KLM, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Bogota El Dorado to Amsterdam via Cartagena

I think I insulted a Frenchman…

Today I’m flying back home from Bogotà. Once I’m fully awake, I check my iPhone to find that my colleague, the excellent B, has sent me a Whatsapp message. And it’s one of those messages with a very angry smiley. You know, the one with the orange face and steam coming out of his nose. You see, in my last post on the flight from Paris to Bogotà I referred to the pasta, or should I say pâtes, in the picture below as ravioli. And the excellent B took umbrage, because apparently they’re not Italian ravioli but French ravioles. Trust my luck they happen to be a speciality from the excellent B’s home town, Valence, in France…

Of course, my inner foodie is telling me that it doesn’t really matter what you call those squishy, tasty little buggers – they’re just seriously delicious. Having said that, as a linguist I am compelled to agree with Winston Churchill, who argued that a man should always say what means, otherwise he can never mean what he says. And a gentleman should always mean what he says. So there you have it.

I suppose my saving grace is that the excellent B is a Frenchman. In as much, his message to me simply includes a demand to correct my mishap, which I hereby do. If he were Italian, I’d probably have a dead horse’s head in my bed tomorrow…!

Introduction

I can’t really say that I saw anything much of Bogotà, seeing as this was a work visit. What I can say though, is that the people here are really just so friendly. It’s quite heart warming, and even though I don’t actually speak any Spanish worth mentioning, and many of them don’t speak any English either, they’re easy to interact with, always helpful and generous to a fault.

Other than that, I certainly felt the 2800 metres altitude at which the city lies during my stay. Just going up a flight of stairs here has me out of breath and gasping for air. It’s quite disconcerting in the beginning. The one thing I honestly have to say I don’t like, is the food. If you’re not much of a carnivore and don’t enjoy overly greasy food much, you may want to pack a few boxes of crackers before you visit.

Getting to the airport

In Bogotà I am staying at the Hilton Garden Inn El Dorado, which is conveniently located five minutes away on foot from the course venue. The hotel runs a shuttle to the airport every hour on the hour, and the journey time is fifteen minutes.

Check-in

International flights operate out of Terminal 1. Air France checks in on counters 42 through 48, which are located exactly opposite entrance number 7 to the terminal bulding.

There are two SkyPriority counters available. The young lady checks in my suitcase and hands me a voucher to visit the El Dorado lounge opposite gate 47.

The El Dorado lounge

The El Dorado lounge is a Priority Pass lounge. And from what I can tell, most of the guests in the lounge are there with their Priority Pass, not because they’re travelling on a Business Class ticket. The Priority Pass will get you entry into the lounge. But if you’re looking for grub and booze there’s a USD8.- surcharge. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother.

The lounge is a very odd, long shape. It’s gloomy and feels more like a factory canteen than a lounge. Normally there would be a buffet. But with Covid measures still in place in Colombia, there are two ladies behind a separation that are serving passengers.

I have rice and melanzane parmigiana, because that was the least meaty option – and it’s so discusting. I mean, you can’t really screw up rice. But the melanzane…

The flying Dutchman and I spend a grand total of about seven minutes in the lounge. After that, we leave again and head for the Juan Valdez coffee shop to get some real food that does not taste like, look like and make you want to puke.

The views from the public lounge are also much better. It’s not everyday you get to see some of these babies below (at least not if you live in Switzerland).

KLM operates to Bogotà routing AMS-BOG-CTG-AMS, which means that there are Cartagena-bound passengers on the aircraft from Amsterdam, who then have to spend ninety minutes loitering about before continuing their journey for another hour to Cartagena.

Boarding

Boarding starts rather unceremoniously, first boarding the passengers with Cartagena as their final destination, and then the passengers boarding in Bogotà for Amsterdam.

The cabin & seat

The cabin and seat configuration KLM has on the B 787-9 is nearly identical to that of Air France. Mostly, the differences are because of the branding. This time, I’m seated on 1K, so the opposite side from where I sat on the inbound from Paris with Air France.

Privacy on 1K is great, as there are no middle seats. However, behind the curtain is the toilet. Although I have to say this is not an issue during the flight and there are never any queues.

The menus, vanity kit and water are already on the seat when I arrive – together with the pillow and blanket.

The Bogotà to Cartagena service

The crew operating the flight to Cartagena is the same one that flew the inbound from Amsterdam. Even so, they’re still friendly and don’t look too worse for wear. While we’re on the ground there is a welcome drink service with a choice of champagne, water, apple juice or orange juice.

The flight time from Bogotà to Cartagena is one hour.

During the short flight the crew serve more drinks and a packet of nuts. This time I have the apple juice to drink.

Transit in Cartagena

As soon as we touch down in Cartagena, the aircraft’s window’s start fogging up with the humidity. It’s also a lot warmer here. In Cartagena passengers need to stay on board the plane while a security team searches the aircraft. The turn around is about one hour. I still manage to snag a few photos from the door. Cartagena international airport makes Heringsdorf airport look like a major international hub…

In Cartagena the crew changes. And I can tell this crew is having a bad day straight away. I couldn’t really say what it is. Perhaps they’re just tired and jetlagged, but they seem a bit dull and distracted.

Service on the Cartagena to Amsterdam leg

Once more a welcome drink is served on the ground.

After take-off there’s an aperitif service with some warm nuts, which are served in an incredibly ugly plastic cap that looks a bit like the lid you get when you order a Frappuccino – just without the hole in the middle. I mean, would it have been too much to ask for something a little more attractive…?

The meal

There are two choices for the starter. I go with the soup, which is served on a tray with butter and the salad. The salad contains peppers and palm hearts. During my stay in Colombia I was always careful not to eat anthing raw – and I make no exception on KLM with their catering.

Where Air France takes orders for the meal in order of passengers’ seniority as Flying Blue members, KLM just go row by row.

Only one round is made by the crew with the bread basket, which I think is just a bit shabby, to be honest.

Initially, when the tray arrived there was no dressing. That is served quite a while later, by which time I’m sure most passengers have already finished their salads.

For the main course there are three options, and so I go with the egg noodles with pak choy, and even the flying Dutchman agrees with me that the catering on this flight is really quite digusting and more or less inedible.

For dessert there is a choice of something sweet or cheese. But by this time, everything has take so long that I just give up. I only want to sleep and I’m pretty convinced I won’t miss much by skipping dessert.

The second service

Ninety minutes out of Amsterdam the crew serve breakfast. And here too there is a choice for the hot meal. I have the pineapple filled pancakes with mango and they really are beyond belief. They’re hard as a brick and near impossible to cut. There’s also a funky smell of burning plastic coming off them. There are only croissants in the bread basket, and again the crew only make one round.

To drink with that I have a coffee and orange juice.

And then to end the flight, the crew come through the cabin with the Delft houses.

Arrival

Eventually we touch down in Amsterdam just after 11h00 in the morning, after a flight time just short of ten hours. Everything looks so colourful and lush here!

Schiphol is very busy when we land, and all the gates at the non-Schengen pier are occupied, which does not bode well if I’m to believe all the stories these last few weeks about the staff shortages at Amsterdam airport.

Indeed, the stories turn out to be true. But I’ll leave the description of my horrific transfer at Amsterdam for the next post…

All in all, this flight was a bit of a let down. The crew were clearly not feeling it and it showed. They were unfocussed and seemed distracted. Other than that, the food was so bad it was really unacceptable. And the routing via Cartagena unnecessarily make a long journey even longer. The only thing this flight has going for it, is that it departs from Bogotà and arrives in Amsterdam at a civilised time. The Air France flight to Paris doesn’t leave until after 23h00. Even so, if I ever have to visit Bogotà again, I would still consider the Air France flight for the return.

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

Introduction

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

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

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

Check-in

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

The Swissport Skyview lounge

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

Boarding

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

The cabin

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

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

The crew

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

The meal

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

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

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

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

Arrival

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

Transfer in Amsterdam

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

The flight to Oslo

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

The crew

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

Arriving in Oslo

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Introduction

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

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

Getting to the airport

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

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

Check-in

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

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

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

The Swissport SkyViewLounge at Basel Euroairport

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

Boarding

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

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

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

The crew

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

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

The meal

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

Transfer in Amsterdam

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

The flight to Luxembourg

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

The cabin

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

Garuda Indonesia, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Jakarta to London

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Introduction

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.

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Before we depart from the hotel, the driver hands me a refreshing towel and a bottle of still water.

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Check-in

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.

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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.

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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.

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Boarding

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.

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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.

The Cabin

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.

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The Crew

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.

Amenities

There are a whole lot of goodies expecting me at my seat:

  1. the food and drinks menus for the flight,
  2. noise cancelling earphones,
  3. a vanity kit,
  4. two pillows,
  5. a set of stationary with a pen,
  6. the pyjamas.
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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.

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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:

  1. a brush,
  2. earplugs,
  3. lip balm,
  4. eyeshades,
  5. a dental set,
  6. 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).

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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…

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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.

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The Meal

Orders for the meal are taken before we push back.

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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.

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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.

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The Soup

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.

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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.

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The Cheese

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.

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Dessert

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?

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Fruit

For dessert I have the plate of fruit, which includes two slices of Guava and manages to quench the fire burning in my mouth!

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And then to conclude, I have mint tea, served with two sticks of Valrhona chocolate.

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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!

Arrival

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.

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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.

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Conclusion

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.

Would I choose Garuda again? Definitely!

KLM, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Copenhagen to Amsterdam

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Introduction

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.

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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.

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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.

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Check-in

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.

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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.

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The Lounge

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.

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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.

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Boarding

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.

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The Crew

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.

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The Meal

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.

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Arrival

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.

Conclusion

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.

KLM Cityhopper, Business Class – Embraer 175: Inverness to Amsterdam

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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

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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.

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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.

Check-in

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.

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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.

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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.

Boarding

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.

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The Cabin

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…

The Crew

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.

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The Meal

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.

  1. Greek salad with feta cheese and pumpkin, with a mango chilli and lime dressing.
  2. Salmon and egg wrap with spinach and cream cheese.
  3. Tropical Pina Colada mousse with a lime topping.
  4. A selection of hot and cold drinks.
  5. After the meal I have a coke Zero, which is served with two packets of some really tasty almonds.
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Arrival

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.

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In Amsterdam I have two hours to make my connection to Basel.