SATURDAY 17 JUNE 2006.
CARDIFF INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (CWL) – AMSTERDAM SCHIPHOL AIRPORT (AMS).
KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES
FLIGHT KL 1060 (OPERATED BY KLM CITYHOPPER)
FOKKER 100 REGISTRATION PH-OFL (C/N 11444).
Photo © Peter de Jong
So, I was indeed off to the World Cup! The day came and was very bright and sunny in Cardiff. Once again I chose “the train to the plane”, the Vale of Glamorgan rail service run by Arriva Trains Wales, to transport us to the airport. We got to the local station of Lisvane and Thornhill in good time to catch the 0814HR service to Cardiff Central, from where the train to the airport itself would be caught. (Generally trains on the Rhymney Valley line run through Cardiff Central to Penarth rather than to Barry and Rhoose.) We then got the 0841HR service to Bridgend by way of Barry and Rhoose. The excitement mounted as the train made its way through the Vale of Glamorgan to Rhoose station, from where a shuttle bus took us to the terminal, at which we arrived at 0920HR.
Cardiff International Airport (CWL) was its usual fairly busy self. There were several flights being checked in, notably a bmibaby (WW) service to Faro. Alas, the KLM counters presented a huge line of passengers. After a long wait, we were finally checked in at 0945HR and got boarding passes. Neither of us had checked luggage as I was wary of lost luggage given the connections involved in the trip and had in fact bought a Samsonite suitcase small enough to be taken as hand luggage. In so doing I had to forego my back-pack – the first time in ages I had not travelled with one. In any case on most of the flights I was unable to take the case into the cabin and had to drop it at the door of the plane, where it was loaded into the hold. On arrival it was returned at the door. On this flight, though, I was able to take it into the cabin.
On a sadder note, this was the first trip I had taken from CWL since the demise of Air Wales. 6G folded its scheduled services in April 2006, citing a lack of profitability. As such there were no check-in counters for Air Wales although there were still some signs indicating their former existence. In the wake of their collapse several other airlines have taken on CWL. Air Arann Express (RE) has started services to DUB, ORK and Galway plus Lorient in France, Air Southwest (WOW) has trunk services from Newquay to CWL and MAN and Eastern Airways (T3) took over the NCL and ABZ route. T3 also does BRU from CWL, a route 6G struggled to operate. RE actually received a huge boost in its fortunes soon after starting its CWL services as Ryanair (FR) dropped CWL, apparently in a row over landing charges. Somehow I think that episode had arisen from FR’s wanting to consolidate the daily service with its 3 others from BRS and perhaps gain some free publicity in doing so! Who knows, really – but the FR check-in counter was also a notable absentee from CWL.
Shortly after check-in we went upstairs to have some breakfast and in the process I ran into one of my senior colleagues who was travelling on the same flight to AMS. I had a brief chat with him before proceeding to the excellent airport restaurant, where I dined on some fruit and tea – my usual sort of breakfast. While there I looked at the planes as usual. Eastern Airways (T3) G-MAJJ, a BAE Jetstream 4100, was present as were SX-BSW, a Skywings MD83 (operating for UK Jet) and G-TOYH, a WW 737-36N which departed for Malaga (AGP). Over on the other side of the runway, at the general aviation apron sat a 6G ATR42, looking all forlorn and a symbol of the fallen airline.
The flight was called for boarding shortly after I had my breakfast, so we proceeded through the security checks and then to the gate. The plane was actually parked around the eastern end of the terminal so the passengers rode a bus over to the stairs.
The KLM plane, PH-OFL, was in an unusual all-white colour scheme with KLM titles on the fuselage and tailfin. I thought that this was very strange – a KL plane that is not sky-blue. We got onboard and I took up seat 9C, an aisle seat. My brother got the window. The case fit neatly in the overhead bins – I was impressed with Samsonite! Soon after the passengers were seated (the flight was full), the departure preparations continued with the safety checks, which were read out in Dutch and English. The push-back came shortly afterwards. As the Fokker jet rolled out I gazed around it. It was complete with blue seats and a 2 class configuration. I also had a look at KL’s excellent magazine, “Holland Herald”. True to form it spoke about the hopes of the Dutch national team in the World Cup and the cover featured the Dutch flag.
The plane departed CWL at 1103HR using runway 12 and thus heading to the east across the UK. Along the way it passed over Bristol and South England, past LHR and then over East Anglia towards the North Sea. The skies were very clear and the flight smooth. Snacks were served at 1115HR - I had a pastry and orange juice. That actually surprised me – it is still possible to get a snack on a flight without paying extra! That really impressed me. Truth be told, this was indeed KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. The service was quite good but I found the flight attendants did not smile much. Interestingly, too, there were no duty-free sales on board.
The plane then flew over the North Sea towards The Netherlands. As it approached its homeland the flat coastline became visible. I could also see several factories and other installations and many ships. Soon Amsterdam itself with its bridges, canals and boats came into view as the plane descended towards AMS.
The plane landed at 1300HR (CET or 1200HR BST; CET is used from now onwards) on runway 18R in AMS. What followed was one of the longest taxi movements I have ever experienced! The runway is located more than a kilometre away from the rest of the airport (I spotted it when departing for DUS later on that day) and the plane passed lots of trees and grass before passing over two (2) motorways full of cars. It then approached the buildings which presented a sea of blue with KL planes everywhere. There were also a few NW DC10s, MP MD11s and a wide range of others around.
The plane finally parked at 1310HR at the busy CityHopper apron where lots of other KL planes were coming and going. A shuttle bus met the plane and ferried us over to the immigration point. As the bus drove I pointed out to my brother the significance of the Schengen arrangement in the layout of the airport. At one end of the airport planes of OA, TP, LH, IB and KL itself were parked – this was the Schengen side as those flights were not subject to immigration control. On the other side BA, MA and other non-Schengen operator flights were present as were several KL planes ostensibly operating flights outside of the area. The bus pulled up at a gate on that side and let us off, only for us to be confronted with a huge line – the longest I have ever seen in Schengen territory – not to mention it moved slowly. We were eventually through at 1345HR and then made our way to our connecting flight to DUS.
SATURDAY 17 JUNE 2006.
AMSTERDAM SCHIPHOL AIRPORT (AMS) – DUSSELDORF AIRPORT (DUS).
KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES
FLIGHT KL 1859 (OPERATED BY KLM CITYHOPPER)
REG. PH-KVF (C/N 20207).
Photo © Graham Perkin
After the never-ending walk across the huge facility that is AMS, we arrived over at the Schengen side of the airport in order to catch our flight to DUS. We stopped at a bar to have a drink – the real draught Heineken in its homeland! That was so good it defies verbal descriptions. We then walked over to the gate, B24.
Although the flight was scheduled to depart at 1500HR, it was greatly delayed due to the Fokker 50 operating the route being delayed in its return from a previous service. I did not mind too much as it did allow a little time to look around at the many aircraft movements… but I also worried just a little about my folks awaiting our arrival at the other end. All the same the gate agent did keep all the passengers up to date with what was going on.
At 1515HR an F50 arrived at the busy CityHopper ramp and unloaded its passengers. Soon afterwards my flight was called. We walked out to catch the shuttle bus which would take us to the plane, registration number PH-KVF. I got onboard at 1535HR and took up seat 9F, a window seat to starboard. Unfortunately my hand luggage was considered a bit too big for this flight so I handed it to the attendants at the door of the Fokker and it was placed into the hold until arrival, when I could collect it at the door.
The plane taxied out for take-off soon after the passengers were loaded – the plane was only about half full. As the safety announcements were read (in Dutch and English) the plane made its way across the Tarmac, eventually lining up for take-off from runway 24 behind a KL 747-400. The little Fokker got airborne at 1552HR and headed towards the east.
At 1607HR, snacks and drinks were served – I had an orange juice and a pastry. Again I was really impressed – flying still DID offer some frills! After all, though, this was KLM – and even though you pay more for a KL flight than you would with a low-cost airline, you actually get what you pay for in terms of service. For a short sector of about one (1) hour, food service is quite a feat.
The flight passed over the Dutch countryside and the neatly-arranged farms and towns with perfect squares and rectangles as their boundaries were quite spectacular. In fact I actually missed seeing the border until my brother pointed out the change in settlement patterns once the plane was over Germany – there the towns were more clustered. In watching all of this I actually forgot to replace my tray table, even as the plane descended, which started at 1615HR… until a flight attendant duly reminded me to! This was the first time that I had to be asked to stow it away. A minor thing, true but for a fairly seasoned traveller it was a tad bit embarrassing.
The plane turned as it descended and eventually lined up with runway 23L, upon which it landed at 1624HR. It soon turned off the runway and took a remote stand on the Tarmac. As it taxied I observed several LH 737s and A320 family planes, two (2) BA A320s, dBA 737s, Air Berlin F100s and a Pulkovo TU-154M. The sight of the Russian bird never ceases to amaze me – it is the one plane that always stands out whenever it makes an appearance, on the ground or in the air, at any Western airport. This as it is the only Russian plane available in quantity that meets Stage 3 noise requirements and can actually serve the West. It is a bit unfortunate that the aviation industry of the CIS has been so stricken in recent years that new planes are being built at only 2-3 per year. Antonov over in The Ukraine is showing signs of stirring again with its An-140 regional turboprop but the Russian scene still seems dormant, though new projects may yet trigger new life there.
All of this, of course, must be paraphrased with the fact that I had just flown the F50, descendant of the F27 which was touted as a DC-3 replacement way back in the late 1950s. The F50 was very smooth and had little vibration although the cabin noise was quite high – the noise and vibration suppression systems of the Dash 8 Q-series planes really make a difference when flying in those. The F50 also presented itself as a very sturdy plane. In the end I think that the collapse of Fokker in 1996 was a great pity as one of the world’s oldest plane builders was lost forever.
Once the plane parked I collected my hand luggage and boarded the bus to the terminal – it seemed as though this journey was all about airport buses as it was about flying! Anyway, once at the terminal we were able to walk through unhindered as this was, after all, an intra-Schengen flight and thus effectively domestic. Once we emerged from the arrivals hall I spotted my host immediately… and he saw me too! We were thus on our way straight afterwards.
WEDNESDAY 21 JUNE 2006.
DUSSELDORF AIRPORT (DUS) – AMSTERDAM AIRPORT SCHIPHOL (AMS).
KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES.
FLIGHT KL 1862 (OPERATED BY KLM CITYHOPPER)
REG. PH-KVE (C/N 20206).
Photo © Roel van der Velpen
All too soon my short trip to Germany and the World Cup was over. Germany really put on a great show for the sporting world’s greatest tournament. The whole country embraced the event whole-heartedly and everywhere you turned there were fan festivities and many souvenirs for sale. As for Kaiserslautern, where T&T played Paraguay on 20 June, the whole town was full of lively fans from the two sides as well as Germans who watched their team beat Ecuador on that day. I truly enjoyed the experience of watching the World Cup and even though T&T lost 0-2 to Paraguay it was still a cause for Trini celebrations far and wide.
It was however to be back to life very swiftly for me and so my brother and I were taken to DUS fairly early the next day. We got to DUS at 1700HR and checked in for the flight, KL 1862 to AMS. Unlike the previous time my brother had to check in his bag and so I had to hope that it would get to the other side safely and on time. I after all had a very busy time in the upcoming few days and wanted as few hassles as possible, which is why I recommended only hand luggage at this very busy time for all concerned.
Once we were checked in we walked around the airport a bit. DUS is quite large and hosts a variety of airlines. My friend had told me about the good aviation shop and I noticed the signs pointing towards the viewing area so, once I had found the area, I went into the shop. It is quite a neat shop though it mainly stocks Herpa models. In the end I bought nothing and instead went out into the deck from where I viewed the many movements at the facility. It was quite cloudy and a bit chilly but the planes kept coming and going, which included BA A320-100, LH A320-200 and 737 models, dBA 737 and a few charters. My brother joined me for a short while later.
After a bit we then cleared the security check and went to the departure lounge, where we browsed the shops for World Cup souvenirs and bought a few. We then made tracks for the gate. The KL F50 had by this time landed and was being prepared for the flight back to AMS. The boarding took place at 1850HR by way of a bus and I took up seat 9C, an aisle seat on the port side. My brother had the window. Again, the plane was only moderately loaded.
The plane soon taxied out for departure and took flight from runway 23L at 1908HR. It soon climbed to 14 000ft for the journey. Once the plane levelled out the flight attendants came around with a snack of a sandwich and a drink – again providing good refreshment. It is really good how the KL crew actually time these refreshments on sectors so short.
The Netherlands soon appeared below and I could make out the polders, farmland and neatly-arranged settlements. In a short time Amsterdam itself appeared and the plane descended towards runway 24, upon which it landed at 1950HR after just forty-two (42) minutes in the air.
The plane then taxied to its stand at the massive CityHopper apron. The area was simply fascinating, with KL F50s, F70s and F100s moving in and out non-stop. For a while I thought whether there was an issue with the jets being able to use the jetways – but that was clearly not the case as KL planes have used CWL jetways and I noticed MA and OS F100s at respective gates, fully connected. In fact the arrangement enables the busy CityHopper services to come and go almost independently from the rest of the airport and thus ensures the efficiency of AMS as a connecting hub.
Once again, the bus appeared to ferry us to the terminal. I collected my suitcase (which was stowed in the hold for the flight again) and then got onto the bus, which dropped us off on the Schengen side of the terminal. There were thus no security checks and we were able to walk around the airport straight away.
WEDNESDAY 21 JUNE 2006.
AMSTERDAM AIRPORT SCHIPHOL (AMS) – CARDIFF INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (CWL).
KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES
FLIGHT KL 1069 (OPERATED BY KLM CITYHOPPER)
REG. PH-OFI (C/N 11279).
Photo © Bernd Karlik - VAP
This last flight of the journey almost proved eventful in the worst possible way. To start with, we were in AMS, a bit hungry and with a lot of time before the flight to CWL so we decided to get some dinner. We eventually settled upon a strip of restaurants in the vicinity of the arrival gate and had quite good meals, although due to the hour some of the options were unavailable. With more good Dutch beer to wash down the food we were ready and set to go at about 2050HR.
I then decided to do a little shopping so we separated and walked around the shops. Now AMS is an enormous shopping mall – everywhere one turns there are dozens of shops all offering their wares. I strolled around and bought just one small item before thinking to myself… what is the time? Horror of horrors… the flight was due to depart at 2150HR and at 2115HR the notice-board indicated that the flight was already being boarded! In a scurry I ran from the shop and looked for my brother, whom I found after a couple of minutes, then ran all the way down to the distant gate from which the flight would go.
Unfortunately I did not cater for the fact that we would again be crossing the Schengen boundary and thus would have passport control along with the security check. As we arrived at the security check the passes were checked and then we went on to the passport control, where the necessaries were done. In the meantime the PA system sounded – including us and politely telling us, along with several other CWL passengers, that we were delaying the flight and to please board at the gate immediately or else luggage would be off-loaded!
We made it through with just a few minutes to spare. I observed the gate – it was a large area where all the CityHopper flights to the UK were gathered. KL serves fourteen (14) UK airports and the gate area was full with passengers for BRS, LBA and others. The bus to the plane came soon afterwards and shortly after we were off across the massive facility to the waiting F100, where most of the other passengers were already seated and waiting to depart. I took up seat 19F, by the window – we took turns at the window – and was settled in at 2138HR.
Shortly afterwards the safety briefing was read out. The F100 was pushed back at 2153HR started up its engines and taxied towards runway 24, from where it took off into the evening sky at 2203HR. Now, this was 21 June, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and so the sun was still up. As the plane made its way to the west the sunshine cast a spectacular vista with a few clouds and the ocean. I got out my camera and took a few pictures – the view was so glorious!
Once again KL did not disappoint and snacks were served – I had a sandwich and orange juice. These were served at 2225HR (2125HR BST, which will be used subsequently).
The journey was rather uneventful and darkness gradually descended as the plane approached CWL. The route took us over Swindon, which was ablaze with lights then Bristol before crossing the Bristol Channel and heading past Cardiff and Barry. The jet descended and ultimately landed on runway 30 at 2208HR and parked up by 2213HR. The formalities were uneventful, my brother collected his piece of luggage and we were out at 2245HR, where we had a bit of a wait to get a taxi home. The trouble with the train was that we had missed one and while there was another a bit later there would be no onward train to Lisvane.
The trip was thus over. Overall, KL is a superb airline. It still feels like flying a few years ago with complimentary in-flight service even on their short flights. The connections were generally smooth and the airline and Schiphol seem to collaborate to provide a seamless transfer experience for the many passengers who connect there. All told, KL does represent The Netherlands well everywhere that it goes and it certainly justifies the name “Royal Dutch Airlines”.
The one gripe I have with Schiphol (AMS) though is that of the whole airport being a shopping area. Now, airports the world over rely on the shops to bring in revenue and AMS is certainly well known for its shopping experience. The trouble is, with such an impressive array of shops and the fact that often the flight information boards seem scattered and lost among the shops, it is easy to be late for or even miss flights! Design experts generally design stores to be easy to enter but difficult to exit as a means of increasing sales by enticing customers with ever so many items as they try to walk around or leave – I am forced to say that AMS is laid out like that!
On the outward journey there were myriad announcements over the PA system for passengers running late and delaying various flights. Since I had not been there before I did not understand why but now, certainly! I think there must be an issue as to whether the benefits of shopping revenues outweigh any disadvantages in terms of delays to flights.
That aside, AMS is a fabulous airport and I will not hesitate to fly there again, most certainly for a visit to The Netherlands itself. As for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, it gets my vote – and my ticket – any day.
With respect to the Fokker aircraft, the F50 and the F100 are both great planes, very comfortable and smooth. The F100 is also very quiet inside the cabin but the turboprops of the F50 make it a bit louder. It is still a big pity that Fokker has disappeared because it would have remained the other European builder of fine commercial aircraft. Perhaps though the reality is that the market can only support two (2) major builders and, had it survived, Fokker may have been swallowed by Airbus in the same way as McDonnell Douglas was subsumed into Boeing. The 300-odd F100s, 48 F70s and 209 F50s, plus a few of the older F27 and F28 models will long be testimony to this fallen flag of a company.
Until next time, happy flying!
[Edited 2006-09-12 19:43:01]