Chaos at Amsterdam mars an otherwise fantastic business-class flight on KLM’s Dreamliner
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Although KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) is almost 103 years old, I only flew it for the first time a few weeks ago and instantly became a fan.
The Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner I was on had the airline’s latest business-class seats and cabins aboard, which made for a comfortable ride across the Atlantic.
Combined with friendly service, plenty of menu options, the novelty of those collectible Delft houses they hand out and the chance to earn miles and status-qualifying activity on Delta, the experience on board was a downright pleasure. If only my time on the ground had gone as smoothly.
Here’s what my recent experience in KLM business class was like, and why I wouldn’t hesitate to fly the airline again, despite some airport issues.
My itinerary had me flying from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Kotoka International Airport (ACC) in Accra, Ghana, in Delta One and then returning on KLM via Amsterdam.
The total fare was £4,232 ($5,171) and I credited this to Delta Skymiles who I have status with. On my Amsterdam-New York leg, I earned a total of 3,644 Medallion Qualification Miles and £1,222 ($1,494) Medallion Qualification Dollars plus 7,740 redeemable Delta SkyMiles, including a bonus for having Platinum status.
The whole trip earned me a total of over 44,000 SkyMiles, worth about £507 ($620) according to current TPG valuations.
European-based travellers may wish to credit Delta and KLM flights to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, or Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue programme.
Delta sent me a notification to check-in for the flight 24 hours before departure. However, it sent me to KLM’s website for the actual check-in.
Now that the COVID-19 testing requirement for incoming international travellers to the U.S. has been dropped, this was by far the easiest check-in process for an international flight I’ve had since before the pandemic.
The only thing I had to do was click through a health attestation form for the U.S. stating that I didn’t have COVID-19 and provide a phone number and email address for contact tracing.
You can add bags, buy internet access and even purchase carbon offsets, all while checking in with KLM.
I checked in for both legs of my flight back to the U.S. at the airport in Accra. Unfortunately, even though I wasn’t checking baggage I still had to see an agent for a boarding pass and to pick up a Ghanian exit immigration form. It only took about 10 minutes, though, before I was off through airport security, which took about 20 minutes.
My flight from Accra to Amsterdam was delayed for two hours, but we left plenty of time for me to make my connecting flight in Amsterdam. I originally had a six-hour layover, but it turned into more like a three-hour layover after my delayed flight and a bit of a fiasco at Amsterdam Airport Schipol (AMS). Still, I thought that would be plenty of time. It turned out to be barely enough.
A warning about AMS
I have a major caveat for fellow travellers who are considering a transfer through Amsterdam like my own. Clearing security between my arriving and departing flights was total chaos.
There is a prominent warning on the KLM website about the problems caused by staffing shortages at Amsterdam Airport Schipol, which the airline calls “operational issues.” It has been so bad at times that airlines have been cancelling flights, as we reported in May. There are some reports of six-hour wait times as well.
My security experience wasn’t that bad, but it was still a mess.
I originally hopped into a SkyPriority line, but just as I approached the security agents, they told us they were closing the line. A metal gate came down and the priority passengers then pulled a “Hunger Games”-style battle to join another line that passengers said they had been waiting in for two hours already.
Fortunately, I was eventually able to merge into the neighbouring lanes, but it left a lot of travellers even angrier. As I got closer to the security screening area, a woman was literally pushing passengers out of her way.
I finally asked her to “Knock it off!” to the approval of other travellers.
A security guard standing nearby told us there was nothing he could do about her physically abusing other passengers, but she ended up settling down and no one was detained.
Total time to get screened again? About an hour and a half. I’m glad I had a long layover with plenty of breathing room to make my next flight, otherwise, I might not have fared so well.
The KLM Crown Lounge
KLM’s flagship lounge is called the Crown Lounge and the space is certainly fit for royalty, though the crowding made this visitor feel anything but kingly — and it’s a situation that was also common before the pandemic.
It is a massive facility with two floors of lounge space, a multilevel living room area, an a la carte restaurant, sleeping and shower suites and an outdoor terrace. The decorations are eye-catching, including vintage model KLM planes and dozens of new versions in model form (including the 777-300 KLM “Orange Pride” livery plane I flew from Accra to Amsterdam).
I ordered a delicious cappuccino from the upstairs bar, though there are also self-serve espresso machines around the lounge.
There were lines and clusters of people congregating pretty much everywhere there was food, including a huge queue for the hot food buffet.
I was able to find some space to sit on the second floor (where there is also an expansive outdoor terrace with views of the tarmac).
The highlight for me, however, was the sleeping rooms. I happily paid around 40 euros (£34) for two hours of total bliss, resting between flights. The sleeping rooms are in the back of the lounge, past the showers, and you need to pay at the check-in desk when you enter the lounge. You get a keycard that works like a hotel key and you let yourself into your assigned room. I had Room 8, and I have never had a quiet space like that in an airport before. You could actually sleep quite easily.
A nap was just what I needed after my hectic security experience, and I felt refreshed and awake after a two-hour snooze.
We departed from Gate G6. The gate areas for the international flights are huge, but there is a dearth of outlets and no USB ports. There were a few European outlets on some of the benches, but the rows of leather seating where most people sat had none. Fortunately, the gate area never got completely full.
The flight was supposed to board at 12:25 p.m. though that time came and went with no announcement. Flightradar24 suggested the flight wouldn’t actually be departing until 2:15 p.m. (The original departure was for 1:25 p.m.).
KLM uses two boarding ramps for its larger aircraft like the 787. Boarding began late, at 1:45 p.m. As a business-class passenger, I was able to board with Group 1.
The business-class cabin filled up quickly and was 100% occupied on this flight.
In fact, the whole plane was full. I did a walk-through of the cabin and didn’t see a single empty seat.
Cabin and seats
I was on a 2-year-old Dreamliner 787-10 with the tail number PH-BKF. The 38-seat business-class cabin was arranged in 10 rows of single seats at the windows and nine rows of two seats running down the middle of the cabin in a reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 formation where all the seats have direct aisle access.
These resemble the business-class seats on other airlines, such as Air France and Cathay Pacific, but they are actually slightly different and produced by another seat manufacturer than Jamco. I chose Seat 3A for this approximately eight-hour flight since I wanted a single-window seat.
I love the Dreamliner in general, but I’m not a fan of the adjustable window dimmers as I find the flight attendants usually take over the controls, rendering your in-seat options to dim or lighten the shades useless. The crew kept it so dark in the cabin that it could have been night outside nearly the entire flight. I finally asked the flight attendant to please ask for the shades to be lightened so I could do some planespotting. She was apologetic and took care of it so I could see some cool jets as we taxied for takeoff.
My seat was roomy and private, but a bit cramped at the footwell. The shells had these sort of privacy wings shielding them from the aisle, so when you are in your pod you can’t really see anyone around you.
The tray table measured 18 inches by 14 inches when fully extended, so I had plenty of room for my large MacBook Pro.
The seat measured 20 inches at the hip and back and narrowed to about 16 inches at the headrest. I found it sufficiently padded, though when the bed was fully flat, I felt it was a little restrictive around my hips.
The seat pitch was 38 inches and the footwell was 19 inches wide at its opening but quickly narrowed down to about 8 inches wide at the far end, so it will be tight for some readers. I measured the fully flat bed at 6 feet and 4 inches long.
There was a quilted blanket branded by Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius at every seat. It was fine but a little small, covering only about three-quarters of my body. The pillow was soft and fluffy, though.
There were no individual air nozzles, and I found the cabin got too warm a few times, though I asked the flight attendants to adjust the temperature and they were happy to comply.
The television monitor was fixed in the front of the seat and did not swivel up and down or side to side, so it was awkward to try and watch a movie while sleeping. The screen measured 18 inches diagonally, 16 inches across and 9 inches vertically. There were hundreds of movies and TV selections. I counted 42 new releases alone. The headphones were branded KLM and were fine, but they weren’t the quality of a name brand like Bose.
There was a large universal power plug on the window side of my seat that fit my giant Macbook charger, which actually stayed in the plug (on many flights the heavy charger falls out since the outlets are scuffed and worn). There was a USB port there as well and another USB port hiding in the tray underneath the entertainment screen, which was convenient for charging my iPhone.
There was also a small reading light above the inflight entertainment controller.
There wasn’t a lot of storage at my seat, just an open area next to the window where you could store water, headphones and a few other items, and a couple of small pockets at the knee area. Fortunately, the overhead bins were not all full.
The amenity kits were cute, but nothing special. They are a collaboration between the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Rituals cosmetics company.
Indeed, inside there was a small lip balm and a tube of moisturizer by Rituals, plus an eye mask, socks, a KLM-branded pen, Signal toothpaste, a toothbrush and earplugs. The kit on my flight from Accra to Amsterdam was similar, but a blue colour instead of cream.
There were also Rituals products in the two bathrooms for the business-class cabin.
Both restrooms were located at the front of the cabin. They were fairly small but were kept clean during the flight.
I loved the face moisturizer in the bathrooms, but there was also Rituals lotion and I was totally gobsmacked that there was hair gel as well.
Of course, the restrooms also had a Dutch tulip in a sconce, though I’m sorry to say they were artificial flowers. Another fun touch? Paintings of those distinctive Delft houses on the walls.
Amenities and service
I had excellent service on my flight. I was greeted warmly by a flight attendant named Sonja at the forward boarding door. She warned me there was some traffic over London that would likely delay our departure, but said we’d make it up in the air.
The flight attendant working my row, named Arianne, had a pre-departure beverage in my hand within five minutes of taking my seat. I was offered orange juice, water or Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne from Chouilly, France, all served in beautiful crystal sipping glasses.
The pilot came on the intercom at 1:29 p.m., about five minutes after our scheduled takeoff time, to confirm that we’d be delayed in Amsterdam. He had good news, though, and said we’d make up the time in the air.
Special mention goes to the purser of my flight, Bir. When I flagged to my flight attendant that the internet still wasn’t working after an hour in flight, Bir spent about 20 minutes working on my computer with me to get the Wi-Fi fixed. She ended up helping me delete cookies and then buy a flight pass.
The Wi-Fi cost 18 euros (£15.51) for a full flight pass and was fast, but unreliable. The speed test I did showed it was performing well. The problem was that it constantly stopped working or failed. It still amazes me that inflight Wi-Fi works at all, but reliability needs to be improved.
My favourite part of the service was getting to pick my own iconic Delft miniature house filled with Dutch gin.
I got one on both my flights, from Accra to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to New York, so now I’m obsessed and can’t wait to add to my collection.
Food and beverage
Around 40 minutes after takeoff, flight attendants came through with drink service and handed out bags of nuts along with cute napkins emblazoned with windmills.
The main meal was served about an hour into the flight in two courses.
For the appetizer, I ordered the Thai red curry soup, which tasted more like a coconut curry cream soup to me (it was a little spicy but smooth). There was a small but delicious salad of fresh greens, the tiniest, cutest little gourd-like cherry tomatoes (actually called sweet pepper drops) and a Reypenaer cheese that had quite a bite, served with a Frutto D’Oro Italian fig dressing. A selection of fresh bread was also available.
For the main course, I ordered the chicken in spicy gravy. The chicken was tender, but a little mushy and it didn’t taste very spicy to me. For a side, the Parmesan polenta was delicious in a tiny portion, while the roasted artichoke and tomato were flavorful and had a hint of olive along with “caviar” of eggplant and tonburi, which I didn’t care for at all.
I didn’t try it, but the Domaine Joel Delaunay Blanc de Lys sauvignon blanc from 2020 they had on offer looked like it would pair well with the chicken.
Other wines available included a 2019 Baron de Ley Club Privado Rioja tempranillo from Spain and a 2020 Domaine de Grangeneuve L’Initial H grenache and syrah from France.
The menus for business class were created by renowned Dutch chef Jonnie Boer of the restaurant De Librije in Zwolle, Netherlands.
For dessert, there was either a selection of sweets that included a brownie or vanilla raspberry shortbread, or a fruit and cheese plate. I went for the cheese plate and I’m glad I did. It had Moulin Blue, Beemster and Gooise Caractere cheese, which was tart and delicious.
Little chocolate Delft houses were handed out after lunch, too.
For the late afternoon “light meal,” I ordered the hamburger with cheddar cheese. It was served with onion chutney and truffle mayonnaise. The other option was an empanada called the “Queen of Argentina.”
The burger was fine, but I wouldn’t get it again. I think it was overcooked as the cheese and the chutney was melted into the paper wrapping and the meat was greasy. I put a big dab of Kesbeke ketchup on it for some added zest.
The meal also came with Peppadews and olives with salsa. Dessert was a lemon meringue pie. It was all served on one tray. The crust of the little pie (served in a bright Delft bowl) was a bit stale but the filling and frosting were deliciously sweet.
I had coffee several times, and while the coffee wasn’t that great, it was served in the most delightful Delft cups with decorative stirrers designed by Marcel Wanders. In fact, all the cups, bowls and plates were designed by Wanders as a modern twist on traditional Delftware, which I thought was just fabulous.
To finish, I tried the Royal English black tea, which was full-bodied and smooth.
Airport pandemonium aside, I had a fantastic journey aboard KLM. The 787-10’s business-class cabin felt stylish and fresh with comfortable and private seats. The service was warm, helpful and friendly and the meal service was good, if not entirely excellent. The most fun part, however, was getting to choose two Delft house keepsakes, which are the pride of any AvGeek’s collection.
Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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