Warning: Long! Also first post, please bear with me...
I had to fly to Amsterdam from San Jose/San Francisco for a business meeting – all day Wednesday, with Thursday in reserve. I wanted to fly Star Alliance for FF status, but also wanted to be back early Friday, and all the morning UA/LH flights from LHR/FRA to SFO were booked solid in all but full-Y. My company is an “H” kind of operation, so that literally wouldn’t fly. They tentatively put me on the KLM non-stop SFO-AMS and back.
I really wanted, however, to try out the SFO-MUC non-stop, for two reasons (other than the FF): I wanted to try the unusual timing to see how it affected my time-adjustment capabilities (it leaves SFO at 2125, arriving MUC the next day at 1735) and whether I could get a full day at work/home in before leaving, and I thought it would have FlyNet, LH’s on-board live internet access. This would let me work more while I was awake, and also YM with my wife, play some interactive games with friends, etc. I found that a mixed LH-out/NW-back ticket was no more expensive than NW or KL both ways, so I got booked on LH SFO-MUC-AMS outbound and NW AMS-SFO return.
DLH459 27 Sept 04
D-AIHK (A346), seat 27H (aisle adjacent to starboard window)
Pushback: 2123 (“on time” according to LH web site)
Takeoff: 2137 on 28L (2139 according to flight tracking web site)
I took CalTrain to Millbrae and BART to the airport, and got to check-in at 1926 for the 2125 departure. Check-in was a breeze, just like domestic. Had some noodle soup for dinner, and bought some sandwiches and bottles of water as backup for the flight.
The flight was listed as “scheduled 2125, actual 2115,” and was boarded smoothly. The forward economy section, where I sat, was entirely full, but I think there may have been a few stray empty seats near the back, hard to tell.
There are no PTV’s in economy. On the configuration we were on (LH has two), row 27 is behind a “minor” exit row (the overwing window exit) and has no window where the window seat is, only one forward near the row in front. I was in the aisle (bummer!) but I think this might actually be a good window seat for long-haul, since you can lean against wall, but look forward out a window when you want. BTW the exit row is like an overwing window-style exit row, but has a pretty large exit door and only a tiny porthole window on the door – I’ve seen this reported before as well I think. The legroom looked nice though. Legroom for my seat was acceptable, although my IBM thinkpad couldn’t fit when the seat in front of me reclined (I kept it balanced on the tray and armrest extending into the aisle and no passengers or crew seemed to mind that).
I tried to use the famed downstairs lavs pre-flight, but the cabin crew said only the aft main-floor handicap lav could be used before takeoff. I did try them later in flight. Going downstairs is a nice escape from the main cabin. The door to the crew rest area points aft next to the stairs, and is unlabelled – it just has an enormous mirror, a small “no entry” sign, and a peephole. Besides that and the five lavs, there’s a drinking water station, which was inop, but they kept trays of water, OJ, etc. down there all flight (and in all the galleys). There are two half-rows of center seats to the left of the stairs, would be an interesting option if stuck in the center, but being just in front of a small galley and near the stairs, they’re probably not great.
After takeoff announcements were made first in German, which I don’t speak at all, but it sounded like FlyNet would be available. Sure enough, when they repeated the announcements in English, they confirmed FlyNet, and then showed a video on the Connexion-by-Boeing system. I pulled out my laptop at 2158 (SF time) and quickly enough got to the portal, but the Connexion by Boeing page (to connect to internet) gave a “Service Temporarily Unavailable” banner. The LH local portal was available. At this time the TV’s were showing a news show.
The connection options for full internet access on long flights like this are a flat fee of $29.95 for the entire flight, or $7.95 for 30 minutes plus $0.25/minute thereafter, to a maximum of $50 for the entire flight (the break-even point seems to me to be 118 minutes).
I kept trying while typing up this report, and sure enough, at 2204 SF time it was available! This is definitely the way to fly. No airshow? No problem – just track your flight on the web! Played some online bridge, chatted with my wife, sent the obligatory “you’ll never guess where I’m emailing you from!” messages. Did some work also, of course. Got my first hand in the practice round of WRGPT14 (9s7c). New record for most card games played above FL300? Minor annoyance – after I’d already connected, they walked around with $10 off coupons. BTW I still have my coupon code, I guess we should do a coupon-code rolling application so people can use the coupon but not have to wait for them to come around with them (then pass on their coupon code to someone else, etc.)
First movie was Harry Potter 3. Dinner was a choice of pasta or chicken. When prompted, our flight attendant described the pasta as “tricolori,” and I later heard another one describe it as tortellini. It was indeed tri-color tortellini in a cream sauce, and looked really good. I have no idea whether it had cheese or anything inside, since, alas, I had the disastrous chicken – overcooked piece of white meat in a brownish sauce with white rice and peas, probably the worst SFO transatlantic meal I’ve had (usually fly UA or VS, once BA). With both entrees was a good but tiny salad (lettuce, grated Parmesan, half a cherry tomato, and four croutons, with a Caesar dressing), a small package of cheddar, some kind of cake with stewed fruit, and the dreaded colder-than-ambient roll. The red wine was barely drinkable, but better than what UA and VS have had in economy lately. Consistent with other LH flights I’ve been on, the wine was poured from big bottles (rather than passed out in individual bottles as on UA or VS) and cheerfully refilled (my neighbor got both his water and wine cups refilled with wine).
After dinner I slept for about four hours. Woke up at 0420 SF time and switched to CET, 1327. The video screens were playing Garfield the Movie, ugh. Tried to reconnect to the internet, but it kept not connecting – the flynet portal was there, and the Connexions login page said service was available, but when I would try to log in, I would get a server-not-found error. Yikes! The error page wouldn’t load, with a “Cannot Find Server” error. If I tried the “forgot your password,” it gave me an applet window with the same “Cannot Find Server” error. HUGE downer – had really wanted to play a game of Online Barbu (http://www.barbu.co.uk) to extend my card games played above FL330 record, and had friends in England waiting to play with me. I tried again with Mozilla instead of IE, and got a connection timeout error for both login or forgot-password. Tried the live-chat help window and it said, “we are experiencing network problems… please try again in five minutes.” UGH!!!!!
Went to the galley and got some coffee – truly vile.
One thing I really dislike about LH is the lack of individual “climate” control (the little air vents you normally have near your reading light). If I’ve been on another airline without them, I can’t remember it. Every LH aircraft I’ve been on (B733, A321, A343, A306, A346) has had no passenger airflow control, and I often find myself wanting to change my local climate.
Kept trying to re-connect to Connexions – over an hour, no joy. Skyshow came on and showed us off the northeast coast of Iceland. Continued to get this error:
We are experiencing network problems.
You attempted to reach the following address:
Please try to accessing the Internet in 5 minutes.
After 75 mins of this, another passenger asked me if I had access – he also had been working online early in the flight, but couldn’t connect now. At least it wasn’t just me. At this point the flight attendants were loading up their carts for the “breakfast” beverage service, at 1445 local time at our arrival airport. Third movie was started – Shrek 2.
Lukewarm “hot” towels came around at 1455 MUC time, and the cabin lights were turned on, in several stages, at 1457. Still really really bummed about the internet situation.
Breakfast came around 1520. The main dish was “scrambled” eggs (taste and texture consistent with eggs microwaved with no butter or oil) on a very thin bed of fried potato, red bell pepper, and onion, with steamed chopped spinach on one side and a single strip of bacon (American) on top. Side dishes were a fruit cup (four red grapes and some pineapple, watermelon, and green honeydew melon), a croissant (actually somewhat warm) and an identical cold roll to the one from dinner. Unlike on Virgin, there was real butter with breakfast (so my having saved dinner’s butter turned out to be irrelevant), and also real half ‘n’ half, which unfortunately couldn’t make the tea I had any better than the coffee I’d tried earlier. By 1530 I’d consumed everything I could stand. BTW I don’t think I’m really much of a food/wine snob, this stuff really was bad. Still no internet, and no airshow (Shrek 2 still on). The FlyNet portal has flight status info, but it’s all wrong (speed was shown as 500km/hr, distance as 0km). Skyshow came back on around 1600 MUC time and we were further out than I’d thought – over the north sea west of Westerland at FL380.
At 1619 the Captain came on and estimated 40 mins remaining. During this entire three hour stretch I continued to try to get internet access, unsuccessfully with the same errors the whole time. (Postscript: I emailed Flynet and they apologized and refunded my entire $29.95. I just wish it had worked, and hope they’re doing something to track and correct the problem – the money was a lot less an issue to me than not being able to use the service.)
We landed on 26R and parked at gate 30.
I’d hoped this trip might involve several new aircraft types for me. I’d been on several classic 50-seat CRJ’s, but not yet on a CRJ-700. The LH website listed my connecting flight as a CRJ-100, but the Munich airport listed it as a CRJ-700; it’s obvious which one I wanted. I suspected I’d get my wish when I was issued seat 19F in San Francisco, but I’ve been fooled by strange row-numbering before. We boarded a bus at Munich gate G11 which took us past all the mainline LH jets at T2, across past a flock of turboprops (mostly ATR), and to the regional jet ramp. There were several LH CRJ-100/-200, a LOT ERJ145 (SP-LGM) – it’s funny how much an Embraer Jet in LOT livery winds up looking like some fictitious Tupolev! – and then beyond to a bunch of LH CRJ7’s, and sure enough, we pulled up next to D-ACPR. (One of the CRJ7’s parked there was in Star Alliance colors, that would have been cool.)
LH1928, 28 Sept 04
D-ACPR (CRJ7), seat 19F
The (female) captain was, uh, very attractive, and as I peeked in the cockpit on my way on board the first officer was doing the takeoff performance calcs on a laptop (I saw “assumed temperature” as an option in one widget, not sure whether he was using it or not).
The seats were grey leather, and 19 was the second-to-last row. Even the last row has a window with the same view all the others do – each row from 14 (the emergency exit) through 20 has a window forward and wall where you sit, so you have to look forward to look out but can lean on the wall, just like row 27 in the A346 on the first leg. And finally, a LH flight with individual air controls! There were about 10 empty seats, including the one next to me.
We took off on 26R, and made a right turn. As we climbed I caught a glimpse of a great sight – it was sunset, and looking back I could see the north runways/taxiways, and beyond that the airport brightly lit up, and in the distance the full moon just rising on the horizon, a brilliant orange color. It was just a glimpse, though -- no sooner had I processed the visual, it was gone, as we were engulfed in the overcast.
But not 30 seconds later we broke through, and I was treated to one of the more spectacular visuals of any flight I’ve been on. To the left, the sky was pink and orange with the sunset in the distance, a bright light blue above, with bands of purple clouds, and the overcast below us a lavender blanket; to the right, the sky was the deeper blue of the coming night, the overcast below a rich silver, and the full moon still low enough to be an enormous glowing pumpkin. It didn’t last long – soon the moon was higher and whiter, the sunset lower and darker, and the overcast broken up – but these moments are great on a narrow-body, where you can see out both sides, and the narrower the better (I suppose a 152, no, a P-51, would have been ideal!). Sorry I’m not a photographer, so I can only describe it and not share it. And the full moon did keep me company for a while longer, until we turned to the west and it was lost behind the engine.
The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful. As expected I was faced with the question frequent CLH fliers say they’ve come to dread – ham or cheese (as in which kind of sandwich as a snack). I chose the cheese, and it was actually not bad – brownish roll, butter, some wilted lettuce. The noise from the engines was actually pretty awful. I broke my noise-cancelling headphones last trip and haven’t yet replaced them, wonder how much difference there would have been. Besides the engine noise itself, the plastic above was rattling for the whole flight, I think as a result of engine vibration/noise.
We landed on the Polderbaan, took the first high-speed and it was hard to believe the airport I could see in the distance was the one we’d landed at. Our taxi speed seemed pretty fast, but it still took a long time. Then when we were at the gate, we had to wait a while before anyone could get off until they got all the gate-checked bags off. It didn’t really matter much to me since one of those bags was mine so I’d have to wait anyway, but it must be really irksome for someone who doesn’t have a gate-checked bag. On our left was SAS 737-600 LN-RCU; on our right was Air France BAe-146 EI-CWC. It was a long hike to arrivals. Schiphol is clean and modern and the stores and train station are great, but it’s not terribly well-signed – was hard to figure out how to get to the Hilton, had to ask … all-in-all, though, Iwas at my hotel by 2100 having had a scheduled flight arrival of 2030, so no complaints!
We finished our meeting in one day, so after a relatively tame night out in Amsterdam I phoned my travel department and got my flight switched to one day earlier. This meant an MD-11 instead of B777, which I had mixed feelings about – would prefer the PTV’s, of course, but I’ll probably have another chance at the KLM B777, and more modern long-haul cabins like it, so maybe it would be nice to fly something older while it’s still available.
I stayed up all night working and being social with friends back home, and at 0430 took a break by walking to the airport and checking in for my flight. The KLM counters aren’t open then, but the self-check-in kiosks are open, and they accept paper tickets (which I had – in fact for NWA8605). I was assigned the only available window, but it looked like a good one (25K).
I returned to Schiphol around 0900 and went to the grocery store, bought some cheese and bread and a 1.5L cold water. Wouldn’t be allowed to bring cheese into the US, but seems like a good high-density snack food for the flight. Stopped in the airplane store, got a couple of models and some KLM toys for my kids. Then went and found the observation deck, wow, maybe I should have stuck to my original schedule and just hung out up there all day! It was perfect weather, blue sky and warm. Walked all the way from D past E, with the obligatory six NWA’s (four DC10/three A330), down to F to try to see my plane, but it was on the far side of F and I could only see the tail sticking up. Still, a great place and I saw several spotters up there, maybe even some a.net folks. After the one long spin I went back down into the terminal and out towards my gate. The line at the gate to get a colored-plastic boarding card and go through x-ray/metal detection was long and slow, took at least half an hour (and of course once you’re through you can’t go anywhere else without going through it again). By now I hadn’t slept in 29+ hours, so it’s pretty foggy.
KLM605 30 Sept 04
PH-KCB (MD-11) (Florence Nightingale) seat 25K
Pushback/takeoff: no idea, sorry!
This seat is the second row behind a mid-cabin lav, over the wing. Not so bad for booking the flight about 8 hours before departure. I was struck by how old it all looked and felt. The seat seemed surprisingly wide, and surprisingly comfortable – low back, no headrest, navy blue cloth cover, wide armrests. Naturally no PTV’s, but my seat had a great view of a screen that was in the aisle adjacent to the lav (so essentially 2 rows in front). I immediately put on some eye shades and wrapped myself in a blanket, and fell asleep. Woke up as we were being pushed back, at really high speed it seemed. By now it was overcast and there was a bit of drizzle. I drank a lot of my water and broke into the bread and cheese. Taxi was short and fast, no wait to line up on runway 24, and takeoff quiet, smooth, and pretty short too.
I stayed up for a few minutes until we were above the overcast and couldn’t see anything, then fell asleep again. Missed drink service, but did wake in time for food, once again the dreaded “chicken or pasta” choice. All the KLM trip reports I read the previous week prepping for this flight described KLM chicken with rice in ways that seemed really unappetizing, but said it was surprisingly good. I tried it and it – seemed really unappetizing, but was surprisingly OK. It was small chunks of boneless meat in a dark brown sauce, with some kind of pilaf or other oily rice and some green leafy vegetable (spinach?). It was worlds better than the LH chicken out of SF. The chicken wasn’t dried out at all, and the vegetable was good. There was also a thick slice of smoked salmon served with, um, potato salad? Can’t remember. Also a dessert, I think some kind of pie or cheesecake with fruit. I was really tired. Ate the chicken, spinach, and salmon, drank a small bottle of OK red wine (again better than LH’s) most of the rest of my water, and fell immediately back to sleep.
When I woke up, Spiderman 2 was about to end, and when it did the airshow came on showing us north of Hudson Bay, on a path to fly north of Churchill, 4.5 hours out of SFO. I ate some cheese, finished off the water, and about 10 minutes later took the opportunity to stand up.
The KLM MD11 cabin is not terribly conducive to moving around because it’s really hard to get from side to side. The galley takes up the entire rear and the flight attendants wouldn’t let anyone in, and there’s no other way to transit there. At the mid-cabin lavs, where most long-haul aircraft I’ve been on have some sort of small galley or other way to pass through, there’s just a bulkhead. It’s possible to walk behind the last row of the forward economy cabin just in front of the bulkhead, but people were generally standing there so you have to get them to move. That’s pretty much the only way to switch sides in economy, really inconvenient. The cabin crew were somewhat friendly when they came to our seats, but kinda surly back in the galley – but they were working to start a snack service.
They walked around with trays of beverages in cups (coke, sprite, water, OJ, apple juice, maybe tomato juice?) and the carts came around with pistachio ice cream and Lays potato chips. After standing/walking about 10 minutes I got back in my seat in time for an ice cream. I didn’t try any more, but it seemed like they weren’t receptive to people going to get drinks, which is a real downer on a long-haul IMO.
Second movie started, Harry Potter 3 (same as on my LH outbound). Both movies had Dutch subtitles. I don’t know if any audio tracks other than English were available. After working on my laptop for a while, I decided I hadn’t had nearly enough sleep. Switched from AMS time (1903) to SFO time (1003) and tried to sleep more.
I woke up at 1115 SFO time. Airshow was on, showing us about halfway between Edmonton and Calgary. Soon it was replaced by TV shows. Hot towels arrived at 11:35. I definitely regretted not having brought a second 1.5L water. Recently I’d been brining two 500-ml waters on my SFO trans-Atlantic flights and not even opening the second, since water was freely available on the flight – this flight was a striking exception. I think KLM should join their peers on this one. I started listening to audio but it was difficult – I often had to wiggle the plug in the jack to keep it from going to static or cutting out completely.
Special-order snack boxes were distributed at 1144, and carts with beverages and the standard snack boxes started at the front of each cabin section at 1150. The video was now showing cartoons (Tom & Jerry, etc.) The items inside the snack box were individually plastic-sealed and a time-stamp had the name of each, so I’ll use KLM’s descriptions: Babyleaf Salad with peppermix, calzone with sundriedtomato, STRACCIATELA, and an unlabeled fruit cup. The salad was really nice, and pretty big too. Peppermix was diced red and green bell peppers. The dressing was lite ranch, definitely not my choice, but the salad hardly needed any and it was actually not bad. The calzone was completely inedible. The stracciatela was OK, but I only had a couple of bites. The fruit cup was just like the del monte pop-top cans I used to get in my lunchbox as a kid, except the grapes were red with seeds in them (it also had peach, pear and pineapple in a sweet syrup). After finishing KLM’s offerings I had the rest of my cheese and bread. Turns out the cheese plan was pretty anti-social of me, I think I really stank up the cabin, oooops, sorry! But they were great. I had a Bruges Blomme, Danblu 50+, and Anne Ruche Affinee. The Affinee was wonderful and fresh at the beginning of the flight but not quite so good now, but the other two were better at this point having been at cabin temperature for a few hours. I didn’t want wine because I was trying to make it earlier for my clock, not later, but I regretted it, the red wine would have been good with the cheese. Instead I had water and some marginal coffee.
This whole time I had a great view out my window. After overflying Spokane the volcanoes – Ranier, Hood, St. Helens, etc. – were visible popping up above the cloud layer. News was St. Helens was becoming pretty active, and in fact exactly 24 hours later it let out some steam and ash, so if I’d stayed on my originally scheduled itinerary I might have seen it (we were very far away so would not have deviated to avoid the ash). Great view of Mt. Shasta and Shasta Lake. It was mostly clear/hazy, but there was a big clump of puffy clouds around the top of Mt. Shasta.
The first officer announced an approach over the bay, but instead we flew down over the peninsula, and completed one racetrack over Woodside(?) before continuing our approach and landing on 28R. At 1300 they predicted we would land at 1315, but we didn’t actually touch down until 1333. Still, this allowed us to easily meet our scheduled gate arrival time of 1355, and I was actually through passport control before 1400.
In both directions I got where I needed to be on-time, in fact earlier than reasonably expected. LH had terrible food but good access to beverages and pretty friendly service in economy, while KLM had mostly better food but poor access to liquids and less friendly service. Seats were OK on both. Entertainment on both was pretty bad, other than FlyNet which is just so cool, I figure it’s only a matter of time before it’s available on everyone’s long-haul flights (but given the small number of people using it on my flight, it might be a while). I’ll definitely try to take the LH SFO-MUC flight on future trips to Europe.