Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 170: Amsterdam to Rennes

Introduction

Today marks the beginning of my summer vacation. And Rennes will be my first stop. Originally, I was booked to fly from Basel to Rennes via Paris. However, that connection was cancelled and rebooked via Amsterdam. The originally rebooked departure from Basel to Amsterdam should have been just after 10 in the morning. But then another schedule change meant that I was rebooked again to depart from Basel to Amsterdam on the morning departure at the ungodly time of 06h30. This also meant that I would have a layover in Amsterdam of about six hours.

Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use that layover to go into Amsterdam for breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel in the seedy part of town by the central station. However, given that KLM is currently advising passengers to show up for security screening four hours (!) before departure, I figured I better not risk it.

I’ll be making a separate post of my stay at the Yotel Air at Amsterdam Schiphol. This post is about the flight from Amsterdam to Rennes.

Boarding

The flight to Rennes departs at 13h40, with boarding expected to start at 13h13, which is an oddly specific time… And of course our aircraft is on a remote stand, so we’ll have to be bussed there.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, but the forward cabin remains empty on this flight. I’m seated on 3A, the first row of Economy. As I’ve already mentioned, and complained about in previous posts, properly aligning the seat rows with the windows appears to be a bit of a problem on the E170 aircraft. And this includes the configuration Air France has them in. I do have a window seat on 3A, but I seriously need to crank my head back to be able to look out.

I count a total of 68 passengers.

The crew

The cabin crew are two females in their mid- to late thirties, if I had to guess. They’re both business friendly. Not gushing, but not rude or unfriendly either.

The flight time is announced at one hour and ten minutes.

The snack

The service consists of a small and very tasty, buttery biscuit and a cup of Perrier. Air France have stopped using plastic cups and serve all their drinks in Economy in cardboard cups instead.

After the meal I’m still tired. I quickly doze off and only awaken again when the captain comes on to announce the “début de déscente”, the top of descent.

The landscape below is very flat, green and lush. And not exactly densely populated.

Arrival

Our arrival is a bit shaky because of the wind. We land on runway 28 and then have to backtrack up the runway, as the only taxiway doesn’t reach all the way to the end.

There are only open stands at Rennes airport, which is very small and really quite dinky.

I completely forget that we’ve arrived on an international service. In as much, it takes me by surprise to find myself in front of an immigration counter upon entering the terminal. The check is not really so much about the passport or ID, but about checking the vaccination status of arriving passengers entering into France.

Getting into town

To get to the bus stop, make a sharp left upon exiting the terminal and just keep on walking until eventually you will see the bus stop. Both the C6 and 57 bus lines run to the centre of town. The journey takes about thirty minutes and costs EUR1.50. Apparently, you don’t need to buy a paper ticket and can normally just badge in with your credit card. However, when I try that, it doesn’t work. So I have to buy a ticket from the driver, who can only accept cash.

Conclusion

I had a really early start this morning, which didn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies – even if it was to get on a plane to Amsterdam and then on another to Rennes. However, that quickly changed the moment I stepped of the plane when we arrived in Rennes. This place is just so nice, and the weather is stunning! And tomorrow, I’m off to Mont St. Michel!

KLM Cityhopper: if I could just make a little suggestion about the catering…

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.

My first negative blog post about KLM, Business Class – Embraer 190: Amsterdam to Basel

Introduction

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?

Arrival

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.

A commentary

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!

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Dubai to Amsterdam

Introduction

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.

Check-in

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

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 cabin

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.

Noddy land

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.

Breakfast

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.

Arrival

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?

Conclusion

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.

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

Introduction

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

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

Airside

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

Boarding

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

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

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

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

The cabin

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

The crew

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

The meal

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

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

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

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

Arrival

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

Getting to Rotterdam

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

Conclusion

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

Hotel Conservatorium, Amsterdam

Introduction

I’m in Amsterdam to see, or rather hear Bach’s Matthäus Passion at the Amsterdam concert hall. The interior of the building is quite spectacular, and so is the music. The concert hall is located on the enormous Museumplein or museum square in Amsterdam, in close proximity to the Van Gogh museum and the Rijks museum. And that is also why I’m staying at The Conservatorium Hotel, which is literally just across the road from the Van Gogh museum.

Reception and public area

The hotel is housed in what was once a bank. The entrance to The Conservatorium in through a quiet courtyard off the main road.

The reception is bright and airy, with a high glass ceiling. The receptionist is quick to check me in and show me to the room.

The Conservatorium Junior Suite

I’m staying in a junior suite, which is large and spacious and spread across two levels.

On the entrance level there is a comfortable sitting room and a desk, the wardrobe and the bathroom and toilet.

The bedroom and what I call the secret shower are located on the upper floor.

Upstairs shower room

To be honest, I only discovered the secret shower the day after I arrived at the hotel. Nobody had told me it was there, and so I only discovered it by chance.

Downstairs bathroom

The downstairs bathroom is much larger and spacious than the shower on the upper level.

Bathroom amenities

Amenities in the bathroom are provided by Malin & Goetz and smell refreshing and natural.

Room amenities

There’s also a Nespresso machine in the room.

Restaurant

Breakfast is served in the main restaurant at the far end of the lobby on the ground floor. I usually tend to have breakfast early, even on my days off, at around 07h00. The restaurant is not very busy, so it’s nice and peaceful.

The breakfast spread is excellent, with a large selection of sweet and savoury dishes from the buffet. In addition, there is a large selection of hot dishes from a separate menu. They are complimentary and the staff will make sure to check if there’s anything guests would like to order. I decide to go with the American pancakes served with berries and maple sirup. And I have to say, they’re probably the fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever tasted!

Staff

The staff were all very friendly and polite. Whenever I passed one of the staff on the hotel grounds, they would greet me and inquire if they might assist carrying my suitcase or shopping. The turndown service is nicely done. When I return from the concert hall in the evening, the Nespresso capsules have been replenished, a bottle of still water is stading near the bed and my night robe and slippers and have been laid out for me.

Conclusion

The Conservatorium is an elegant, quiet hotel in the centre of old Amsterdam. It’s close to many of the city’s sights and is easily accessible. The rooms are nicely appointed and the service is friendly and helpful but without being fussy.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Check-in

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

The Swissport Skyview lounge

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

Boarding

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

The cabin

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

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

The crew

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

The meal

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

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

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

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

Arrival

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

Transfer in Amsterdam

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

The flight to Oslo

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

The crew

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

Arriving in Oslo

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Introduction

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

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

Getting to the airport

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

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

Check-in

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

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

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

The Swissport SkyViewLounge at Basel Euroairport

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

Boarding

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

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

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

The crew

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

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

The meal

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

Transfer in Amsterdam

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

The flight to Luxembourg

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

The cabin

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

Check-in

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

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

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

Lounge/Airside

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

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

Boarding

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

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

The seat

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

The Meal

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

Arrival

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

Getting into town

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Airport

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

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

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

Check-in

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

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

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

The KLM Crown Lounge

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

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

Boarding

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

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

The Cabin

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

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

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

The Meal

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

Arrival

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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