Delta Air Lines Airbus A330 with a KLM Boeing 747-400 in the background in Amsterdam.
This was my last leg of my RwandAir adventure. I had already flown from Seattle to Rwanda in a 737 and just completed a 10 hour flight from Kigali, Rwanda to Amsterdam on a KLM A330. I was already pretty tired and wasn’t sure how my mind, body and spirit would do on another ten hour ride in a different A330. On the positive side, I was looking forward to comparing two international Airbus A330s back-to-back. Overall, I have to say I like the
Northwest Delta Air Lines A330 long haul premium economy a bit better than KLM’s.
When arriving into Amsterdam, I had a three hour layover and I was hoping to check out their observation deck. Before plane spotting, I needed to do some charging of my laptop and cell phone, since my last ten hour flight did not have in-seat power and neither would my next one. The classic hunt for an open outlet was on.
I started down the concourse looking from side to side. I kept going and going and’¦ well, going. Seriously? After 45 minutes looking up and down concourses D, E and F, I found an outlet about seven feet up for vending machines, one in the bathroom, one on a fire hose holder and one on a center pillar in a crowded walkway. I choose to deal with the crowds and sat down on the floor (looking like an idiot by the way) by the pillar, plugged in my phone and then’¦ nothing. Sweet, this outlet did not work. Now the debate was did I want to look like even more of an idiot standing in the bathroom charging my phone, climbing on a vending machine or using an outlet on a fire hose that might cause some alarm to go off. I figured my best bet was with the fire hose and luckily it worked. The bad part was it took so long to juice up, that I wasn’t able to check out the observation deck ’“ save it for next time I guess.
Delta Economy Comfort seat on an Airbus A330.
I figured I might as well head to the gate, where I received my first body scan. We had to wait in a small waiting area at the gate for our flight, which had little entertainment before being able to board. I was sitting in Delta Economy Comfort, which gave me four additional inches of seat pitch, 50% more recline, priority boarding and free alcohol. You also sit near the front of the plane, which means you are first to customs after arriving in Seattle. .
Even with the extra four inches, I was unable to fully stretch out my legs since there was a huge in-flight entertainment box under my seat, negating the extra leg room. You would think with a large electrical box like that under your seat, they would at least give you an outlet, but there was none. Reading on SeatGuru.com, it looks like only Business Class has outlets. Good thing I did some charging during my layover.
One nice surprise was seeing an air vent in the overhead bin. I absolutely love my air vents, since I am normally hot and that little breeze can make a huge difference. Sure, most domestic aircraft have air vents, but I am finding more and more long haul Boeing 747, 777, Airbus A330/A330 and the A380 are lacking them.
During both legs (KGL to AMS and AMS to SEA), I had window seats. When flying on the KLM A330, I noticed that there was quite a bit of room between the seat and the wall and was wishing the outer arm rest would raise, allowing me access to that extra room. It was too bad that the armrest would not rise on the KLM A330, but it did rise on Delta’s. This gave me an extra three inches or so of seat width and I was starting to get the feeling that this might be a good flight. Unfortunately we ran into some trouble pretty quickly.
Taking off from Amsterdam.
After boarding we were told there would be a delay. It turns out that the amount of fuel that the truck indicated being pumped into the aircraft, didn’t match the A330’s gauges. Delays can be annoying, but I am willing to wait to make sure we have enough fuel — I am old fashioned like that. It took about an hour to determine that the truck had the failure and after all the paperwork was completed, we took off.
When getting my free headphones given by Delta out of their plastic bag I accidently ripped one of the wires. Not a big deal, I figured I could just ring the call button and quickly get a new one. I decided to try something new; time how long it would take for a flight attendant to assist me after ringing the call button. I decided I would make eye contact with a flight attendant walking by, but I would not say anything like “excuse me,” to put them to the test.
I rang the call button and waited. And waited. And holy crap waited some more. At the 10 minute mark I turned off my call light and rang it again. During those ten minutes I had two different flight attendants walk by, but they did not stop’¦ they did not even make eye contact. At the 15 minute mark I turned off my call light and rang it again. Another flight attendant walked by, but still nothing. I could see that my call light was on and the “ding” noise was definitely making its sound.
At about 18 minutes a flight attendant came by for trash. I was waiting for her to ask me about my light, but she didn’t. I decided I really wanted to start watching a movie, so I asked her for another head phone set, which she got right away. I am not normally one who uses the call button and I have never timed it before, but I am pretty certain that 18 minutes and three flight attendants walking by is not okay. It takes a lot to get me annoyed or frustrated on a flight and this definitely did it.
OH YES! The armrest near the window moves, giving me more room.
When trying to relax, the recline of the Economy Comfort was great. However, when the person in front of me was enjoying their extra 50% recline, it was not so great ’“ actually pretty annoying. I am normally one that doesn’t recline my seat, since I do not want to disturb the person behind me, but I really had to recline a bit to open my laptop, even with the extra four inches.
During the flight, I was served two different meals. One was your standard airline pasta, but the second was pizza. Both of them were pretty decent and I thought it was pretty slick having pizza on the plane. I really didn’t get to enjoy all the amenities in the flight, since I slept through most of it. Having the ability to raise my outer armrest really gave me one of my best economy sleeps with someone sitting next to me. I landed in Seattle feeling a lot better than I thought I would after 24 hours of economy flight.
A FEW MORE PHOTOS
A KLM MD-11 at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
As you might know, I am not a fan of body scanners. They provide a false sense of security, violate your privacy, cost too much money and are easy to avoid. Even with all my travels, I have been proud being able to avoid a scan or pat down. In the US, the TSA makes it simple to choose a line that is not operating a body scanner. It is satisfying knowing that the TSA were not the ones that finally got me; it was the security at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). Guess what? I am okay with it.
Security at Amsterdam is much better and thorough than anything I have experienced while traveling in the US. First off, there was a security check at the actual gate. Meaning they are dealing with a smaller group of people, where they can spend more time with each passenger. First, everyone has their passport and boarding pass reviewed, then scanned. Next, passengers stand one on one with a security person as they ask you questions about who you are, where you are going, etc. They are checking how you react and if any flags are raised to cause additional scrutiny. I was only asked a few questions and able to go, but many were there for much longer. It seems smart to have trained employees to detect any issues with an individual. I am guessing that they are paid more than your average TSA employee — and for good reason.
After your talk, it is time to have your bags and body scanned. Much like in the US, you place your bags on a belt, but in this case there was no avoiding the body scanner. Every passenger is required to go through the body scanner. That’s right… No picking or choosing which line to go through.
The security officers welcomed me into the body scanner and asked me how I was doing. This wasn’t some trick to see if I was a “bad guy,” this was just customer service.
I lifted my hands, the scanner went on and was nicely asked to exit the machine. Unlike in the US, where a mysterious person is hiding somewhere viewing your image, I could see my image right outside the scanner, but I was not worried. It was not an image of my naked body, but a representation of my body (think stick figure) and it indicated that I had something on my waist. I was told by the security guard that he needed to pat me down and he gently confirmed it was my belt and off I went.
If an airport or nation is going to operate body scanners, this is how it should be done. Yes, money has been spent on them, but they are also spending money on trained people who are actually friendly. Everyone was required to be scanned and I never felt that my privacy was being violated. If the TSA would move towards this model, maybe we could be friends.
Kigali International Airport (KGL).
When flying out of Kigali, Rwanda, it is best if you have a lot of patience — there is a lot of waiting in lines. I got to the airport about five hours early, so I was prepared to wait. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, since I read there was free WiFi in the front lobby, which consists of only a coffee stand and a few seats. Unfortunately, the WiFi was not working, so I got myself a cold drink and started going through all my photos from my trip to Rwanda.
Passengers are not allowed to leave the lobby area to go to the ticket counters until it is two hours or less before your flight departs. Once I reached the two hour mark, I was able to go outside and wait in-line to go through the first set of security. Since three flights were leaving about the same time, a large group gathered outside waiting to get back inside. Before getting back inside we all had to have our documents reviewed and since I did not have access to a computer, I had to show my passport and my confirmation on my smart phone. I was given some looks, but they still let me through where I had to wait in another line to be screened. The first security screening was much like in the US, where I had to take off my shoes and take out my laptop.
After I went through security, I headed to the ticket counter, but was stopped by a security agent and told I had to go back and wait in a second line to have my passport scanned and my documents reviewed again. Sigh…okay.
After waiting about 15 minutes in that line, my documents were checked and I was finally allowed to wait in the ticket counter line. I was previously given a center seat, not something I wanted to have for a 10 hour flight. Luckily, I was able to get a window seat, so I thought I was set and headed towards the gate.
It is awesome to board a wide-bodied A330 on the tarmac of a small airport.
I followed signs telling me to head upstairs to get to the gate waiting area. On top of the stairs there was another, yet short, line for customs. They checked my forms, asked me a few questions and off I went to another waiting area, but this was still not the gate.
I was now in another waiting area with only 32 seats and a small bar area. Although outside it was cool, the upstairs waiting area was hot. There was a very small, maybe 19″, TV playing something not in English in front of the seats, but there weren’t enough for me to sit down. After a while we were allowed to move through another security check point to wait in a larger waiting area, which would be our departure gate.
Yes! After a six hour wait at the airport, our KLM Airbus A330 had arrived and we were told to start lining up. I knew there were no jet-ways, but I wasn’t sure if we would be bussed out to the plane or able to walk from the door to the plane; I was hoping for the walk. At the terminal door, we had our documents checked again and out onto the tarmac we went — sweet, no bus.
Kigali Airport is small and it was neat walking along the tarmac seeing a Brussels A330 and KLM A330 both in the middle of Rwanda sitting next to RwandAir’s two 737s and two CRJ200s. After having my documents checked one more time at the bottom of the stairs, I was on board the A330 and ready to find my seat.
Normally, I am aware where my flight came from and where it is going. However, I just received my itinerary for my flight home the day prior and with limited internet access, I had no idea. It didn’t seem like there were many folks in the waiting area to fill up an Airbus A330, so I did not know what to expect when getting on to the aircraft or even if we would have a few stops between KGL and AMS. When boarding, it became clear the aircraft had come from somewhere and I was guessing it was a long flight since the plane was full and people looked tired and grumpy.
Map of my flight from KGL to EBB then AMS on a KLM Airbus A330.
Turns out the flight had some passengers from Amsterdam, but was heading to Entebbe, Uganda (EBB) from KGL. It was pretty lame, since the person who had had my seat obviously had just gotten off. It was still warm and there was trash everywhere. However, I was told it would be a quick 35 minute flight to EBB where the aircraft would be fully cleaned.
I did not have far to go to find my seat. I was sitting in seat 15A which was in the KLM Economy Comfort section located near the front. This gave me priority boarding, a few inches of additional leg room and more recline. It was nice, but there was an in-flight entertainment computer under the seat in front of me, eliminating half of my leg room. I thought with the big box in the way, I would at least have an outlet, but there was no in-seat power which was very disappointing. Kigali Airport is not known for the abundance of power outlets and by the time I boarded my electronics were needing some juice.
KLM definitely has their official color of blue down. Not only is the outside of the airplane blue, but the carpet is blue, the seats are blue, the bulkheads are blue and the flight attendants are all wearing a bright blue. When the flight attendants have their dress jackets on, the blue seems almost a bit overpowering and almost feels like I am on the official airline of the Smurfs. Good thing I like blue.
Blue is an obvious theme on KLM aircraft.
The aircraft loaded up quickly and we were ready to head to EBB. That was the shortest wide-bodied flight I have taken. It was just enough time for the flight attendants to run up and down the aisle to give us orange juice boxes and sit back down.
By the time we landed in EBB, it was obvious that the flight attendants were done with their shift. Along with the passengers, they came across as very tired and grumpy. This was okay, since they got off in Uganda and a new, fresh crew got on board.
During the layover, there were not too many of us left on the plane and a cleaning crew came on and worked around the passengers. It was interesting to see them in action, but it was obvious they were annoyed that so many passengers were in the way… I do not blame them. We had only been on the plane for about 40 minutes and passengers were out of their seats and walking around, getting in their way like we had just completed a marathon flight.
The seat-back in flight entertainment isn't the best, but surely better than nothing.
During the down time, it got amazingly hot inside the aircraft. The information screen showed it was only 73F outside, but it had to be over 85F inside the aircraft. The unfortunate part was the gentleman in front of me, apparently had made a life decision not to wear deodorant.
I am not quite sure why they weren’t able to run the APU and A/C while we waited and I heard multiple passengers complain, but the cabin did not seem to cool down until we started boarding again. Maybe it was an oversight with the changing of the crew, but after working up a nice sweat, I wasn’t able to cool down until almost landing in AMS.
Every economy seat has its own in-flight entertainment which is nice. The system seems a bit old and takes a little more time to navigate, but it is all free, which makes it worth the trouble. There is a decent selection of movies and TV shows in a number of different languages. It was entertaining enough for a one-way ten hour flight, but if you had more than that, the entertainment would get stale pretty quickly.
Talking about stale, we were served some hot food during the trip and a choice between beef and pasta — I chose the beef. I guess “stale” might be an unfair way to describe the food, it was not that bad, but not that great either. It is what one would expect from economy food from an airline.
My KLM Airbus A330 (PH-AOL) at Amsterdam after my flight.
I was actually quite surprised how quickly the flight went. I watched some movies, got some sleep, ate some food and BAM we were heading into Amsterdam. I think even though part of my legroom was taken by the in-flight entertainment system, the extra room and recline really helped. It was a little frustrating when the person in front of me decided to recline their seat all the way (remember Economy Comfort has the ability to recline more), but being by the window with only another seat next to me, with a few inches of extra room made the flight enjoyable.
After landing, I had a four hour layover in Amsterdam before flying on a Delta Airbus A330 back home to Seattle. I will be reviewing that flight in the near future.
A FEW OTHER PHOTOS OF THE TRIP
Aircraft lined at up Schophol Airport (AMS) in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS) is the 5th largest airport in Europe and the 15th largest in the world. Already the airport is busy and they only expect it get busier. The problem is there isn’t a whole lot more room to expand the airport and one of the biggest challenges is handling all the luggage. Since they can’t grow bigger, they have had to grown smarter. The airport has been working with IBM to create a futuristic way to handle bags.
The system is housed at the new South Baggage Hall where they hope to increase bag capacity by 40% before 2018. The new system is important, ’œto create an efficient, reliable and fast baggage handling process,’ said Mark Lakerveld, Senior Manager Baggage at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
No matter where your bag might be in the 13 miles of conveyor system or 4,000 bag positions, the new system can track exactly where it is at. The new baggage operation has 36 cranes and 60% will be handled by robots (yes, robots). After you check in, your bag will be placed into the bag storage. Then a robot will take your bag when needed and place it on the conveyor belt, reducing overload in the system. The new luggage process is connected to real-time flight information, meaning your bag will only be pulled when your plane is ready for it.
Is this the future of airport baggage systems? Possibly. When asked if we might be seeing this system at other airports, IBM spokesperson stated, “There are a couple of similar efforts that are happening internationally that can’t be named specifically. This example is indicative of what is beginning to happen and we will see more of in airports across the world — focusing on being smarter about how they utilize the space that they have.”
Although great on paper, let’s how this is not a repeat of Denver International Airport (DEN) attempted at a similar high-tech airport luggage system in the early 1990s. Let’s hope that Schiphol has a little better luck.
Check out this video from IBM on how the system works.
Heck yes! DJ'n at 35,000 feet on KLM's new Amsterdam to Miami flight.
It takes something big to turn down an offer to fly on a party plane from Amsterdam to Miami on KLM. I was invited to KLM’s party flight, but unfortunately had to turn it down to cover the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental’s first flight.
Luckily Shashank Nigam, who runs the site Simpliflying.com, was on the flight and able to share all the excitement. “The KLM flight was quite exciting, and entertaining, to say the least,” Nigam told me over email. “It was the first time I was in a plane that felt more like a club, since everyone was grooving to the music being played by the Dutch DJs. Probably the most happening 10 hours I’ve spent in the air.”
The passengers were no ordinary folks. Sure there were quite a few DJ’s to offer block-rocking-beats, but also passengers who won KLM’s Fly2Miami social media competition. And actually the power of social media made KLM change the first flight.
Originally KLM planned to fly on March 27th, but a DJ and film maker explained that would be too late for participating in spring break events in Miami. KLM challenge them to fill the plane and they would make it happen.
One beautiful tri-hole. A KLM MD-11.
They started a website and social media campaign to get folks to get 150 people to sign up and only had seven days to do it. Luckily for them, it only took five hours to fill the plane and KLM changed the date to March 21st. Now that is awesome.
Well for social media it is awesome, for me it meant I couldn’t go. Although parting at 35,000 feet is pretty slick, I am more upset that the aircraft used on the flight was an MD-11 and I missed out flying on it. KLM is the only airline offering scheduled passenger service using the MD-11. For an airline nerd, this is awesome. KLM flies a fleet of 10 passenger versions and seven cargo versions of the MD-11 aircraft. This is a small percentage of their over 200 aircraft strong fleet.
KLM will now offer scheduled service from Amsterdam four days per week and is their 65th international destination.
* Video of Water canon salute
* Video of the DJ’s in action at 35,000 feet
* KLM’s blog about the event
Images: DJ from KLM, MD-11 from caribb