Originally planning to make a return visit to Atlanta, GA (where I have been on business before), I spent many (!) nights exploring flight options to that region, limiting myself to flights in Business Class (for personal reasons).
As the time of booking was prior to LH reducing fares to ATL, it soon became clear that KL was the carrier of choice, as they offer discounted Business Class fares mainly to their own destinations (plus BOS) in the U.S.
During the decision finding process, the focus of area to visit shifted from GA and LA to Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga.
While departure times from ATL were okay to my preferences, flying into ATL either meant to depart HAJ early (0600h) or to arrive late (after connecting at DTW); the fact that I was intending to fly outbound during the change from winter to summer timetable made things even more complicated (changes of timings).
I then came up with the idea to fly into MEM, but found that the fare was like 800 € higher than to ATL.
After lots of trial & error, I found the solution: I booked 3 sectors:
Return: MEM -ATL and then as a seperate sector on the same day: ATL-AMS-HAJ,
which basically gave me the low ATL-fare (plus some extra taxes), but not the high MEM-fare, although my destination was MEM.
Experience on feeder flights from/to HAJ are neglected in this TR.
Date: 29-MAR-2009 (first day fo summer schedule)
Flight: NW 0057 AMS to MEM
Aircaft: A330-300 N803NW (IIRC)
Seat: 03J Business Class
Load: 22 pax / 34 seats in C (Eco appeared to be well filled)
Flight time: 9h45min
Photo © Stefan Welsch
At the departure airport
I arrived at AMS's gate F08 about 1 hour before departure at a leisurely pace after having killed some time (checking out G- and H-gates) following an earlier arrival from HAJ. Our assigned departure lounge was already pretty well filled, but still a modestly long queue was present in front of passport control at the departure gate. Flying in Business Class I could skip that line and processing my passport was quick and hassle-free, but then had to join the single queue for security check.
After a few more minutes boarding was announced - or at least this was what everybody understood from the almost inaudible announcement. Having stood fairly close to the door, it was not too long until I settled into my window seat.
Offerings of pre-departure drinks were Champagne (at least the Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Sparkling Wine non-vintage from California was addressed as such), Orange Juice (OJ), still water and Beer; this was made once each individual has stowed his/her luggage; no refills were offered.
Amenity kits and Immigration forms were distributed prior to departure.
Taxiing to runway 36L (the Polderbaan) was conducted at a rather slow pace. A KL B73G was out of sight quick, while we were followed by a CX B744 and another KL B73G.
Take-off roll was powerful, albeit nothing to compare to the EI A333 ferry flight from CWL to DUB I had taken a week earlier forming the CWL A.net Meeting who litterarily jumped into the air.
Once airborne, meal orders were taken.
I opted for the Butter-curry Chicken with Basmati rice, suger snap peas and turned carrots.
The other two options were; Casarecce pasta with beef Bolognese sauce and grilled Zucchini resp. Roasted Salmom with lemon dill glaze, white wine risotto and grilled vegetables.
About 45 minutes into the flight while flying over Humberside in the UK, drinks were served along with a (plastic) tray of mixed nuts. I did stick with the Champagne. While the nuts were delicious, they were not warmed.
An easy time later, meal trays were brought along. Unlike at other carriers, NW placed the table cloth only when the tray arrived, but not 10 minutes or so earlier .
Salad of mixed greens, asparagus (green), gorgonzola cheese and toasted pine nuts were delicious. Only downside was that the Gorgonzola cheese was dispersed throughout the greens meaning that the Italian Dressing interfered with the cheese's own taste.
The Appetizer of Harissa Guinea fowl with Mint Couscous went down very well, as did my Chicken Curry (although it could have contained some more rice).
Wines exclusively were coming from California, with 2 Whites and 2 Reds on offer (out of 4 on the Menu each). I switched to water.
Main course: see above
Desserts were a choice of Ice cream (different toppings), cheese or fruits; the latter two made it onto my table.
F/A's performing meal service were attentive.
About 2+ hours into the flight, once all tables were clear, water bottles (0.5 L) were distributed and window blinds closed (for the daylight flight).
While some pax chose to sleep, others turned to the IFE (AVOD), but it took for not too long until the system (which apparently
included the electrically powered seat controls) had to be restarted - a process that took about 30 minutes (longer than writing up the TR to this point).
Our course took us from Schiphol across the North Sea to the U.K.'s Midlands, with goods views all across the country from Humberside to Blackpool.
The Isle of Man was visible in some distance, but over the Irish Sea clouds were present that extended all the way across Ireland.
Once "feet wet" we stayed on a fairly southernly crossing at FL 360 which kept us away from Iceland and Greenland, so there was nothing to see. This condition continued once "dry feet" was accomplished over Nova Scotia (FL 380). Mild turbulances came and went - so did the "Fasten Seatbelt "-signal.
Maybe it was only my seat, but in the upright position the seat cushion was a bit uncomfortable.
Recline was good, but the "flatness" left a bit to desire.
I took the opportunity to buy some NW-merchandise while it lasted (in the light of NW's takeover by DL)..
Chatting to the F/A selling these articles, she mentioned that it was her last flight in NW-uniform; new uniforms were to be dispensed two days later (which must be DL-uniforms then).
Although the a/c already was painted in DL's new livery, everything inside (from IFE, amentity kit to cutlery and glass ware) was still bearing the familiar NW-logo.
During cruise, F/A's came around with drinks (cold and hot) frequently and also (re-)placed water bottles unasked; food offerings (salty snacks, sweets, fruits) were made.
Some snack was served before landing, but it left no lasting impression.
And, oh, the lavatory next to door 2R does not feature a outside window and is fairly small.
Before landing at MEM the purserette (senior F/A) came around and shook hands with each pax thanking for flying NW.
Arriving at MEM, I chose the righternmost line at immigration with only 3 pax before me. However to took more than 20 minutes before I was processed, as ever so often some people in a wheelchair pulled up and were treated with priority. Okay, lesson learned: Never again use the outermost lane !
My "Priority"-labelled bags were already off the caroussell (fortunately I watched some attendent moving one of my suitcase, so I was warned).
At MEM, the same process is applied for international arrivals as at ATL: Your checked luggage goes onto a belt again for re-screening, even if MEM is your final destination. Pax then get re-screened before entering concourse B at the far end. After a lengthy walk, one arrives landside and has to claim baggage again ...
Return trip (11-APR-2009)
After having toured the state of Tennessee and northern Mississippi, northern Alabama and a small portion of Arkansas (and 2 days assigned to daytrips flying CHA-CLT-RIC-CVG-CHA and BNA-BHM-JAX-ORF-CLT-BNA on US, DL and WN), it was time to return home after 2 weeks.
As a recap: My return included 3 sectors routing DL MEM to ATL, KL ATL to AMS and KLc AMS to HAJ.
My problems with this started when I tried to check in online based on the respecive eMail I received from KL:
Using the KL-website (Germany) the system told me that my first sector were on NW (yes, my itinerary showed a NW-flight number) and that it would redirect me to NW's website. NW's website took over the info I entered on KL's website but in turn claimed that my first sector was operated by DL and I would have to use DL's website instead. Upon being redirected (again) my flight information was not taken over and DL's website was unable to find any reservation using my (KL) Confirmation Code, my ticket number or whatever options existed.
The legacy continued when arriving at the airport (remember that MEM is a hub for NW (now DL)).
There were a number of counters staffed saying "Delta /NWA", so I took the one nearest to me (travelling in First for the flight to ATL).
The mandatory self-service machine confronted me with the question: "NWA or Delta" ?
Okay, the flight is operated by DL, so I chose Delta. Confirmation code did not work, Flying Blue card not recognized - the PSA then swiped my passport but then told me that I had to go to the other "Delta/NWA" counter as they were the *real* ones ... (huh ???)
So I dragged my heavy luggage over to the counters 20 yards to the left. Upon approaching another self-service station confronted me with question "NWA or Delta ?" ... Instead I handed my passport to the PSA and told her that I were travelling on a KL-ticket using a NW-flight number on a flight operated by DL - and that I were to continue via AMS to HAJ (on KL). Confronted with this, she accepted my passport and after a while printed my 3 Boarding passes and baggage tags without further questions.
Checking my BP's I was assigned to a Bulkhead seat for my last sector AMS to HAJ, a seat that is a bit narrower than the others on the F50. So I asked if she were able to change that seat assignment. No, I had to take whatever the system assigns, as she would not have access to the seatmap for that flight. But the colleagues at the other counter would have ...
So I took my BP's to the first counter I had been to and asked if they were able to change my seat assigment. "Yes. No. Which airline ? When is this flight ? Today ? Tomorrow ? What's the designator for Hannover (HAJ) ?" Long story cut short: Also these guys (and gals) were not able to change my seat assigment. I should ask again at AMS.
So much for integration within SkyTeam. Thank you.
The positive thing about MEM was the fact that hardly anybody was travelling at that time and there was nobody in front of me at security check.
Having 2 hours to kill, I made my way to the end of concourse C (near gate C1) where I watched lots of FedEx a/c landing (no good photography through tinted glass).
Flight: DL 2080 MEM to ATL
Aircaft: MD-88 N956DL
Seat: 02D First Class
Flight time: slightly less than 1 hour
Photo © Woody Hatchett - Nashville Aviation Photographers
Photo © Matt Coleman - Nashville Aviation Photographers
Boarding commenced 30 minutes prior to scheduled departute; drinks (incl. alcoholic and refills) were offered pre-departure in First Class which was fully booked. It created great amusement among all FC pax, when the (asian) guy behind me ordered a PEPSI onboard a DL-plane, which in turn was aptly commented by a) the crew member whose name was David and b) most pax around ...
The banter continued throughout the flight with the guy from nowon getting addressed as "Pepsi-guy" ...
Flight left and arrived on time.
Having watched MD-80s depart from BNA a few days earlier and listening to the roar the engines make, I was again surprised, that the engines are almost inaudible in row 2 even on T/O-power !
Once airborne, more drinks and snacks from a basket were offered, which not only had packed pretzels and the likes but also fresh fruit (apple, banana, ...).
After some chinese lunch at ATL in busy concourse A it was time to make my way to Terminal E.
While surrendering my departure record at the gate I asked the single agent if she were able to change my seat assignment for my last sector AMS to HAJ (see above) e voila it was no problem at all and she issued a revised BP.
I made my way to DL's Crown Room (the one located closest to the Food court), which was packed (some mil' service personnell even lay on the floor trying to get some sleep, to my understanding prior to boarding a WORLD-Airways destined for LEJ as fuel stop before continuing to either Afghanistan or Iraq); I made a beeline for the other Crown Room further down the hall, which was less than half full and where the 3rd WiFi service worked
KL 0622 A332 PH-AOB Seat 02D ATL - AMS
Flight: KL 0622 ATL to AMS
Aircaft: A330-200 PH-AOB
Seat: 02D Business Class
Load: good in C (see below), medium in Eco
Flight time: 7h45min
Photo © Maciej Nowak (medMatthew)
After some careful planning of flights in recent months (okay, make that pure coincidence), this was to be my 666th segment flown in my life !
Boarding was called roughly 50 minutes prior to departure.
A single pre-departure drink was offered, so I chose Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne.
The forward Business Class minicabin had 13 pax out of 16 seats (I neglect those 2 seats assigned as crew rest); I have no idea about the status of the aft minicabin, but an announcement was made prior to departure, that Economy Class apparently had numerous empty rows, but pax were asked to stay in their assigned seats until after takeoff for weight distribution reasons.
One unusual thing happened: After boarding was completed, the captain of the flight held a short speech in each of the two minicabins in Business Class (not using the PA system) introducing himself and giving details of the flight; the only question that came afterwards (from me of course) was answered as crossing the Atlantic Ocean at 54°N.
Flight time ATL to AMS had been calculated with a fairly short 7h45min.
Approaching runway 26L we were #10 in departure queue (apart from one FL and one F9, only DL was taking off, but this is normal at ATL ).
Takeoff left nothing to desire, given a fairly light load.
When I moved my seat into the Sleep-position, I was surprised that the operation stopped quite early with the seat nowhere getting near something like lie-flat (even if angeled). The seats were in a 135-140 degree recline, giving no support at all for my legs if I positioned my body properly. That's what I have paid top dollar (or € in this case) ... ?! But after a while I figured out, that the seat would take up the sleep position only if it was unoccupied - not sure of this is normal operation or due to my rather high body weight ...
While the "flatness" was okay to lie on the back, on the stomach or on the side, the overall angle was fairly steep.
As usual I went for the Champagne again - only to receive a glass of almost unchilled liquid that resembled still white wine even though I saw it came from a proper champagne bottle. No more bubbles in there. After some friendly banter with the F/A I received a glass from a second bottle (which also was open already) and, guess, the bubbles were gone after 30 seconds. It was like Frá Dom Perignon never had invented (accidentally) Methode Champagnoise ...
Nuts handed out were tasty, but as earlier on NW not warmed.
Meal service started more than 1 hour into the flight.
Sadly I forgot to bring along the menu or to write this part of the TR in time, so details of the food options are lost.
Contained Raspberry vinegar: Simply delicious !
I went for the beef ...
Both the appetizer and the main course were among the best (if not the best) I ever had onboard an aircraft flying out of the U.S. !
Dessert declined, but a Bailey's Irish Cream was in order.
Our routing took us from ATL to NYC/Long Island, New England and over Newfoundland before setting out onto the Atlantic crossing at FL370 and later FL390.
By the time everything was cleared from dinner, water bottles distributed and lights dimmed, we had 5h00min remain flight time from western New Foundland.
80 minutes before landing, drinks (OJ, water, Actimel) were served soon followed by breakfast (pax had filled in options upon departure already).
Tasty cheese omelette, fresh bread rolls, yoghurt, freash fruit and blueberries made it onto my table (I declined options for marmemalde/jam/honey resp. cereals)
During descent those small Dutch houses filled with liquor were given out to passengers - always a welcome present to those at home ...
So, how do the Premium longhaul products of NW and KL compare (each categorie of of max. 5 points) ?
Overall cabin / amenity kit: 4 - 4
Seat: 2 - 3
Food: 3 - 4
Drinks: 2 - 3
Service level of F/A: 3 - 3
IFE: unrated as almost unused; only to note that NW's system was down for about 1 hour
Sum: NW 14 - KL 17 / 25
Will I fly either carrier again in Business Class (I had flown each before) ?
NW's product just did not convince me; KL's product suits my taste better, but it needs to be either financially or timely attractive to lure me away from my two other standard carriers.
All questions and/or comments welcome !