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.
The day after I return from Malta I am on my way to Aalborg in Denmark. For me the most convenient way to get there is, as usual, with KLM. As I have already covered KLM extensively in my blog, our story today starts just as yours truly steps off the escalators to the ground level of the B concourse at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
The first boarding call is for Business Class and SkyPriority passengers. Although in this particular case that only means that you are first to board the bus to take you to the aircraft.
The gate agent scans my mobile boarding pass, only to discover – lo and behold – that the upgrade fairy has done her magic yet again and I have been shifted from 6A to 1A, the window seat on the bulkhead row.
The first thing that strikes me is that there is no cabin divider to separate the Business Class cabin from the Economy Class one. Furthermore, on the Embraers KLM does not keep the seat next to you empty in Business Class. So in other words, essentially you have exactly the same level of comfort, or lack thereof, as all the other passengers at the back of the bus.
There are two cabin crew on the flight today. A young man as the purser, and a young lady working the rear of the aircraft. Interaction is somewhat limited, given that the flight is full and the flight time is only one hour. Even so, the crew are friendly in the way I am used to from KLM. Before departure, passengers on the first row are asked if they would like a newspaper, so I figure this means there is just the one row of Business Class on the flight today.
Delivery: On KLM Cityhopper flights the Business Class meal is always served in a cardboard box. Type of meal: Light dinner
Greek salad with honeyed goats cheese, tomato, onion, cucumber and olives.
Tropical mousse with lime topping.
Tea or coffee.
The meal is tasty enough and hits the spot nicely. One thing I have noticed with KLM though, is that they do not really seem to vary or change their menus that often. So if you fly with them a lot, you are going to end up having the same meal over and over again.
Very soon after the meal is removed, the descent into Aalborg begins. It is a really nice evening for flying and the setting sun looks brilliant on the horizon.
By the time we land it is already 22h30. So I shall be spending the night at the Aalborg airport hotel before heading into town in the morning.
Date: 18. June 2016 From: Amsterdam To: Palma Departure: 06:30 Arrival: 08:40 Flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes Seat: 12A, window on the port side
The meeting ends in the early afternoon on Friday. My friend, the wiry R. will be returning to Zürich by KLM this evening. So we still have a few hours to kill. So we spend the last few hours walking around Amsterdam. We even find the time to have an excellent afternoon tea at De Backerswinkel, an idyllic spot set among the dildo shops and gay leather bars of old Amsterdam.
Getting to the Airport
It is Saturday morning and I awake just after four o’clock. Last night I slept at the CitizenM at Amsterdam airport, which is located roughly five minutes away on foot from the terminal complex. Outside everything is still fairly quiet.
Location: Departure concourse 1, rows 3 to 5. Facilities: Check-in is available online, at the self-service machines at the airport or at the counter.
According to the Transavia website, the price to check-in a suitcase of up to 15 kilos is EUR21 if you pay in advance, or EUR32 if you pay at the airport – which is why I decided to pay the EUR21 at the time of booking. However, what the website does not tell you, is that if – like me – you are travelling with a slightly oversized carry-on, it will be taken from you at the gate and transported in the hold free of charge. If I had known, I think I would not have bothered.
The KLM Crown Lounge
Location: On the upper level of the transit area, where the D concourse branches off from the main terminal complex. Type of Lounge: KLM Crown Lounge. Facilities: Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There are also computer work stations available. Catering: Catering in the lounge is fair and there is a good breakfast spread laid out with cheese, cold cuts, bread, cereals and fruit. Internet: Wifi is available throughout the lounge. You need to provide your family name to access the network.
Flying Blue Gold and Platinum members are entitled to use the KLM Crown Lounge on all scheduled Transavia flights that are operated as a code-share with KLM. Charter flights are not eligible.
The lounge is pretty empty when I arrive. The television is on and CNN is blaring away in the background, with Amanpour giving us another rendition of the crap that is alleged to be investigative journalism.
Boarding is from gate D63. There is no priority boarding as such, except for families travelling with small children, of which there seem to be copious amounts on this morning’s flight.
Configuration: 3 + 3 in an Economy Class only configuration. The aircraft has a seating capacity of 149. Seat: On Transavia’s Boeing B 737-700 the emergency exit is located on row twelve. The seat is fairly comfortable and has sufficient padding to make the flight pleasant enough on the rump. There does not appear to be any inflight entertainment system on board this aircraft and there are no power outlets either.
The price for the emergency exit row is EUR10 per person and can be reserved at the time of booking or later on. Personally, I think they are EUR10 wisely invested as the pitch on row 12 is excellent. I can even stretch out my legs comfortably for a trip to Noddy land.
There are three female cabin crew on this flight and all three of them are really excellent. They are very friendly, joking and fooling around with the little ones on the plane to keep them entertained.
Service on Transavia is buy on board. The selection is good and includes a fairly wide range of drinks and snacks, mostly sandwiches, muffins etc. The prices are also okay. I order a medium sized Nescafe Cappuccino and a Dutch biscuit with a tasty almond filling, which sets me back EUR4. I think that is quite good actually. The crew pass through the cabin with the food trolley once the seatbelt sign goes off, but you can purchase food and drinks throughout the flight.
The flight time to Palma is two hours and ten minutes according to the cabin crew. But the time passes quickly, mainly due to the fact that I manage to get a solid hour’s sleep.
The weather en route is pretty bad and only clears up just before we reach the island. By the time we land, the temperature is already a balmy 19 degrees Celsius.
And once again, I am in luck and we deplane via the stairs and not an airbridge. What’s more, they have also attached stairs to the rear door, giving me loads of opportunities to take pictures of the Boeing 737’s rather sexy looking stabilizer.
The terminal is crawling with people and the aircraft just keep landing one after the other. My suitcase arrives pretty quickly though. But then I reach the Europcar counter and things start going south. They use a numbering system to queue. I have a ticket with the number 70, but they are still only just serving customer number 24. I figure to myself that surely it cannot possibly take that long to process the forty-six customers before me… So I wait. I go for a stroll around the arrivals and departure area. I read in my Kindle. I go to the loo – repeatedly – but no matter what happens, the Europcar queue is really moving so slowly it hurts. Eventually, it takes me three hours for my number finally to be called.
All in all, I rather liked Transavia. First of all, the crew was excellent. Secondly, they somehow lack the look and feel of a low cost carrier. My only complaint really, is the departure time. Something a bit more civilised would have been nice. But perhaps that has more to do with the destination and not the carrier.
Date: 15 June 2016 From: Zürich To: Amsterdam Departure: 17:35 Arrival: 19:00 Flight time: 1 hour and 25 minutes Seat: 1A, window on the post side
Today I am on my way to Amsterdam for a meeting on Thursday and Friday. This time, I am travelling with my colleague, the wiry R., who quite apparently does not at all share my passion for aeroplanes.
We have both checked in using the KLM app. When the new app was launched, there were a few teething problem, especially when it came to ‘printing’ the boarding pass for Passbook. But those seem to have been overcome and the app is very reliable these days.
Generally speaking, advanced seat selection is possible on all KLM flights, even in Economy Class, and the website works very well, providing a good and detailed seatmap. Some seats on the seatmap are marked in orange or yellow. Orange marks the Economy Comfort seats with greater pitch, while yellow marks the extra legroom seats such as the emergency exit row. Flying Blue Platinum members can select any seat they like free of charge. Gold members pay a reduced rate to obtain an orange or yellow seat. All other passengers must pay the full price, which may vary, for one of these seats.
Once that is done and we are airside, we decide to forfeit the questionable luxury of the Aspire lounge for a visit to the Sprüngli airside café. In case you have not heard the name before, Sprüngli is a Swiss chocolatier. The stuff they produce is really excellent but very rich. Just one of their pralines is enough to make you put on 5 kilos just from looking at it and will probably send some people into a sugar coma – but what a way to go!
The Sprüngli café is located on the upper level of the Airside Centre, just after security and the obligatory duty free shop. If you want to try out what Sprüngli has on offer without breaking the bank, I can highly recommend a café au lait and a Truffe du jour.
Oh happy day, the mighty airline geek Gods look upon me with favouring eyes today! Yes, we are boarding from gate B08. Okay, admittedly B08 is definitely in the remotest possible corner to the terminal complex, but it is a bus gate. I find it so much more exciting to board the aircraft via stairs because it brings you face to face with the beast you will be flying in. Sorry, I think I’m dribbling…
Configuration: 2 + 2 – with an empty middle seat Seat: Obviously, the bulkhead row offers the greatest leg space. If you prefer an aisle seat, you should definitely go with 1D on the starboard side instead of 1C on the port side. The latter partially protrudes into the aisle, which means you are more likely to have people brushing against you on their way to the loo or galley. Pitch: 33 inches in Business Class and Economy Comfort (rows 1 to 6), 30 inches in Economy Class (from row 7 on) Width: 17 inches Facilities: 110 AC power outlet at every seat
Honeyed goat cheese balls with a greek salad
Pina Colada cream with crumble and lime
Selection form the bread basket
Either there have been cost cuts at KLM or the cabin attendant working the Business Class cabin really could not give a shit – if you’ll pardon my French. He is definitely friendly and chatty, so I kind of suspect the former is the case.
If I am not mistaken, previously you used to get a hot towel before the meal, which was always nice and helped get rid of the grime on your hands from travelling. This is no longer the case. Furthermore, I ask for sparkling water with the meal. Where previously KLM used to give you a whole can of Perrier, this time I am only given a glass just the one glass and I have no idea what brand of water it is. And finally, after the meal I ask for a coffee which quickly arrives – but without those really tasty Punselies caramel biscuits.
The flight passes surprisingly quickly. Our approach into Amsterdam is rather bumpy, but I am just glad they have brought us in on runway 18C, which is the central one of the three parallel runways and within a reasonable taxiing distance to the terminal.
Please don’t tell me it’s going to be another one of those trips… I am on my way to Kuwait to attend an ICAO meeting/workshop on the implementation of the language proficiency requirements. I am one of the speakers on Monday morning, so it is kind of important that I actually make it on to the flight to Kuwait this afternoon, it is just that I only notice on my way to the gate that I have left all my credit cards in my jeans, which are lying in the wash basket at home. But I think it it should be okay, I still have my bank card.
The flight to Amsterdam starts out all right. We line up on runway 15 for a departure in a southerly direction. The pilot pushes the throttle forward and for a moment we go rolling down the runway, before the aircraft starts to slow down again a moment later – rejected take-off! Apparently the auto throttle is not working properly. Eventually though, the system is rebooted (What ever happened to hands on flying…?!??!), we line up for departure a second time, and succeed in getting airborne.
Transfer in Amsterdam Schiphol
Despite the delay, we still manage to arrive at the gate in Amsterdam on time, at 12h35. The KLM City Hopper flights all use the B concourse. My onward flight will be at 14h25 from the E concourse in the non-Schengen part of the terminal. My first stop though, is at the TravelEx counter where the B and C concourses join up. I have ordered some Kuwaiti Dinar for collection at the airport.
There is a bit of a hold up, because the money was accidentally deposited for me to collect at the landside counter in the Schiphol Plaza. Fortunately though, the staff are very accommodating and send somebody to bring me the money.
From there I pass through immigration and then on to the E concourse.
By this time it is already 13h22 and my flight to Kuwait is scheduled to start boarding at 13h40. So I figure there is hardly any point in me making the trek to the Crown Lounge above the F concourse. Besides, I am still way off from my target of daily steps. So instead I just walk to the end of the E concourse and then back. Occasionally stopping to take pictures of the aircraft parked at the gate.
There is a separate lane for SkyPriority passengers, which essentially includes Business Class passengers as well as gold and platinum members.
There is a trolley in the airbridge with a selection of Dutch and English language newspapers for passengers to help themselves.
Configuration: 2 + 2 + 2. There are 30 seats in total in Business Class, with three rows forward of the L2 door and two rows aft of it. Seat: KLM currently offers four different Business Class products on its wide-body fleet. There is the new fully horizontal life-flat which is installed on the Boeing B 747-400 and is now being introduced on the B 777-300. Then there is the angled lie-flat seat installed on the Airbus A 330-300. If I am not mistaken, this is pretty much the same seat Air France has too. The new B 787 will have the same seat as Cathay Pacific in Business Class. And finally of course, there is the old angled seat on the Airbus A 330-200, which is what I shall be travelling in today. This seat is really passed it. It is comfortable enough to lounge in but it can be a tad difficult to sleep in unless you really are completely exhausted. And there is next to no storage space. Pitch: 60 inches. Width: 20.5 inches. Length as a bed: 75 inches, 30 degrees angled. Facilities: The seat has a reading lamp in the overhead panel, in addition to a reading lamp installed in the seat itself. In addition, there is what KLM refers to as the ‘privacy hood’, which opens up from the top of the seat back to protect the guy sitting behind you from scrutinising your scalp too closely when the seat is in the fully extended position. A pillow and blanket have already been placed at every seat before the passengers board the aircraft. There is also a power port at every seat in Business Class. Audio and Video: Noise cancelling earphones, 16 audio channels, audio and video on demand. Screen size: 10.4 inches.
The flights is full in Business Class but rather empty in Economy Class. The purser even makes an announcement to this effect, asking passengers to refrain from moving until after we are airborne.
Once most of the passengers are seated, the crew distribute the vanity kits and welcome drinks. The menus are handed out after take-off. The crew are very attentive and make a point of addressing every passenger by their family name.
Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice. There is a choice of still water, orange juice, sparkling wine and Heineken. Hot towel before the meal: Slightly scented hot towels are handed out, they are nice and thick and in much better quality than the ones on British Airways or Swiss. Pre-meal drink: Coke Zero. There is a choice of warm nuts or small cubes of Dutch cheese to go with the drinks. Choice: There are two choices for the starter, three for the main dish and four for dessert. Delivery: Trolley service. Type of meal: Late lunch.
The meal is very tasty, especially the salmon starter is excellent, and the portions are of a good size. By the time the meal ends, I am feeling decidedly full.
The First Course
Marinated salmon and salmon mousse with pickled cucumber, turnip and basil cream with a dill vinaigrette.
Mixed salad with roast pumpkin seeds.
The Main Course
Beef and beetroot meatballs with a herbed veal jus, smoked potato mousseline, cauliflower poached in a parmesan broth and leeks.
Cheese plate with St. Bernardus and Moulin bleu with a fig and cardamom chutney.
The Second Service
About an hour out of Kuwait, a small snack is served. There is a choice of either a hummus wrap, croquettes or a warm almond cake/biscuit type thing. I decide to go with the latter and a cup of coffee to keep me going until I get to the hotel.
We land at 21h45, roughly twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Surprisingly, most of the passengers are continuing their journey to Dammam, with only a handful leaving the aircraft in Kuwait.
The visa and immigration process in Kuwait is not quite straightforward: first of all, as you exit the plane, do not follow the signs for immigration and arrival. Instead, follow the signs marked ‘visa collection’. The visa bureau is in the far corner of the terminal, hidden at the very back of the food court. The very first thing you must do, is pick a number for your turn in the queue. Do this before you do anything else. The process is slow and you will have more than enough time to prepare all your documents. To the left of the machine dispensing the tickets with your number in the queue are the vending machines for the stamps you will need to validate your visa. For most countries eligible for a visa on arrival, the fee is 5 Kuwaiti Dinar. The machine accepts most notes, but does not give any change. If you do not have any Kuwaiti currency on you, there is an exchange office near the visa bureau.
You will also need to complete an immigration card with your passport details and contact info for Kuwait. When your number is finally up, the visa is issued on an A4 size piece of paper and the officer will stick the stamps on the visa. Once that is done, go to the counter on the far right to have the visa validated. And then from there, finally, you can head downstairs to immigration. You will not have to queue again and can simply walk through the gate to the baggage reclaim area.
Getting into Town
Transport: Airport shuttle. Departs from: Hotel booth right outside arrivals. Journey time: 30 minutes. Fare: 9 Dinar As you exit arrivals, there are booths for all the big hotel chains. In most cases, the hotel will pick you up, just as long as you inform them well enough in advance.
I spend three days giving a course to a group of Spanish and Portuguese participants. It has been a fun three days and our Spanish host were very welcoming and hospitable. Of course it also helped that the weather in Madrid was simply gorgeous, with clear blue skies and temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius, while back home in Switzerland they had already started to take out their winters coats.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Shuttle bus from the Airport Hilton Departs from: Right outside the lobby Frequency: Every 25 minutes Journey time: About 10 minutes to Terminal 2 Fare: The shuttle is complimentary
At 15h05 I catch the complimentary shuttle bus back to Barajas airport. By the looks of it, I am the only hotel guest making the journey to the airport. On its way to Terminal 2, the shuttle makes a brief stop at Terminal 1, which is the non-Schengen terminal, before continuing to Terminal 2.
Location: On the first floor. If you arrive by car, there are signs indicating which carrier is located at which entrance. Facilities: Online check-in, self-service check-in and baggage drop counters.
KLM and Air France have their own set of dedicated check-in counters at Barajas, including a large number of self-service kiosks. I have already checked in using the Air France app. However, I briefly check at one of the counters to inquire about the location of the Air France lounge. The check-in agent is a friendly young lady. She points out to me that at the far end of the concourse, behind the Alitalia check-in counters, there is a fast track for security for Business Class passengers and status card holders.
Location: One floor up from the main transit area on the E concourse. The stairs to the lounge are located near gate E69. The E concourse is one of the newer facilities in the original terminal complex at Barajas. As such, it has a very spacious and airy feel. Type of Lounge: Puerta de Sol contractor lounge, operated, I think, by the airport authority. Facilities: A large bar with hot and cold drinks. There are also cold and warm snacks. For the latter there is a microwave for you to heat the prepacked food in. It does not look particularly sophisticated or elegant, but I guess it gets the job done. There is also a set of workstations. Toilets are available in the lounge, but there are no showers. Internet: Complimentary wifi connectivity. The code can be found at the bottom of the information screens which are located by the entrance to the lounge.
The lounge is nothing special really. Its one redeeming feature however, is the commanding view of the apron and the runway used for arrivals. So I take up a seat by the window. I actually take out my Kindle to do some reading. But somehow I keep getting distracted by the constant stream of aircraft filing past my window. Brilliant!
Boarding takes for ever, due to the fact that it is a full flight today. I am sitting on 2F, which is a window seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft. One of my windows is right above the forward cargo hatch. As the suitcases are loaded onto the aircraft, I get a chance to look at the labels on the conveyor belt, before the bags disappear into the hold. Most of the checked luggage, from what I can tell, belongs to connecting passengers. There are only few bags with Amsterdam as their final destination. The majority of the bags are labelled for Incheon and Pudong.
Apart from all that, I am just happy as a pig in shit for finally bagging the retro-liveried B 737-800.
I have already covered the cabin of the KLM Boeing 737-800 in my previous posts, so I guess there is no need for an introduction. One thing that strikes me on this particular trip though, is that apart from a greater pitch, the seats in the forward cabin also seem to be slightly more inclined when the seatback is in the upright position. And quite frankly, it is not particularly comfortable. I keep sliding down the seat.
I have yet to experience a bad crew on KLM. I think that is one of the carrier’s most impressive features. No matter what, the crews are always friendly and welcoming. Service in Business Class is conducted by a middle-aged gentleman.
Choice: There are two choices for the main course, including one vegetarian option. Although on this particular flight the vegetarian option is different to the one printed on the menus which were distributed before departure. Delivery: Tray service Type of meal: Early dinner, although is you are Spanish it probably qualified more as a latish lunch…
An amuse bouche of asparagus salad with grilled tomato and sauce Hollondaise.
A seasonal salad with lemon flavoured olive oil.
Vegetarian Risotto with grilled vegetables and pickled onions.
Orange Bavaroise with blueberry sauce and white chocolate shavings.
Selection from the bread basket with butter (two servings).
Despite the flight time of over two hours, KLM does not have a pre-meal drinks service. However, even after the meal service is over, the crew come through the cabin repeatedly, asking passengers if they want anything else to drink.
Other than that, the meal is rather tasty and hits the spot nicely. The Hollondaise sauce is nice and creamy and always goes well with the asparagus. The Risotto with the pickled onions in surprisingly good! The dessert is the only thing about the meal I do not really like. It is awfully sweet and the orange tastes slightly artificial.
By the time we reach the top of descent, the sun is already very low on the horizon, providing a spectacular display of colours in the sky. And by the time we finally land in Schiphol, it is already dark. In Amsterdam I only have about 40 minutes before my connecting flight to Basel departs. So I decide to forfeit the comfort of the Crown Lounge in favour of walking up and down the C and B concourses to meet the daily step target on my Garmin Fenix 3. Life is good…!
You may, perhaps, be wondering where on earth Haugesund is. It is a small town located more or less halfway between Stavanger and Bergen in Norway. I am in Haugesund with the tall and blond M. to visit a business partner who lives and works just outside town.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Car rental Journey time: About two hours Haugesund lies due north of Stavanger. The journey by car is very scenic and takes you along the coast. To get from Haugesund to Stavanger you need to take through three road tunnels that go under wanter. The tunnels are between four and six kilometres long, the deepest one we passed through was 228 metres below sea level! Possibly the freakiest thing I have ever seen is that one tunnel even has a roundabout in it where two independent tunnels merge…!
You will also need to take a ferry. The journey takes approximately thirty minutes to complete. I am not sure if there is actually a schedule or if the boats just run on an ad hoc basis. The price for one car and two adults is NOK206. The ferries have excellent facilities, clean toilets, a self-service restaurant offering hot and cold dishes, and plenty of space to sit.
Location: Departure area on the ground floor. Arrivals and departures are on the same level landside. Airside departures are one floor up. Facilities: Check-in machines, Web Check-in, dedicated Air France / KLM counters. Counters: One counter for SkyPriority passengers and two counters for all other travellers.
KLM does not provide a lounge in Stavanger. And as far as I know, there is no other lounge in the terminal either. However, two floors up from the check-in area there is a semi self-service restaurant serving typically Norwegian fare and which also offers excellent views of the apron.
So we order ourselves two plates of meatballs in some brown sauce with boiled potatoes and mashed peas, park ourselves in front of the window and settle in to watch the world go by.
Stavanger plays an important role in Norway’s booming oil industry. The airport serves as a hub for the many operators that fly personnel out to the oilrigs in the Atlantic. Bristow’s Helicopters is obviously the most important operator out of Stavanger and it is rather interesting to watch the mix of commercial fixed wing and rotary wing movements at the airport. They even have a dedicated helicopter terminal.
We wait to watch our aircraft land safely and taxi to the gate, before eventually we decided it is time to head one floor down for security. The place is fairly quiet, despite the fact that there are quite a few flights leaving, including an Icelandair B 757 parked next to us.
Apparently the flight is severely overbooked, and so I end up being upgraded again. Instead of 8C I shall now be sitting on 5A, which is a window seat on the last row of Business Class. To be honest, they should not really have bothered. I mean, it is not as though I am going to eat again, having just had a full meal on the ground. Still, being in Business Class means I have the seat next to me empty and have a lot more space to spread out and sprawl.
If it is all the same to you, I shall spare you yet another description of the new KLM Cityhopper seat. As I already mentioned above, in Business Class the seat next to you is always kept empty. Which means that on the row of two you can sit on either the aisle or the window seat. On the row of three seats, the middle seat is kept empty to provide some extra space between you and your neighbour.
The service is provided by two smart Dutch young ladies. With most of the passengers being male oilrig workers fresh off a platform stuck out in the Atlantic, the two flight attendants can hardly complain of not getting enough attention. In fact they look slightly uncomfortable.
Mixed salad and sun-dried tomatoes with pepper jack dressing.
A choice of vegetarian (falafel wrap with curried hummus, cucumber and bell pepper) or non-vegetarian (club sandwich with chicken, served with potato crisps) sandwich wrap.
Quark mousse with strawberry topping.
We arrive in Amsterdam on time. I know have 40 minutes to make my connection to Basel. Only two more days at work and then finally, I shall be off on holiday.
On Friday evening I arrived in Amsterdam on a flight from Warsaw. I spend a lovely weekend in Amsterdam enjoying the fine weather and today I shall continue my journey from Amsterdam to Zürich and from there on to Izmir, where I shall be giving a course.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Tram and train Departs from: Amsterdam Museumplain Arrives at: Amsterdam Schiphol airport Journey time: Roughly 40 minutes Frequency: From Central station to the airport there are trains roughly every 5 to 10 minutes.
It is still early on Sunday morning. I leave the Sir Albert Hotel just after seven and make my way to the tram stop for the line 16 or 24 tram. Eventually, after waiting for about 10 minutes without even as much as hearing a tram, I consult the timetable, only to find that the first tram will not be arriving until 07:48. So I grab my suitcase and walk to the Museum square which is five minutes away. From there I take the tramline 5 to Central station. The journey to the railway station takes about ten minutes. From there I catch an intercity train to Schiphol, which makes the journey to the airport in about 15 minutes.
Location: Departure Hall 1, one floor up from the Central Plaza. Facilities: Economy Class passengers check-in use the self-service facilities, which includes labelling and putting the suitcases on the conveyor belt yourself. For Business Class passengers and status holders, there are also staffed counters for check-in available. Security: There is a dedicated line for status card holders and Business Class passengers for security.
I already checked in for my flight the evening before. I do not know if perhaps KLM have made changes to their IT infrastructure recently, but for some reason the KLM app seems to be working surprisingly well these last few weeks. Even adding the boarding pass to Passbook works without a hitch.
I arrive at the airport at about 08:15 and make my way to security. Personally I think Schiphol has one of the best organised security checks around. First of all, there always seem to be enough counters open to cope with all the passengers. So you never have to queue for very long. Secondly, the people who work here are always really friendly, unlike the frumpy, grumpy ex-KGB agents they tend to employ at many other airports these days.
The KLM Crown Lounge
Location: One floor up from the public airside centre, at the beginning of the D dock. Type of lounge: KLM lounge for Business Class passengers and status holder. Facilities: Working stations, separate television watching room, toilets and showers available in the lounge. The lounge is divided in two parts. There is a smaller section at the back, which is only open at specific times or when demand makes it necessary. Catering: There is a selection of hot and cold dishes available throughout the day. The selection varies on the time of day. There is a second bar in the smaller section of the lounge. Hot food however, is only available in the larger, front section of the lounge. Internet: Free internet is available, password required.
The Crown Lounge is already quite full, but not near as bad as on a Friday evening, when it can be difficult to find a place to sit. Fortunately, they have opened the back part of the lounge, which tends to be quieter that the main area due to the fact that the bar area at the back is only rarely open.
The breakfast selection is quite good, with a selection of bread, cheese and ham, yoghurt, fresh fruit salad and thick pancakes with maple syrup.
Business Class passengers and status card holders are invited to board the aircraft first. There is also a dedicated line for these passengers to queue.
My flight will be leaving from C15, which is a 6 minutes walk from the lounge area. Originally, boarding should have started at 09h15. However, at 09h20 an announcement is made that due to some communication mishap, catering has yet to load the meals and therefore the flight will be running slightly late. Eventually we push back from the gate with a delay of 20 minutes. Even so, our arrival in Zürich is expected on time, thanks to a strong tail wind. Our flight time to Zürich is announced as 55 minutes.
The flight this morning is completely full. I really do not think I have every seen anything like this. I am sitting on row two and the queue of people boarding the plane is seemingly endless. The purser tells me that indeed the flight is completely sold out, with not a single seat available.
Configuration: 2 + 2 Seat number: 2C Seat: This is a bog standard European Business Class configuration with a row of three Economy Class seats on either side of the aisle. The middle seat is left empty and marked accordingly with a headrest. The seat is fairly comfy, even though it is quite thin and thus quite hard. Pitch: 33 inches Width: 17 inches
In typical Dutch style, the crew on this flight are all friendly and chatty. They are very relaxed. Some guy sitting at the back of the bus has forgotten or loss his iPhone at the gate. The crew even allow him off the plane twice to go look for it, before eventually it is time to leave and the doors close. Throughout the flight, the crew take good care of passengers and make sure everyone is well-hydrated and nourished.
Type of meal: Breakfast
Plate of cold ham and a selection of cheese, served with butter.
Jam (no choice).
Selection form the bread basket – they came through the cabin three times.
Coffee and orange juice.
The meal hits the spot nicely. Okay, admittedly I had already eaten in the lounge but I am still starting to feel hungry again by the time we get airborne.
With a flight time of only 55 minutes, obviously the service does not take too long, and as soon I have finished my meal and the purser has checked that I will not be having a fifth croissant (I know…), he removes my tray and the crew start preparing for landing.
We arrive at the gate at 11:05. There is a slight delay in getting the aircraft connected to an external power unit. Even so, we are still slightly ahead of schedule by the time we are allowed off the plane.
But my journey is not finished here in Zürich. I now have one hour to buy a few things and exchange some money before I meet the valiant M. and we head off to give another course.
There is this really excellent app that was recommended to me by my friend, the intrepid M., who is a seriously bad ass runner. The app is called MapMyRun. I think it is excellent because it allows you to log your runs and track your progress; you can map your route, see what distance and elevation you have covered, what your average pace is etc.
Are you wondering why I am telling you all this? Well, quite simply because I regret that sometimes I lack the presence of mind. Maybe I can blame it on Hong Kong this time or the jet lag. Otherwise, I think it would have been brilliant to log a MapMyRun workout of my run through Amsterdam Airport carrying a suit in one hand and my rucksack in the other.
Transfer in Amsterdam
Amsterdam Airport really is the best! If you are transferring from a non-Schengen to a Schengen flight and you are, like me, running out of time, there is a dedicated short connection track through immigration and security.
I arrive at gate B04, from where my flight to Basel will be leaving. One of the gate attendants looks at me and asks me if I have just come off the Hong Kong flight. I nod ascent, still trying to catch my breath, to which he comments that he is surprised by how quickly I managed to get to B04. Oh yes, I think if I had had MapMyRun activated, we would be looking at a new sprint best time. Life is full of missed opportunities.
I board the bus, assuming I am the last passenger holding up the proceedings. But then we wait, and then some more. Eventually, after another ten minutes or so an elderly couple slowly ambles over to the counter and hand the gate agent their boarding passes. The lady passenger is carrying a Shanghai Tang shopping bag, so I can only presume that she and the hubby must have been on my flight. Well take you time dear, when you are ready…!
Type of meal: Snack
Starter – Creamy potato and leeks soup with diced tomatoes.
Main – Mixed salad with pesto pasta and Mozzarella cheese.
Dessert – Dutch Speculaas spiced dessert.
TO CUT A LONG STORY SHORT… The flight is pretty uneventful until we reach Basel. We are already established on a very bumpy and unstable approach when suddenly we accelerate and start climbing again. Apparently the wind keeps changing so we are going to have to make an approach from the opposite direction. A lot of screaming passengers and fifteen minutes later and we are finally safely on the ground. It has been a long time since I last heard passengers clapping with relief as we hit the ground.
Oh, and in case you are wondering: no, my suitcase did not make the short connection in Amsterdam. Still, a home delivery is better than having to cart the damn thing home myself.
Part of your life, you give me a moment. Me sure in spite of the past, and in spite of the future. This tick of our lifetime is one moment you love me.
– Jeremy Irons, Chinese Box (1997)
As long as I can remember, I had always wanted to go to Hong Kong. Initially, my infatuation with the place was based partly on the old Kai Tak airport and partly on the territory’s fascinating history as a British trading post.
Originally, Hong Kong Island was leased to the British because the Chinese were wary of them and simply thought the Europeans were uncivilised. They did not want them setting foot on Chinese soil and mixing with the locals. No good could come of that. Trade with the hopelessly uncouth was okay as far as the Chinese were concerned, just as long as they kept their distance. And so Hong Kong – the barren rock – was leased to the British for a period of 150 years. In hindsight, the Chinese were probably right to be cautious about the British, considering how they set out to colonise the world like a contagious disease.
My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1994, I was twenty at the time. And I have kept returning ever since. Somehow, this place never gets boring. What I love about Hong Kong is that although the place itself is now quite familiar after so many visits, the city is never quite the same. Things disappear, change and reveal themselves in new light. And all the while it is business as usual in Hong Kong.
Getting to the Airport
Transport: MTR and Hong Kong Airport Express Departs from: Wan Chai MTR Frequency: Every three minutes Journey time: About five minutes from Wan Chai to Central and another twenty-four minutes from there to the airport. Fare: HKD4.50 for the MTR and HKD100 for the Hong Kong Airport Express.
The entrance to the Wan Chai MTR station is just down the road from the Indigo Hotel, where I am staying in Hong Kong. From Wan Chai it is two stops to Central, where you can connect to the Hong Kong Airport Express. The transfer is pretty painless and easy, with directions on the public transport system clearly signposted. It is not possible to purchase a combined ticket for the MTR and Airport Express.
Location: On the ground floor of the Central Airport Express station. Facilities: In-town check-in at Central on Hong Kong Island or at the airport. Counters: Counter 2 is the dedicated check-in counter for KLM, ANA, and Virgin at the in-town check-in area.
Most carriers operating to and from Hong Kong will allow you to check-in at the station at Central on Hong Kong Island. In order to do so however, you must make the journey from Central to the airport by train. To this end, you are required to purchase your ticket before you check-in, the train tickets grants you access to the check-in area.
The QANTAS Business Class Lounge
Location: Immediately behind the exit from immigration north do a sharp right turn. Type of Lounge: Qantas lounge Facilities: An extensive buffet of hot and cold dishes, a large and well-stocked bar, showers and toilets, dining area and lounging area.
This must be one of the nicest lounges I have ever set foot in. Of course it probably helps that the place is more or less deserted when I arrive. Even so, I am impressed by how spacious the lounge is, how nicely furnished it is and how good the catering is. It is not just that there are a lot of food choices; the quality of the food is also good. What is more, the lounge offers some excellent views of the ramp. From where I am sitting I can see my ride to Amsterdam in the distance.
There are two separate lanes for boarding – SkyPriority and everybody else. SkyPriority is for Elite and ElitePlus members as well as passengers travelling in Business Class.
Boarding starts a little early at 12:50. By the look of it, the crew is hoping to make an early start in an attempt to have us depart Hong Kong ahead of schedule. And indeed, boarding is completed way ahead of our departure time, despite the fact that the flight is fully booked today. But then the crew discovers that there is a mistake on the load sheet, which apparently had been prepared in Amsterdam. It turns out we are overweight.
During the ensuing delay the crew, both cockpit and cabin, make sure to keep the passengers informed about what is going on. Eventually, by the time the crew have identified the items of freight that will have to be offloaded and have them removed, we are running more than an hour late, which is particularly unfortunate given that my connection to Basel in Amsterdam is – possibly was – only ninety minutes. But we shall see. For the time being there is not really anything anybody can do about the delay.
At least the Queen of the Skies has the grace to try and console me for the delay. And how could any man resist her charms, despite her age? She sounds so much nicer than the younger birds. The take-off roll is everything you can hope for and expect of the 747 – she is much louder than other aircraft like the 777 and she certainly takes her time before eventually, elegantly and ever so gently she flexes the tips of her wings in an upward motion and severs our ties with the ground.
Configuration: 2 + 2, with a few single seats on the lower deck. Seat: The Business Class cabin is divided over two decks on KLM’s Boeing B 747-400 fleet. There are twenty seats on the upper deck and another fifteen on the main deck. Obviously the upper deck is always fun on Jumbo, but there is also a lot to be said for sitting in the nose of the beast. Most of the seats are in pairs. However, there are three single seats on the main deck, which is mainly due to space limitations. The first row is in the very tip of the nose. Thus, there is a single seat on 1A, while 1J and 1K make up a pair. The seats are turned slightly outward, towards the windows on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, the seats on the rows of two are staggered, with the window seat slightly further forward than the aisle seat. As a result, the seat feels very private in that you have to go out of your way if you want to to make eye contact with your fellow passengers. The entire Boeing 747 fleet has now had the new cabin installed. Currently KLM is having the new seat introduced on its Boeing B 777-300 fleet as well. Pitch: 63 inches Width: 20 inches Facilities: AC power outlets available, privacy screen, reading lamp Length as a bed: 80 inches Audio and Video: AVOD, 10.4 inches screen
The crew on this flight are friendly and chatty, as usual with KLM. While we are on the ground the crew make sure they are visible in the cabin to answer any questions the passengers may have during the delay. And once we are airborne the service is efficient, even so the crew still find the time for a little friendly natter with the passengers.
Welcome drink on the ground: Fresh orange juice, sparkling wine, beer (Heineken) or still water Hot towel before the meal: Not scented Pre-meal drink: Ginger Ale, served with a bowl of warm nuts. Choice: Two starters, three main courses, a selection of desserts. Type of meal: Lunch Bread: A selection of different types of rolls and garlic bread. Chocolates: Dutch chocolates are served at the end of the meal.
The First Course
Broccoli soup with blue cheese.
Couscous with green salad and edamame beans.
The Main Course
Sautéed grouper with sherry cream sauce, saffron risotto, green beans and baby carrots.
The Cheese & Fruit
Cheese platter (Emmental and Danish blue) with seasonal fruit, served with Port.
The meal is rather tasty. Especially the soup is unusual with a strong flavour of the blue cheese, which goes very nicely with the Broccoli. The pace of the meal is also very good, the entire meal takes much less time to complete than it did with Qantas but without being rushed.
The Second Service
Hot towel before the meal: Not scented Choice: Hot or cold main dish with a choice of two cold side dishes. Type of meal: Light meal
The Side Dish
Quinoa salad with beetroot and pumpkin.
The Main Course
Penne with red bell pepper sauce and vegetables, parmesan cheese.
Traditional Dutch Apple pie served warm, with whipped cream. And a bowl of fruit.
The lights go on just under two hours out of Amsterdam. At least we were able to make up some of our delay and although we departed seventy minutes behind schedule from Hong Kong, it looks as though this has dwindled to forty-five minutes by the time we enter Europe.
I always enjoy the second service on KLM and I am impressed by the amount of food they serve for the second service. Very often, with a lot of the other European carriers the second service is more of an embarrassment than anything else. But this is a proper meal.
Eventually, the crew pass through the cabin distributing the little BOLS houses, which marks the end of the flight. I collect house 91 and I am good to go.
Eventually we hit the ground at 19:40 and have a relatively short taxi – by Amsterdam’s standards – to our stand on the F pier. Perhaps I should say at the very far end of the F pier. By the time the engines are cut and the doors are open, it is already 19:55. My onward connection starts boarding in five minutes, the gate closes in twenty minutes and the flight departs in thirty-five minutes. And I still have to go through immigration and security…