Ready for boarding - Photo: Erwyn van der Meer |FlickrCC

Ready for boarding – Photo: Erwyn van der Meer |FlickrCC

If you tallied up the number of flight reviews on this site, you will notice that the majority of them are for business and first class. It turns out that premium cabins are just more interesting than economy, with all the fancy lie-flat suites, and butler service in your private bedroom. More often than not, economy is, well….boring. But sometimes it can be pretty exciting — depending on what kind of plane you are flying.

That’s the position I found myself in recently when I flew back to the 1990s on board KLM’s Fokker 70 and Boeing 747-400 “combi.” Both aircraft types have become exceedingly rare, and I jumped at a chance to fly them between Hamburg, Germany and New York, via Amsterdam.

A KLM Fokker F70 - Photo: Roderick Eime | FlickrCC

A KLM Fokker F70 – Photo: Roderick Eime | FlickrCC

KLM ECONOMY REVIEW: Flying on the Fokker F70

With only 47 airframes built, the Fokker F70 was never a popular aircraft. Two of the largest operators today, KLM and Austrian Airlines, are both phasing them out in favor of more efficient aircraft like the Embraer E175. The F70 is a stubby little aircraft, resembling a Boeing 717 that never quite hit its growth spurt. The Rolls-Royce Tay 620 turbofan engines dominate the view out the window of the last few rows, and that is exactly where I opted to sit.

Comfortable seats and an epic #AvGeek view!

Comfortable seats and an epic #AvGeek view!

KLM’s F70s are actually quite a comfortable ride. Recently refurbished with roomy Acro seats and even LED lighting, the F70 was markedly more comfortable than the tired Embraer E190 I flew into Hanover on. The seat comfort was simply a bonus on top of the spectacular view out my window, and accompanying Rolls-Royce powered symphony.

On the short 40-minute hop to Amsterdam, the cabin crew distributed a snack box containing a small wrap and package of water, a service more than sufficient for the short flight. After another round of water, we were already on approach to Schiphol and the flight was over as quickly as it began. This flight did not receive a gate, and parked in the “Fokker Farm.” As far as I could see, there were Fokker 70s parked in every direction. More and more Embraer E175s and E190s are taking their place, and I guess the Fokker Farm will become the Embrear Farm over time. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, right?

A Boeing 747-400 combi loads while another 747 taxis in the background - Photo: Pieter van Marion | FlickrCC

A Boeing 747-400 combi loads while another 747 taxis in the background – Photo: Pieter van Marion | FlickrCC

KLM ECONOMY REVIEW: Flying on the Boeing 747-400 Combi

After a quick walk across Schiphol, I arrived at my connecting gate to find my flight was about ready to board. This flight to New York would be operated by the Boeing 747-400M, affectionately referred to as “the combi.” Unlike almost all passenger aircraft where cargo is held only on the lower deck, the combi splits the main deck between passengers and cargo. The forward three quarters of the main deck hold passengers, just like any other 747 in the world, while the rear quarter of the main deck is a cargo hold. This enables combination (aka combi) operators to carry additional cargo, which may just be more profitable than passengers.

Seating layout of the KLM 747-400M Combi.

Seating layout of the KLM 747-400M Combi – Image: KLM

The only on-board hint that something is different about this aircraft is the rear bulkhead. There are two doors leading to the cargo area, flanked with a whole bunch of smoke hoods. These hoods would be worn by the cabin crew in case a fire were to break out in the rear cargo section. Other than this small detail, there are virtually on-board no clues to the unique nature of this aircraft for the normal passenger.

The rear bulkhead of the combi is lined with smoke hoods, while the galley stretches lenghwise down the cabin

The rear bulkhead of the combi is lined with smoke hoods, while the galley stretches lenghwise down the cabin

I opted to purchase an Economy Comfort seat on this flight, which gives passengers a few inches of extra legroom. While not a feature unique to the combi, there is something weird about this mini-cabin on KLMs 747s. Almost all aircraft flying today are configured with galleys that stretch width-wise, or side to side. On its 747s, KLM opted for length-wise galleys. This has the benefit of proving extra work space for the cabin crew, but makes it so that the Economy Comfort cabin only has windows on the left side of the aircraft. The right side of the cabin is a bare wall. Absolutely bizarre.

3-2 seating on a 747? Must be KLM! The long galley splits the aircraft down the middle, resulting in a weird windowless right sidewall

3-2 seating on a 747? Must be KLM! The long galley splits the aircraft down the middle, resulting in a weird windowless right sidewall

While World Business Class recently received a total refresh, seeing an upgrade to fully-flat beds in a 2-2 configuration, economy remains as it was in the 1990s. Each seat has its own entertainment screen, a system which must have been one of the original cutting edge on-demand options when this aircraft was delivered. The screen is 4×3 (not the modern 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio) and was never quite bright enough for a daytime flight. The wiring box under the middle seat was massive, taking away precious foot space as well. The best I could say about this system is that it worked. There were also no USB or power ports or Wi-Fi, amenities that are becoming a necessity for long-haul flying.

Sure, I could show you another picture of the cabin interior. But isn't this shot of the engines more fun?

Sure, I could show you another picture of the cabin interior. But isn’t this shot of the engines more fun?

Shortly after the four General Electric CF6-80C2 engines hurled us into the sky, the cabin crew kicked into gear for the seven-hour flight to New York. This was my first time flying KLM long-haul, and I can say with total certainty that this cabin crew, or at least the purser who was attending to my cabin, was one of the best I have ever seen. He was attentive, but not overly assertive. Friendly and funny, but not to the point where it distracted from his tasks. When I asked what beer was available during the drink service (Sidebar: Can airlines please get their beer offerings in line? Figure out which beers you will offer on board and put it in the menu like you do for every other drink) I received a friendly scolding, and was promptly handed a Heineken. Touché, Amsterdam.

While partner airline Air France still distributes paper menus in economy, KLM does not. An announcement was made to check the entertainment system for a menu, and I am probably the only personal that actually did just that. I was impressed to find a full menu with colorful descriptions and pictures, and I made my choice. Unfortunately, the menu on the entertainment system was out of date, and the options presented to me by the flight attendant were totally different. On a snap decision, I opted for the chicken dish.

KLM 747 Combi Meal

The presentation was was good enough, as was the chicken. The real star of the meal service, however, was the dessert. It was some sort of chocolate drizzled marshmallow cookie crumble with cream-filled pastry ball….thing. I seriously have no clue what it is really called, but I would pay good money for it at home. A warm cinnamon bun was served before landing, a snack once again worthy of my hard-earned money on the ground. Whomever caters KLM’s desserts knows their stuff.

My ride on KLM’s 747 combi was about as perfect as a flight on a slightly dated, oddball aircraft could have been. Sure, it was missing the bells and whistles of the 787, like electrochromatic windows and USB ports. But the seats were old school comfortable (none of that 9 or 10-abreast nonsense), the service outstanding, and the #AvGeek credentials were through the roof.

CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Jason is an #AvGeek that does passenger experience research, data analysis, and writes things about airlines, airplanes and travel. Email: [email protected].

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34 Comments
Fred Christiansen

Did this combi have an upper deck with seats. Wasn’t clear from the “floorplan” if it had one. … Away back in early 1977, my wife and I flew a KLM 747 from Amsterdam to Montreal. We were seated in the upper deck. Just to stretch my legs, I went down the stairs to the main deck and walked towards the back. I was startled with how quickly I came to a bulkhead. Have always wondered if it was a 747 Combi or a 747SP.

The upper deck contains additional World Business Class seats, in a 2-2 config.

It was probably a 747-200 Combi. I don’t believe KLM ever flew the 747SP

Love the Fokker 70. I flew LHR-AMS-SAW a year ago with a horrible three-hour red-eye on the AMS-SAW leg (codeshare operated by Pegasus) so that I could fly the F70 on LHR-AMS. Totally worth it! Also been on KLM’s 74M twice on the HKG-AMS route and remember the galley well. It was an overnight flight and we were in darkness for the entire duration so it didn’t make a huge difference but I can imagine how weird it would be during a daytime flight.

It really wasn’t all that weird. I was in a window seat on the left, so I had mine (mostly) open. Wasn’t really paying attention to what other people were doing.

CaptainSpeedbird1974

You’re lucky w/ the 74M & F70 . When I flew KLM to Rome from IAD I rode a A332 & 739. I had a window seat on the A332 & it was kinda claustrophobic. On the way back it was a 737-7 & A333. The flight from AMS back to IAD was delayed. I wa stuck for 5 hours . The IFE on the A330s was crap & had very small text (selection was ok tho. BTW the catering is good so you weren’t wrong. Overall I was not impressed with KLM. British Airways is much better in almost every way. ❤️✈️❤️

I think the dessert you had was Profiteroles.

That’s it! But they were also served over a bed of something delicious. I think marshmallow?

That’s a lot of old-school metal! I think we can agree these are oddballs of the commercial aviation world. Much #AvGeek credentials earned (along with frequent flier miles I hope.)

The F70s may be leaving, but at least their E175 replacements are the PLUS variety, not like the ordinary E175s plugging away in the American regionals. Counts for something, right?

And it looks like all the F70s are going to… the South Pacific! Austrian’s are going to Alliance of Australia, and KLM’s are going to Air Niugini. Good thing they’re getting second lives instead of rotting away in some boneyard.

There are lots of the new enhanced E175s flying around the US, mainly with United and American. The F70 will be hard to beat, though. What a ride that was!

Oh that’s good to know. Although if we want to be dead-on accurate it would be “Air Wisconsin, Envoy Air, Republic Airlines, Mesa Airlines, and Skywest Airlines”, but that would be picking nits, and I’m not a fan of picking nits.

jl johnson

Sweet write-up, Jason. I absolutely love the oddball aircraft reviews, and you managed to score two in one! My hat is off to you.

Thanks, JL! I booked months prior to flying, all the while keeping that faith that KLM wouldn’t sub out the F70 for a 737 or E-jet and the Combi wouldn’t become some boring Boeing. KLM delivered!

I loved reading this review! I flew this same aircraft, in the same cabin last September from AMS – LAX. I remember being as geeked as you were to fly this – the only other 747s I’d flow were VA and didn’t offer anything special. Being in the Economy Comfort section felt very cool as well. I would have chosen one of the 2 seats in order to take advantage of the additional space between the seat and the galley wall, but I wanted to see those engines out the window. I also had a really good dessert that was a sort of bread pudding / sorbet / tiramisu. Sounds gross, but was delicious! Wonderful review – I love reading this type of content. Keep it coming.

The odd thing about the extra space along the galley wall is that there is enough room to walk, but there’s nowhere to get out of the space. So you still have to have your seatmate get up to let you out.

Nice review! I usually fly KLM as they are one of only two operators from LPI, and earlier it was handled by the F70 to AMS. Now it is replaced with the larger E190, but the F70 was definitely more comfortable. I’ve also flown the combi a couple of times AMS – BKK, and one of the nicest things about it is that it is a large aircraft but with quite few passengers; boarding and bagage pick-up tend to be rather quick.

Yea, the E190 was a real disappointment on KLM. The cabin was in dire need of a refurbishment.

Thank you, Jason, for the nice review. My carreer is based on these two as I starter out as co-pilot F70 (later /100) at KLM Cityhopper to become captain F70/100 for 4,5 years six years later. Now I’m co-pilot 747-400 for 4,5 years and still enjoying flying the icon!

Sadly both will be phased out. The F70 will be gone in 1,5 years from now and the 747 in about 4 years….

I really wanted to get the F70 and 400combi before they are retired, and mission accomplished! Hey, maybe you were working my flight to JFK?

Which date?

No, sorry. It wasn’t me… I flew to JFK on April the 16th….

One of the best — if not the best — flight/equipment reviews I’ve read. Thank you, Jason.

Thank you so much for reading!

Actually about the entertainment screens, they are relatively new to KLM in economy. I remember up until 2010 that economy class was without TV screens on the combi when i used to make regular hops on the AMS-HKG route! Although the screens are nothing great, they are still an improvement over what they had 5 years ago – Nothing 🙂 Best Regards.

I’m an old avgeek from way back with a private license that I haven’t used in years. I just have to say that, back in the late 80s (I believe – at my age my memory is dimming), I flew an Air France 747-200 Combi Bangkok to Delhi. It was one of life’s great memories for me as (back then) we were still allowed onto the flight deck. I sat in the jumpseat behind the captain (he and the first officer were reading newspapers) for almost an hour over the Bay of Bengal. All the while, the flight engineer was explaining his gauges to me. Something wasn’t quite right with one of the engines (increased fuel flow I believe), which he pointed out to me. I was on the flight deck on Concorde for a few minutes back in 1995, but my Combi experience is the one that I recall most vividly.

That sounds absolutely amazing!

A very in-depth and interesting review! I would definitely agree that the combi is a very odd aircraft, more-so with the length-wise galley and windowless Economy Plus cabin. I’m surprised that the entire lower-deck of the aircraft is serviced by a single galley. Did you think it was large enough to accommodate everything? Anyways, thank you for the article, and I look forward to more.

There’s a small galley at the rear of the passenger cabin, though I do not believe they can prepare meals there, or anything beyond minor tasks. The crew seemed to do well enough, and I know that they love this configuration, so it must work just fine for them.

Remember the aircraft interior was designed in the 80’s guys….

The big galley in front was to serve the then still existing first class combined with business class at KLM. This was situated in the front ‘point’ of the 747. The area where now the economy comfort is (left side along the big galley was business class. In the combi there are 2 more galley’s on the main deck: one just behind the stairs an one in the end of the passenger compartment. Those two serve the economy class. In the ‘full pax version of KLM the layout of galley’s on the main deck is the same however immediately behind the back combi galley there is another one to serve the seats situated in the area which is cargo at the combi.

In both cases the upper deck has one galley in the back of the ‘humb’

Thai airways still has the same galley arrangement in their 747 with business class seats where KLM has premium economy.

Trish C

I just flew on the 747-400 combi from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. Very thankful to have paid the extra to get an “Economy Comfort” seat after witnessing the appalling squashed-in configuration the poor souls in the economy section were subjected to, and glad I didn’t select a seat on the window-less side. Your assessment “My ride on KLM’s 747 combi was about as perfect as a flight on a slightly dated, oddball aircraft could have been” was spot on. The staff were lovely and the food pleasant enough, but they might as well not bother with inflight “entertainment” with the systems they have in place. The flight tracker was slow, dated-looking and clunky, and mostly presented in Chinese characters despite my constantly going back to check “English” as the language. The screen was grainy and the sound poor. Overall I found the experience of flying on KLMs 747-400 combi one I would not wish to repeat unless I really had to.

Trish C

Oh – and one other real oddball thing about this flight was having to go forward and round through the galley to disembark, instead of going out through the door we came in by. Quite bizarre 😀

Justin

I’ll be flying the queen YYZ-AMS-YYZ this July. Might as well get a trip on a 747-400 before they are all retired in a couple of years. And I’ll be going economy comfort!

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