Around mid-August I decided to plan a trip to Benalmadena, a Spanish town, around 15 minutes from Malaga Airport. As well as serving as a holiday leisure trip, it was also a bit of a 'mileage run' to keep my Elite Plus status on AIR FRANCE-KLM's Flying Blue programme.
I found flights on KLM.com, in Business Class, from £800 return. I went ahead and tried to book them, however the online system showed the AF-operated flights as Economy Class. I called KLM Reservations, and they sorted the flights over the phone. However when I tried to pay for these flights, the sales agent told me that KLM do not accept Solo. Strange, considering I booked a WBC ticket at KLM.com using Solo. She remarked, "that's strange."
I ended up making the reservation 'on hold', and paying at the Servisair desk at Edinburgh in cash. Final cost: £811.
Air France 5051 (operated by CityJet).
Aircraft: Avro RJ85.
Reg: EI-RJU "Cape Clear" (built February 2000).
Delivered from Mesaba (Northwest Airlines) to CityJet 24/05/2007.
6 September 2008.
Scheduled Departure: 09:10 (Actual: 09:17).
Scheduled Arrival: 12:20 (Actual: 12:30).
Total time: 2hr 10mins (Actual: 2hr 13mins).
Cabin: L'Espace Affaires
Photo © Tom Mousel
Photo © Uwe Lokowand
Check-in & Security
Check-in at Edinburgh was reasonably painless. Nowhere near as fast as I've experienced with KLM, as I waited about 10 minutes to check-in at Business Class. Perhaps they should have a dedicated 'Baggage Drop' desk, as currently the Business Class line is filled with Economy passengers who have checked-in online.
The agent was reasonably efficient, but nothing spectactular in terms of customer service or recognition. I wasn't expecting anything special, after all we're dealing with Servisair in Scotland. I was given my lounge invitation, and headed upstairs to clear security. This process at Edinburgh has been greatly improved, and it only took a few minutes before I was airside.
All SkyTeam carriers, with the exception of Continental (who use the Star Alliance lounge), use the Servisair Lounge at Edinburgh. The lounge is very comfortable, but as I've mentioned before in past TRs, internet access is not free! A far too traditional approach in my opinion.
The Servisair Lounge at Edinburgh is tastefully decorated:
The Self-Service bar and snack area:
As with every lounge I visit, I made the Ginger Ale test. Canada Dry is offered in small bottles, so I took a couple and filled my glass with ice. The snack selection is fairly limited, with no sandwiches, only wrapped biscuits:
I headed to the gate about 10 minutes before the boarding time indicated on my boarding card. Boarding began just behind schedule at 08:35, at Gate 1D. Business Class, and passengers requiring assistance, were boarded first. To be honest, I think it should be only Business Class first, considering the families with strollers have managed 2hrs+ already in the airport. Perhaps board passengers requiring assistance after Business Class, but before the usual scramble.
There is a short covered walkway to the stand, where boarding is by stairs:
Please remember the lady in the pink skirt from this picture, she'll come up again later:
Avro RJ85 Cabin
Whilst the layout is 3-3 from row 2, Air France ensure that the middle seat is always empty. My seat, however, was 1A. Whilst some may find the exclusivity of sitting alone (seat 1B is left vacant) desirable, the legroom is horrendous:
I just couldn't get comfortable, and this wasn't just due to the legroom. The lumbar of the chair felt like a hard board, and the flight attendant dumped the surplus newspapers on the seat next to me, meaning I couldn't put my feet up.
Perhaps I'm a little uncultured, or maybe I'm correct to say: Air France meals are awful. Particulary, these morning flights where a cold snack is served.
The meat was curled at the edges, suggesting it was dry and past its use-by date. Underneath the meat was a slice of orange cheese, which again looked to be hardened. Some fresh mandarins (probably the freshest item on the tray) were edible, and the yoghurt with crunch was pleasant enough:
In addition, we were offered croissants and bread rolls. The flight attendant seemed horrified when I asked for some more butter. How rude of me...
The cabin service on this flight was particularly bad, with the crew disappearing behind the forward galley curtain for about 30mins of laughter. It's great that they enjoy work, but perhaps a little more discreetly in future.
The meal was followed by a tea/coffee service, and whilst this picture doesn't convey the extent of the issue, the water has a disgusting shiny film on top. It looked absolutely revolting, and tasted just as bad. This was not Business Class service (oh yeah, tea was served in a plastic cup!):
Wow. This is possibly the worst airplane lavatory I've seen. The Avro RJ85 is short fat aircraft, and the toilet is absolutely tiny. But size isn't the issue here, if it functions, I'm happy. However on this occasion, the toilet did not function. In fact, when I lifted the lid, I discovered that the lady in the pink skirt (do you remember her from the early picture, I'm impressed if you did!) had tried to flush an incontinence pad down the loo.
The crew evidently do not make regular toilet checks, as the hand basin was also filled with dirty water. Rest assured, I'll be writing to Air France on this matter. Absolutely unaccpetable in terms of customer service, and hygiene.
Approach and arrival at Paris-CDG
The approach was fairly routine, with only a little rough air. Whilst the cabin service was sub-standard, the flight crew were very good. The aircraft tyres seemed to kiss the runway, which isn't always the case with the Avro. Our taxi was about 5minutes long, and we arrived on a remote parking stand. CityJet, Regional and BritAir etc, are largely parked at this area.
As usual, we were to be transported by bus to Terminal 2E:
A view of our bird (EI-RJU) on stand at CDG taken from the transfer bus:
Transfering at CDG
One word: AVOID. I knew this already, but foolishly chose to fly through this hub. Usually, I fly Air France to Dubai, meaning only a short walk from 2E into 2F. The Malaga flight however, departed from 2D. This was further lengthened by border checks (with the UK being non-Schengen). On a more positive note, the airport is relatively easy to navigate around - it just takes forever! Nothing a bit of spotting can't cure:
Air France Boeing 777-228ER delivered in December 1999:
Heading to Terminal 2D:
Whilst it might look like I'm running, I'm not really!:
This place is just full of AF metal, not surprisingly:
Eventually, I was at 2D, and ready for my next flight. Welcome, Air Europa.
Air Europa 1032.
Aircraft: Boeing 737-85P.
Reg: EC-KBV (built April 2007).
Delivered from the factory, to Air Europa.
6 September 2008.
Scheduled Departure: 13:35 (Actual 13:35).
Scheduled Arrival: 16:05 (Actual 16:00).
Total time: 2hr 30mins (Actual: 2hr 25mins).
Cabin: Club Business
Photo © Szabo Gabor
Photo © Royal S King
We boarding EC-KBV by means of jetway at gate D70. There were no advanced calls for Business Class, just a general boarding of all passengers. Of course, I was competing with some guy from row 25, for a position in line.
Terminal 2D (taken from the jetway):
Walking down towards the aircraft:
Onboard, I was greeted in French and Spanish. Shame really, since I only speak English, German and Dutch!
Boeing 737-85P Cabin
Wow. These seats were sooo comfortable. Compared with the outrageous seats of CityJet, they were a welcome relief. The middle seat is seperated by a table, however for this flight Club Business was only 17% full. Only two passengers (including myself) in this cabin for 12:
Our dedicated crew member meant a crew:passenger ration of 1:2! Very nice indeed:
We were offered pre-departure drinks, a choice of water or orange juice. I opted for orange juice:
Air Europa inflight dining
Since Air Europa is only a SkyTeam Associate, I wasn't expecting much. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the meal service came out. A perfect snack of sliced chicken, pasta, tuna bake, select cheeses and a sponge cake. I guess food came before photo for this one, as I only captured the tray after I'd tucked in:
The dinner service was followed by tea/coffee. The crew member serving the business cabin, whose name I cannot remember, was absolutely spectacular. Her service was second to none, and reminded me of KLM's consideration for passengers. Whilst I opted for tea, she suggested that two plastic cups together with a napkin between them is better than a regular tea cup:
Approach and arrival at Malaga
Before we began our approach, I decided to take a quick trip to the lavatory. This place was the complete antithesis of that offered by CityJet. Since the aircraft is only 15months old, it is still has a very new feel. As a nice touch they set out some refreshing towels:
I always like the approach into Malaga, as the views over the rough hills scattered with villas and pools are quite breathtaking. The shadow of the aircraft can always be seen on the hillsides whilst on final. I especially like that Air Europa still offers sweets before landing. It's a nice touch:
The aircraft arrived safely with a smooth touchdown, and a short 3min taxi to our gate. As we were arriving from a Schengen country, France, there were no passport checks. Baggage arrived quickly.
After a week of sunshine and relaxation, it was time to sample some of SkyTeam's European carriers once again.
Air Europa 5035.
Aircraft: Boeing 737-85P.
Reg: EC-JNF (built February 2006).
Delivered from the factory, to Air Europa.
13 September 2008.
Scheduled Departure: 14:00 (Actual 13:55).
Scheduled Arrival: 15:10 (Actual 14:50).
Total time: 1hr 10mins (Actual: 55mins).
Cabin: Club Business
Photo © Diego Bigolin
Photo © Manolo Aldana
Check-in and Security
I arrived at the airport at 11:30, a cool 2hrs 30mins before my flight. The only reason for this, was that my family were flying back with flyGlobespan (I don't care how inexpensive they may be, I'll avoid them at all costs) on a 13:30 flight. The Pablo Ruiz Picasso terminal is like a giant hall, but the dark colours and inefficient use of glass and light show the terminals age:
A crowded check-in area for flights mostly returning to the UK. Thankfully I was checking-in at desks 108-112:
I waited in the Club Business line, with one guy ahead of me, and nobody behind me. Check-in opened at around 12:10, and whilst the gentleman in front of me seemed to take some time, I was checked right through to Edinburgh and issued with my lounge invitation in no time:
Directly behind these check-in desks are windows offering views of the apron and runway. These desks are Air Europa territory:
Malaga Airport - Sala VIP/VIP Lounge
And this is where the cracks begin to show with Malaga Airport. Whilst it functions perfectly for low-cost and charter holiday flights, with cost-conscious passengers, it lacks amenities and priviledges for C-class travellers. After passing through the security just next to the check-in desks for Air Europa, I checked the screen which showed "Air Europa 5035 Gate: B". Gates at Malaga are only assigned once the aircraft has landed, and so I followed a sign for the pink 'B'. I passed through a further security check, before discovering that there was no lounge in this area. I tried to walk back, and was stopped by a security officer. I explained the situation, and thankfully he was understanding. He let me pass through security again, this time in the opposite direction, and head back the way I came. The lack of signs to the VIP Lounge is shocking, and travellers new to the airport don't stand much of a chance of finding it quickly. Eventually, I asked a helpful English sales woman (I think she thought I was wanting to buy the credit card she was selling) and she directed me to the lounge.
I was very pleasantly surprised with this lounge. Perhaps the Spanish are stereotyped as being a little unorganised, or too laid-back, but the service I received at this lounge was very attentive. The bar and snacks are self-service, as one would expect, but the drink selection is very good:
As usual, I conducted the ginger ale test. Malaga passed!:
The lounge is modernly furnished with blue leather and wood. Although the large screen television was on, it was not audible, and one of the lounge guests gave up after fiddling with the volume function for about five minutes with no outcome:
Before long boarding was called, and once again there was no Club Business pre-boarding, or any Elite/Elite Plus pre-boarding. I thought all SkyTeam carriers, associate or full-member, offered pre-boarding. I managed to catch a picture of our aircraft on stand in the early afternoon sun:
Our boarding gate was B10:
EC-JNF on stand:
Air Europa Club Business
Whilst the seat comfort was similar to the flight from Paris-Malaga, the inflight dining experience differed greatly. Understandly, as the flight was only 50minutes, only snacks were served:
The crew passed round with a snack basket, which you could choose something from.
These fold down screens are nice little advertising feature, but when you initially see them fold down, it does suggest some inflight entertainment. All they show is information on Air Europa, SkyTeam and adverts for resorts at Air Europa destinations:
Although only a 50minute hop to Madrid, the crew still distributed some pillows:
Landing at Madrid-Barajas
Approach was very smooth, and after a few turns we were lined up with the runway. The aircraft seemed to brought to a stop very quickly, and the taxi to the gate was around 3 minutes. We arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule at the E70 gates. This area is very much SkyTeam dominated with Air Europa, Alitalia, Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines all parked alongside eachother.
With some time to waste, I headed to the lounge 'Sala VIP Puerta Del Sol' to prepare for my next SkyTeam flight. Welcome, KLM!
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 1704.
Aircraft: Boeing 737-406.
Reg: PH-BDS "Joris van Spillbergen" (built September 1989).
Delivered from the factory, to KLM.
13 September 2008.
Scheduled Departure: 16:55 (Actual 17:00).
Scheduled Arrival: 19:35 (Actual 19:26).
Total time: 2hr 40mins (Actual: 2hr 26mins).
Cabin: Europe Select
Sala VIP Puerta Del Sol
Perhaps I had taken my experiences at Malaga, and the architechture of the building, and assumed all Spanish airports were the same. At Madrid-Barajas however, I was proved otherwise. This is a very modern space, not crowded, with comfortable seating and excellent views of the active runway. The lounge is primarily used by SkyTeam carriers:
The lounge above the depature level, with glass windows offering views down onto the concourses:
What next? You guessed it - the ginger ale test! Whilst I hadn't tried 'Nordic Mist' before, I was pleasantly surprised. After having ate chips and chocolate on the flight into Madrid, the olives and nuts seemed less appealing, so I settled for a read of the Air France Magazine rather than eating:
There are some really great views of taxiing aircraft to be had:
It wasn't long before flight KL1703 arrived a little before the scheduled time of 15:55, from Amsterdam.
PH-BDS 'Joris van Spillbergen'
Whilst the aircraft is 19 years old, the modern blue livery of KLM could convince you otherwise. Whenever I see any KLM aircraft, it always brings a smile to my face:
Whilst I enjoyed the views of my aircraft from the lounge, I seen the crew for the flight arriving:
Before boarding had even been called, a line of anxious passengers snaked from the boarding gate desk around the waiting area. I'm not sure why passengers feel the need to run like wild animals at boarding - especially since KLM assign seats.
Much to the shock of the Economy passengers, who had formed something of a barrier at the gate, Business Class was called first. After saying "excuse me" easily six times, my boarding was scanned and I made my way down the bridge.
Before the engines were started, the cabin was terribly hot. The air conditioning wasn't very cool at all! During this time, particularly when leaving from the afternoon Spanish heat and given the heat on board, I think KLM should offer pre-departure. Most of the Business Class cabin had been seated for about 30mins before pushback.
Taxi and take-off
The taxi to the runway was slightly longer than that with Air Europa. We were departing from the most Western runway (Madrid regulars might be able to help me here!):
Climb-out from Madrid:
KLM Europe Select
When booking my flight over the telephone the agent had told me that KLM Europe Select was the 'premium product' in Europe, but not strictly Business Class. Having flown in ES many times, I knew what to expect. Whilst many make a fuss about the service for these flights, I quite enjoy it. Particularly on these longer flights (over 2hrs) where a meal and a snack are served. The meal was hot too, which makes a change from the usual boxes of cold ham and prawn combinations. As we climbed I enjoyed a read of Holland Herald - the best airline magazine in my opinion:
The hot meal choice was "Chicken or Lamb?". I chose the 'Chicken' which turned out to be Chicken Biryani. No ES boxes here - food was served on an ES tray. Of course, they still had some sickeningly sweet desert:
After the meal, a tea/coffee service was made. Again, I chose tea. ALAS I'll drink tea from a real cup. I knew KLM would save SkyTeam on this one:
The snack which followed about an hour later, Ben & Jerry's Caramel Chew Chew, was excellent. Ice-cream is a nice touch. Well done KLM:
The toilet onboard wasn't immaculate, but given the age of the aircraft, it has clearly been looked after well:
Approach and landing
We began our descent into Amsterdam about 20 minutes before landing. The sky was fairly overcast over most of the area, and a bumpy descent was contrasted by a very smooth landing on the runway.
We taxied to our gate, C12. I've only been in this Schengen area a few times, on flights to Berlin, and so it was nice to see this other part of Schiphol. I know that Crown Lounge 25 is located this area, and having sampled 45 and 52 previously, I wanted to try the newer lounge. (By the way, has the new lounge opened in the international area? I'm sure I seen it on Henkybaby's TR.)
I love Schiphol. It is with a doubt the best airport in Europe. And with so much KL metal to spot, it seems almost perfect. Time to head to the Crown Lounge?
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 1293.
Aircraft: Boeing 737-8K2.
Reg: PH-BGB "Regenwulp" (built April 2008).
Delivered from the factory, to KLM.
13 September 2008.
Scheduled Departure: 21:55 (Actual 21:50).
Scheduled Arrival: 22:20 (Actual 22:10).
Total time: 1hr 25mins (Actual: 1hr 20mins).
Cabin: Europe Select
Photo © Ruud Brinks - RB-Airpictures
Photo © Stefan Sjogren - Stockholm Arlanda Photography
Crown Lounge 25
What contrast to my experiences at the other Crown Lounges here at AMS! I was greeted by the desk staff before I could greet them. She kindly reminded me that I'd have to cross security before boarding. "Of course," I said "- I just like this lounge better."
I don't think I've ever dealt with a nasty Dutchman. They are genuinely the nicest people to talk to. Everyone seems to have sense of humour!
Whilst others say that KLM Crown Lounges don't compare with "other lounges", I'm perfectly happy with them. I don't like overly attentive service, and find it far more comfortable to enjoy the atmosphere at these more laid-back subdued lounges.
I even got a picture of the toilets, which were very clean. Although, one thing I need to ask is why female cleaners continue to clean while males use the urinals? If a lady is to clean a toilet in the UK, the whole toilet is closed solely for her to clean:
By around 9pm the lounge had only a few guests, and I spent sometime using the computer 'Business Corner'.
There was a message over the PA system that the lounge would be closing, but by this time I was already preparing to head to the gate for my flight back to Edinburgh. As I left, the KL greeter at the desk thanked me, and wished me a pleasant flight.
Our boarding gate for the Edinburgh flight was D3. I don't understand why passengers queue in the way of all passengers to pass through the security check, but there is ample seating past security? Please someone explain...
PH-BGB at Gate D3, just prior to boarding:
Business class was again given priority boarding, but no priority screening. Once onboard I was greeted by a fabulous crew, flying a very modern (April 2008) airliner. It still smelt brand new.
The purser pointed out a nice little feature of the Next Generation 737. There is actually storage in the ceiling, for bulky items such as guitars. The purser lifted a flap in the ceiling and a part of the cabin ceiling came down for storage. He seemed to smile proudly about the feature, and commented "very cool".
KLM Europe Select
And then disaster stuck. My camera ran out of battery.
With no warning at all. Although, considering I'd used to non-stop for about 5 hours, it was inevitable!
I did manage to get a few pictures, however as this was a night flight, there wasn't a great deal that could be seen:
As expected, I was served one of those famous ES boxes. This time it was savoury pastry cases with strange pesto and some salami. I'll never understand these combinations... The drinks service was very good however, and the usual KLM service (which in my opinion, is the best in Europe) far compensated for the mediocre 'meal'.
Arrival into Edinburgh
The flight arrived around 10 minutes early into Edinburgh, however even after we'd cleared passport control our bags had not arrived. We waited a further 10 minutes, and some bags came. My bag was not with this group, and I began to worry that it was still on a belt in Amsterdam, Madrid or even Malaga!
Not to worry, my bag was clearly with the 'second batch'. All check-in desks were closed at this hour at Edinburgh, with the next flight KL1276 (departure time 6am) to Amsterdam.
SUMMARY OF SKYTEAM IN EUROPE:
CityJet (for Air France)
4 out of 10.
8 out of 10.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
9 out of 10.
All comments/criticism welcome. Thanks for taking the time to read my trip report!