It has been a long while since I sat down and wrote a trip report, mainly because I just don’t have the time, and also because many of the flights I have recently taken are well covered by other members of A-net. However, a recent trip to Japan provided the opportunity to fly KLM’s new 777, and provide a general update on KLM’s Asian services, which I thought was opportune. I say “new” - I guess they’re really not that new, but the 777s are only now beginning to show up on the Tokyo run, and I hadn’t been on one yet.
The trip actually began on 26 May 2004, when I flew KLM from London to Tokyo. That was not a very spectacular trip - no problems, just nothing of note. Equipment out was a 767 from LHR
, and then a 747 Combi from AMS
(which was a bit of a disappointment, if one can actually say that about a 747 trip)!
6 June 2004 - Segment 1
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines - 777
Depart: Tokyo - Narita (scheduled: 10.15 - actual approximately 10.30)
Arrive: Amsterdam - Schipol (scheduled 15.10 - actual approximately 15.30)
Seat: 31B - Exit row seat, immediately behind the wing
Since KLM departed relatively early in the morning, I had travelled from my wife’s family home to Tokyo the night before. Using the Shinkansen (bullet train), I left Hamamatsu (in central Japan) at 5.45pm and arrived in Tokyo at 7.12pm, and had 45 minutes to transfer to the Narita Express to Tokyo Narita Airport. I arrived at Narita Airport, Terminal 2 at about 9.05pm. I have previously done a report including parts of a Shinkansen trip (search for JAL trips), so I won’t go over all the details here. Suffice it to say that it was an average trip.
I stayed overnight at the Nikko Winds Hotel at Narita, having caught a shuttle bus from Terminal 2 to the hotel. I can strongly recommend this hotel - it’s nothing fancy, but I got a huge room, buffet breakfast and free transfers, all for JPY 8,000, which is about 40 GBP - a great deal. Incidentally, some of the rooms are great for spotters - mine was directly overlooking one of the aprons, separated only by a road and parking lot.
I woke up at 6.00am, showered and packed and then headed for the buffet breakfast. It was a typically Japanese impression of a western breakfast (and decent Japanese stuff as well): runny scrambled eggs, some fried eggs, some breaded fish sticks, croquettes (breaded, deep-fried potato/meat balls), salad, fried pieces of sandwich ham (labelled bacon) and some boiled wieners (labelled sausage)… mmm, mmmm good. They also had a small pastry/bread corner, and I went to get some toast for my breakfast. Amusingly, they had an industrial toaster (where you put the bread in the top and it moves through the toaster on a continuous rack and comes out the bottom) which no one had used because while it was on, there was a screen at the front blocking the space for the bread to go into, and everyone being too polite to ask, just ate untoasted bread. Wanting toast, I tried to move the screen enough to get the bread in. I wasn’t having much success and the restaurant manager came over to help - before I could warn him that it was hot, he picked up the screen with both hands! Drama complete (and hands burned), a line formed for the toaster, and I ate in peace. I made a quick trip back to the room to get my luggage and then caught the 7.15 shuttle to Narita Terminal One.
Check-in was reasonably quick - I had arrived about 3 hours before flight departure and there were only 10 or so people in front of me. It turns out it was good timing - about 3 minutes after I got into line, three buses pulled up and nearly 100 people on a package tour joined the line behind me, all sporting little name tags with “their” tour company’s affiliation mark, complete with a flag carrying tour guide.
Moving quickly through security (all suitcases are scanned at Narita before people even get to the check-in), I found myself at the agent. I was happy to see that there was a 777 seating plan sitting on the counter, and I quickly asked for an emergency exit seat, as I need the added legroom. The last one available was 31B, a middle seat in the left hand cluster of three seats, right behind the wing.
Check in complete, I went and wandered through the still relatively quiet Narita airport. I hit a book store and loaded up with a couple of novels and a Japan Times newspaper for the flight back, phoned my wife to say goodbye, checked email quickly and then went on a bit of a walk around, mainly to stretch my legs before the long flight home. On the second floor restaurant area, there is a door out to a large viewing area overlooking the aprons. I grabbed a coffee and headed out there to watch the activity and contemplate life a little before the long trek back to London. It was a low overcast day, with high humidity and a temperature of about 26 degrees Celsius. A light drizzle was falling and it was in fact the beginning of “tsuyu”, the rainy season in Japan. This meant that aircraft on approach were not visible until about 300 metres above the runway, when the popped out of the clouds and into the murk for landing. Despite the early morning hour, there were a few Japanese spotters around, mostly sipping coffee and cleaning camera equipment, probably waiting for some interesting traffic to arrive. Indeed, it was still pretty quiet - I saw a couple of air cargo flights land (Polar, Northwest, JAL) arrive and go out, at 8.25am the KLM bird arrived and soon after a British Airways 744 came in.
The rain started to fall more heavily and as it was now 9.20, I began to head for the gate for departure. There is a two part procedure at Japanese airports, entry into the departure area through security, and then an immigration process to document your departure from Japan. The security scan was quick and polite, but the line for immigration was long and slow. It took about 20 minutes to get through, with most of the trouble caused by people who refused to heed the instructions - fill in the disembarkation card, wait behind the line, approach one-by-one and remove passport from the cover.
Finally through, I headed for the gate, making a quick stop at duty free to buy some sake to take home. A quick walk around the gate showed two Northwest flights departing for Guam and Saipan (vacation run specials), two Korean flights departing (a 744 for Seoul Incheon and a 737 for Busan), our KLM flight and at the next gate, a Virgin 340-600 for London. Other flights being paged included an Air France for Paris, and an Asiana for Seoul.
Boarding finally commenced at about 10.00, with World Business Class and elite card members being invited to board, following by blocks of passengers from the rear of the plane forward.
At the door, there was a trolley with an excellent assortment of newspapers, English, Dutch and Japanese and upon stepping into the plane, one was greeted by two Dutch attendants, both quietly friendly. I moved to the rear of the aircraft, and was greeted by the attendant working our section of the cabin, a cute Japanese girl who I later found out was quite new to KLM. I was the first at my row, and stowed by luggage in the overhead bin and read the newspaper while everyone found their seats. I shared my row with a quiet British guy, and an even more quiet Japanese guy. It seemed to take quite a long time to get all the passengers onboard, and we finally pushed back some 25 minutes late. By this time, the rain was falling fairly hard, and we had a long, quiet taxi to the active runway. Turning onto the runway, the engines spooled up and the aircraft surged ahead on an approximately 60 second takeoff run for Amsterdam. Almost as soon as we lifted off, we were into the low cloud base, flying in a westerly direction before turning northwards to cross Japan and the Sea of Japan towards Europe. The cloud layer wasn’t particularly thick, and at about 12,000 feet we broke into sunshine. We stayed low across Japan, no more than 20,000 feet before beginning our climb across the Sea of Japan (often seems to be the case - anyone know why?). There was a bit of light turbulence for about an hour and as we crossed into Russia (and gained height), the turbulence stopped and the seat belt signs went off.
The cabin attendants immediately began to prepare for lunch, and being in the first row of the section, it wasn’t long before we were being offered lunch. The choices were very un-Japanese - either Chicken with Tomato Sauce or Dry Beef Curry. I chose the latter and it was in fact excellent. I guess it has Dutch/Indonesian origins because the main was Pilaf Rice with an Indonesian/Malay curry powder mixed with beef on top. Really excellent. The chap next to me had the chicken, and it didn’t look as good. The drinks were plentiful, and the rest of the meal decent too - salad, crackers and a bun and cheese. For dessert there was a kind of chocolate cake with raspberry sauce, all in all an excellent meal.
While the meal was being served, the in-flight entertainment system was activated, and I have to take a second to discuss this. Quite simply, it was the best in-flight entertainment I’ve encountered, including in the comparison British Air’s First and Business Class, JAL Business Class, Lufthansa Business Class, United Business Class and Iberia’s Business Class. There were a huge selection of movies (60 I think), ranging from classics to the latest (Lord of the Rings III). There was a huge television section, with a variety of programs and a large number of both audio programs and complete sets of one artist you could choose. It also had a cool feature that allowed you to build play lists, choosing songs from a variety of sources and putting them in preferred order. Needless to say, this made the flight very enjoyable and of course, all programs were on-demand, meaning you could stop/start when you wanted.
I watched the last Matrix (Revolutions), and couple of sitcoms before settling down with some music to doze and read. The cabin lights were soon dimmed and the blinds closed, which I found very strange on a daytime flight. Nonetheless, I was happy to nap so passed the next seven hours or so in a state of half sleep, occasional reading and watching television. The excellent cabin service continued, with drinks about once an hour and ice cream about 8 hours into the flight.
We finally began to get close to “home” (which I consider to be starting at the Baltic) and the lights went on and the blinds up. The aircraft gradually woke up and a light lunch was served, consisting of a muffin, yoghurt, chocolate bar and a sandwich of some sort. By the time this was cleared and people had settled themselves, we had begun our long, gentle descent into Amsterdam. A bit of turning and banking put us on a smooth final approach leading to a smooth touchdown in Amsterdam late, at about 15.30. We had a 10 minute taxi to our gate and it took about 10 minutes to disembark. By this time, I thought I had missed my flight to London, due to depart at 16.05.
I literally ran through the concourse to the gate, only to find that there were quite a few stragglers and there was no real hurry at all.
6 June 2004 - Segment 2
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines - 737-800
Depart: Amsterdam - Schipol (scheduled 16.05 - actual approximately 16.30)
Arrive: London - Heathrow (scheduled 16.20 - actual approximately 16.45)
Arriving at my seat all sweaty and tired (and probably looking, and dare I say, smelling it too), I was not disappointed to be able to sit at the gate a bit, dozing while other passengers loaded. We eventually pushed back and after a long taxi, took off directly west towards London. There was a brief meal service, consisting of sandwich and juice, and before I knew it, we were on straight in approach for Heathrow. Another long taxi was followed by a long and depressing walk through the dirty, dark, dank halls of Heathrow (I am not a fan of Heathrow at all - in fact, I do as much as I can to avoid it), to a heaving immigration area. Despite the crowds, it was only a ten minute wait and luggage only took five minutes. Before I knew it, I was on the overpriced Heathrow Express for home, thus ending another Japan trip.
I have flown KLM long-haul a number of times now, and simply put, the service has always been excellent. I'm sure they're not like one of the vaunted Asian carriers (Singapore or Cathay), but their service always seems heartfelt and friendly to me, their staff always pleasant and professional and of course Schipol is a joy to transit through. Combined with their excellent prices, it's hard to go wrong. The new 777 for long haul fixes some of their earlier entertainment deficiencies and for 500 GBP return to Tokyo - they can't be beat.
Any questions/comments welcome. Best regards from London.