In 1997, Northwest Airlines and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines entered into a 10-year, first-of-its-kind airline joint venture on trans Atlantic flights. That agreement provided anti-trust immunity to allow Northwest and KLM to share revenues and costs and to coordinate schedules on certain routes between North America and Europe. The agreement was expanded to include Air France and Alitalia after Northwest merged with Delta Airlines.
I’ve been a Northwest/Delta frequent flyer since the 80’s. The joint venture was my introduction to KLM and to flying non U.S. airlines. It was eye opening to experience a new airline and a European hub. Amsterdam Schipol Airport, KLM ‘s home base, is considered to be one of the best airports in the world. However as my travel to Asia increased, my flights to Europe diminished. Although I’ve flown KLM in economy class recently, it had been six or seven years since my last flight on KLM in business class.
KLM Flight 061
Upgrading to Business Class
Returning form my first trip to Greece, the final flight to the U.S. was on KLM. I purchased an economy seat. As a Delta Diamond Medallion, I had Global Upgrade Certificates that could be used on KLM. Those certificates could only be used with expensive economy fares and I was on a very cheap ticket. So after arriving from Athens, I went to KLM Crown Lounge 52 to ask about an upgrade to business class.
The line stemmed from the Monday morning crush of business flyers and reduced capacity from overdue lounge renovations. The renovations will take nearly two years to complete.
Once inside, an agent said upgrades were available for 400 Euro and 25,000 Delta Sky Miles. There was an aisle seat available on the 747-400 upper deck. If you have read my posts on the 747, you know I love the 747 upper deck. I accepted the offer. It was a better value than the upgrade to premium economy on Air France on the outbound flight.
Flight monitors were showing a one-hour flight delay until 11:00. I left the lounge at 10:30 when the monitors showed boarding had started.
AMS is a very nice airport and has been ranked as one of the world’s best. It has great shopping and all flights depart from the same terminal. In my view at least, AMS’ ranking has dropped in the last few years as other airports have opened or been significantly remodeled.
One problem with AMS is that boarding gates are set up in a manner that makes orderly boarding difficult. Boarding for this flight was chaotic.
KLM 747-400 New World Business Class Cabin and Seat
Interestingly, KLM calls its business-class product World Business Class, which is the same name Northwest used for its business class, and Crown Room as the name of Delta lounges back in the day. Flying KLM business class brought back a twinge of nostalgia for Northwest days.
KLM outfits the 747 with its “New” World Business Class product with fully lie-flat seats. There are only 35 seats in business class. Twenty are on the upper deck arranged 2-2. Three of the business-class seats on the main deck are single seats.
Thirty-five business-class seats is not many for a jumbo jet. This flight was a Combi 747 with 36 Economy Comfort seats and 197 economy seats. “Combi” refers to a KLM 747 in which 140 economy seats aft of the fourth exit door have been removed to create additional room for freight. Even non-Combi KLM 747s have only 35 business-class seats.
My seat was 72B a bulkhead aisle seat on the port side.
The ottoman is relatively roomy. No sticking your feet into a tight tube. The space under the ottoman can be convenient for a backpack during cruise.
Seats have 63 inches of pitch and are 20 inches wide. When fully reclined, the bed is 80 inches long. Seat controls and video remote are mounted on the console. The seat controls are straightforward and simple to operate. A/C power outlet, headphone jack and storage area for headphones during cruise is situated between the seats at shoulder level.
The feature I like most about this seat is the tray table that deploys without needing to remove anything from the console.
These seats lack much in the way of storage. A small open compartment below the video screen is the only place to keep items during takeoff and landing.
The amenities were the basic items you’d expect in business class on a trans-Atlantic flight – headphones, a small amenity kit, blanket and pillow.
The amenities in the comfort bag were supplemented nicely by Zenology deodorant, face and body mist, and moisturizer in the business-class lavatory.
Pre-departure service consisted of beverages and distribution of menus.
After the PDB service, the captain announced that a problem in the cargo hold would delay takeoff further. We didn’t push back until 12:03, just over two hours late. There was no further service during the delay. I passed the time by starting a movie.
Takeoff was at 12:17 on Runway 24 (known as Kaagbaan) one of the closest runways to the terminal. I’ve been on flights landing or departing on runways at AMS that are so far from the terminal it seemed like they might be in another country.
Service started only 12 minutes after takeoff when the flight attendants took orders for lunch. They came by with hot towels immediately after that. These were the menus for this flight:
There was a very good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
A beverage service began at 12:43.
A second round of drinks were offered at 13:14 before the meal.
These were the food menus:
First Meal Service
Lunch began with Quinoa and a spicy pickle relish.
My entree was chicken thighs in Madras curry. Chicken thighs are one of my favorites.
To top off the meal, I had a small but tasty dessert of frozen yogurt, goat cheese and crackers.
While checking out the in-flight entertainment system, I helped myself to some of the packaged snacks.
About four hours into the flight, the flight attendants served a snack.
Arrival Meal and the Best Part of the Whole Flight
About 90 minutes before arrival at IAH we were served the arrival meal. It was about 13:40 Houston time. The meal was a light lunch. I appreciated being given a time-appropriate meal. Egg dishes on planes are are usually pretty tasteless. This burger hit the spot.
I thought lunch was good but I was blown away by dessert.
In-Flight Entertainment System (IFE)
I was impressed by some unique features KLM’s IFE system offers in addition to the usual assortment of movies and music. For aviation buffs, there are terrific cockpit videos about various aspects of flying.
The information on the Relaxline portion of the system was exceptionally detailed and helpful if one took the time to explore it. Relaxline is an interactive relaxation tool developed by experts in stress management and relaxation.
Relaxline provides tips on relaxation, eating, sleeping, and minimizing jet lag.
This information is great except that I found taking the time and effort to read the extensive and detailed information about relaxing to be somewhat… stressful.
I also give KLM kudos for including the Berlitz Word Traveler system on IFE. This system covers 28 languages. Being able to communicate two or three simple words or phrases in the local language always makes a good impression.
Before landing passengers were offered a choice of KLM Delft Blue Amsterdam canal houses filled with Bols gin.
The flight landed at IAH at 15:12 about two hours later than the scheduled arrival time.
A few things stand out about this flight. First, I love flying 747s on the upper deck. This flight was no exception. Even though the cabin was configured 2-2, being isolated from the masses below still produced some of the “private jet” feel of the Delta 747 upper deck. Second, in addition to the Word Traveler system, the IFE had some outstanding and unique features like cockpit videos and Relaxline. Third, I’ve never had apple pie on a plane the way KLM served it. The pie was one of the best airborne desserts ever. Fourth, the flight attendants provided excellent service that was not dry or business like as sometimes happens on European carriers. Last, and not least, I added to my Amsterdam House collection. I’m saving the gin for some yet-to-be-identified special occasion.