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.
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.
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).
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.”
@FlyinaTube Thank you for bringing this to our attention, J. Please know that we do not take such things lightly. We have sent the details>>— Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM) April 26, 2016
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.
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.