KLM 737-800 (PH-BXT) at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, ready to take us to Prague, with a 737-700 (PH-BGW) taxiing behind

KLM 737-900 (PH-BXT) at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, ready to take us to Prague, with a 737-700 (PH-BGW) taxiing behind

Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij is not exactly a household name in most of the world, but its initials “KLM” and sky blue branding and livery are easily recognizable. I had a quick visit to Amsterdam before moving on to Prague this past spring, so flying on the national carrier of The Netherlands out of its homebase was the most obvious choice.

As I’ve pointed out numerous times, the European concept of business class (some better service, but the same seat as in economy, just with the middle seat blocked) is never worth it on personal trips, especially for a short flight blocked for 90 minutes gate-to-gate.  Addtionally, flying KLM (being a member of SkyTeam) meant flying outside my alliance, so no priority anything nor lounge access.

What could possibly go wrong?!

  • KLM Flight KL1355, Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) to Prague (PRG)
  • Departure time at 12:00 noon, arrival time 1:30 pm
  • Aircraft: Boeing 737-900 (739), Reg. No. PH-BXT, MSN 32944, delivered April 2004
  • Seats 12A, 12C

From our hotel in the city center, my wife and I took an UberX ride that cost a flat 28 EUR. Unlike many other European cities that have banned Uber from operating either at the airport or anywhere in those cities, Amsterdam still allows them to operate. Traffic in the city was a bit slow, but the freeways were pretty open and it took about 25 minutes for us to reach the check-in counters.

Roadway leading into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Roadway leading into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

Being that we were at its home base, we easily found the KLM counters. We had one piece of luggage (full of souvenirs) to check in, for which we prepaid 25 EUR when we checked-in online; at the airport would have been 35 EUR. We also had to print out our boarding pass, so we bypassed their high-tech self-serve bag drop system, which most passengers seemed to know how to use, with a few tourists needing assistance from the attendants manning the area.

Self-serve bag drop counter for KLM at Amsterdam Schiphol

Self-serve bag drop counter for KLM at Amsterdam Schiphol

It only took about five minutes for us to get our boarding passes and drop off our bag, so the next stop was the security checkpoint. On our way there, we were “intercepted” by a roaming KLM agent who took exception to our travel backpacks (that we didn’t have any problems on any prior flight, nor subsequent flight). She had us follow her to another check-in counter where she was ready to nail us for another baggage fee x 2.

First she had us put our bags in the sizer, and much to her chagrin they fit easily. Next she had us weigh the bags, and while one bag was 0.1 kg over the 12 kg total limit, I simply took out my food and the bags were compliant. At this point, this rogue agent was determined to make us check one bag, so she then claimed the bags didn’t fit in the overhead space. There were a few problems with this whole interaction:

  • We were on a 737, but regardless they had fit in the sizer already;
  • She claimed we were on a KLM Cityhopper flight, which we weren’t because 737, and even then our bags would have fit on an Embraer E-190 anyway.
  • She was trying to make us check only one and not both, which makes no sense;
  • Finally, she tried to pull “it’s for your own safety” card.

I don’t know what she was trying to accomplish, but finally she relented, saying that it wouldn’t be her fault if the cabin crew made us gate check the bag. Oy vey.

We finally joined the security queue, which seemed long but was moving fairly well. The premium lanes had no one in them… so envious. But then we learned one hard truth about security at AMS… once you choose a belt, you are not allowed to switch.

Why this is important is tied to our next lesson: If any passenger needs additional screening, including their bags, the entire queue has to stop and wait, unlike elsewhere where they just pull the passenger in question aside and everyone flows around them.

I learned the first lesson by trying to grab my bags to move to another line, and was told in no uncertain terms that I could not do so. So we waited… and waited… and waited… as literally every single passenger ahead of me required additional screening. From putting my bags on the belt to leaving again took 25 minutes. Just an awful way to conduct security screenings, in my opinion.

Finally away from security (incidentally, we did not need additional screening), we headed straight to the gate to find that the boarding process had just began (so much for a relaxing stroll!).

It was a mass of people maneuvering around a long row of seats towards the two boarding pass scanners. As most of the mob was jockeying for position in the concourse, we joined the much shorter queue near the windows and ended up halfway through the crowd, so no worries about not running out of overhead space (and no, the gate and cabin crew had no problems with our bags).

Passengers at Amsterdam Schiphol. boarding a KLM flight to Prague

Passengers at Amsterdam Schiphol boarding a KLM flight to Prague

The flight was about 75% full, and my wife and I had previously assigned ourselves to seats 12A and 12C, leaving the middle seat between us hoping that it would stay empty, which it did. We happened to be surrounded by other American tourists, and everyone was just being generally chatty with everyone else as passengers were still boarding.

Then we experience something that truly caught us off guard: while there were about a dozen passengers still in the aisle waiting to get to their seats and overhead bins still open, the aircraft abruptly lurched backwards, the telltale sign of pushback. We hadn’t even received an announcement over the PA system that the door was closed, much less that we were pushing back; the other passengers around us agreed that we weren’t imagining things. I even tweeted at KLM about it, and they assured me that the details “would be forwarded to the concerned department.”

With the “early” pushback, we departed on time and was wheels-up just a few minutes later, with all passengers buckled-up in their seats and bins closed, thankfully. Once we reached cruising altitude, the crew quickly came through with their beverage and snack service. The flight attendants were very warm and personable… a smile goes a long way, even when they’re trying to rush through service with about 125 passengers with an hour-long flight.

BONUS: Party Like It’s 1999 – Flying on KLM’s Fokker 70 and 747 Combi

And indeed, it was a change to have such niceties on a short flight; definitely not the same in the U.S. I was handed a simple sandwich of chicken ham with a curry slaw on wheat, which wasn’t bad, and a small soft drink. The box had a fun story about the source of my food.

Before we knew it, we were making our descent into PRG. Being much less busy than AMS, we landed and quickly taxied to our gate.

Overall, this trip certainly was problematic, and I definitely didn’t have as much fun as Jason getting to know his Fokker. At first I was afraid that, flying without status, we would encounter a few annoyances; however it turned out most of the issues we faced had nothing to do with lack of status. I know my sample size of one trip isn’t statistically significant… I’m sure that AMS is a fine airport to connect in and that KLM is a good operation overall. The flight I took was definitely the most convenient and direct, with alternatives unreasonably higher in price (I’m looking at you, CSA Czech and Travel Services!), but at this time I can’t wholeheartedly give my “stamp of approval” and book my next trip on KLM without some hesitation.

The tower and unique porthole windows on the jetbridges at Amsterdam Schiphol

The tower and unique porthole windows on the jetbridges at Amsterdam Schiphol

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SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - LOS ANGELES, CA. With LAX serving as a second home, John enjoys being confined to an aluminum (or now carbon composite) cylinder jetting through the air miles above the terra firma. He has logged millions of miles in such conditions and enjoyed it 99% of the time. Email: john@airlinereporter.com. You can also read more about John's non-AVGeek musings on his personal blog, VNAFlyer.

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Up, Up, and Away with the TWA Museum in Kansas City, MO
11 Comments
Jonathan in France

Bravo for administering a well-merited kick in the ass to KLM. Not just crummy customer service but a flagrant violation of the rules. Disgraceful.

Weird to read about the rogue agent. I travel often from Amsterdam and never had that issue, not even with a personal item and carry-on. I’m curious to look into this next time I fly from AMS.

Charles

I had a similar, albeit reversed, carry-on experience at AMS last year. An overzealous BA gate agent (or contract rep, I don’t remember off-hand) was hell-bent on having me check my 21″ Tumi, which has fit on every single overhead I’ve ever tried to put it in, including Embraers. Granted, it was a bit stuffed (had been in Norway and Sweden in late Jan), but I was able to get it into the sizer without any difficulty. After some incredulous expressions on my part, she finally relinquished. In all, it was pretty embarrassing to have to deal with that in front of the entire boarding queue.

I get that airlines want to maximize their ancillary revenue, but there’s got to be a line somewhere.

William

What were the dimensions of the bag?
Did it conform to the rules of the airline?
If so, i understand the complaint. If it just ‘beccause’ you normally get away with it, that’s hardly a reason to call the agent ‘rogue’.
Ryanair also uses 737s – they’re forever moving stuff in to the hold – either because they’re big or there are 90 already on board. There just isn’t the room.

William

Ps i’ve always had a smooth time at AMS, regardless of airline. I stick to the states airline policy. I’d love to check your Tumi bag. ANd if it was within the rules, then the airline need to be notified so they don’t piss other passengers about next time.

Charles

It conforms. I don’t have the dimensions handy. My experience was probably just a one-off, but I thought it was a relevant data point given John’s story. I did let BA know about it via a post-flight survey they sent.

I was on a Lufthansa A-321 several years ago that pushed back from the gate in Tel Aviv (on our way to Frankfurt) with passengers still in the aisle…..I just thought European airlines did things a little differently at the time!

R. Clark

Very surprised by your experiences – I fly 60+ flights a year with KLM thru AMS and have always found them to be extremely efficient and very polite and professional. The aircraft are always spotless and the service is generally very reliable, with any issues promptly dealt with.

Jim Benner

Couldn’t help but chuckle after reading the carton that your sandwich came in ☺. They brag about how nice they treat their chickens but leave out the fact that they slaughter them for food .

A good report John, but KLM’s long haul products, hard and soft, far superior to their domestic and intra-European services. Honestly, those are terrible an usually not worth the trouble. A blocked coach seat is not the same as business class seat, anywhere else in the world. IMO, I think KLM should follow the model set by several others and either do it correctly – do don’t do it. (LH has the same situation in Germany and they have yet to improve the situation. If when I can make or take the time, for almost any intra-European trip of up to ~~3,000 km, really prefer to take the train. ) Considering the terminal time and cost, it is usually a wash. I do not know the break-point, but the train is oh so much easier, usually providing great meals and a zero-stress environment. Did I mention that I like most European trains a lot better? They are actually FUN. Why were you and wife not on a train? Why?

Martin Wright

This is the first time I have come across your site and was immediately drawn to the KLM article and have total empathy.I have to say that whilst I fly KLM regularly and hub via AMS there is a strange efficiency that at times doesn’t take into account the people factor. My advice to anyone connecting with KLM in AMS is to check the connection time, take care when you have less than 50 mins as immigration queues are shocking and even if you plead with the ground staff do not expect any favours! As for missed connections and lost luggage – KLM will probably blame you first rather than admit that they are at fault.

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