to hang up my coat before I am offered a welcome drink and a vanity kit. There are different kits for men and women. For a welcome drink there is a choice of sparkling wine, beer, orange juice and still water.

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We push back on time. We shall be departing from runway 18L today and there is a queue of six aircraft ahead of us and another six behind us. As we taxi out, I look across to KLM’s huge MRO facility on the other side of the field. And that is when I suddenly catch a glimpse of her, standing quietly in the shadows. The last time I flew to Montreal it was the might MD-11 that carried me there. Such fond memories… Oh Audrey, Maria, Florence; we could have been happy together…how could you desert me like that?

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice
Hot towel before the meal: The scented hot towels KLM has on offer in Business Class are truly excellent, much better than those flimsy little things BA offers in First.
Pre-meal drink:
Another fresh orange juice, the drink is served with a bowl of nuts or a selection of Dutch cheese.
Choice:
Two starters and three mains.
Delivery:
Trolley service
Type of meal:
Full meal

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The First Course

Shrimps with grapes and mint oil with garlic and almond soup.

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The Salad

Rice salad with beetroot, goat cheese and pine nuts with a raspberry dressing.

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The Main Course

Braised veal with gnocchi and vegetables.

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The Cheese & Fruit

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The food on KLM is normally quite good in Business Class, as is the service. And today’s flight is no exception, at least as far as the quality of the food is concerned. But for some reason the service is taking an eternity to complete. In fact it lasts for more than two hours and thirty minutes from the moment I am served a drink and the bowl of nuts to when eventually everything is cleared away. I do not really mind that on a flight of maybe twelve hours. But on a flight of only slightly more than seven hours I really do think it should be possible to deliver a faster service.

Once the meal is over I settle in with my Kindle and spend the rest of the flight reading and gazing out the window. The scenery outside is quite beautiful. We are routing relatively far up north, grazing the southern tip of Greenland.

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The Second Service

Type of meal: Snack
Choice: There are two main dishes to choose from

  1. Waldorf salad
  2. Vegetarian club sandwich
  3. Warm Dutch apple pie
  4. Crisps

With slightly less than two hours to go to Montreal the second service begins. Before the meal starts, a second hot towel is offered by the crew. The meal is perfectly adequate for the time of day and the duration of the flight.

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Arrival

The crew clear the trays. The distribution of the famous little Bols houses marks the end of the flight.

We arrive exactly on time. Quite surprisingly, the airport is completely deserted. There is no queue for immigration and the suitcases arrive in next to no time at all.

Getting into Town

Transport: Taxi
Departs from: Dedicated taxi stand
Journey time: About 25 minutes
Fare: Fixed at CAD40.-

Conclusion

This was another good flight by KLM today. Their service is perhaps not as refined and elegant was what you get on Cathay Pacific or Swiss. But what always impresses me about KLM is that their service is very consistent and I have as yet to experience a bad crew.

This was my first trip to Montreal on KLM that was not operated by an MD-11. For sure, the A 330 is the more modern aircraft. Even so, personally I think the MD-11 was just so much more fun.

KLM City Hopper, Economy Class – Embraer ERJ-190: Mont de Marsan to Basel via Amsterdam

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Introduction

It’s Friday and I’ve just completed another course with my two colleagues in Mont de Marsan. Just in case you’re wondering, Mont de Marsan is a nice, sleepy little town roughly 80 minutes by car due south of Bordeaux. There is an airbase of the French Air Force in Mont de Marsan, but the facility is not open to civilian traffic, so Bordeaux is the closest airport for me to use.

Let’s start with a few pictures of Mont de Marsan, shall we?

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: rented car
Departure: Contis-Plage
Journey time: 90 minutes

The flight will not be departing for Amsterdam until 14:00, so we figure we might as well do a slight detour on our way to the airport and try to visit one of the many beautiful beaches along the French Atlantic coast. It’s a magnificent day and there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. We head for a place called Contis – Plage.

The holiday season has yet to begin in Contis, so the place is more or less deserted. The beach is simply amazing and stretches on endlessly. There are a few surfers around, but that’s just about it really.

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We spend about an hour in Contis before eventually heading back to Bordeaux. We arrive at the airport just after 12:00.

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Check-in

Location: On the second floor, above Arrivals. Check-in for the KLM flight to Amsterdam takes place in Hall B, presumably because this is the dedicated Air France area of the terminal. The boarding gate however, is located in Hall A.
Facilities: I’ve checked in using the KLM app. My boarding passes are uploaded to passbook directly as soon as I check in using the KLM app.
Counters: Obviously, with this being Air France country, there are plenty of self-service kiosks, baggage drop counters and a SkyPriority counter available in Hall B.

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The security check is quickly done, there aren’t many people queuing. Immediately behind security there is a café with some good views of the apron and the active runway. Not that there’s really that much traffic to see here.

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I decide to have a cheese sandwich and a canelé – after all I haven’t had lunch yet! A canelé is a sweet from this region. It’s a small cake type thing with cinnamon and some sort of alcohol. And it’s really quite tasty.

The Lounge

Location: The appropriately named ‘Airport Lounge’ is located right behind security, next to the gate area for the A gates. Access to the lounge is via an access code for the door, which can only be obtained at check-in.
Type facility: This is a contract lounge, which is operated by the same company which runs the café outside. There is one toilet in the lounge. And it is likely to be one of the busiest bogs in all of France.
Internet: Apparently there is wifi. However, the corresponding sign looks as though it was printed many moons ago and indeed, when I try to access the internet, none of my devices are actually capable of locating or identifying a network.

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The lounge is not very well stocked either. As you enter the lounge, there is a table on the left with the food options, if you want to call them that. Essentially it’s just a basket with some prepacked, processed and very unhealthy food and a lone croissant, which looks as though it’s been waiting there to be devoured since the morning of the day before. On the right hand side there is a coffee machine and a fridge with soft drinks.

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Boarding

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Pitch: 31 inches
Width: 17 inches

I rather like the cabin of the Embraer ERJ-190. Compared to the Fokker F 70 it has much cleaner and simpler lines. The aircraft just looks newer. Even so, there’s one area in which the Embraer simply can’t touch the Fokker 70: the seat on the Embraer is very uncomfortable. The main problem is that the seats seem to be lower above the ground. As a result, your legs are never really comfortable, and neither is your back. By the time we arrive in Amsterdam my coccyx feels all sore.

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I’m sitting in the last row of the bus today, on 26F. As far as I’m concerned this seat is as good as any other. The pitch is sufficient and they have even left room behind the seat to allow you to recline the seatback.

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The Crew

There are two female flight attendants on this flight. I’ve already had the pleasure before with the one standing by the entrance to the aircraft. The young lady in the back is friendly as well. What strikes me about her is that she has immaculate make up, with a lipstick that not only complements her features very well but also goes rather nicely with the colours of the uniform and the smidges of orange on the scarf.

The Meal

I’m still struggling to figure out KLM’s catering concept here. Whatever it may be though, I just want to make it clear that I’m certainly not complaining. What I’m trying to figure out, is when they serve you something proper to eat and when they just give you a choice of a sweet or savoury snack in a packet. Also, on the outbound leg we were offered a sandwich and a packet of Punselies biscuits for dessert. On the inbound however, there was just the sandwich but no Punselies.

  1. Sandwich of Gouda cheese with a mustard mayonnaise
  2. Coffee
  3. Still water
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The meal is very simple, but it serves its purpose well. I don’t really think there is anything much else to say about it.

Arrival

For the rest of the flight I spend my time gazing out the window. It really has turned into a beautiful day for flying. Our routing even takes us due west of Paris, and I can even make out Orly and Roissy airports.

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We land in a north-easterly direction on the runway adjacent to the Fokker farm. As a result, the taxi from touch down to our stand at gate B36 is very short.

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And with that another good flight with KLM comes to an end. I now have a layover of four hours before my onward connection to Basel, which I shall spend working in the lounge.

Epilogue

In Mont de Marsan I stayed at the Renaissance Hotel. It’s a three star facility but it’s probably the best location in the entire town. I enjoyed staying here. The rooms are comfortable and clean and the bed is tremendously comfortable. What’s more, the hotel has a huge garden right next to a large pond.

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KLM, Business Class – B737-800: Amsterdam to Lisbon

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Introduction

It’s Sunday morning. Exactly 72 hours after I arrived in Amsterdam from Montreal on the mighty MD-11 I find myself, again, taxiing off the runway towards the apron. It’s even the same runway we used three days ago! It’s just gone 07h50. This time round though, I am travelling on something a little less substantial, shall we say. I’m on a Fokker F 70 of KLM Cityhopper and I’ve just arrived from Basel.

In the meantime my mood has improved significantly: I arrived at Basel airport at about 05h45, presumably with ample time for my 06h45 departure to Amsterdam. Or so I thought. But the queue for security is a complete mess. With now eight Airbuses stationed in Basel, Easyjet runs quite an operation at the airport. And by the look of the queue, their flights will be going out full this morning. Eventually I stand in the queue for no less than 40 minutes. By the time I reach my departure gate I am the last passenger to get on board.

Perhaps you’re wondering why on earth I didn’t use the priority lane for security. Well, it’s complicated. The priority lane uses an automatic scanner. But unfortunately the scanner doesn’t read the bar code you get from KLM when you do online check-in. So I would have had to go an Air France counter on the French side of the airport to obtain a paper boarding pass first. Of course I did contemplate the idea – that is, until I reached the French sector and found a queue for check-in not much shorter than the queue for security.

Boarding

Well, eventually I made it. Obviously. So let’s put an end to the rant and move on. It’s now 12h14 and I decide to leave the comfort of the Crown Lounge and head for the gate.

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While I wait for the queue to clear I take a few pictures of my chariot for this flight.

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The Cabin

My aircraft for today is a Boeing B 737-800. There are three rows of Business Class, with a total of twelve seats. It’s the standard European row of three, with the middle seat left empty in the Business Class configuration. Although up front the seat pitch is greater than in the back. Apart from that I’m sitting on 1A, which always helps. Ten seats are occupied today.

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There are power sockets in every seat row, but they’re a bit hard to find seeing as they are located in the leg of the seat.

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There is a bit of a delay for pushback. Apparently traffic is quite heavy in the north of France. Eventually we are moved onto the taxiway, then at 13h05 we are released and make our way to the active runway, just a short distance away.

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The Crew

The crew on this flight are excellent. KLM crews are normally very friendly anyway, but this lot is very professional and very polished. I am addressed by my family name throughout the flight and even after the service is over, the crew make sure to regularly ask passengers if there’s anything they can do to make them comfortable.

Service begins on the ground with the distribution of the newspapers.

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The Meal

The flight time to Lisbon is announced by the captain as two hours and thirty-five minutes, which makes for a very pleasant and unhurried service (take note Austrian Airlines!).

We start with a drinks round. I have a Ginger Ale which is served with two packets of salty almonds.

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This is followed by a hot towel ahead of the meal.

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The First Course

Smoked salmon, with a fish terrine, served with green asparagus, boiled egg and a Hollondaise sauce.

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The Salad

Mixed salad of greens and potato, served with a vinaigrette.

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The Main Course

Chicken in a green curry and coconut sauce.

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The Cheese

A plate with two different types of cheese, with a slice of candied ginger and a walnut.

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The size and quality of the meal is really quite excellent and very flavourful. By the time I finish, we’re just leaving the French coastline behind us and heading out across the bay of Biscay towards Spain, where we should make landfall close to Asturias.

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To completed the meal I have a cup of coffee, which is served with one of those excellent Punselie’s biscuits. I’m rather full.

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Arrival

We continue in a more or less straight line and eventually coming in right above a rather densely populated area of the city.

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I’m staying on Avenida Liberdade. There is the direct Aerobus Line 1 which takes about 20 minutes to complete the journey. The fare is EUR3.50. There is also a metro station on Avenida Liberdade, which also runs to the airport. Perhaps I shall give that a try on the way back.

KLM City Hopper, Economy Class – Fokker F 70: Basel to Amsterdam

Introduction

Christmas is barely over. No more office parties, no more presents to pack and others unpack and the tree is already starting to look worse for wear. After spending the 24th and 25th in the company of dear family and friends it’s now high time for me to head for the airport and get on a plane again. Yes, it’s time for my Christmas vacation!

Initially I wasn’t even planning on writing a report about this flight, but then there were so many new things worth reporting – news about lounge access for KLM passengers in Basel and a new cabin – that I simply couldn’t resist.

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Aircraft: Fokker F 70
Airline: KLM City Hopper
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 11A, window on the emergency exit
Date: 26 December 2013
Departure: 11:50
Arrival: 13:30
From: Basel-Mulhouse
To: Amsterdam

Getting to the Airport

My first stop this morning, once I finish packing, is the gym, five minutes down the road from where I live, to try and burn off some of yesterday’s Christmas dinner before I go away on holiday. I return home at around 10:00 in the morning, exchange my gym bag for my suitcase and then I leave again and head for the airport. The bus line 50 is surprisingly empty this morning.

Check-in

I checked in online for my flight the previous evening using the fabulous KLM app, which immediately and very reliably drops my boarding pass in the Passbook app. So upon arrival at the airport I can bypass check-in and head straight for security.

Recently they introduced an automatic barrier at Basel airport for passengers wishing to use the fast track through security. The fast track is marked as the lane for ‘Business Class and Status holders’, the latter of which applies to me today. So I give the fast track a try, only for it to reject my advances and my boarding pass. Now why was I expecting this to happen?

The Skyview Lounge

Eventually I do manage to get through security, the queue moves swiftly. Just as I am about to settle down by the gate for my flight, I decide I need to heed the call of nature first. On the way to the gents I pass the Swissport lounge where I notice, much to my surprise, that KLM is now also on the list of airlines that use this facility. Oh happy day!

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I enter cautiously, and indeed the receptionist welcomes me to the lounge, scans my boarding pass and wishes me a pleasant stay. Thank you very much!

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time, and by the time I reach the gate from the lounge most of the passengers have already boarded. The gate agent scans my boarding pass, tags my suitcase for collection at the aircraft on arrival and wishes me a pleasant journey.

The Cabin

Upon entering the aircraft I am pleasantly surprised to find that it has already undergone the refurbishment KLM had announced for the F 70 fleet a while back. And I must say, it’s a vast improvement! To be fair, I have always thought that KLM takes really excellent care of its aircraft, but these new seats have knocked years off the old lady.

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The seats are much thinner than the previous ones, and the fabric covers have now been replaced with leather, which immediately gives the seat and cabin a much more modern feel and look. I comment about this to the flight attendant standing on the other side of the aisle and tell her how much nicer the new cabin looks – ‘and about time too’ she replies and smiles. Indeed, about time too!

The doors close on time and the captain comes on the blower to welcome us aboard. He sounds like a cheery, friendly chap. Our flight time today is announced as 65 minutes, taxi to the departing runway will be short, which is a good thing because the aircraft picked up some ice on the inbound leg and will need to be de-iced before we depart for Amsterdam.

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Once that’s all taken care we take-off in a north westerly direction, with thick globules of orange de-icing fluid oozing past my window as we go thundering down the runway to accelerate.

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The Crew

The cabin crew on today’s flight are two blonde Dutch females who are so similar to each other in looks that I’m having trouble keeping them apart. They’re also both equally friendly and both seem rather happy to be working this flight, which makes a change from the grumpy lot of crew you sometimes get on these short European flights.

The Meal

I always call this chapter ‘The Meal’ in al my trip reports, and I see no reasons to deviate from that now. Although in fact, strictly speaking I’m not entirely sure KLM’s provisions in this department technically count as a meal. But please don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or anything after all the food a drink these last few days.

In any case, it consists of some savoury snack with a strong flavour of artificial onions and a cup of still water. Simply to beef up the trip report, I have taken the liberty of taking a few pictures of the motifs on the plastic cups KLM distribute on their flights. I think they’re rather nice.

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Arrival

Shortly after the rubbish has been removed, we begin our descent into Amsterdam.

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Arrival today is on 18C, which means our taxi to the Fokker farm not quite as epic and long as when we’re assigned the Polderbaan for arrivals.

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Shortly after the door opens, the cabin luggage is lined up in front of the aircraft for passengers to pick up as we board the bus to bring us to the terminal.

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Epilogue

In Amsterdam I shall be staying at the Hotel Conservatorium for one night. It’s a very nice hotel in a historic building that’s conveniently located right next door to the Van Gough museum and in close proximity to the Rijksmuseum a bit further up the road. I leave you with a few pictures from the hotel.

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KLM City Hopper, Business Class – Embraer 190: Amsterdam to London Heathrow

Introduction

It’s 07h30 in the morning on Maundy Thursday. I’ve just arrived in Amsterdam on a KLM MD-11 from Montreal. I’ve decided to make the most of the long Easter weekend and visit Toledo in Spain. Of course the easiest thing to do would have been to catch a direct flight from Amsterdam to Madrid either by Iberia, Air Europa or KLM. But I’ve decided to go for something a bit more substantial, shall we say.

My first stop will be London’s Heathrow airport. The flight to Heathrow will not be leaving until later on in the afternoon. So I make my way to the luggage deposit area in the basement of Schiphol airport. Access to the area is via a lift or stairs located between arrivals halls 2 and 3. For one day of storage the charge is EUR 7.- for a mid-sized locker and EUR 9.- for a large sized locker.

With my luggage safely stored I head into town for breakfast at De Bakerswinkel. It’s a lovely bakery on the fringe of the seedier part of town, but don’t let that put you off. After breakfast I head for the botanical gardens. I need to walk and move a bit after spending 7 hours on the plane from Montreal.

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It’s a nice day here in Amsterdam. But it’s much colder than it was in Montreal.

Airline: KLM City Hopper
Aircraft: Embraer E-190
From: Amsterdam
To: London Heathrow T4
Cabin Class: Business
Seat: 2F, window on the right side of the aircraft
Date: 28 March 2013

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Getting to the Airport

Just after 13h00 I decide to head back to the airport – I’m feeling cold. My next connection is by Fyra train. The Fyra is the fastest way to get to the airport because these trains don’t stop anywhere on the way between Amsterdam Central station and Schiphol. Subsequently the Fyra trains is subject to a fare supplement.

The airport has calmed down since the morning. As the United Kingdom is outside the Schengen area, I’ll have to go through passport control. In Amsterdam security for the non-Schengen flights is not centralised and instead there is a checkpoint at every gate.

From passport control I head for the KLM Crown Lounge. On my way there I pass Audrey Hepburn, the MD-11 that gently carried me away from Montreal and safely brought me across the Atlantic to Amsterdam. She’s standing where I left her this morning at gate E2.

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I presume she’ll be heading back across the Atlantic later on in the afternoon. As I stand there admiring her classic good looks, it suddenly hits me with a stab of regret that in all likelihood I will not get another chance to fly the MD-11 again. I know I’ve said so before, but this time I think it may actually be true. And so I bid my farewell. I think back for a moment on the fond memories I have of flying on the MD-11. And then I move on.

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The KLM Crown Lounge

The lounge is still quite busy when I arrive, so I resist the urge to take any pictures for the benefit of my fellow trip reporters. I manage to find myself a nice quiet corner, settle down and give my mum a call to let her know I’m back in Europe.

A cappuccino and some tasty spicy biscuits later and it’s time for me to make my way to the lounge for boarding. My flight will be leaving from gate D6. To reach D6 you have to take the stairs down from the main concourse level to ground level, which is also where the security check takes place. Behind that there is a whole series of gates that together make up D6 and which are designated with the letters of the alphabet. My flight will be boarding from gate D6-D. The designation evidently is a bit confusing and while the boarding process is going on, a whole bunch of people rush up to the counter for our gate, only to be informed by the gate agent that they still have loads of time and their flight will not be boarding from here anyway.

Here’s the view from D6:

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The Cabin

Eventually the packed bus whisks us away to our awaiting chariot. From the D gates it takes about 5 minutes by bus to reach the Fokker farm where our bird is parked. We pull up next to a lone Embraer E-190. I take my time getting off the bus as I want to take some pictures and I’m sitting in the front section of the plane anyway.

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There are three rows of Business Class. Initially I’m on 3D, an aisle seat. The window seat is occupied. I’m a bit surprised. I’m not quite sure whether KLM has recently made some changes to its seating policy in European Business Class or if perhaps I’ve just been very lucky so far. As far as I know, KLM normally keeps the neighbouring seat in Business Class free to give you more space. This no longer seems to be the case. As it turns out though, by the time the door is closed row two remains empty and so I quickly change seats and move to 2F.

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The cabin of the Embraer is certainly more modern and attractive than that of the Fokker 70, which really is getting a bit long in the tooth. In particular, I like the very elegant and simple shapes and lines in the cabin. I’m not really much of a fan of the seats on the Embraer though. As far as that’s concerned, the Fokker 70 definitely takes the biscuit. The pitch is fine, but it always feels like the seats are a bit too low above the ground to make for a comfortable ride. But today’s flight will only be 45 minutes, plus the fifteen minutes trek to the threshold of the departing runway 36L. I’ll survive.

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The Crew

The crew is an interesting mix. The two ladies in the cabin are both Dutch and very friendly. Actually I think I recognise one of them from a previous flight. The cockpit crew is one Englishman and a Scotsman with rather a pronounced accent. I’m not so sure how comprehensible his accent is to the international aviation community, but it certainly sounds cool.

Once all the passengers are seated, the crew come round offering newspaper. Their English selection is a choice of either the Herald Tribune or the Financial Times, both of which I’m not really keen on. Besides, the view outside is far more interesting I think. You know that song by the Talking Head? ‘We’re on a road to nowhere…’ always comes to mind when I’m sitting on a plane making the long trek to the Polderbahn.

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The Meal

Once we get airborne the meal service begins quickly.

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An amuse bouche of potato and shrimp salad with creamy Reypenaar cheese.

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A mixed salad with honeyed Goat’s cheese, beetroot and pumpkin seed, served with organic balsamic dressing.

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Assorted hot rolls.

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A vanilla mousse with green apple compote.

With that I have a still water to drink. In contrast to Economy Class, in Business Class you get the whole bottle to drink.

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As usual with KLM, the meal is very tasty and sufficient for such a short hop. It certainly beats Lufthansa’s ‘special moments’ offerings in terms of quantity, quality and presentation.

Coffee and tea are also offered – but I forget to take a picture.

Arrival

By the time the meal is cleared away, we’ve already started out descent. We’re early today and fortunately traffic is not too busy. So we only have to make one holding circuit before we are vectored for the approach.

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We land on runway 09R. T4 is deserted at this time of day, with only a handful of aircraft parked at the gates. As we round the corner, KLM’s previous flight from Amsterdam comes in to view.

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Transfer in London Heathrow

We deplane and I follow the signs for flight connections and T5.

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I’m rather surprised to find that I appear to be the only passenger on the flight who does not have London as their final destination. I walk straight ahead, turn left, down another corridor, turn right, then left again, then right again, then down the escalators until finally I am standing – all by myself – at the bus stop for the shuttle from T4 to T5. I wait for about 10 minutes for the bus to arrive. I am the only passenger making the journey, the bus driver seems surprised even to see just one person!

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The transfer takes 13 minutes to complete and offers some interesting views of the ramp and the extensive tunnel system under Heathrow. The whole ride has a bit of a ‘behind the scenes’ feel to it. It’s really quite fascinating.

Conclusion

I like KLM. I have yet to have a bad experience with a KLM crew! My impression of the Dutch has always been that they are very pragmatic people, particularly when it comes to business. And I think a lot of that shows in the KLM product. Of course there are more polished offerings out there. Just to use the Amsterdam to London route as an example, BA will offer you a meal on a tray with metal cutlery and a proper plate – rather than presenting you with a meal in a box like KLM do. Nonetheless, the KLM approach somehow seems more sensible – to me at least – and I like that.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Airport

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

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

Airside

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

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

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

My ride to Amsterdam: Fokker F 70

Boarding

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

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

The Cabin

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

The Crew

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

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

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

Next the purser brings me one of the Swiss daily newspapers. He has others he says, just in case I’d prefer one of those.
The doors close, we push back and subsequently begin our taxi to the runway for a departure in a southerly direction from runway 15.

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

The Meal

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

Transfer in Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Airport

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

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

The KLM Crown Lounge

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

Boarding

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

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

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

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

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

The Cabin

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

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

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

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

The Crew

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

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

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

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

The Meal

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

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

Then come the hot towels.

The First Course

Grilled shrimps with cherry tomatoes on potato salad with avocado mousse.

The Salad

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

The Main Course

Chicken breast in a rich gravy with onions, served with mashed potato and mushrooms.

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

Dessert

Lemon tart on a digestive biscuit base, served with strawberries.

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

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

The Second Service

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

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

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

Arrival

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

Conclusion

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