also including a domestic hop in US Airways economy from ORD-PHL onboard a 757
This Trip Report is the third of a series of six, beginning with the Final MD11 flight. Check out all the Trip Reports of this series!
Note: This Thread contains reports on my three World Business Class flights on KLM's Boeing 747-400s. Even though they are not in the proper sequential order of my trip, they are all flights on the same airline, on the same plane, with the same type of seat, so I've written about all three flights here. Post 1 will focus on my first KLM B747 flight, AMS-BKK, an overnight flight. Post 2 will focus on my second KLM B747 flight, HKG-AMS, and my overnight layover prior to my third KLM B747 flight from AMS-ORD, which is covered in Post 3. Finally, Post 4 will focus on the last flight of my trip, a domestic hop from ORD-PHL in economy on US Airways' B757.
- TR'14 1/6: KLM Last MD11 in J, US CRJ PHL-YUL-AMS
- TR'14 2/6: Garuda Indonesia B77W AMS-LGW in F
- TR'14 3/6: KLM 747s New J:AMS-BKK,HKG-AMS,AMS-ORD
- TR'14 4/6: Thai AirAsia, Nok Air, 3rd-class train
- TR'14 5/6: Emirates A380 BKK-HKG (F Suites)
- TR'14 6/6: To Macau on TurboJET & Cotai Water Jet
TR'14 3/6: KLM 747s New J:AMS-BKK,HKG-AMS,AMS-ORD
Friday, October 31, 2014
Arrival: 10:05 on November 1, 2014
Seat: 1A World Business Class
Today I was flying on my first flight in KLM's new flat bed seat in World Business Class. KLM introduced their new seat and retrofitted the 747 fleet first. All 747s were retrofitted prior to my flight today. I was very excited about this flight for a number of reasons. It was to be my first flight on a long-haul international flat bed seat, and it was to be my first flight on a 747 since I flew Air China from JFK-PEK back in August of 2005. The Air China flight had been in coach, but at the time, I had never been on such a large plane before. I was amazed at how many rows I had to walk back, cabin to cabin, to find my seat. Air China doesn't even fly 747s to the US anymore, having moved on to 777-300ERs. Ever since that flight, though, I had wanted to get on another 747 flight, as it had become my favorite plane. This trip was going to give me three 747 flights, a fact made even better due to the brand-new cabin on KLM.
I left downtown Amsterdam on the 14:43 train to Schiphol, which arrived at about 15:00. After the train, I located the designated check-in zone for the Bangkok flight, and found the Sky Priority lane guarded by a team of employees. I told them I was for Bangkok business class, and they let me in to the self-service kiosks. I completed check-in, and exit immigration, and headed to the lounge. The check-in zone for this flight was on the complete opposite end of the airport from the KLM Crown Lounge. I followed the signs to the second level, and then faced a very long walk down bare hallways put in place due to airport construction. Finally I made it to the lounge and relaxed there before my flight was set to board.
Temporary sign directing you to the lounge, a far way away from this sign:
In the lounge, I checked my boarding pass and was faced with a similar dilemma as when I had flown out of AMS on Garuda Indonesia a few days earlier. I am used to a boarding pass displaying the boarding time followed by the departure time, but these AMS boarding passes list only the boarding time. Additionally, the boarding time on the pass seems to be excessively early, in this case 16:00 for a flight due to depart at 17:35. Over an hour and a half for boarding? Just like my GA flight, it seemed weird, but I went to the gate shortly after 16:00 all the same. My gate was E24, and it ended up being at the very end of the E concourse. This location reduced the opportunity for good photos of the aircraft, but after security, I did get one. I found a huge line extending from the gate at the end of the concourse all the way significantly down the concourse. I walked past the whole line to find no one at all going through the Sky Priority lane. I had never seen such a long line for boarding; I guess it's because the 747 fits so many passengers. And with Schiphol's security-at-each-gate, that line was going to be pretty slow-moving, as all the passengers had to go through security screening in one of only two stations. I was immediately admitted to the security area, and security screening was quick and painless. I entered the gate area to find, just like for my GA flight, boarding was nowhere near ready to begin, and so I was stuck waiting. It was about this time that I finally learned that the excessively early boarding time listed on the boarding pass is intended to allow 412 people of a fully-loaded 747 to clear security at the gate before the plane leaves. Having just seen the length of the line of people waiting to clear security, the 95-minute-early boarding time sort-of made sense. It might very well take that long for all those people to clear security. At the same time, if you don't have to wait in that long line, or if the line should happen to be shorter, a 95-minute-early boarding time is a waste of time, since once you enter the gate area, you cannot leave again, as you'd have to re-clear security. Schiphol is the only airport I've experienced with security at each individual gate, and I don't think I like it. For one, the airport has to invest in entirely too many security machines. Second, it is not efficient to have over 400 people trying to go through two security lanes all at the same time. All that aside, it is what it is, so I learned my lesson: Don't bother going to the gate at the stated boarding time. Instead, take an educated guess at the time the plane is actually going to board, and get to the gate shortly before that time. I would use this method on my next departure from Schiphol with good results.
Anyway I was forced to wait in the crowded gate area for over an hour. During my wait, I saw a lot of passengers taking pictures of the plane. This is not something I normally see. Typical passengers don't take pictures of planes. It must be the universal appeal of the original jumbo jet, the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747. It's my favorite plane, so I could hardly blame those people for wanting pictures of it! Boarding finally began at 17:10. I personally thought 17:10, only 25 minutes before our 17:35 departure, was a little late to start boarding. To get up to 412 people onboard a 747 in less time than a domestic-US airline takes to board a narrowbody didn't seem like it was going to work!
At the gate in AMS:
Today's 747-400 was PH-BFH, nicknamed Hongkong. Her first flight was March 30, 1990, and she was delivered to KLM on April 26, 1990. She has been with the airline ever since. I entered the aircraft through door L2, turned left, and walked through the Economy Comfort section up to the brand new World Business Class cabin. The cabin looked great! I headed all the way up to the front of the plane to my seat, solo seat 1A. Only 1A, 4A, and 4E don't have a seat beside them. With no overhead compartments above Row 1, I placed my carry-on in the closet at the front of the cabin. I then settled into my seat, KLM's new flat bed World Business Class seat.
Seat 1A, KLM 747:
The seat was absolutely great. Keep in mind that I'm pretty new to international business class, so perhaps I'm easily impressed. (Though I would say I'm not easily impressed.) But I was really impressed! I liked the color selection, and the cabin was clean, and just looked professional. There was a ton of legroom, and the seat was wide. The aisle-side armrest was huge, and there were several storage places: a shelf under the large IFE screen, and two more areas on either side of the seat back, both of which had cupholders too. For my pre-departure beverage, I chose water. We were pushed back at 17:43, almost ten minutes late, but not bad considering the late boarding. The captain announced a 30 -minute late arrival into Bangkok...No problem! I'll take another 30 minutes in 1A! We headed to the runway, and I enjoyed the almost-forward-facing view out my three windows. Sitting in the nose of the 747 gives you a view almost striaght out the front of the plane! The new seat's IFE screen blocked the forwardmost window, so I guess the view could have been a little bit better, but it was a nice view all the same. I had a huge field of view, noticeably better than a usual view out of your window. We got to the runway and began a great takeoff. The pilot seemed to apply a decent amount of thrust, but then, he seemed to apply full takeoff thrust. The take off was really fast and powerful! Then, we climbed really steep! The 747 really has great takeoff and climb performance. It was really a great takeoff.
After takeoff, I adjusted my seat to a comfortable lounge position. The seat has no adjustable headrest, so I used the pillow instead. I checked out the options on the IFE system, and found several short videos about travel destinations. I watched the video on Hong Kong, since I was going there in a week and a half, followed by the video on Havana, Cuba, a "forbidden" destination for US citizens, and finally the video on Saint Martin, home of airline approach over the beach, and where KLM flies the 747! That's gotta be the best way to arrive to Saint Martin. A choice of nuts or cheese were served, and I got nuts and a Sprite Zero. It started smelling really good in the plane, as our fresh dinners were being prepared.
Nuts and Sprite Zero:
Meal orders were taken, and I ordered Shrimp with grapes and mint oil, served with 'Ajo Blanco' - garlic and almond soup and croutons as my appetizer, Rice salad with beetroot as my salad course, and Chicken medallions in a Thai coconut sauce with bok choy, mushrooms, and egg noodles as my entree. Service began with the appetizer and salad, which were only okay.
Next entrees were served. Unfortunately I found it to be very bland. To go with my entree I ordered Genever & Tonic (Genever is a Dutch gin); I like my gin to go with tonic, but I don't think genever typically goes with tonic, because the flight attendant had a hard time understanding the concept of genever & tonic. The cocktail was good though.
Genever & Tonic:
I wanted to try to sleep as much as possible on this flight. It was a nice long flight, so I should be able to get a good night's sleep, thereby avoiding jetlag on arrival into Bangkok. But right after dinner I wasn't ready to sleep just yet, so I decided to watch an episode of "Dragon's Den" on the IFE. I like this show, and it used to air in the US on BBC America, but it doesn't anymore.
Stretched out watching Dragon's Den:
Dessert was offered, and I chose a small chocolate cake and some fresh fruit. Delicious!
After dessert and "Dragon's Den," I decided to try to go to sleep. Historically I cannot sleep on planes, but this was my first attempt on a flat bed seat. Let's just say that I slept great, probably more than seven hours. Insane! I've never slept anywhere near that long, or that well, on a plane before. I could totally get used to flat bed seats. Actually, I'm already used to them! I skipped breakfast (I'm not a breakfast person), but did get some orange juice. Delft Houses were offered, and I selected the newest one, #95, the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. Well, technically it's now only the Heineken Experience building, not a brewery anymore, but it was originally the brewery.
My first view of Thailand:
We arrived on time and parked at the gate. A single jetway was connected to Door L2, so we exited through the galley. After we entered BKK, we were immediately directed to international arrivals, and the path offered no aircraft views. As we left the plane, we were given priority lane passes for immigration, and a welcome kit which contained a Thai SIM card. It was a pretty long walk to the immigration area, which had a pretty long line. Fortunately the priority lane had only a short line, and immigration was quick and easy.
Priority Pass and SIM card welcome kit:
After immigration, I waited for my bag for quite a while, just like on my KLM arrival into AMS on the MD11. I guess KLM aren't known for their bag delivery speed. I cleared customs and headed for the train to the city. I saw lots of currency exchange counters and SIM card/cell phone shops. I decided to stop and have my complimentary SIM card activated. Even though the counter wasn't that crowded, it took forever for each customer to be helped. Finally I got my SIM card activated, so I could finally move on to the train. I found the train area, and was disappointed to find the express train out of service, leaving only the local train. The express takes you nonstop from the airport to downtown, whereas the local train makes a handful of stops along the way. The local train was cheaper, but I always enjoy a speedy nonstop journey. I would later learn that the express has permanently ceased operation.
I purchased a fare and was given a token. You touch the token to a reader to activate it before boarding. The train arrived shortly, and everyone got off, but no one got on. I later learned you aren't supposed to get on until you're told. The extra time is used for them to clean the train. They seem to take a good deal of pride in keeping the trains clean. I got a seat in the train, but as we got closer and closer to downtown, stopping at more and more stations, the train ended up completely packed full. That would be another benefit of an express train - less people onboard. I had a seat, though, and was going to the end of the line, so the crowd wasn't too terrible. Finally we arrived to the end of the line, where I was going to transfer to the BTS skytrain. As you leave you must deposit your token into the fare gate to exit.
Bangkok airport trains:
Overall, this was a great flight. I am a huge fan of KLM's new World Business Class, at least in the solo seats. Service was good, not as great or special as KLM's final MD11, but still very good. And the fact that I slept more than seven hours during the night speaks for itself. My second flight with KLM, and I still highly recommend them.
To continue with my trip in chronological order, please leave this thread and go to Trip Report 4 of the series, "TR'14 4/6: Thai AirAsia, Nok Air, 3rd-class train".