I first began to dabble in airline award seats about 7 years ago. For those old-timers, my initial run-up of points was with US Airways and their infamously generous 90,000 mile around-the-world Business Class award tickets. This newfound passion opened up a whole new type of flying for me. Up until this point, I had flown exclusively with United Airlines through my Father who worked for them. I quickly became hooked after award flights in Thai First Class, Asiana First Class, Air Canada Business Class, and Lufthansa Business Class, to name a few. From then, I set out to learn more about Oneworld and SkyTeam carriers. So, in 2017, I gave myself the lofty goal of trying out 5 new airlines, and at the end, I proudly crossed-off Lufthansa First Class, Korean Air First Class, British Airways First Class, Turkish Airlines Business Class, and a few more.
I’ve given myself a similar challenge for 2018. To date, I’ve flown Singapore Airlines Business Class and KLM Business Class – with upcoming flights in Cathay Pacific First Class, Singapore Airlines First Class, Air France Business Class, and QATAR Business Class. It's going to be an exciting year of flying.
In this trip report, I’ll be sharing my Business Class experience with KLM, the national carrier of the Netherlands, onboard their vintage (a sign of endearment) Boeing 747-400ER Combi. While I would much prefer to redeem with points, I decided to purchase this ticket after coming across a rock bottom fare, which is becoming quite common. As most major and legacy carriers are reacting to low-cost and long-haul carriers, I managed to purchase this flight for roughly ~$750 one-way, which is a bargain of a deal for Business Class. I found this fare after being tipped off by flightdeal.com, my go-to website for phenomenal airline deals.
This inbound flight is in conjunction with my recent Singapore Airlines Business Class nonstop flight from Houston (IAH) - Manchester (MAN), which you can read here.
Let’s have a look at the experience.
Airline: KLM (KL)
Route: Amsterdam (AMS) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400ER Mixed Combi
Duration: 10h 55m
Service: Business Class
Amsterdam-Schipol International Airport, or Schipol for short, is the main airport of the Netherlands. The airport is also home to KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline and member of SkyTeam, who’s known for flying a quirky shade of blue. Having recently flown through Schipol, I immediately noticed how large the airport is spanning 6 Terminals and over 100+ gates. The vastness and disorganization were at times overwhelming. Be prepared to be in a state of confusion at some point at Schipol. While half of the Terminals have undergone beautiful redevelopments, I’m afraid the other half need some TLC, which sadly seems to be the theme across most European airports.
A fun fact: Growing-up, I considered Schipol to be one of the most innovative airports around the world. The airport was unique for making over-the-wing jet bridges iconic. Airports will most commonly use two jet bridges to board and deplane passengers through the first two aircraft doors. However, Schipol’s over-the-wing jet bridge would extend beyond the wing and service passengers from the back of the aircraft. The idea was to expedite the passenger flow by allow passengers in Economy to board and deplane quicker. Sadly, the tentacle-like and over-the-wing jet bridge design was seen as a hazard and are no longer in use.
My inbound flight from Dusseldorf arrived a few hours before my connecting flight to Los Angeles, which meant extra time to enjoy the KLM Crown Lounge. Now, KLM isn’t known for their ground experience, so I wasn’t expecting much from it. Though, I love experiencing an airlines hub services, so I made it a priority to see the space for myself. I’m afraid, even with low expectations, I found the lounge to be an absolute disaster.
Let me first give the benefit of the doubt. The lounge was under heavy construction, with a newly renovated lounge scheduled to open in Spring 2019, so the space was obviously in shambles with large construction walls everywhere and an exposed ceiling. However, what I disliked most was the number of people using the lounge at 8AM. The space could easily fit over 400 passengers, and jokes aside, every seat, space, knick, and craney were taken. It was a madhouse.
The sheer number of people resulted in a really messy and unappetizing buffet area, a disorganized bar, flustered employees, and dirty dishes everywhere. I felt bad for the employees who just could not keep up with the number of passengers.
From what I gathered, the food selection was limited to just 5 (edible) items: scrambled eggs, pancakes, croissants, pastries, and Nutella. I believe oatmeal was offered, however, the pot was consistently empty as the kitchen could not replenish it quick enough. No selection of cold cuts or cheeses were offered, which I find surprising given it’s a staple for Europeans. If all else fails, you could opt-in for a bowl of syrupy canned fruit.
I quickly realized I was not going to be satisfied with the food here, so I grabbed 2 croissants and had a glass of champagne before leaving.
The Boarding Process
Boarding took place from Gate E24, the very last gate in the E-Terminal. The Terminal itself was shabby, but like anything Dutch, it’s pragmatic and efficient. What really kills me aesthetically when traveling through Europe are the incredibly low ceilings, which left me feeling very claustrophobic. Even as crummy as US airports are too, most were at least designed with vaulted high ceilings.
Boarding began early at 9:04AM, starting with Business Class and SkyPriority. I boarded through Door 1L and made my way up the stairs to the upper deck.
KLM offers two daily flights between Amsterdam and Los Angeles. I specifically chose the earlier flight as it’s operated with their Boeing 747-400ER Combi, a unique passenger and cargo version of the popular double-decker aircraft, hence the “Combi” designator. The front half of the plane is for passengers, and the back half for large cargo palates. Not many of these aircraft were produced, so it was a nice treat to experience this iconic plane.
The last time I sat upper deck on a 747 was back in 2006 with United from Taipei (TPE) – Tokyo (NRT) – San Francisco (SFO). I knew the opportunity to fly the Boeing 747 were numbered, as airlines around the world rapidly phase out this jetliner, so I was thrilled to be on it.
I was first to board the upper deck and took advantage by snapping a ton of empty cabin shots. For anyone knows me knows that I live for empty cabin shots.
At my seat was a blanket, and pillow. Amenity kits and menus were later hand distributed.
Upon settling in, the sweet flight attendant, who was so eager to assist and serve, offered to hang my coat followed by a beverage. I had an orange juice to start and later a glass of champagne, both before departure.
The captain came on to add his welcome 15 minutes before departure at 9:40AM and to inform us our pushback would be delayed.
The Cabin + Seats
KLM’s Business Class layout onboard this aircraft is uniquely configured with 15 seats in the nose of the main deck, and 20 seats upstairs. KLM is in the process of updating its entire fleet from an older-generation B/E Aerospace Diamond seat to the newer and more private B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seat. This aircraft featured the older-generation seat, which can be found on United, American Airlines, and more. All seats are 180-degree, fully-flat bed seats, which is nice during a multi-year cabin refresh.
I selected seat 77K, a window towards the center of the upper deck. The seat is located behind the emergency exit door which means no one is seated directly in front of you, though makes no difference when it comes to extra legroom. Do note, the extra space is used by the Flight Attendants during service and can be noisy.
The cabin itself has held up nicely, thought definitely showing signs of age. Not to say the seat is outdated, as it’s a common hard product, however, it’s just not the most cutting-edge design when compared to Qatar’s Q-Suites or United Polaris.
I tend to find the B/E Aerospace Diamond seat design to be on the narrow side, which is ironic as I consider myself to be an average build (5’10” and 160lbs). The length, though, is fantastic and can easily fit someone 7’ tall. The divider or center console between seats will house the seats (very) basic controls including the TV remote, tray table, and headset jack. The center divider also offers a little privacy, though not much.
Overall, decently comfortable seat, and perfect for a 10+ hour flight from Europe. Though, not a seat I would find comfortable on a 15+ hour flight.
Doors closed 5 minutes after scheduled departure, and pushback a few minutes later at 10:07AM.
We taxied for 20 minutes, around the edge of the airport to Runway 36. The aircraft’s powerful 4-engines revved-up and we were off the ground within seconds.
The flight leveled-off just 7 minutes after take-off. Not much to see as the weather was overcast and a bit moody, though made for a dramatic backdrop. The lead purser introduced herself to each passenger. Her check-in was sincere and offered her services, should we need it.
Drink service began at 10:55AM, now 20 minutes after leveling-off. I ordered a refreshing Flying Dutman, which is KLM’s signature gin drink mixed with blackberry liquer, lemon juice, and sugar syrup. I went on to have 2 more! A variety of diced cheeses and warm nuts were served alongside. I very much enjoyed the pre-departure snack.
I was also immediately drawn to all the beautiful and intricately-designed dishware. Every cup, plate, napkin, menu, and serving tray carried a branded and symmetrical ornate pattern that closely resembles my mother’s fine-China. It was a high-contrast blue and white design, so you took notice to the floral pattern. It was really gorgeous.
To start, passengers had a choice between a smoked beef carpaccio or Tomato soup, paired with a garden salad and bread. I selected the carpaccio, which looked unappetizing, though tasted fine.
Next the main course, which I selected the seasonal Dutch-inspired dish. My entree included large white asparagus with hollandaise sauce, traditionally prepared potatoes with herb butter, scrambled eggs, spinach, and pork ham. Again, my dish was fine, yet on the heavier side.
For dessert, I was offered a cheese plate, green apple dessert, ice cream, and fresh fruit. At this point, I was not satisfied with any of the food, so I went to town and asked for one of each. I’m glad I made up for the poor meal.
The main meal service spanned 1.5 hours, which I find to be a good pace. Sadly, nothing was at all memorable, except the beautiful dishware.
The second service began 1.5 hours before arrival. After hot towels, the pre-arrival lunch options included a potato and tomato salad, a selection between a hamburger or classic tuna sandwich, followed by flan. I selected the hamburger, which was not good, however, did enjoy the fancy ketchup and relish. The condiments thankfully brought back a little flavor to the burger, which was otherwise not edible.
The Entertainment + WiFi
KLM’s Inflight Entertainment is simple by design. It’s not very intuitive or difficult to use. Again, it was just fine.
The movie selection included 10 new releases and 24 random ones. I took the time to catch-up on my Grammy-nominated movies, so watched Lady Bird, then followed that up with Jumanji. Both were hysterical.
Unfortunately, WiFi was not offered on this flight.
After the main meal service, I decided to adjust to California time by taking a small nap, though it was full-on day flight. I managed to get 4-5 hours of rest and found the seat cushion to be naturally comfortable. I loved the seat length, which, again, could comfortably fit a 7’ tall person. I also love that the armrest can be stowed away, expanding the space of your seat. It was perfect for different sleeping positions.
The Captain began his initial welcome into Los Angeles an hour before arrival over the Grand Canyon and Los Vegas. Flight Attendants stopped by to add their thank you’s, which on KLM, includes a really fun and cute parting gift!(!!). KLM is known to gift their Business Class passengers with a liquor-filled, miniature model of a traditional Dutch house. There are about two dozen designs in the collection, which makes flying Business Class fun and exciting. I managed to walk away with two houses.
The flight began decent 35 minutes before arrival, and we landed 5 minutes early at 11:45AM local time. Another 15 minutes passed as we taxied around for our gate to open up. I deplaned at 12:00PM and cleared customs 9 minutes later, thanks to Global Entry.
Across every touchpoint, from the lounge to the cabin, the seat design, the food, and the entertainment – my overall thoughts on the KLM Business Class experience was fine. I consistently ranked each category in my travel journey a 6 or 7 for their slightly beyond average offering. Aside from the beautifully-designed dishware, which I would buy a set without hesitation, and the parting gift, I’m afraid nothing about their service was memorable. While I was very excited for the great fare and opportunity to try out a new carrier, there are other airline products I would want to fly before coming back to KLM, unless I come across another awesome fare.