[Note: The English majors will notice that tense shifts back and forth from past to present at times -- it depends on if I was typing in real time, of catching up on past events. Bear with me. ]
No, indeed, I typed the title correctly. Through a bit of circumstance, I really am doing SFO-AMS-LHR-AMS-SFO and SJC-MSP-LGW-MSP-SJC all in a week's time. My wife needed a few miles to maintain her NW Gold status, so we decided to take advantage of the NW WBC companion fares to do a quick mileage run to London, and stop at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford so I could look at airplanes. What a woman!
Then an end of the year business trip came up, to London as well. Normally, for company business we are only allowed coach travel, but since the companion WBC fares were actually 700 dollars per person less, we were able to book WBC -- if I could get those fares! That lead to having to book the trip so as to depart the very day after returning from London!
And let's face it. Like I would turn down the extra flying and miles, especially in business class! I figured this was odd enough and interesting enough to justify a trip report.
So to start, I am typing this on my older Treo 270, since the company has Orange SIM cards for our use, and work perfectly in the 270.
KL606 SFO-AMS, MD-11
Seat 2E, World Business Class
Because of the higher alert status, I had a friend drop us off 2 hours early. Surprisingly, while there were big signs advising "vehicle searches in progress" there was not even anyone around performing them. Inside the International terminal, we had but a 2 minute wait to check in at the Elite/WBC line. There looked to be about 25 people in the regular line.
Boarding passes in hand, we headed to security, where, again, nothing special seemed to be happening and there was no line at all. One smart thing the TSA was doing was having someone with a hand wand check your shoes before directing you to a security line. It appeared they were using the two security lines as "shoe" and "no shoe." again, smart thinking that hopefully spreads!
Now having two hours to kill, we headed into the WorldClub. Nice, spiffy, with good views, it is, sadly, no different than the regular domestic club for food. I was hoping it might be a little nicer.
We headed down to the gate a few minutes after 3pm, getting to the gate just after the WBC boarding had been called. Down the jetway we went, and got to turn left into the forward WBC cabin, which is 2-2-2, unlike the second WBC cabin, which is 2-3-2. I'll have to check that out later.
While there are no center overheads, perhaps the small size of the cabin itself (two rows) keep it from feeling super roomy. The seats themselves seem comfy so far, although they aren't especially wide - I find that my legs contact both sides of the seat. I suspect that's how KL gets the three seats in the middle row farther back.
We get our amenity kits in a nice tin box, and are asked to fill out our breakfast menu selections so we don't need to be woken up until the last minute. So far, with 10 minutes left, 8 of the 12 seats are occupied.
We are offered champagne as well as orange juice as we finish getting organized. I wish there was a good place to stash my pillow and blanket, though.
At 3:50, ten minutes after our scheduled departure time, the Captain made a PA saying that we were just waiting for some final paperwork before departing. At 4:00, we finally push back without any signficant ceremony. A nice long announcement in Dutch was followed by a much shorter version in English
Our flight time was announced at 9:30, which would make up for our late departure.
Taxi to 24R was uneventful, and after waiting for a United 757 to take off, we moved to the centerline and roared into the sky. A few early bumps, but some great views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. Not surprisingly, just as we crossed the 10,000 foot level, the seatbelt sign came off.
As we all settled in, Hans, the purser, came to each person and introduced himself. When we told him this was the first time we were flying KLM, he quickly ran through the controls for the IFE for us. Decided to watch Matchstick Men.
The first pass through by the FA's was to serve nuts and beverage from the cart. Beings adventourous, I went with Pepsi blue. After all, this IS KLM!
Then our dinner orders were taken, followed by another beverage and nut service. The overhead maps show us cruising at FL330, which seems kinda low, but hey, the ride is smooth and the movie isn't bad, yet! Linens are brought out and, being hungry...I wait...
I was a bit surprised that dinner was served off carts as well. Somewhere, I was expecting a service that was a lot nicer than domestic transcon first, but it hasn't been so far. Still, better than being in back! As far as food, I went with the fish. Fish good, but the lemon rice with it wasn't very appealing. Dessert was a choice of cheesecake, fruit, or cheese.
After the movie (which I shall spare you the details of), I decided to settle in for a bit and see if I could sleep. After about 40 minutes, curiosity got the better of me so I decided to check out the rear of the aircraft. With all the curtains drawn, I wasn't bold enough to venture into the coach section, but just walked through the center galley to the rear business class section. One interesting thing is that there's a dedicated "crossover" walkway for each section - a narrow little hallwayjust wide enough for a cart, if need be. These are in addition to the actual crossover for the galley and 2L entryway.
We started picking up some light chop over the Hudson bay, and, unsurprisingly, the seatbealt light stayed off. This has always been something I've noticed about foreign airlines; they use the seatbelt light far more sparingly, but people respect it more. On domestic flights the seatbelt light hardly ever seems to go out, but people just get up anyway and do their business.
About two hours out, the cabin light were brought up about halfway, and a round of fresh orange juice and hot towels brought around. Through some of the open windows dawn could be seen. Now, with just an hour and fourty minutes left, only a couple of people in our private little forward cabin remain asleep. Soon, I expect, will be food.
With 1:23 left, out come the breakfast carts. Milk for the cereal is poured from a large container, rather than giving each person an individual container. The fruit plate was interesting in that, rather than sliced cantaloupe, is was one large hunk of cantaloupe in with a slice of lime, grapefruit, and a whole strawberry.
After breakfast was cleared away, out came the Delft houses! Some people really deliberated on them, but I took a quick look, and made my choice quickly, to the surprise of the flight attendant.
As we passed over Scotland, I took a minute to look outside (nothing but clouds) and gather my things up, and put my shoes back on. One thing that did seem sub-par was not being offered more to drink. At this point, I would compare the service directly to AA's flagship transcon service -- no better, no worse. Nothing like Aer Lingus' Premiere service that we experiemced ORD-DUB-ORD. It will ne interesting to compare NW's WBC between MSP and LGW in a few days.
Now, with about 30 minutes left, the power comes back significantly, and we start our descent (quick enough to make me clear my ears several times), and the Captain gives a PA with a quick rundown of the weather at AMS and the time remaining on our flight.
Fourty miles out, it's time to ready up the cabin. What I assume are the spoilers being extended seems to add a rumble, although it seems to be going for a long time now. But we descending quickly towards the cloud deck!
Approach and landing were uneventful. No thrust reverse on touchdown, just heavy braking. During the long taxi I spotted the new 777, which looks great in KLM colors! Also here was one of the NW A330's, as well as a DC-10. An Onur Air A320 ranked as the most exotic unseen machine for me.
Now we've moved to the Crown Lounge to kill a couple of hours before our next flight to Heathrow.
737-800, Seat 2A, Europe Select
We left the crown lounge about an hour before departure, so I could check out more of the airport than we could see from the lounge. I've know added Air Alps and Maersk to my "seen in real life list." Surprisingly, when we arrived at the gate 35 minutes before departure, boarding had already started with quite a line.
The boarding process was interesting; security people checked your boarding pass and ID then you walked three steps to the KLM gate agent who took your boarding pass, and THEN you headed down the jetway.
This 737 is still configured with 2-3 seating in the forward few rows, then 3-3. The moable curtain is only at row 3, though, so I assume that's as far as real "business" goes today. The seats themselves are nothing special -- they look just like the coach seats, just about ab inch wider. I can see why KLM is moving to an all-Y product where Business is just a forward section where they don't book the middle seat. Seat pitch looks to be about 34", although in a bulkhead we might have an extra inch.
The jetway was pulled back 10 minutes early -- everyone was onboard. Those of us in "Europe Select" were offered newspapers prior to pushback. The taxi out wasn't hugely exciting, although I did get to see an Air Holland 767 take off in front of us. Takeoff itself was bumpy and continues to be choppy to this point (I would guess around FL200).
The curtains are now drawn, so we'll see what the food is like on this 60 minutes flight. Not bad at all. Not a full size domestic first meal, but nicer than most coach meals -- when you get them. Which isn't on a 60 minute flight! Actually, upon further thought, the meal is exactly like a domestic first meal on NW, only without the entree, just the appetizer (meat and cheese) and the dessert (yummy chocolate mousse!).
And just that quick, we started our descent. As we lowered into the clouds, the ride roughened up. At one point we were between cloud layer for a minute, but, aside from that, it was hard to even see the wingtips until we broke out at about 1800' to a very gusty Heathrow. On taxi I spotted a some AA 777's, some UA aircraft, a Royal Jordanian A340, some VS birds, and, well more than a couple BA aircraft.
Getting off the 737 was simple enough, except for a couple of gentleman from "behind the curtain" barging forward and making it difficult to get our carryons from the overhead. Immigration and customs took but moments, and then we were off to pick up our rental car!
Imperial War Museum, Duxford.
I've been every major air museum in the US (including the new Udvar-Hazy wing at IAD), so I can be a bit jaded - not that I don't enjoy them!
But Duxford is outstanding! Not only can you see lots of vintage English military jet aircraft, there a lot of civilian aircraft as well, a given number of which are open to walk through each day. For today, it was Concorde G-AXDN, a VC-10, and a BAC 1-11. Other aicraft include a Viscount, Britannia, a Trident and others.
I look forward to coming during the summer months when more of the aircraft are pulled outside for better viewing!
Seat 5A, "Europe Select"
We left our hotel (just north of Cambridge) at 2:30am for the 95 mile drive back to Heathrow. Whilst we arrived at the car rental location at 4:15am, we had to wait until 5:00am for the first shuttle to Terminal 4. We arrived to find significant, massive line for KLM checkin, which seemed odd given the flight is only a 737! But it turns out that KLM checks in for a few other airlines as well. Fortunately, the elite/business line was short, and after 20 minutes, we had our tickets. We were invited to use FastTrack for security, except that it wasn't open yet. Another 20 minutes and we were through security, and over to the gate, where we only had to wait a couple of minutes before boarding started.
Then it was down what seemed like the world's longest zig-zag path to finally arrive at the jetway, to board our 737 (old colors). For this flight, the "business divider" was set after row 7, leaving only three 2-3 rows behind the divider. These are the same basic seats we had on the flight in, except, since we're not in a bulkhead, the tray tables drop down from the seat in front of us, so the armrest is a bit thinner. Pitch, however, seems to be maybe 33" -- definitely tighter than, say NW domestic F.
As the boarding flow dropped to a trickle, newspapers we offered. Pushback was about 15 minutes late. Then we had to wait for a 747 to be towed into its gate in front of us. Then we had to start engines and taxi. Finally at 7:10am we take to the air. The most interesting thing, I thoughtv was that I spotted a total of four South African 747's!
Shortly after takeoff the seatbelt light went off and preparations for our food service began.
If anything, I was even more impressed with the food on this flight than the AMS-LHR leg. While cold, it was still a decent breakfast meal for a one hour flight!
Our descent was through the clouds without much to see, not breaking out of the clouds at AMS until I'd guess 1,200'. Our taxi was uneventful, but to my surprise and joy, I spotted my first-ever Yak-42! (not sure what livery it was, though)
Upon checking the monitors, we found that our flight was now listed as being 90 minutes late, so we meandered up to the E/F lounge to wait (and charge my Treo so I could type this up). While waiting, I spotted a Tu-154 - another first for me. Again, couldn't figure out the livery, but that's ok.
MD-11, Seat 2F
At noon we left the lounge and headed for the gate, where found a long line queued up for the secondary security screening required for US travel. Differences were that you didn't need to pull out your laptop, and if you set off the metal detector, you were swiftly and effeciently frisked, then sent along your way.
Inside the airplane, there was some commotion from the last of the catering going on, and a bit of cleanup. Both bathrooms, as we boarded,were if pretty rough shape. But drinks and amenity kits were handed out with a smile, and refills offered.
We pushed about 20 minutes past the planned time -- not too bad, all things considered. And man, do those Schipol tug driver move you around! None of this dainty 5 miles per hour stuuf for them! They whip us back, then pull us up the opposite leg of the "V" formed between E anf F piers, and then we fire up and begin to taxi. And taxi. And taxi. And taxi. And I start wondering if maybe KLM has decided to enter the cruise ship business! About five minutes after that we end up on a runway that I suspect must be closer to London than Amsterdam, and finally take off.
This time, the crew waits quite a while before turning off the seat belt sign. Fairly quickly, menus are distributed and the IFE is fired up, only to discover that it's all messed up, and will be inop. Figures. The fist time there's two movies I'd really like to see, and kapow!
The menu's not all that impressive, either. I'm going with the monkfish, so we'll see how that turns out.
As on the trip out, the meal service is nothing fancy. Linen is brought out to cover the tray table, but otherwise, you are then served off the cart. The appetizer includes a salad with that fancy schmancy funky lettuce I dislike, and the appetizer itself, a quail and asparagus dish, isn't particularly riveting. Neither the quality nor the presentation bespeak fancy. And about here I realize my lumbar support is inop as well. Blech.
One look at the entree tells me I'm not going to like it, and I decide to let exhaustion have it's head. I have the FA take the tray back, and lean myself back to get some sleep. A couple of hours I awake to a semi dark cabin. The good news? The crew pulled a pair of interlocking curtains between the galley and the forward cabin, which the crew had not used on the SFO-AMS leg (and I wish they had, the light from the galley is pretty harsh.
The bad news (which may be related to the IFE issues) is that the front TV screens mounted on the forward bulkhead are blazing away with Airshow, so the cabin is well-lit anyway. A couple of hours later, the forward monitors finally go dark.
A couple of minor differenced between this leg and the outbound one are that the "snack buffet" in the galley more extensive, with sandwiches and ice cream to complement the Rolos and crackers. Also, the aft walkway, as well as the area around the 2R door are curtained off for crew rest.
Our route of flight is extremely far north on this flight, obviously, the jet stream is farther north than usual and forcing us even farther north to avoid it. We flew north of Iceland, well over the center of Greenland, and, as breakfast is being served with 90 minutes to go, we find ourselves over Vancouver! And with that, over the shoreline of the Pacific, we started picking up some chop, and the seatbelt light goes on.
As we pass over the California/Oregon border, things smmoth up and the seatbelt light is turned off, giving people the fo a quick makeup or other personal abloutions. I'm hoping that we are the only international flight arriving in our time slot so we get through immigation quickly. Business clss or no, it's been nearly 24 hours since we left the hotel, and I didnlt get much sleep in the hotel, either.
As we descend through 12000', we pick up some very light chop, but, amazingly (for someone who flies primarily domestic US legs), the seatbelt light still isn't on...but at this point, as we are manuvering around, no one's really up, except for the flight attendants offering us our delft houses...
With the seatbelt sign still off, there is a rush to the left side windows where a PA is made that the Golden Gate bridge can be seen. Airshow is showing us down to 6,000' and still no seatbelt light as we descend, and arc around the south bay to line up for landing.
The landing itself is uneventful -- this time *with* thrust reversers, of course. Then it's the taxi to the gate, and one other odditiy -- a seeming relutance to turn off the seatbelt light at the gate as the FA's prepare to open the door.