I’m on my way to Haugesund in Norway. In the old days, I would have taken a SWISS or SAS flight from Zürich to Olso and connected there to a domestic service to Haugesund. But then COVID happend.
In the summer of 2021 the connection via Oslo no longer exists. There aren’t that many flights between Zürich and Oslo anymore, making an overnight stay in Oslo unavoidable. So I figure I might as well do something completely different and make an outing of it. My first leg takes me from Basel to Amsterdam, a route I have now travelled more often than I can count. In as much, this post is not really so much about the cabin design or the food served on board. It is more of a time piece about European short-haul travel during COVID.
As per 18 July 2021, you can still check in on the KLM app or online. You will need to complete a health declaration form, which has been integrated into the check-in process. Also, even if you have checked in online, you will still need to go to the check-in desk at the airport for the airline to verify your travel documents and issue the boarding pass.
So when I arrive at the airport the next day, I’m not really surprised to find a considerable queue at the Air France/KLM counters. Even so, the Platinum status means I can join the SkyTeam queue only have to wait about 10 minutes before it’s my turn. The check-in agent scans my passport and the COVID certificate issued by Switzerland and then issues the boarding pass.
Security is surprsingly painless and a fairly civilised affair. You get the impression that passengers are aware of the fact that we’re really all in the same boat in this, which is nice.
The Swissport lounge has now been closed for over a year, and it doesn’t look like it will be opening any time soon, which is hardly surprising. It’s mainly a low-cost operation at Basel right now. British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa only fly sporadically, leaving only Austrian Airlines, KLM and Turkish Airlines.
So instead, I find myself a place by the window to admire the view. The nice thing at Basel airport is that the aircraft come up really close at some stands.
Boarding is the usual scrum. Some things obviously never change. As I’m seated on row two anyway, I figure I might as well wait for everybody else to board. I would say the flight is three quarters full today.
The crew have obviously been trained, or at least briefed about, how to deal with difficult passengers and the COVID deniers. The passenger on 1C hasn’t got her face mask on, and the flight attenendant makes quick work of reminding her, and making sure she has, and keeps, her mask on.
An important point to note is that on the Embraer, KLM sells both seats on a row of two in Business Class, unlike the Lufthansa group, where the seat next to you always stays empty. I think I may have complained about this before… I’d say that KLM clearly has a disadvantage here, because I’m quite sure there would be quite a few passengers willing to pay a bit more for a Business Class seat in the current situation, simply to avoid having to sit next to a stranger who may or may not be contagious.
I think we might as well go straight to the meal section of the report. And I’m happy to find that nothing much has changed in this department. The only differences I can tell are that there is only one bun, which is sealed in plastic, and that the salt and pepper shakers have been removed. Other than that though, the meal is just fine for a flight time of one hour. To drink with that I have glass of apple juice.
After a flight time of just over one hour, we land in Amsterdam. It’s certainly busier than when I was here a year ago, but I think we’re still very, very far off from calling the place busy in the usual sense of the term. The airport has certainly made a huge effort to adapt to the new realities: there are hand sanitising stations everyhere and all counters with direct customer contact have now been decked out with glass or plexiglass partitions.
Getting into town
I’ll be spending the one night in Amsterdam at Amsterdam South, which is only seven minutes by train from Schiphol airport but still very close to the city centre in walking distance.
It’s a lovely day. So once I get to the hotel and finish off my work, I head out for a long walk. Okay, I head for scones and creamy cakes at De Bakkerswinkel. But at least I have the decency to walk back to work off the calories when I’m done. No judgement, okay?
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 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 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…
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 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.
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.
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.
This year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is celebrating its centenery – one hundred years of continuous service under the same name and brand, making it the oldest airline in the world. This year, British Airways also decided it was time for a celebration, although somehow, that seems a bit like cheating, seeing as today’s British Airways wasn’t set up until 1974.
To be honest, I would have liked my KLM jubliee post to be something a bit more grand than just a short hop from Basel to Amsterdam. Perhaps a long-haul trip with the Queen of the skies, or so. Alas, the powers that be decided it was not meant to be. Even so, I didn’t want to ignore the Dutch jubliee entirely. And so, here you go: this one’s for KLM, happy birthday! You’re looking good at 100!
Getting to the Airport
My day begins very, very early. The flight to Amsterdam departs at 06:20, which has me taking the 04:55 departure of the bus line 50 from the main railway station to the airport.
The bus arrives at the airport at 05:09. The check-in area and security are already very busy processing the first bank of departures.
Luckily, my Air France Platinum status gives me access to the fast track for security, which is not quite so busy as the line for Economy Class.
The KLM flights usually depart from gate 18, which is in the Schengen area of the airport. And that‘s a good thing, because the queue for the non-Schengen gates is endless!
By 05:18 I‘m through security and on my way to the lounge. The place is still fairly calm. I get myself a coffee, find a quiet corner and slowly start to wake up…
Boarding for the flight starts at 05:55 and is a somewhat chaotic affair. I don‘t think anybody quite knows what‘s going on. Initially there is just one queue. But then at some point a second one opens to speed up boarding. And then a while later, more or less as an after thought, one of the gate agents opens up a third queue for SkyPriority passengers, which is a bit pointless at this stage.
I‘m sitting on 1F, which is the bulkhead row, so seat pitch is very good. On the Embraer 190 stowage space is never an issue because there are two large cupboards up front.
The flight is busy but not completely full. By the time boarding finishes, the seat next to me is still empty. I think that‘s the one thing I really don‘t like with KLM. Even on the Cityhopper flights I think they should keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class By default. That‘s something Lufthans does better, for a change.
Outside it‘s still dark. Overnight the rain has set in again.
The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes. We take off in a northerly direction. The first stages of the flight is quite bumpy, as we ascend higher through layer after layer of thick cloud.
As soon as the crew is released, the breakfast service begins. Okay, so the delivery in a cardboard box may not be an expression of the highest sophistiction, but then again you don‘t eat the cardboard, do you?
Breakfast is a nicely balanced meal consisting of a bowl of fruit, yoghurt and Müsli, egg salad, bread and butter, and a selection of Dutch cheese and cold meat.
To drink I have a coffee and orange juice.
Sooner than expected we‘re already descending towards Amsterdam. The many greenhouses below produce a strange effect and illuminate the sky in a bright and unnatural looking yellow light.
Eventually we land 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Amaterdam is even more atrocious than it was in Basel. It‘s cold, windy and wet.
By the time the bus ejects me at the terminal, it‘s 07:30. I have one hour to go before my connecting flight. I can‘t be bothered with the lounge, which is in the opposite direction to pier B, from where my flight will be leaving. So instead I browse through the shops without the intention of buying anything.
Schiphol overtook Frankfurt a while back as Europe’s third busiest airport. And
I think it’s beginning to show. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good
way. Where previously one of the airport’s strongest points was the abundance
of space within the terminal building for passengers to move about, it’s now
starting to get very crowded. But it’s still one of my favourite airports.
I decide not
to take any photos of the lounge, because it’s crawling with people. And you
don’t want to piss people off when they’re probably already tired from a long
working day or just from the labours of travel, right?
interesting to watch though, how quickly the lounge empties at some point, as
KLM’s evening outbound wave of flights gets underway, including mine.
will be departing from C18, which is at the very end of the C pier. The flight
is operated by a Boeing B 737-800 and according to the gate agent, it’s going
to be a full flight. They’re making announcements offering to check Economy
Class passengers’ luggage free of charge.
two rows of Business Class on this flight, and a total of five passengers. I’m
sitting on 1A and I have the whole row of seats to myself.
two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are fabulous.
One is a gentleman who probably looks older than he is, because his hair and
beard are completely white. The other is a younger gentleman of South Asian
descent. And he’s just so camp. Which is totally okay, it’s just that his
effeminate mannerisms are completely at odds with the fact that he’s built like
a brick shit house, as my granddad used to say.
In any case, the two of them keep the whole of the Business Class well entertained throughout the flight and take excellent care of the passengers. 1D is an elderly lady. She’s alert but looks very frail. The care and gentleness with which the cabin crew treat her is just outstanding. They take all the time in the world with her, making sure she’s comfortable but without ever being patronising in that way many people tend to be around elderly people.
The older one of the two is the maître de. As soon as the doors close, he welcomes every passenger aboard by name and shakes each passenger’s hand. From then on, whenever he or the younger crew member address the passengers, it’s always by name. More on that later…
The meal is
comparable to the one I had on the Zürich to Amsterdam leg. Only on this flight
it’s not shrimps but a very nice chunk of hot smoked salmon. And it’s very
tasty! I don’t know if this is a seasonal thing or just a new feature, but on
this flight KLM also has fresh apple juice on offer, and it really is very
tasty. It’s quite addictive actually!
meal I ask for a cup of mint tea, which is served with one of those Punselies
We land in Bergen just before 23h. It’s been a long day! Since my last visit the terminal building in Bergen has been significantly expanded. And with the expansion they’ve also extended the city’s tram line to the airport. As a result, there are now a number of options to get into town: a taxi will take about twenty minutes and costs a staggering NOK700. Then there’s the airport bus, which takes about the same amount of time as the taxi but only costs NOK110. And finally, the journey by tram will take about 45 minutes, but only costs NOK36.
I take the bus, mainly because I know from a previous visit that it stops right in front of my hotel.
So about the
KLM crew on this flight: I return home from Bergen the following day, on
Wednesday. As I step aboard the plane, I recognise the crew from the previous
day. They’ve obviously night stopped in Bergen. The maître de takes a look at
me and says ‘Mr. A., you’re back again. You know, I think you travel too much!
Where are you sitting?’ I mean, I’m already surprised they recognise my face.
But the fact that they both still remember my name is quite surprising.
Later on, as
I disembark the plane in Amsterdam, the maître de wishes me a safe onward
journey, while the younger one says good bye and asks me ‘I guess we’ll
probably be seeing you again tomorrow or so?’
I must say,
I’m quite exhausted from all my travels at this stage. And I’m so happy that I
won’t be getting on a plane again until week after next. But I also have to say
that it’s people like the crew on this flight that make such a difference. Of
course they can’t replace your friends and family back home, but at least they
can relieve some of the hassle of travel, by making you feel just a little bit less
anonymous as the passenger.
On Tuesday afternoon
I leave the office just before 16h. I’m catching the 16h01 train to the airport
for a 17h30 departure with KLM to Amsterdam. It’s a lovely day here in
Winterthur, with nice sunny weather and balmy temperatures. And apparently it’s
been like this since last week. Which is more than I can say about my recent
trip to Malta.
in using the KLM app, which has been working a bit more reliably recently. If
you’re using the KLM app, the boarding pass of your next flight with them will
show up on your locked screen, so you can just swipe it at the gate. In Zürich,
KLM checks in at row 2 of check-in 2.
Today I am
certainly not going to visit the contractor lounge, because… yes! It’s so nice
out that the terrace of the sports bar is open. There’s no service out there
yet. Or rather, if you want something you have to order it at the bar and then
take it outside yourself. But hey, I’m here for the view.
really is a lovely view. The aircraft come up really close to the terrace and
as they apply thrust to move off stand, you get a glorious whiff of kerosene fumes.
And as my luck will have it, the KLM flight arrives just a short while later and
comes to a stop on the stand closes to the terrace!
starts on time, at 17h00. There is a first boarding call for Business Class
passengers, before everybody else is invited to get aboard.
six rows of Business Class, for a total of 24 seats. The cabin is not quite
full though, and as a result I have a whole row of three all to myself.
I’m not sure
if this applies to all seats, but on row 3, where I’m seated, there are two electricity
plugs on either side of the middle seat.
pitch is good. The one thing I don’t like though, is that the recline of the
seat back, even in the upright position, is just a bit too slanted. I always
feel like I’m half lying down and about to slide off the seat.
two middle aged ladies working the Business Class cabin. As usual on KLM, they’re
chirpy and chatty. One of them is a big fan of Switzerland, and has even picked
up a few bits and pieces of Swiss German, much to the entertainment of the
passengers as she tries out her language skills with the m as the board. It’s
really quite funny, but in a very charming way.
Lufthansa, KLM does not provide any service on the ground. No welcome drinks or
anything of the sort. The flight time is announced as 1 hour and 15 minutes,
which means we should be arriving in Amsterdam at 18h55, 15 minutes ahead of
As soon as
the crew is released, the service begins. Every passenger is served
individually from the galley. The meal consists of:
A small plate of salad with chilli shrimps, served with olive oil.
A small ramekin of marinated vegetables and feta cheese with couscous – served with rolls from the breadbasket.
honest, my opinion of the meal is… meh. The shrimps have an off-putting fishy smell,
the salad is limp and the dessert is what it is. KLM has been serving this type
of dessert for years, and I don’t know why they bother trying to explain what
it is on the menu, because whether it’s passionfruit mousse or raspberry
coulis, it always tastes the same.
that’s my excuse for asking for some of those fabulous smoked almonds KLM
caters. I love those, they’re seriously addictive. A bit like the Twistees I
had on Air Malta on Sunday… I ask the flight attendant if perhaps I could have
a packet. She saunters off and returns a short while later with five packets of
the delectable almonds. Hurrah! I think it would be a shame to waste them… and
rude to turn them down.
And so I
spend the rest of the flight reading my Kindle, snacking on almonds and
enjoying the spectacular sunset we’re being treated to.
we land in Amsterdam at 18h55, just as the pilot had announced in Zürich. But
we’ve landed on 18R, so that by the time we reach our stand at gate C4, we’re
running five minutes late! I now have two hours to make my connection.
Three days before my flight back to London, I receive an e-mail from the Garuda First Class concierge asking me a) what I had in mind for the complimentary pick-up, b) if I had any specific dietary requirements they should know about and c) what size pyjama I take. That more or less sets the tone for my flight back home and the end of what has been a truly relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable vacation…
Getting to the Airport
I leave the FM7 Hotel at 09h30. This morning the traffic is much thicker and for some unearthly reason we find ourselves taking backroads through some small village. The journey to the airport takes twenty minutes to complete.
Before we depart from the hotel, the driver hands me a refreshing towel and a bottle of still water.
We pull up to Terminal 3, where I am already being expected by the First Class ground crew. I step out of the car and a young lady greets me by name. She welcomes me to the flight, while a young man takes my luggage out of the booth. The young lady then escorts me to the dedicated First Class check-in area and invites me to take a seat while she checks me in and tags my suitcase.
Once that’s done, she accompanies me through security and immigration. There is a dedicated lane for First Class passengers for security and behind that, we head straight for the counter for holders of diplomatic passports – which of course speeds things up considerably…
The Garuda First Class Lounge
And then form there we head for the First Class lounge on the mezzanine level. The place is deserted when I arrive. The lounge is a nice size, although it seems a bit large now, given that currently Garuda’s flight to London is the only with a First Class service and even that only operates three times a week.
I take a seat in the lounge and am brought yet another refreshing towel, followed by some still water, a plate of fresh fruit and the menu for the lounge. There is no buffet in the First Class lounge, so food can only be ordered from the staff. I go with the Gnocchi Neapolitana, which is very good.
At around 11h45 the gate agent comes to inform me that the flight is now in the final stages of boarding. It’s time to leave. At the lounge’s reception area all the staff are lined up to say goodbye and wish me a pleasant trip.
We breeze through the boarding gate and take the left aisle down to the airbridge for First Class passengers only. Here too there are ground staff in the First Class uniform wishing me a pleasant flight. I step on board. The ground attendant hands me over to the purser – who also greets me by name – then says goodbye and wishes me a safe journey. One of the First Class cabin crew then shows me to my seat on 2K.
Garuda’s First Class cabin is really quite amazing. Every seat is enclosed in a sort of mini-suite, with sliding doors that can be closed for more privacy. Apart from that, the cabin and seat have a very elegant appearance and are kept in rich, dark colours.
There is plenty of storage space, including a closet with two hangers that is wide enough for me to hang my clothes in once I change into the pyjamas.
The seat is very comfortable and the sliding doors certainly give the you the feeling of being in your own suite. It’s not just that the sliding doors will give you more privacy. I also think you are disturbed a lot less when you rest because you really don’t notice at all when somebody passes by your seat.
As I already mentioned, the crew are expecting me at the door as I step on board. By the way, the curtain to Business is closed during boarding, which is just a minor detail but something I really like.
There are a whole lot of goodies expecting me at my seat:
the food and drinks menus for the flight,
noise cancelling earphones,
a vanity kit,
a set of stationary with a pen,
As soon as I take my seat, one of the cabin crew comes to offer me a welcome drink. A few moments later she returns with a scented hot towel, a glass of the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and a small ramekin of warm macadamia nuts.
The flight time is announced at 14 hours and 15 minutes. Brilliant! All the more time to enjoy Garuda’s First Class service!
The crew on this flight are truly excellent. They’re personable, charming and very friendly. They make passengers feel at ease in a way that seems very natural.
The amenity kit is of no particular brand. It contains:
a dental set,
two Payot branded creams.
What strikes me about the vanity kit is that the content is of less good quality than the one I was given in Business Class on the Melbourne to Jakarta leg of this trip. The toothbrush for example, is rather small and more like a kid’s tooth brush (although adult size toothbrushes are available in the lavatory).
The pyjama is black and not of any particular brand. It’s comfortable enough but be warned, the cut is rather tight. I’m wearing an XL and the pants still make me look like a primo ballerino…
In contrast, the slippers are excellent. They’re solid and very comfortable. There’s a bit of an awkward moment when the cabin crew bring me the slippers, because they insist on helping you take off your shoes and kneel before you to do so, which is something most Europeans are probably not so used to.
Orders for the meal are taken before we push back.
The Caviar Service
The meal service begins with the caviar service, which is served with warm blinis, crème fraîche and shrimp crackers. And more of the champagne.
The First Course
For the first course, I go with the chicken musakhan roll, served with a beetroot relish and garlic sauce. I have no idea what the brown powder dusted on the rolls is, but it’s certainly fragrant, with a subtle hint of citrus.
Next comes the pumpkin soup with enoki mushroom and crème fraîche. The soup is served with toasted bread. Perhaps the soup might have been a tad warmer. But other than that, it’s a very hearty soup with a strong underlying flavour of celery.
The Main Course
For the main course I have the grilled beef sirloin. This is served with a thyme jus, asparagus, mushrooms and grilled cherry tomatoes. It should also have had a potato soufflé, which I request to have swapped for the truffle ravioli, which are excellent. The meat is good too, it’s cooked just right and has a nice charcoal flavour.
And then I have the cheese board and crackers. There is no information about what cheese it is – I’m guessing some sort of camembert, a cheddar and maybe a Roquefort.
And then, for dessert I have the chocolate lava with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The lava also could have spent some more time in the oven. But other than that, you can’t really go wrong with anything that contains warm melted chocolate, can you?
And just in case I’m still hungry, the cabin attendant brings me two shortbread biscuits with the cappuccino. And that concludes the meal service. And I feel totally gorged!
After the meal, one of the flight attendants makes up my bed for me to sleep. The duvet I’m given is amazingly fluffy and the pillows are nice and comfortable. There’s also a thick mattress on the seat for greater comfort. With the doors closed, the suite feels very intimate and cosy.
The Inflight Snack
At some point during the flight I wake up and ask for a noodle soup and a drink. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a decanted Diet Coke!
And then I go off to sleep again.
The Second Service
I awake about two hours out of London. Just in time for the second meal service. There is a whole list of items to choose from, the second service consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.
The First Course
To start I have the cream of asparagus with a dumpling and fresh asparagus. This dish is excellent. The soup has a velvety texture and the different flavours are very finely balanced.
The Main Course
For the main course I go with the seabass in a turmeric pickle sauce and potato croquettes, baby pak choy and vegetables. When I order the fish, I notice a slight hesitation from the flight attendant, and I can’t help but feel that she’s trying to dissuade me from having it. Once I tuck in, I realise why: because what I thought were green beans are in fact small and really vicious green chillies that nearly blow the top of my head off! My friend, the valiant M. always says he doesn’t get how I can eat very spicy food and enjoy it, but this is too much even for me! Other than that though, the fish is moist and the sauce is flavourful and tangy.
For dessert I have the plate of fruit, which includes two slices of Guava and manages to quench the fire burning in my mouth!
And then to conclude, I have mint tea, served with two sticks of Valrhona chocolate.
I really must say, the quality and quantity of the food served in Garuda’s First Class is quite impressive. The tableware is attractive and the presentation of the dishes shows a lot of attention to detail. My other friend, the tall, blond M. has a stomach that is a bottomless pit. I really don’t know where the guy puts it all. But I’m sure he would have had a whale of a time on this flight!
By the time the second service ends, we’re already nearing the top of descent. It’s just gone eight in the evening and traffic in Heathrow is calm. As the flight draws to an end, one of the cabin crew takes my vanity kit, slippers and pyjamas and places them in a Garuda First Class branded bag for me to take with me.
We land in an easterly direction without even having to hold, and then very slowly taxi to our gate at Terminal 3. When eventually we reach our stand, only the airbridge for the L2 door is attached because the police are there to meet our flight. Apparently they’re looking for one particular passenger. Once he is removed from the flight, we’re free to disembark. It’s really quite embarrassing how the cabin crew request all the Business Class passengers to step aside to allow me and the other three First Class passengers to disembark first.
There is a representative from Garuda holding a sign up with my name as I step off the plane. He welcomes me to London and then escorts me through immigration, assists me with my bag and takes me through customs. Once we’re landside again, he gives me instructions on how to get to Terminal 5, where I’ll be spending the night, before sending me on my way.
I’m wondering where Garuda is going with its First Class product right now. Personally, I think this was one of the best First Class experiences I’ve had in a long time that was truly deserving of the term first class. The hard product is excellent and the crews on the ground and in the air obviously made an enormous effort to provide passengers with a service that is refined and polished. But it just seems like an awful lot of effort for just the one route with a service that doesn’t even operate daily to Heathrow.
But apart from that, I think Garuda Indonesia offers a good and solid product, both in Business Class and in First. Admittedly, I do think they could significantly improve the experience on the ground for passengers not travelling in First. I understand that the two domestic flights I did were delayed due to the severe weather that the airline has no influence over, and perhaps it goes without saying in Indonesia that all you can do in such cases is to sit and wait for it to pass. Even so, I think it wouldn’t hurt Garuda to communicate more proactively in cases of irregularity – and with that I don’t mean having a gate agent yelling at the top of her voice in Bahasia only.
I sincerely wish Garuda the best of luck for the future. And I hope their new CEO will succeed in maintaining the high standard of service and professionalism that I experienced and enjoyed on all my flights with the airline so far.
About two minutes before I board my flight to Amsterdam on Saturday, I receive a text message from Skywork Airlines informing me that they have not managed to secure an operating licence from the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation due to lack of funding. I am also advised that therefore all flights for the next day, including mine from Amsterdam to Berne, have been cancelled.
Perhaps not quite suite so surprising, I receive another text message just after I arrive in Amsterdam from them, informing me that the lines are busy and that so, should I have any queries, I had better send an email.
Personally, I can’t really say I incurred any serious damages from these recent developments at Skywork – except perhaps for the fact that at 43 years of age I have still never managed to fly into the airport of Switzerland’s capital city – which I had hoped to remedy with the cancelled flight.
I think that right now the industry is more surprised that SkyWork managed to survive for as long as it has. I suspect that for a long time the small carrier had hoped to be able to come to some sort of arrangement with SWISS, similar to the one between the larger carrier and Helvetic Airways. But if that were truly the case, then I think SkyWork’s management must be really naïve.
Apparently, the airline’s management is still working hard to secure the necessary funds. But to he honest, I won’t hold my breath, which is a shame really, because I rather liked SkyWork.
Time to head back home to the sweltering heat and humidity that is summer in Switzerland. Still, it was nice to escape the heat for a few days and the forecast is that the weather will start to cool down again over central Europe anyway in a few days.
Getting to the Airport
The journey by train from Malmö to Copenhagen airport takes thirty minutes to complete and will set you back SEK150 for a second class, one way ticket. The trains run frequently and are quite reliable.
I arrive at Copenhagen airport and the escalators taking me up from the platform spit me out right in the middle of Terminal 3. You know those moments we’ve probably all had, when you look at something and just think ‘what on earth were they thinking…’? That is very likely to happen to you at Copenhagen airport. Terminal 3 is the railway and metro station, Star Alliance check-in and arrivals all in one. As a result, the place is always crawling with people and it’s hard to get through, even if you’re not dragging a suitcase behind you.
But at least the airport authorities have identified the problem and both Terminals 2 and 3 are currently in the process of expansion, making the airport look more like a building site than an aviation hub.
KLM operates out of Terminal 2 in Copenhagen. I’ve already checked in using the KLM app for the flight, so upon entering the terminal I can go straight through to security.
KLM status cardholders are entitled to use the Fast Track at Copenhagen airport, which really is convenient as the lines for standard security are very busy.
KLM uses the CPH Aviator Lounge, which is a contractor lounge. The lounge is divided into two areas. The larger area is to the left and looks very crowded. To the right there is separate lounge, which is slightly smaller and much quieter. It also has good views of the apron.
The lounge is nice and the interior decorators were definitely tapping into that whole Scandinavian design vibe when designing it. There’s even a fake fireplace and mantle piece.
The food options are good too, with a wide selection of breakfast options – things like cold cuts, cheese, different types of bread and pastries.
Boarding starts slightly behind schedule. Apparently the aircraft was already late coming in and with the full load on the in- and outbound, turning around is taking longer than anticipated.
I think this is the first time I have a crew that isn’t up to the usual KLM standards. It was bound to happen one day… One of the things that always strikes me about KLM is the professionalism of their crew and the level of standardisation they achieve in their on board product. But today’s crew just seem a bit out of it. The purser is more or less improvising with the delivery of the safety on board instructions and it shows. Which rather unfortunate of course, because if even the crew can’t be bothered enough to deliver the instructions properly and conscientiously, they can hardly expect the passengers to take them seriously…
Later on, once the service begins, the lady on the first row of Economy Class asks for a Coke with ice, to which the flight attendant initially replies that he has Coke but no ice. Later on though he does bring her to Coke with ice from the Business Class trolley, which gives the impression that he couldn’t be bothered initially but then changed his mind.
But at least the views outside are nice.
With a flight time of only one hour, the service consists of a small box containing a piece of buttery cake and a cup of still water. In addition, the crew make a separate drinks round.
Eventually we land at 13:20, with a few minutes delay. A while back Amsterdam overtook Frankfurt in terms of passenger numbers and to be honest, I think it’s starting to show. The terminal is seriously overcrowded and the C dock is definitely not wide enough to accommodate all the passengers passing through it. We shall see what happens.
Perhaps I am being persnickety (to use one of the favourite words of the valiant M.) in my criticism of the KLM crew on this flight, and I’m aware of the fact that none of the things they did and that I mentioned in this post are overly bad. I’ve certainly experienced much worse on other airlines. I think it’s just that, having gotten used to their reliable service over the years, it comes as a bit of a surprise to be confronted with a crew that is not up to the usual standard I’ve grown accustomed to from KLM.
Date: 02 October 2016 Departure: 11:05 Arrival: 13:30 Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes Seat: 2F, window on the starboard side – upgraded from 6A
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Car rental Journey time: 45 minutes because we got lost…
I leave The Coul House at 08h40. The air up here is just so fresh that it really is a pleasure to just stand there inhaling a few breaths of the crisp, cool air. It must have been cold last night, because the windscreen is covered in a thin layer of ice where the night’s dew froze on the car.
The sun is just coming up over the highlands. The valleys are still thick with fog, and as the sun rises higher in the sky, the light creates strange and beautiful illusions.
Location: On the ground floor of the terminal, on your right as you enter the building. Counters: There are two counters for KLM, one is the drop-off counter and the other is the SkyPriority counter for Business Class passengers and Platinum/Gold card holders. Facilities: Counter check-in, self-service check-in, Web check-in via the KLM app.
By the time the car has been dropped off and I reach check-in, it is 09h45 and my flight is scheduled to depart in about one hour. There is a bit of a hold up at the SkyPriority counter because there are two guys checking in weapons.
The Swissport Aspire Lounge
Type of lounge: Swissport Aspire contractor lounge. Location: Near gate 3 Facilities: Comfortable sofas to sit on as well as other seating options, toilets are available outside the lounge. Catering: A selection of hot and cold drinks and small breakfast snacks – things like Cornflakes or scones with clotted cream. Wifi: Complimentary wifi is available in the lounge, the password is printed on the wall.
To be honest, I am quite surprised they have a lounge at all here in Inverness. It is a nice place with good amenities. The view in particular is brilliant because you are at ground level and have excellent views of the ramp. The lounge is managed by an elderly gentleman and he really is brilliant. He is very chatty and quite funny actually, and makes passengers feel instantly welcome with his joking. He keeps a low profile in the lounge, and most of the time you do not even notice he is there, but somehow everything is cleared up straight away.
Priority boarding is available. A separate call is made for Business Class passengers and Platinum members only, then for Gold and Silver members and eventually for everybody else. There is also a separate queue.
The scanner issues an alert as my boarding pass is scanned and the gate agent informs me I have been upgraded to Business Class again. It is quite surprising just how often that seems to happen on KLM these days.
I take my new pass and head out across the apron, taking pictures of the shiny chariot that will be taking me to Amsterdam this morning.
Configuration: 2 + 2. Pitch: 32 inches, which gradually decreases to 30 inches by row nine. Width: 17 inches Seat: There are two rows of Business Class on this flight. The seat next to me is kept empty. The seat on the Embraer 175 looks slightly different to that on the Embraer 190. Other than that though, it feels pretty much the same to sit in. On the first few rows the windows on the Embraer 175 are properly aligned with the passenger seats, so at least you have a good view of the outside. Towards the back though, the windows are increasingly unaligned. As a result, you end up either cranking your head back to look out through the window behind you, or sharing the window with the guy sitting in front of you, which is likely to give you tunnel vision…
There are two crew working the cabin. The purser is a young man in his mid-twenties, I should say. The other is a young woman who seems younger. Both of them are very professional and friendly, just your typical bog standard KLM flight attendants basically, which is what I like about KLM.
Before the doors close, the young man comes by offering a selection of English, French, German and Dutch newspapers.
Type of meal: Lunch Selection: Two choices for the sandwich Service: Individual service – the meal is served in a box on the Cityhopper lights, which looks better than it sounds.
Greek salad with feta cheese and pumpkin, with a mango chilli and lime dressing.
Salmon and egg wrap with spinach and cream cheese.
Tropical Pina Colada mousse with a lime topping.
A selection of hot and cold drinks.
After the meal I have a coke Zero, which is served with two packets of some really tasty almonds.
It is a lovely day for flying and the views outside are spectacular. After take-off from Inverness we head out onto the North Sea, and stay there pretty much until we hit the coast of the Netherlands. The weather in Amsterdam is pretty bad though and we are required to circle over the sea before eventually we are cleared to make our approach.
In Amsterdam I have two hours to make my connection to Basel.
Finally, I really thought the moment would never come. But it has – at long last, it is finally time for my summer vacation. I normally tend to head East for my longer excursions. And of course it is always interesting and exciting to experience new cultures and exotic locations. But it is also very tiring. That is why this year, I did not really fancy straying too far afield. And so I find myself heading West instead for a change. Obviously, taking the most direct route to my destination would have been the most sensible thing to do. But where is the fun in that, I ask you?
And so my journey begins with a set of positioning flights from Zürich to Amsterdam and then from there on to Frankfurt, both on KLM. I already have quite a few posts about ‘my friends in blue’ – as my colleague the Flying Dutchman refers to KLM – so I think we can skip introductions and keep things short and simple.
There are three rows of Business Class on this flight, with a total of twelve seats. The middle seat is kept empty. Only seven seat are occupied this evening. I am on 1C, which is the aisle seat on the port side of the aircraft. Just a piece of advice: 1C sticks out quite far into the aisle, because the bulkhead is not quite as wide as the row of seats. While this certainly allows you to stretch you legs, it can also be slightly irritating after a while. Every time somebody walks past, you end up with the curtain brushing against your legs or in your face.
There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they really are excellent. They are very attentive and address every passenger by name, which I always find rather a nice touch.
Carrot gazpacho with parsley and shaved almonds.
Spanish chickpea salad with beef bresoala, Kalamata olives and fresh herbs, served with a chilli and lime dressing.
Orange mousse and chocolate ganache.
Selection from the breadbasket, the crew make two rounds.
I am not really all that partial to smoked meats. To be honest I find them rather off putting most of the time. But apart from that, the meal is nice enough. Especially the gazpacho is well seasoned. Throughout the meal, the crew are very attentive and make sure to keep drinks replenished at all times.
Transfer in Amsterdam
We approach the airport from the North, to make an approach for runway 18R. Amsterdam has three parallel runways with a North-South orientation and very often, like today, 18R and 18C are in use for simultaneous approaches, which always look really cool, I think.
I exit the aircraft into the C concourse. I do not think I have ever seen Amsterdam airport so deserted. Obviously, it is the holiday season and most people have already left on vacation. Even the Crown Lounge is pleasantly empty.
The flight to Frankfurt departs at 20h45 and is operated by an Embraer 190 of KLM Cityhopper. There are still quite a few empty seats on the flight, despite a fairly large group of passengers who are obviously returning from a cruise in Scandinavia.
The flight time is announced as 40 minutes. Even so, every passenger is given a small box with a container of still water and some BBQ flavoured crackers.
In Frankfurt KLM uses Terminal 2, which is basically used for all the non-Star Alliance traffic. I will be staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is located above the railway station for the mainline trains adjacent to Terminal 1. Access to the railway station and hotel is via a footbridge from Terminal 1.
Transfer in Frankfurt
There is a shuttle bus that takes passengers from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1. The first thing the smokers do upon exiting the terminal building is light up. As a result, the waiting area for the shuttle bus is constantly shrouded in a veil of heavy smoke. So instead of milling about with the chain smokers, I decide to walk across to Terminal 1. It is not really that far to walk, but the path is not clearly marked. Even so, walking at a leisurely pace it should not take more than 10 minutes to reach Terminal 1.