KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
KL 808 3 March 2003 Seat 1 K
MNL-KUL (KUL-AMS to follow)
World Business Class
Boeing 747-400 PH-BFM Mexico City
Having never flown KLM before, it was with great anticipation that I began my journey with them last week. I really did not know what to expect since most of my travels have been on Cathay Pacific and British Airways. I only knew that their J class seating, despite their recent introduction, would not be the flat-bed type.
I arrived at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia I) at 1800 after a surprisingly short drive from Makati. Despite it being the rush hour, I made the journey in about thirty minutes, passing through the the yet-to-be-opened Naia III. There were two dedicated Business Class check-in counters manned by Philippine Airlines personnel and fortunately, there was only one passenger ahead of me in the queue. Check-in was handled with care and efficiency, which was to be expected because I was denied boarding 24 hours earlier because of incomplete documentation. The staff remembered the hassle I was put through, and did everything to accommodate me. My outsize luggage ( gigantic with grounds for excess baggage fees) was accepted without question or additional charge. My requested seating, 1J front row, aisle could not be assigned to me because it was already taken by a passenger who would be boarding in KUL. I decided to take 1K which proved to be alright since aisle access would be easy as pitch was generous and there was no seat in front of me to obstruct my path.
I was given an invitation to the Sampaguita Lounge which used to be the main PR lounge before they transferred to Naia II a few years ago. The lounge is still operated by PR for other airlines like EVA and Swiss, but it is apparent that this is a temporary, make-do operation. It had an air of having been seen better times. Although the lounge must have been quite nice in its heyday and is very large and can accommodate over 150 passengers, much of the amenities and fittings have been removed. Phone stations, for example, had no phones. Nonetheless, there was food and bar service. Pasta with two sauces were kept in a steam table and there were trays of fresh fruit and finger sandwiches. The Swiss MD 11 was visible from the lounge as it was serviced for its departure for HKG. At about 1900 I heard an aircraft approach and looked out to see that it was PH-BFM, a combi painted with KLM Asia titles. Boarding was announced at about 1950 and I headed to the boarding gate where the Dutch purser was involved with supervising the boarding process.
Upon entering the cabin, I noticed that it the economy class seats were new with adjustable headrests but no PTVs and that it was configured to have the super galley that took up a large section of the forward portside section. I made my way to the forward nose cabin, which I select over the upper deck whenever possible. The seats were of a similar standard to the old CX business class seat or the BA cradle Seat- pneumatic controls, adjustable foot and head rests. Seat pitch was very generous at about 65 inches...Like 1990's first class. A flight attendant came by with an offering of champagne, water or fresh orange juice. A ribboned bundle consisting of socks, eyeshades and a small pen was also distributed before take off along with the menu and wine list. A nice touch was that the menu had the date and flight number printed at the top. Although I was never addressed by name, the sole f/a assigned to our cabin was friendly, professional and efficient. Shortly after take-off, after a hot towel service, cocktails were served along with the largest serving of mixed nuts I have encountered- about a cup. KLM Can serve half the amount and it would still be adequate.
There were two main course selections on the three hour flight: Beef or Prawns. I selected the latter. It was prepared with a coconut curry sauce and served with steamed rice and a ratatouille. While the prawns and vegetables were very tasty, the rice was somewhat dry. I ate half of the dessert, a decent tiramisu. The inflight entertainment selection was not as extensive as I would have hoped, but it was adequate. What was exceptional was the noise-canceling headset which was the best I have encountered. Shortly before landing at KUL, our flight attendant came over with a selection of Delft Dutch houses filled with Bols gin. She handed me a brochure with picture of the entire collection and I selected my first KLM house. I think this is a really nice touch and certainly makes up for whatever is lacking in the lavatory amenity department. KLM Business class lavatories are generally kept clean but are somewhat spartan with liquid soap that states "especially formulated for KLM by Johnson Wax" and two types of lotion by an obscure manufacturer, one of which states "for old, dry skin". KLM staff and the Dutch in general, have excellent command of English, but they need some coaching with what they print on their toiletries...Surprisingly, KLM partner, Northwest, has better business class lavatory amenities made by Aveda.
Upon landing at KUL, it was announced that there would be a change of crew and that transit time would be about an hour with passengers required to disembark with their valuables. KLIA is a beautiful airport best appreciated in the daytime. I decided to look for the lounge and found out that like MNL, KLM did not have its own lounge and availed of the service provided by the Plaza Premium Lounge, a pay lounge that provides hot food, drinks, internet access, among other things. Although it is not a particularly beautiful lounge, it is comfortable. (KUL-AMS to follow soon)