An IRROPS Experience with KLM

irrop = irregular operations. It’s when things don’t go as scheduled due to maintenance or weather issues

bitburgr on Flyertalk

At the tail end of Storm Chiara, I was due to fly to Rome for a meeting.  A lot of the work for the meeting had already been done beforehand via videoconferences and email, but nothing beats some face-to-face time to work over the niggles and start planning some of the next work.

All the way through Sunday 9th February, I’d been watching the go-arounds at Manchester Airport on Flightradar24, and Lucy had been convinced my flight on Monday would be cancelled.  I was equally convinced it would go ahead, but I must admit, I was starting to worry when we saw an A380 make two or three attempts at landing then head off to Frankfurt instead — and we all know how strong the crosswinds need to be to stop an A380 from putting itself on the tarmac.

If all went well, I had about 75 minutes between the flight from Manchester arriving in Amsterdam, and the flight leaving Amsterdam for Rome.  My first flight was due to leave at 10:40am, but I wasn’t all that worried when it was delayed almost 30 minutes to 11:08am.

Keeping an eye on the KLM app whilst I was waiting, they offered an upgrade to business for £63.30 on the AMS-FCO sector.  I was curious what the KLM business offering was like, and I also figured that if I was late I might still have some room in the overhead bins, so I went for it and ended up in seat 1A. Win!

As I headed to the gate, I was slightly more concerned when the flight before mine, KL1072, originally scheduled for 9:05am, had an estimated time of departure two minutes after ours — 11:10, I sniggered with self-satisfaction at not having chosen the earlier flight and having had a bit more time in bed in the morning instead.

Pride, of course, comes before a fall.

We all boarded and the pre-flight announcement came from the flight deck.  Apparently Storm Chiara had reached Amsterdam and Schiphol was down to single-runway operations.  As a result, we would be sitting on the tarmac for another hour before we were allowed to push back.

30 minutes delay plus 60 minutes on the tarmac. Even with some schedule padding, that means my 75 minute connection was ‘tight.’ Shortly after the announcement, from the window I could see KL1072, on the stand next to us, pushing back.

I held out hope that KLM would rebook me on one of the later flights from Amsterdam to Fiumicino, and a new boarding pass would pop up in the app when I got to Schiphol.  Attempts to reach KLM via WhatsApp naturally had a response of ‘all our operators are busy.’  No further reply came. 

Thumbs were twiddled for a while, elbow wars were had over the armrest, and we eventually landed (landed, not reached the gate) in Amsterdam at about 14:10.  I wondered whether the Rome flight, due to leave at 14:15, was also delayed, which might offer me a glimmer of hope, but no, it had left promptly — perhaps one of the only flights that afternoon.  The KLM app helpfully offered that I had a “0h -7m transfer at Schiphol.”

I headed for one of the KLM self-service machines near the arrival gate and it offered me a number of choices, all of which appeared to be the following day — although that wasn’t clear, as whilst the time of the flights was prominently displayed, the day was not.  The best option at that time appeared to be the same flight 24 hours later, entirely unsuitable as it would mean missing half of the meeting I was heading out for, but hoping I could sort it out later I picked that from the screen and a few passes were spat out by the machine — one for the new flight, one for food at the airport, and another for a hotel.

I hadn’t given up hope of still getting to Rome the same day, so using Expertflyer I checked availability on the two other KLM flights that day.  Unfortunately they were all showing no seats in economy, but one of them had a seat in business.  I wondered if that last-minute upgrade at Manchester might save my bacon^WParma…

I went looking for manned desks to see if they could help, but the signs said there was a “75-90 minute” wait, and looking at the queues backed that up.

I tried the machines again, but they no longer offered an option to rebook — or even to cancel and head home, which was an increasingly attractive option.

There followed an extremely frustrating 36 minute phone call with a call centre where I tried to get myself rebooked.  If it was a simple “no” at the start, I might have accepted that and moved on, but the agent kept putting me on hold whilst she tried to do something, or spoke to the back office.  Armed with the information from Expertflyer, I pointed out there was still availability in business on the last flight of the day.  She went to the back office and came up with a sum of £480 to move to that flight, saying that the ‘upgrade’ I’d done that morning was just a seat assignment and didn’t change the booking class, so I couldn’t get a seat in business otherwise.  To rub salt into the wound, she offered that they’ve waived the change penalty to provide that fare.  That was the cue to finish the call.

That is where I started to accept I’d be staying in Amsterdam overnight.  I looked at the hotel voucher, which was for an NH hotel.  That’s not too bad, and I’ve got some friends in Amsterdam, so let’s make some lemonade from these lemons.  It wasn’t a hotel I’d heard of before, so I looked it up.  Leeuwenhorst … where’s that?

Oh.  It’s actually further away from the airport than Amsterdam itself, and public transport from the hotel to the centre of Amsterdam takes over an hour and a half.

Thanks, but no thanks.  I looked to book a hotel in the centre of Amsterdam and opted for the Toren, I’ll write up a review of that later, but I wanted to make sure KLM cancelled the other hotel so that it wasn’t wasted.  I wasn’t going to wait an hour and a half just to do that, so I approached one of the staff managing the queues.  They couldn’t/wouldn’t take the voucher and pass it to someone to cancel, but promised that the queues would be shorter in the baggage hall.

They were, but not by enough that I was willing to spend more time in the airport.

By this point I felt I’d spent enough time dealing with KLM for the day, so I sent them another message on WhatsApp about the hotel (which also didn’t get a response) and headed into Amsterdam.

~~~ Time Passes ~~~

The following day, I braced myself and headed back to Schiphol as the meeting I was heading to had already started in Rome.

This time things were smoother, though when I reached the far end of the airport (Gate D86) I thought I’d ask what had happened to the upgrade I’d paid for the day previously.  All three gate staff spent a bit of time with me, going through the computer and their tablet (refreshingly not an iPad), which didn’t allow them to make any changes — one of the staff commented that even some of the options that were normally available to them weren’t present.  I felt rather guilty at the amount of time they spent on it, repeatedly telling them not to worry, but they persevered to no avail, and I reached the Eternal City 24 hours after I should have.

I am currently waiting for the refund of £63.30 through a claim via klm.com/refund, which has been approved but not yet paid.

All in all, there was probably little that KLM could do given the disruption, though it was a slightly frustrating experience. I had little confidence that the call centre had looked at other options (e.g. via Paris with Air France, or something with Alitalia), and the reliance on self-service machines with defined workflows left me feeling that there might have been options that hadn’t been explored.