Dear fellow A.netters,
First of all, I would like to wish you Happy New Year, Feliz Año Nuevo and Saehae bokmanhi bateuseyo.
But why the greeting in English, Spanish and Korean? It is just because this trip report has been brought about by the country of our destination and the airline we had chosen to fly with.
Let me just start from the very beginning.
It was the first week of November 2009. Still living off the memories of our impressive holiday in Egypt, my partner and I were waiting for Christmas to come. We both had decided that we would take a couple days off between Christmas and The New Year’s Eve for a fruitful time together.
As I am turning thirty this year, I wished to make it festal. What came across my mind in the first instance was burning our miles with Qatar Airways for a Christmas getaway in Qatar. For this purpose I got in touch with fellow A.netter flyboy_se. He replied not long after I sent an e-mail with very well detailed information about the country. Although both my partner and I truly appreciated his effort, my partner was eventually not too keen of the idea about traveling that far as we would be off not much longer than a week.
After discussing it profoundly, we decided that we would limit our choice of destination to a city in Europe on the conditions that we would be visiting a place I had never been to with an airline I had never flown with. Indeed there are still countless interesting places to see and airlines to choose from. But one airline did manage to catch my attention and that was Korean Air!
KE has been granted the fifth freedom rights on their thrice weekly flights to Madrid via Amsterdam. Since their route has been revised from ICN-AMS-MAD-ICN to ICN-AMS-MAD-AMS-ICN during the winter season and I had never been to Madrid, KE lived up with my expectations perfectly. Moreover thanks to the topic being discussed, KE would give me the opportunity to fly a wide body within Europe.
However, I did not realize that both my partner and I have taken so many pictures during our trip. As I do not want to make this report too long, I have decided to have it split in two. This report contains the first part which covers our outward journey, our hotel in Madrid and the city highlights.
The second part will cover the New Year’s Eve and our return journey. I hope I can get it aired in the near future.
I made up my mind and upon consulting KE’s European website, I found immediately an attractive Y return price in to MAD. I showed the quotation to my partner and he agreed. Soon enough the booking was conducted.
The KE booking engine is swift and easy to navigate. Definitely on par with those like the BA and LX ones. One striking thing is while the reservation are being processed, they offer you the opportunity to enroll online to Skypass, their frequent flyer program. What helps you to make a decision easier is that on the same page they summarize the enrollment benefits like an advance seat selection upon booking. Nevertheless you still have got the possibility to proceed as a guest but then lacking the aforementioned benefits.
It was beyond doubt that my partner and I ignored the tempting offer. Our enrollment was a breeze just like the further steps on finishing the booking process. Within seconds, we got the notification of both our memberships and reservation. I then proceeded with the seat selection which was painless as well. However, the website points out that only passengers booked directly or through KE’s ticketing offices are eligible for this feature.
Our E-tickets were not issued yet at this stage because they still had to verify my credit card. As I made the reservation at Saturday evening, the verification process could just be initiated during the next office hours. I found it a bit cumbersome, but still I was satisfied with the booking experience so far. Well, to be honest I still observed one missing feature and that was the ability to book different classes on the outward and return journey. I think I am a bit spoilt on that one after my previous experience with LX.
As expected we received a notification on the following Monday that my credit card was accepted together with the links to our E-tickets. I then checked it out through both my member page and my partner’s. My ticket receipt was properly registered. But to my surprise, I could retrieve the ticket receipt of my partner neither through his member page nor mine. So I contacted the local KE toll free call center to resolve the problem. One thing I like about it is that they will forward you to another center if you happen to call outside the office hours.
The lady I got on the phone was very nice. She listened carefully to our problem and before continuing she asked some questions for verification like my partner’s date of birth. Upon answering that question, she instantly remarked, “Oh, your travel companion and I have the same birthday,” and both of us brake into a smile. She proceeded to link my partner’s receipt to his member page and told me at the end that I had to wait about five minutes for the system being updated and urged me to call back if the problem continued. I returned after five minutes to my partner’s member page and looked what we had got there. It worked! Well done, KE!
I was impressed by the KE customer service so far. It made me eager for more. I could definitely imagine that their on board service could be no less impeccable than what I had experienced on the ground.
Travel planner Madrid
Since it would be our first visit to Madrid, I contacted a fellow A.netter who is very much familiar with the city, Eric (aka IberiaA319). I was happy to hear that I could count on him regarding any question in relation with our trip. Muchas gracias por la molestia, Eric!
Interestingly, another fellow A.netter Tim (aka Vandenheuvel ) had a similar idea for the year end. Then I thought, why could we not catch up each other and celebrate the turn of the year together in Madrid. So I contacted him and suggested the idea. He gladly agreed with it. Then I proceeded to notify Eric. He loved the idea as well. He said that he would certainly join the party provided that he was not away from Madrid.
Our Christmas trip became even more remarkable when I stroke up an acquaintance with another A.netter, Amar. A little scenario; I am not quite sure whether he had any contribution to the forums. He has however his photos published on A.net. The funny thing which got the ball rolling was his reply to my comment on his video on YouTube. It so happened that Amar would be on the same flight as ours. How about that? I asked him what he thought of catching up together for the flight. He fell in with the idea and suggested a meeting at the departure gate. After exchanging our numbers, he said that he would notify me when he got there.
All these things together, I knew this Christmas holiday would be a special one. The countdown began.
Complying with the rule, I went on checking my partner and myself in almost exactly twenty four hours before departure. Well, I must say that there were some striking things I noticed during the check-in process.
Firstly, before printing out your boarding pass, you are required to do a test print. There is no way to skip this action as KE wants to assure the quality of home printed boarding passes. Secondly, your country of departure determines whether you may proceed to issue your own boarding pass or get issued an exchange voucher to obtain the real boarding pass at the airport. We were apparently among the latest.
My exchange voucher
I have done online check-in many times before but I had never seen anything like this. Oh well, let just see it as one added experience.
When I checked our itinerary the following day, it turned out that our flight would be delayed for a forty minutes due to the late departure of our aircraft from Seoul. We were not really amused, but the delay was still bearable. After all we were having Christmas.
However, the weather was not that good. It was snowing and within hours it got heavier. Earlier before our departure, the whole country had to cope with severe delays and cancellations of the public transports due to the snow storm. Feared of getting the same experience with our train to Schiphol, we left home early.
AT THE AIRPORT
Our journey to Schiphol turned out surprisingly smooth and we arrived on time. Upon entering the terminal, I was really amazed as I had never been in any airport on the Christmas day. AMS had done their very best to decorate the whole building.
Santa is back in town!
The Christmas tree
We went to look at the FIDS. Strange enough, it did not display any delay of our flight.
We proceeded upstairs to the check-in area. Korean Air flights are being handled in the row 26.
There were already people being attended at the check-in desk. We were number three in sequence.
One of the three Y check-in desks
It did not take long until our turn. We handed our travel documents, passports and my credit card. I asked the check-in lady whether it would be a full flight. She nodded.
Satisfied with our passports and upon verifying my credit card, she proceeded to print out our boarding passes. But somehow, it did not go smoothly as the lady repeatedly kept on typing, consulting the computer manual and turning again to the computer. In the meantime, her colleague on her right side called in for some help to manually insert the European ID card numbers of the passengers she was checking in. Coping with some problems herself, she gestured that she would come to her as soon as she finished with us.
After couple more minutes, our check-in lady eventually managed printed out our boarding passes and baggage tag. After getting our luggage through, she gave us the boarding passes and apologized for making us waiting.
Strange enough, our check-in lady did not ask for our exchange vouchers at all. So I said to her, “I think we have to hand in these vouchers for receiving our boarding passes,”
She looked a bit puzzled at the vouchers, but took them in anyway.
My partner went outside for his last cigarette before security. It was really cold there!
Outside Terminal 3
Post security check and the immigration
The passport control was a breeze. Within minutes we were in the passenger area. And I must say, even here AMS was immersed in the Christmas’s atmosphere.
More Christmas trees
The mother tree
From the second floor of the restaurant area
Just before the passage to the G gates
In the early afternoon, there were a lot of interesting wide body traffics on the tarmac.
PB A343 and BR B744
PB A343 leaving
Slightly late, our beauty emerged on the tarmac.
By the time I was taking the pictures, I saw the KE’s crew members passing by. I decided that it was time to move to the gate. So I picked my partner up who was sitting further up doing some Sudoku’s and proceeded together to the gate.
The long walkway to the G gates
TK’s advertisement along the walkway
Date: 25 December 2009
ETD/ATD: 13.20 / 13.45
ETA/ATA: 16.00 / 16.28
Flight number: KE 925
Plane: Airbus 330-222
Delivered: 8 September 1998
Photo © Simon Gregory - AirTeamImages
Our assigned gate
It was about an hour before the departure time, when we reached our gate. Upon arriving, I noticed two guys taking pictures on turn. I assumed that one of them could be Amar, but I was not quite sure about it. Hence I went on taking pictures again in full feather so that he could reveal himself.
View before security check
The photographing guys took a seat and one of them started playing with his mobile. Suddenly, I received a message on my mobile. One of them was indeed Amar!
After some introducing, we soon engaged in conversation. We talked about the wide body services of non European airlines in Europe like SV and soon to come the SQ’s MUC-MAN. Amar was about to start his flying courses. His travel companion is still at the high school and thinking of following his example.
Amar was wondering about our seat assignments because to his disappointment, both he and his travel companion got assigned the middle seats. I said that my partner and I secured ourselves window and aisle seats. I proceeded to ask whether they had booked the tickets directly with KE. That was not the case. To make things more complicated, the system did not even recognize their reservation in the first instance.
We were quite surprised as we did not encounter any problem. I think this incident makes one of good reasons to book directly with the airline.
In the meantime, our aircraft was being prepared for the flight.
The aforementioned KE’s crew members before security check
The transiting passengers from Seoul were requested to disembark the aircraft with their belongings and wait in the holding room.
Around 12.45 an announcement was made by the security personnel that we could line up. So I got my shoes and other things off and getting in the line. My partner chose to wait which was a wise thing to do, as we still had to wait for another fifteen minutes before we got allowed to pass the security check. Meanwhile, I was getting cold feet. The security check itself was fast though.
CX B744 ready for departure
What seemed to be an on-time departure, did not materialize as there were still no boarding signs until 13.25. An announcement was made that Business Class passengers, Skypass Morning Calm and KLM Skyteam Elite members were invited go on board. But all the transiting passengers just stood up and got in the line as if they would otherwise miss their previous seat assignments.
My partner and I just remained seated until the line became shorter before we made our way to the gate. Despite being a wide body, there was only a single aerobridge deployed.
From the aerobridge
Right before the entrance of the second left door
I noticed a striking line up of the cabin attendants. One was actually standing on the right side inside the aerobridge. Other two attendants were lined up at the door. I got my notebook ready and greeted in Korean, ”Annyeonghaseyo,”
“Oh, annyeonghaseyo, where are you from?”
“Welcome aboard,” the attendants smiled.
I then proceeded to my seat 43H.
The view of the front Y cabin on the right side
Seat control unit
Light above the seat
Duty free guide
Long haul stickers
Window view before pushback
The pushback was commenced about twenty five minutes behind the schedule. The whining noise of the engines started to fill the cabin.
Right after pushback
Our Airbus started moving from the G-platform towards the Kaagbaan. Some interesting sceneries came into a sight.
Only Arkefly was missing
HV’s line up
Our aircraft was the first in line, so we could directly enter the runway.
As soon as our Airbus lined up, she quickly accelerated, went down the runway and lifted up just before terminal A.
Zwanenburgbaan in sight
Engulfed by the clouds
Emerged about the clouds
Our routing this time would be Rotterdam – Lille – Paris – Limoges – Bordeaux – Biarritz – Bourgas – Madrid.
After the fasten seat belt signs were switched off, the cabin attendants started to distribute the arrival cards. Apparently our flight was filled up with Korean tourists which were on group trip to Madrid.
I needed to leak so I went to the restroom. KE did a great job on maintaining the toilet tidy and clean.
Not long after I returned to my seat, Amar approached us to borrow a pen. He thought that he would have to fill out the arrival card as well. My partner told him that it was not necessary as he was holding a Dutch, hence an European passport. He said that he tried to explain it to the cabin attendant but she seemed not knowing of the existence of an European passport.
Amar left in the first instance with a pen but returned with it soon after as he eventually managed to explain the situation to the cabin attendant.
Twenty minutes after take-off, the meal service was started. Yes! A real meal service with salad, hot dish, dessert, bread and butter!
Cabin attendant Yu was in charge of the front half
We were taken care by cabin attendant Kim.
“Hello Sir, we have beef with mashed potato this afternoon. Anything to drink, Sir?”
“Beer please,” both my partner and I replied.
Our meal accompanied with beer and a bag of peanuts
The lunch consisted of salmon and potato salad as starter, beef with mushroom sauce as main meal and lemon cake as dessert. Everything was delightful. The salad was tasty. The beef was tender and well flavored. Well, the lemon cake was too sweet to my liking. But still, an excellent service!
I overheard the conversation between Yu and Kim whether everyone had got anything to drink with the meal. They then returned to the galley and started the coffee and tea rounds.
Another striking thing after the coffee round, Yu emerged in the cabin with a duty free bag to collect the empty cans. I had never seen this before. And really, it was a nice gesture!
Our aircraft was not fitted with personal IFE system, so the only entertainment we had , were just the overhead screen, the cabin or window view or some magazines. Most passengers were killing the time by playing cards they brought on board.
Overhead screen a bit too far away
The forward cabin from the back
The aft cabin from the back
More southwards we flew, the sky started to clear up. However, about one hour into the flight we experienced some turbulences. Fortunately, it did not take long.
Somewhere above France
Entering Spanish airspace
About forty minutes later above the Pyrenees , it started to get hazy and eventually covered by thick clouds until our descent.
About forty minutes before landing, a reminder was announced to the passengers to have their arrival cards filled out before disembarking.
When the descent was commenced, I got my camera ready. But a cabin attendant caught my attention and asked me to turn off the camera during the landing. I obliged this time, but still I did not want to miss the valuable landing moments. So when all the attendants got seated, you could probably guess what I was doing.
Our Airbus was cleared to land at runway 15L – 33R of Madrid Barajas airport.
Seconds before touchdown
Terminal 4S behind the trees
We vacated the runway and made our way to Terminal 1 passing Terminal 2 and 3. I must say, Barajas really is a spotter’s heaven.
Quantum Air and JK
No frill airlines’s terminal
U2’s baby Busses
FR’s line up
U2’s line up from the other side
Then sad view came in sight. Unemployed Air Comet Airbusses.
We were docked on gate A14 of Terminal 1.
On leaving the aircraft, I said goodbye to the cabin attendants, ”Annyeonghi giyeseyo”
All of them broke into a smile and wished my partner and I a pleasant stay in Madrid.
Walkway to the older part of Terminal 1
We proceeded to Baggage Reclaim Area.
Instruction of the passport control lines
The passport control was a breeze. We were soon waived through.
Our assigned baggage belt
Amar and his travel companion were soon joining us.
“Did you have a nice flight?” he asked.
“Yes, I was just a bit disappointed that I was asked to switch off my camera during the landing,”
At 16.45 the first luggage was loaded on the belt. But as my partner and I were among the latest passengers to join the flight, our suitcase appeared after about twenty minutes wait when the most passengers were already gone including Amar.
The exit signage
When we reached the public area, it was pretty empty.
The signage was clear. So we just followed the direction to the Metro station. I had couple things to ask, so I was hoping to find a tourist information desk.
It was a long walk to the metro station. However, I got a surprisingly nice impression of the terminal of Barajas. The terminal design boasts an airy feeling and the whole building was properly clean.
Walkways to the Metro station
In front of the ticketing office, you could see nice art works.
TO BE CONTINUED BELOW