KLM Royal Dutch Airlines KL1018
Boeing 737-306 PH-BDP
Departure Scheduled 1450 Actual 1520 on rotation
Arrival Scheduled 1705 Actual 1720 at Gate
Check in at LHR Terminal 4 was a breeze with no queues for Flying Dutchman Elite members as I was able to use the EuroSelect counters. There were 4 Self-service Check-in machines located adjacent to the EuroSelect counters but as there was no queue it seemed a little silly since I would only have to go to the counter anyway to drop off my suitcase. Once again, the baggage belts at Terminal 4 were broken and I commented to the KLM check-in girl that I don’t think they’ve ever worked whenever I have flown through T4. She laughed and agreed they were ‘crap’. She then asked me which seats I would like for both flights and I went for my usual ‘aisle’ option near the front of the aircraft. I then said that I was planning to use my Award Miles to upgrade my AMS-KUL flight anyway but she was unable to tell me how to do so at Schiphol. She suggested I asked at the FD helpdesk although was not sure if there was one there either (!). Although she was very cheerful, her lack of knowledge of her own airline’s service was rather poor I thought.
Nevertheless, I met my brother for a quick lunch and proceeded through the Fast Track departures lane – which was worth it – as I looked at the long queues for the other Security gates through the glass. Without any hassle at all, I was through to the Departure lounge, which was buzzing with activity this Saturday lunchtime. Not terribly impressed with the shops present (especially as I was off to Schiphol and the Far East) – I bought a few newspapers and sat in the extended central area with a good view of the departing runway.
At 1410, boarding for KL1018 was called at Gate 22, which was stressed to be located near Gate 21 and passengers were advised to make their way to the Gate immediately. On my way to find Gate 22, I realised why the ground crew made such a fuss – since this gate is part of another extension at T4, which I had not been to. It was a good 10-minute walk across the apron to the other side where PH-BDP was waiting for its passengers. I must admit – I was a little disappointed to see a 737-306 since I was hoping to fly on a 737NG – having spent over 20 years flying 737s – I have oddly yet to step aboard an NG to sample any updates from the Classic.
This is the aircraft arriving that afternoon before preparing for our flight...
Photo © James Trimbee
Nevertheless, a general call for boarding was made soon after my arrival at Gate 22. Walking down the aerobridge, there was a trolley of newspapers for each passenger to help themselves to a choice of the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and a Dutch broadsheet. I snapped up the Daily Mail as I am used to the 737 Economy seat being very unforgiving to the broadsheet newspaper. As I entered the cabin, I was struck by the lack of space and worn look of the cabin in EuroSelect – thanking myself for not wasting any FD Award Miles to upgrade on this short sector. I was none too impressed as I entered the Economy section and found my seat 3 rows down at 8D. A very dashing tall, blond and tanned Steward however greeted me with a broad smile – wishing me ‘Welcome onboard KLM, I see you have found your seat. Everything OK?’, as he leant forward from 10D by the Emergency Exit.
I popped my cabin bag into the locker and settled into my seat when I realised how warm the aircraft was and the lack of boarding by seat rows proved to be tiresome as passenger after passenger stood queuing next to me – bags and all in my face. To make matters worse, 7D it seems was triple booked this afternoon – with a man travelling with his wife and 2 daughters and two other businessmen. The dashing steward however leapt forward and asked for all their boarding passes and grinned – ‘Don’t worry, I will sort this out and be back in a minute’ and he kept to his word as the chaos was delaying boarding even further. He returned and said to the family man that there was no problem with his seat number, but he asked the two businessmen to join him and come forward to 4B and 4E in EuroSelect. Damn – why couldn’t it have been 8D being overbooked!
Nevertheless, I was impressed as the aircraft doors were shut at 1443 and the air-conditioning switched on to everyone’s sweltering relief. Announcements were made in Dutch and English as we pushed back and the crew conducted their Safety briefing again both in Dutch and English. As we began to taxi, the air-conditioning was switched off along with the cabin lights. Our taxi however, was a rather long one and whilst waiting for our turn to roll down the runway, at about 1510 the air-conditioning was switched back on at ‘full’.
A fast acceleration and a short roll later, we rotated into the warm afternoon sun and climbed out over North London. The captain introduced himself and apologized for the ground delay at Heathrow due to traffic congestion but he was hoping to make it a quick flight in a ‘direct route straight into Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport arriving just a few minutes late with an additional 5 minutes of taxiing time to get to our gate’.
The curtain to EuroSelect was firmly shut by another steward as the trolleys rolled down the aisle to serve us our ‘sandwich’. Frankly, it is an abomination that anyone could call what they served a ‘sandwich’. Presented in a bright cardboard box, my ‘sandwich’ turned out to be a dry brown roll, with the thinnest slither of Maasdam cheese – so much so that I was unable to taste any cheese at all. To wash this down, I had a small carton of Orange Juice (which at least was cold) and the crew served cups of tea, coffee or water. Drinks and service was pretty standard on such a short hop but the roll was without a doubt worse than what is available on my crummy Hove-London train on Network SouthCentral!
Crossing the Channel past the Norfolk coast, we headed straight towards the Low Countries making landfall near Schiphol itself. As the crew prepared for landing, we made a quick turn to intercept the localiser and began our fast descent into Schiphol. When the captain meant a quick flight – boy, did he mean it. It seemed like we were caning it towards the runway with a crosswind swerving the baby Boeing in several different directions. Touching down on our left main gear, the aircraft corrected itself, as the brakes were slammed on to slow us down to still a rather fast taxi towards Pier E.
The nearer we got to Amsterdam, there seemed to be an increasing sense of urgency about the flight by the crew – which is fine since PH-BDP probably had a tight turnaround schedule – but it showed. Although this helps KLM prove its reliability on delays and scheduling, perhaps they could do it with a sense of less haste, as I have to admit – many passengers including myself felt rather stressed by the whole timekeeping factor.
As the doors were opened, I made my way out of the aircraft only to be met by a rather old steward who wished me on my way – which seemed odd since – I hadn’t seen him at all throughout the whole flight. Nevertheless, I was pleased that this sector was over since I had to hunt down this FD helpdesk to upgrade my next flight.
Overall – Although the male cabin crew have very smart uniforms indeed and were very well groomed – down to each spike of hair gel – the service was nothing to write home about. As for the meal service – the female crew seem to don some ‘maternity’ gown, which was far from flattering but then again, that roll has to be one of THE worse snacks that has ever been offered to me by any company let along an airline. The aircraft looked tired both on the inside and out and the seat pitch was appalling especially for a nation known for being tall! For reliability however, they kept to their word but this is not the KLM that I have been used to in the past – it was… strangely perhaps more Northworst!
Amsterdam Schiphol – Kuala Lumpur
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines KL807
Boeing 747-406E PH-BFI ‘City of Jakarta’
Departure Scheduled 1945 Actual 1947 on rotation
Arrival Scheduled 1330 Actual 1311 at Gate
Arriving at Pier E, I made my way directly towards Pier F as my boarding pass issued at LHR showed that KL807 was to depart from Gate F03. I knew that time was a factor if I was going to get my upgrade as I will be battling with other connecting passengers arriving at AMS and also the main bulk of passengers checking in at Amsterdam.
Alas – I couldn’t find any so-called FD Helpdesk so I asked an agent at the KLM Passenger Services Desk to which her reply was I don’t think I can help you but let me have a look. A quick exchange of words with her colleague and a few taps on her keyboard and she looked up at me saying ‘So far, there have been no requests so if you hurry up to the KLM Lounges upstairs they can change your seat for you’. A little bewildered by this method of exchanging miles – I made a bee-line for the nearest Lounge and on entry there was a rather matronly agent who smiled at me and then exchanged a few words with her colleague. My boarding pass was then handed to her and I was asked to wait for her. She then typed away at her keyboard and then smiled ‘Yes, you have enough miles. Would you like a window or aisle?’. ‘A window please if its available’ and after signing a yellow form for the upgrade – I was handed a new boarding pass and my dream had come true – ‘01A’…
I proceeded to make myself comfortable in the KLM Lounge but again – this was nothing to write home about. The bar near the TV and Smoking lounge was closed with handwritten ‘Out of Order’ messages all over it. The other self-service bar had only crisps and nachos as snacks and cup-a-soup (?!) out of a machine. The alcohol and soft-drink range was pretty standard whilst the wine was nothing special. Two small glasses of wine and a visit to the loo later, I decided that there was more to do downstairs at the shops – so I nipped down and picked up some tulips for mother before making my way back to F03 – as I was stopped and asked to show my Boarding pass to the Agent. The Agent bemused by this, spoke to his colleague and apologised for the inconvenience but the flight was overbooked. ‘Don’t worry though, you have your seat and its not your problem’ – and through to the transit lounge I entered – which was already full of passengers, with many standing due to the lack of seating. There were lots of Filipinos on the flight tonight – most of whom looked like labourers travelling as small groups of men all crouching on the floor.
Just as I sat down to notice that we were on a ‘new livery 747’ tonight, a boarding announcement was made for all World Business Class passengers and FD Elite members to board the aircraft. Happily I made my way down the Airbridge to note that the aircraft was PH-BFI ‘City of Jakarta’ and I was in 01A!
Photo © Oliver Brunke
Photo © Nick de Jonge
First through to the World Business Class section via the Economy Select seats located next to the galley, I was greeted by a rather ‘mature’ Stewardess – who resembled Mrs. Slocum (from ‘Are you being served?’) – which was a rather shock to the system but I am not ageist and figured she must be a ‘very’ senior crewmember. The closet in the nose (so that’s what’s in there) was open and the tv monitor also in the nose was screening ‘shots of KLM through the years from b&w Fokkers taking off to 747s of the ‘70s. A charming bald steward in his late 30s came up to help me with my bags and hung my flowers up on a hanger in the closet to prevent anything crushing them. An elderly American couple joined me in 1H and 1K and they looked like well-seasoned travellers hardly talking to each other but each with military-like routines – him with his notepad out from his retro80s briefcase and her with a novel out of her handbag within seconds and seatbelts fastened with shoes off – ready for flight.
I began savouring the moment I had waited for, having flown on 747s since the 1970s as a child, of having seat 1A and not having ‘scrounged’ an upgrade from the check-in agent or family working at airlines – but using my own mileage that had taken hard-work for an upgrade. The space between my seat and the nose, being able to look out of both sides of the aircraft with a single field of view and looking back at all the other passengers who would have loved to have had my seat – what else could have
made this trip any better…
‘Good evening sir, would you care for a glass of champagne?’ – Ahh – he read my mind!
Announcements were made in Dutch and English to welcome everyone on-board and a further message was announced by the purser, ‘To welcome all our passengers travelling to Kuala Lumpur this evening, our cabin crew also speak Malay’. This was then followed by a recorded welcome and safety announcement in Malay. The safety video was played as the doors were closed and the captain announced that there was 10 minutes left to our departure time – as my neighbour quickly arrived to sit next to me. Being rather late and immediately taking off his shoes to slip on his in-flight socks, I wondered if he was a member of staff travelling. A brief conversation only revealed that he was on his way to Penang – he declined to add anything further.
As the pushback began, I immediately noticed the different sensation from sitting forward to the nosewheel. The taxi out to the new runway was a long one and boy did I enjoy every minute of it wanting to wave out of the window and I felt like a kid all over again – on my very first flight.
Arriving at the runway threshold on time, it was clear that the take-off was going to be spectacular from the view here. It reminded me of a few clips from Airport’77 and I guess some of them were taken from the nose end near where I was sitting. Turning on to the runway, we didn’t rumble down the runway as I noticed the cabin was very much quieter here and the aircraft seemed to be travelling quite slowly as we lifted off the ground a few seconds before the rest of the huge frame. The views over the Dutch fields were emblazoned by the summer evening sun, as we climbed out over the Lowlands and turned to head out East.
Climbing towards Germany, the in-flight Video was switched on and I looked back to see the entire cabin was full. Pushing back my seat – I counted the number of windows and I made ‘5’ all to myself – what a stark difference to the usual ‘1’, or if you’re lucky ‘1 and a bit’ in Economy. The Airshow showed us to be heading past Hamburg but as ‘Along Came Polly’ had started, that was the channel to stick with as the bar service commenced with hot towels. A fresh bottle of champagne was uncorked at the front of the cabin and just about everyone had another glass or two, whilst the steward took orders for dinner tonight.
A few vodka & tonics later, my baked Salmon with Tarragon arrived on a tray and it seemed to be a popular choice with fellow passengers in the cabin – with only a few others opting for the Pheasant instead this evening.
The whole meal arrived neatly presented on a tray, but I found the Salmon a little too salty – although fresh. It also happened to be KLM’s meal of the month and was supposed to have been prepared according to Chef Imko Binnerts from the Grand Winston Hotel in Rijswijk. Unfortunately – I am unable to recall the other parts of the meal but overall I was stuffed and didn’t even finish the warm roll, which came in plentiful supply. For afters, I was offered a cheese plate – which again was more than adequate – so much so that I turned down the liqueur service!
Our tick-box menu for breakfast which came together with our menus were collected before a brief announcement was made regarding the shutting of shades (due to the sun rising soon) and that the cabin will be dimmed for a good night’s rest. Bottles of Mineral Water were handed out to each passenger as I reclined my seat, pulled out the footrest and slept peacefully thanks to the ingenious Phillips noise-cancelling headphones – which really DO work. Not only was the nose of the aircraft quieter to sit in, together with the noise cancelling headphones – I managed to sleep in relative quietness on a 747 speeding through the night.
The cabin was a little warm though and I awoke a couple of times to remove my blanket, which also caused quite a lot of static electricity, which sparked with movement.
As we flew over India, the sun was clearly blazing outside the darkened cabin as the shades had a slight glow and were warm to touch. I decided to go for a wander and the steward asked me if I had slept enough as he offered me a glass of apple juice. I disappeared behind the curtain and wandered down through the Select seats and through the Economy cabin, which was packed. A couple of young crewmembers were sat right at the rear of this Combi aircraft with a window open chatting as they wished me to ask if everything was ok. I explained I was just having a wander and they smiled back “Oh yah – that’s ok!”, before carrying on chatting.
Returning to my seat, the cabin was still pitch-black and I always feel guilty switching on reading lights so I sat back down to watch another film – Cheaper by the Dozen – which was rather mediocre but it passed the time. A short nap later, the cabin lights were gradually switched on and orange juice was offered along with a ‘Good Morning’ announcement, as we headed over the Andaman Sea towards Malaysia.
Breakfast arrived soon after as the cabin stirred and it has to be the most substantial and tasty breakfast I have ever had on any airline. Starting with Muesli in a proper bowl and fresh ice-cold milk served from the jug, I followed this with a fresh fruit salad and a warm croissant with butter and a choice of jams, marmalade or honey. A tub of yoghurt next and I was stuffed before, the steward returned with my order of a fresh omelette served as a roulade, stuffed with cheese and ham – served with gratin potatoes and sausages. Struggling with the omelette, we started to encounter some turbulence, which made the coffee/tea service rather trying for my poor steward and it showed as he growled before apologising and took my cup away from me – since it had spilled all over my tray. He returned a couple of seconds later with a new cup and a cloth to mop up the spillage.
As the trays were cleared, I nipped to the loo to freshen up as my neighbouring passenger awoke. He exchanged a few words with the steward and a few minutes later, his breakfast tray arrived but he left most of it behind before disappearing to the loo.
With 30 minutes to go before landing, the cabin was prepared and I watched the coastline of Malaysia draw closer as we headed West of Ipoh, which was clearly visible this lunchtime (local time). KLM Miniature Dutch Houses were handed out on a tray for one to choose and I grabbed the nearest one. Flying past Subang Airport, we tracked out again into the Straits of Malacca before turning around at Port Dickson, with our nosewheel very noticeably locking below us, before our final approach over the oil-palm plantations to touch down smoothly on 32L. Again, the touchdown was delightfully smooth being ‘up-front’ as the nose-wheel touched down very gently a little later as expected.
Photo © M Radzi Desa
Slowing down and entering our taxiway, I noticed a fellow KLM Cargo 747-400ERF parked at the Cargo terminal, as we headed towards gate C24 on the far side of the satellite terminal. As we disembarked, I noticed that the majority of World Business Class passengers were alighting here at KUL and as Door 1L was opened, our efficient steward bid us all farewell as his large frame blocked the Economy Select passengers for us.
About 30 mins after touchdown, I had cleared immigration and was waiting at the baggage carousel. My bag however was one of the last to appear as most of the passengers had left the Arrivals hall. I then made my way for the KLIA Ekspres train downstairs and arriving at my parents’ home, my new 2004 KLM Miniature house joined its older companions – as my parents had collected quite a few in their antique cabinet. The oldest one stamped with 1965 on the underside!
Overall – a most memorable flight since I finally fulfilled a childhood ambition of sitting in 1A on a 747-400. World Business Class on KLM is worth it and certainly lives up to its name. Pure and functional, good features included the meals, in service, quality and quantity – it was not unlike ‘room-service’ in a 5-star hotel – if not somewhat better! The inflight service overall was unobtrusive and efficient. The KLM Lounge at Amsterdam however was nothing to write home about and perhaps KLM ought to concentrate on operating fewer larger lounges at Schiphol with better service and facilities instead.
Pictures to follow (still awaiting approval) and return journey to be posted soon!