Since this is my first trip report, I welcome any comments. You will have to forgive the lack of details… I just don’t remember most registration numbers or what was on the menu unless it was special.
Anyway, April 2003 and I was getting ready to head back to New York on home leave. Having said “Never Again!” to AF and Skyteam, I was looking for an alternative (I was an AF Skyteam Elite Plus member and they wanted to charge me for 10kg overweight baggage when I was moving to China, traveling on a C class ticket and had been stranded for 4 days because my bags were “lost” in CDG… I don’t think so). World Business Class is a good product, KLM had a good connection through AMS, at a great price - some $3000 in business - and I wanted to avoid a US airline.
About two weeks before departure, while enjoying a few beers on a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Chinese government admitted that as opposed to some 30 cases of SARS, there was actually over 300 and they expected the numbers to rise significantly. Fearing the rumors that Beijing may be quarantined, I decided to move my trip forward and contacted their Beijing offices. To my amazement there was availability the following morning and they would waive the restriction on my ticket and let me change the outbound. Considering the health checks that had been put in place, they advised me to head to the airport early.
That night while packing and watching the newest developments concerning SARS, I noticed that I was running a temperature…… &%@#! I quickly called my sister, who is a doctor and asked her what to do…. Copious amounts of Advil and cold water a half hour before the health check. The following morning I made my way to Capital Airport early, allowing plenty of time. I had anticipated that there would be a large number of people who would want to leave and I was not wrong. The airport was packed – more so than I had ever seen before.
I quickly found a porter for my bags and went to pay the departure tax and pick up my health form, filling in all the questions to the best of my ability…… cough? NO….. fever?….. NO. I then headed to the KLM check-in counter. Check-in was quick and I was given another health form to fill including the location and contact information for the next 14 days. WBC tags were placed on my cabin bags and I was given 1B through to NY. Proceeding to immigration, I came to the health check area…… There were many doctors and nurses wearing full protective clothing and a large sign which said something to the effect of “SARS Inspection and Quarantine”… I forget, but it was foreboding. Hardly a glance was given to the form I had filled out and many people went through the temperature scanner at the same time. Without incident, I was signaled to proceed on to immigration and security. There was a genuine sense of “escape” on the immigration line. I imagine most people were quite pleased to be getting out of there, I know I was.
Having some time to kill before boarding, I bought some last minute souvenirs and headed to the BGS or BSG Loung, the generic lounge shared by several airlines. It was in need of a serious make-up but offered a decent selection of finger foods and drink. After a quick juice, I headed to the Air China Lounge which was smaller and also in need of a facelift but offered a smoking “closet” so I was happy. I called my sisters and let them know I “was through” and began to relax a bit. I wouldn’t feel comfortable, however, until wheels up.
About 45 minutes before departure I headed to the gate and boarded through the WBC lane. I headed left down the first air bridge and was met at the door by a cheerful flight attendant who took my coat and showed me to my seat. Behind her, in the galley, I noticed her colleague was wearing a surgical mask as many people in the airport had. I had to laugh at this. My sisters had told me that unless a surgical mask was of high quality and sealed the area around the nose and mouth, it was pretty useless - hers had gaping holes on the side.
The FA quickly offered pre-departure drinks and I helped myself to more than one glass of champagne. The amenity kit, which was nicely presented in a “metal” box and contained all the essentials and the menu, which had the flight number, routing and, surprisingly, the date, were also distributed. This was a nice touch; I have never been given a menu that also had the date of the flight. We pushed back on time with a half empty WBC cabin and were soon blaring down the eastern runway on a northerly heading. Climbing into the clear blue sky, we had a wonderful view of the Great Wall.
I breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for the 9+ hours to Amsterdam. Drinks were served once we had reached cruising altitude and the FA took our orders for lunch. I can’t remember what it was but it couldn’t have been bad and although I have a heard a lot of complaints as to the portions offered by KLM, it was more than enough and the quality was standard for business. After lunch I closed the shades, put the seat all the way back (KLM made a bad move switching to the new floor hugging, sloping, slippery “lie flat” they now have) and fell asleep watching the PTV.
When I woke, I took a walk to stretch my legs and noticed the flight was 100% full down the back. A lot of people were still wearing mask. We were entering Finland and the FAs were beginning to prepare the second meal. Again, I can’t remember what it was, but it was decent enough. Thereafter the Delft houses were offered - I swear, KLM better not even think about stopping that tradition. It’s a shame other airlines do not do something similar. Our approach took us in over northern Holland, past Schipol to the coast before turning back around and landing on the Kaagbaan (spelling). We taxied to Pier F and were met by health officials and people taking temperatures. Surprisingly, hardly a second glance was given from immigration when they saw that I was arriving from Beijing.
Since I had about 4 hour hours before the connection to JFK and have lived in Holland, I decided to take the train into Centraal and have a “coffee” at “Coffeeshop 96” on Warmoerstraat. This was the perfect tonic to relieve the stress from the previous weeks and it was heaven to just sit there and watch the world go by. Afterwards it was time to satisfy the munchies with a Kaassoufle and a Patat met…. I was nice and groovey but decided I best get back to the airport. At immigration my passport (which was falling apart) was given a thorough inspection and I was asked question after question about what I did, why I had visited so many mid-eastern country and was told that I would probably not be allowed back in the country with that passport. Quite unfriendly and suspicious… perhaps I was paranoid.
I made my way to the Business Class Lounge, had a beer and a few cigarettes and then headed down to the gate. This plane was a KLM Asia 744 and I was once again welcomed by a friendly FA. Amenity kits, menus and drinks ere offered and, with 1A free, I moved over to the window. I love window seats but prefer the convenience of being by the aisle so only site there when I can have both seats. The first row of the 747 is always great because you have a partially forward looking view. Take off was long and slow but we seemed to gain altitude quicker than when we left Beijing. Drinks were offered; with 7 and a half hours to go, I decided a vodka tonic would make a nice appetizer.
However, before I could order dinner the jet lag, “coffee” and beer and vodka took effect and I totally zonked out. When I woke up, I was pleased to see that we were of the US with only a little over an hour to go. A second snack was offered… it was only some sandwiches and despite the fact that it was after 1900 (0100 AMS), I think they should have done a little more. I filled out the customs and immigration form… I wondered what they would think – if they would even notice – that I was coming from China. I freshened up in the bathroom and here is one area where I would criticize KLM. Some airlines make an effort to do something with their bathrooms in C or F to make them nicer or at least a bit different than the ones in Y. SAS has a great bathroom in C – its huge with two windows. KLM’s are exactly the same as in coach and this one was, quite frankly, dirty.
We came in over the ocean and seemed to touch down a little hard….. By the time we got to our gate, I was dying for a cigarette. I rushed through immigration….. he looked at my form and passport and asked “You live in China?”…. “yes”, I answered. “Where are you coming from today?”…. “Beijing…” I hardly had the chance to finish my sentence – he quickly gave me my passport back and seemed to hold his breath until I passed…… hehehehe….. Anyway, I was “home” and my sisters were waiting as always….
I will write about the return and how KLM’s “partner”, Northworst, messed me about and ended up costing my company another $4,500. Bad move, as a result I decided the KLM/NW option was not going to be the replacement for Air France…. Good decision since now Air France owns KLM and they are all part of Skyteam!