Well, I finally did it and took a big, long vacation that I've been putting off all these years. A few days in Amsterdam with some mates, and then a coupla weeks travelling aroudn Turkey, a beautiful country I know and love and haven't been to in far, far too long.
The trip began on NW 62 JFK-AMS. As some of you have seen from an earlier posting, I'm not the biggest fan of JFK airport; this departed from the horrendous old terminal 4 - not to be confused with the horrendous NEW terminal 4. Thank God I had a town car and not a metered cab running me out there snce we spent 20 minutes snaking through traffic once we entered the airport, and I still only got dropped 50 yards from the entrance to the NWA/KLM slice of the terminal. Check-in went reasonably smoothly, though the old NW check-in area was a sty, and although it's now closed, the east wing of the terminal (from whence I departed) was the grimmest airport facility this side of volgograd. Seriously, who the hell designs an airport terminal, especially one that handles big beautiful birds like 747s and A340s and DOESN'T PUT IN ANY WINDOWS??? I'm not talking about a few windows, I'm saying there were no windows! Eventually I found a bar up top with an alright view, but it was still mighty grim.
Boarding took place from what looked like some sort of police holding area, like where they hold a bunch of people rounded up in a big bar fight or something. When it was time to get on the plane, a gentleman from Ghana was getting on in front of me and having a HUGE argument with personnel about why he should be allowed to bring a huge hard-sided samsonite suitcase on board with him that he just bought for the hell of it in the terminal. Even for agents who've seen it all, the people working the flight couldn't believe it. Other funny thing: In the jetway, a customs guy had a dog sniffing us for drugs -- because, hey, it's not like there aren't any drugs in Amsterdam!
Eventually I settled into my seat (54C), and although I had used expedia's seat pinpointer to see what the load looked like for the trip and thought I'd have the middle seat free, there was someone next to me, an aging hippy/artist-type woman who managed to stand up completely unannoucned to use the john and upset the whole bloody mary setup i had on my tray...but I get ahead of myself. The seat was comfortable enough (no PTVs, tho...grrrr), and we pushed back on time at 5:55, with wheels up at 6:20.
The flight, for the most part, was uneventful: cocktail service, dinner (i had some sort fo chicken thing, I think pasta was the other option), and a movie with bruce willis called "unbreakable" or something. it didn't look like something i could get too into, so i tried to sleep/read. But general observations: NW's female f/as were and are exceedingly hospitable, while the males were simply hostile. A second thing of vodka with your cocktail? No problem, with a friendly smile, from the women. The men, meanwhile, did nothing but complain about the pax -- on the way out I heard two talking in the aisle about how some "stupid passenger" got something on his jacket. When I suggested that maybe they wait until people had left to complain about their jobs, the dude told me to mind my own business! I mananged to sleep a coupla hours, and we actually wound up touching down early at Amsterdam's Schiphol, where I met my friends flying in from IAD and headed into town for a few days of culture and debauchery.
A few days later it was time to head back to the airport for an evening flight to Istanbul. AMS is, no surprise, a FAR FAR FAR better airport than JFK. I checked in, had some time to kill, and wound up in a bar drinking huge heinekens (they always taste better there than here, don't you agree?) and looking out over the airfield. Had an aisle seat on a KLM 737-800 (I think), which had that weird european business class configuration that looks pretty much like coach but is only divided by what seems to be a movable curtain, even though the 3-2 config rolls back into economy several rows. I was expecting more from KLM, but the service was perfunctory and rushed despite the length of the flight (3 or so hours). Fortunately I managed to sleep through most of it and touched down at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport's new terminal and took a cab to my hotel.
Istanbul, and all of Turkey, was fantastic; I flew THY (Turkish Airlines) from IST to Antalya on the coast to avoid a long bus trip. The domestic terminal is actually the airport's old international terminal, and it feels that way. Never at mid-day on a weekday have I seen an airport so dead! But I got on TK420 to Antalya about 4 pm, a 737-800 (yet again), and found that the seating managed to be completely screwed up despite being half-full. Apparently they were bringing in a busload of people from some other flight in the back way, and there wasn't much co-ordination with all the other seatng arrangements. But everything worked out; watched the heads-up display take us across anatolia from my seat, 11C, had a juice and a very sorry looking sandwich from the friendly (and cute!) f/as, and landed an hour later on Turkey's glorious meditteranean coast.
I'll leave out details of the trip (check out www.ironminds.com for more, if curious), but finally it was time to return the other day. My flight, on KLM, was the subject of much drama: I was changing my tickt and had to spend a fortune getting NWA/KLM to agree that they had indeed told me I could change the date for $150, so there was still some anxiety at the airport, AND I had been travelling for a week with a wonderful woman I met on my trip and saying goodbye was, well, not a lot of fun. But I checked in at the new terminal, we said our goodbyes (she was flying to prague on swissair an hour later), and I settled into my seat, 16c, where I promptly passed out from lack of sleep. Until....
I had fallen asleep in an aisle seat wiht my legs crossed, and a trolley sailed straigt into my leg, slamming my ankle into the seat ahead of me. Much apoligies from the stewardesses, plus a crummy omlette. Back to sleep, with touchdown apparently 10 minutes early in AMS.
Back in Schiphol I found my gate in the E wing (we landed in D, I think) and had a little time to kill. So, breakfast of champions - heineken and a ham and egg sandwich - at the little bar there, with a wonderful view of the taxiways where i watched NW DC10s and KLM 747-400s move around up close. Incredible birds. Finally I decided to get on the line to clear the security questioning thing they were doing at the gate and after justifying my existence to the agent (phew!) I got on board, seat 21C. A great seat -- first in coach, with unlimited legroom (drawbacks: right by a toilet and the galley. but still very nice).
We were about an hour delayed leaving the gate due to 'traffic problems', according to the captain, but eventually we made it to the runway and blasted off. The service on this flight was friendlier but less competent - it was really something to see them all scurrying around trying to get stuff together for a not-too-full flight. They screwed up and served meals before cocktails, later in the flight they were rushing to get immigration forms to everyone, etc. But they were friendly, and happily kept me in beer the whole flight. The meal was again the chicken-or-pasta choice; the chicken actually wasn't bad this time and the desert, kind of a tiramisu-imitation thing, was pretty good. For airline food, that is.
Finally, we landed, and made up some of the time, at around 12:30 (we were due in at noon). Was first off the plane into the new terminal four, which was an absolute disaster (see earlier post).
Anyway, my verdicts: NWA is competent, if not phenomenal, with wide gaps in personability of crew. KLM is again workmanlike, but not as cheery a show as I hoped. Food on both was fine, but there was nothing to write home about. Would I fly again? Yeah. Would I go out of my way to? Don't think so.
Hope you enjoyed this (lengthy) report.