Tag Archives: Economy

A few short flights with KLM

As I hinted at in my previous post, flying from Manchester where many destinations are one change away whoever you fly with, it’s often as easy to fly with KLM and change in Amsterdam as it is to fly with British Airways and change in Heathrow.  My 2020 travel kicked off with a meeting in Amsterdam followed quickly by a meeting at CERN in Geneva.  The best option for this turned out to be flying with KLM to Amsterdam, spending a couple of nights there for the first meeting, flying down to Geneva and spending a couple more nights there for the second meeting, before retracing my steps at the end of the week to head home.

Perhaps it was a quirk of the multi-city booking, but even though the flights were cheap and I was in economy, I ended up with a booking class that gave me a choice of seats before check-in (I’ve looked at future bookings, but I’ve not been so lucky with them, it’s £9 to reserve a standard seat and £13 to reserve a seat with extra legroom).  As a result, for three of the four sectors I was able to choose a window seat somewhere between rows 7 and 9 (for the final sector I was in row 22), and when I checked in on the app, I ended up with a boarding pass that said “Sky Priority” and boarding zone 2.

KLM leaves from the same terminal at Manchester as British Airways, terminal 3, and security there needs no further discussion.  Naturally, no fast-track access, but a lunchtime departure meant the queues were short.  I’ve managed to avoid a bag being sent to secondary screening for most of my recent trips, and managed to do it again this time, although there is always that moment when the bag pauses at the junction of the belts and you’re thinking it has been there a couple of seconds too long and is about to be sent behind the barrier.

No KLM status, so therefore I had no lounge access, but at least being an off-peak time there were spare seats in the departure area to settle down and do a bit of work.

Priority boarding worked well and there didn’t appear to be that many passengers that had it.  It turned out to be useful as I had a carry-on bag and space in the overhead lockers ended up quite tight.  It may be my imagination, but the seats in the 737-700, -800 and -900 of the trip felt a bit narrower than the Airbus 319/320/321 on BA, and on three out of the four legs there was someone in the middle seat whose elbows were well over the armrest, making for very uncomfortable flights as I tried to contort myself around a stranger’s left arm.  The other flight was a dream in comparison as a colleague was booked into the B seat, but C ended up as a no-show, so we had the row of three to ourselves.  Small things and all that.

Not the approach to Amsterdam (or even Manchester).

For a small charge there is the option of “Economy Comfort” seats — I hadn’t chosen them, but SeatGuru suggests they have a couple of extra inches of leg-room.

Something that KLM still provides is a complimentary drink and a snack.  On the various flights I’ve had a cheese sandwich, a wrap, and a slice of cake as the snack; a small cup of water with a foil lid (there’s probably something that can be done there to reduce the use of plastic); plus coffee, tea, or juice for the drink.

Despite Schiphol being their home airport, KLM isn’t exempt from being sent to the Polderbaan for landing, with the ensuing quarter-of-an-hour taxi to the terminal building.  On the return journey I had nearly three hours between flights.  Fortunately Schiphol is such a vast airport that you can largely wander freely about, it’s possible to find a quiet corner when you need to make a couple of phone calls without disturbing anyone.  I’m not sure the same can be said of Heathrow Terminal 5, even with access to a lounge!

One thing that both Geneva and Schiphol have over Manchester Airport is the use of 3D scanners to check your carry-on luggage.  With these everything stays inside your bag, and I mean everything — laptops, iPads, bags of liquids, just plonk it in a tray and wait for it to emerge at the other end.  The speed of the operators seems to vary quite a bit, but the whole process is so much easier, especially if you’re not used to travelling and forget to pull something out of your bag and place it on a separate tray for scanning.  Roll-on the introduction of them to Manchester Airport, please!

The final flight home was the one where I was in row 22.  The airport decided to disembark from both the front and the rear doors, but it took some time to get the steps up to the rear doors.  Do you want to guess which of the 33 rows was the last one out of the plane?

BA100 Anniversary Flights

Early in 2019 (I appear to have booked the tickets on 24th January) British Airways celebrated its 100th birthday by offering some long-haul tickets for £100 each way, including taxes. You had to be online at mid-day to grab them, and there were only a few destinations available each day. Instead of trying and failing to get to some of the more popular far-flung destinations, Lucy and I managed to grab a couple of seats for a long weekend in Philadelphia later in the year (September).

When the promotion was on, we were still living in Twickenham, well within the range of catching bus number 490 to Heathrow Terminal 5. However, by the time the trip came up, we’d been living in Manchester for four months, so we had to book a couple of flights to connect us to the Philly flights. As these would be on separate bookings, we also had to make sure that there was enough buffer such that disruption on the flight from Manchester wouldn’t cause us to miss the flight to the US.

I’ve already reviewed our stay at the Hilton Garden Inn at Terminal 2, and our hotel stay in Philadelphia, so I’ll concentrate here on the flights between Heathrow and Philadelphia.

For £100 each way transatlantic, the seats were naturally in economy. Almost all of my flying is done in the back of the bus, so this wasn’t a problem. We were scheduled for a 747, and as I could select seats for free, I’d opted for two seats towards the back of the plane where the configuration changes from 3-4-3 to 2-4-2. It does mean being some of the last to be served, and the last to get off, but on the other hand it is just the two of us, without someone else either in the aisle or window seat.

The days of amenity packs with earplugs, an eyemask, a pen and over-the-ear headphones are long gone. These days what you get is a plastic wrapper with a set of earphones and a Flying Start envelope.

I’m 6’1″, but sitting very upright for my knees not to be touching the seat in front.

However, it was a refurbished plane with a fairly large in-flight entertainment screen. As a minor niggle with BA’s moving map on the new IFE, I’d prefer the image of the plane itself to be smaller so I can see more of the ground beneath it, especially when zooming in (this was better with the old moving map), but that’s not much of a complaint. During the flight I could (and did) easily watch Rocketman on the screen.

As economy meals go, I couldn’t really complain about this. Quinoa salad, chicken curry and rice, a dessert, bread roll, crackers and cheese, and a can of Brewdog’s ‘Speedbird 100’ IPA. Sitting down the back of the back of the plane there is a risk that you can’t get your first choice of meal, but you do have the option to pre-book on the outbound flight from Heathrow, and I had no such problem here.

One thing British Airways still haven’t quite got the hang of is couples where one person has a special meal booked (Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian — or VLML — in Lucy’s case). The special meals are all brought out at the start of service, and her food had been served a good 20 minutes before the trolley reaches me with mine. Perhaps one reason to pre-order a meal, which at least might work for the outbound flight.

There’s not much else to report about the flight. There was the half-way mini Magnum that BA have recently introduced and we made good time to Philadelphia. Immigration wasn’t too bad (I have Global Entry, but didn’t use it). We were lucky with timing and took the train to downtown Philadelphia.

The Return

A couple of days before heading back to London, the usual POUG (Promotional Online UpGrade offer) appeared for an upgrade to Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus in BA parlance). They’d been popping up ever since I made the booking, but not at a very competitive price, but this time it had dropped substantially. As it was an overnight flight and we then had a short layover in Heathrow before finally getting back to Manchester I booked it.

I started getting slightly concerned when I went to select our seats.

OK, not a whole lot of options there, but something will appear with online check-in, right?

Wrong.

I’m past the days of stressing over this sort of occurrence, and figured that they’d be able to sort it out at the airport. The worst case would be that we’d end up back in economy (actually, the worst case might be that we’d be bumped to a different flight and miss the connection to Manchester, but let’s not dwell on that).

We got to the airport, checked in and dropped our bags off, and we are told they still do not have seats for us, but we are issued boarding passes to get us through security, though they have no seat assignment on them.

We made our way to the lounge and helped ourselves to snacks, and perhaps a beverage, whilst I kept on refreshing the app. Some time goes past and eventually 35E and 35F pop up in the app as our seats. OK, middle seats, but bulkhead, I can live with that.

A bit more time passes and an announcement comes over the tannoy asking us to go to the front desk. We get the new boarding passes and is it 35EF? Nope, it’s 21F and 21G. Yes, we’ve scored an upgrade!

I’ve rarely travelled in BA Club World before this, and Lucy never had, so this was a bit of an experience for us. We had the limited edition #BA100 amenity kits and tucked into a very nice meal.

How the other half travels… Wines, champagnes, and champagne cocktails are on the reverse of the menu.

Breakfast was a bit confused. We’d clearly marked our preferences on the cards they distributed before take-off, but when it came time (after just an hour’s sleep), mine was delivered but not Lucy’s. When we asked the cabin crew, they said they’d been laughing about it in the galley as it said she were vegetarian, but had asked for the full breakfast.

Firstly, the card most definitely did not say that, I’d looked at it myself, and secondly, the crew saying they’d been mocking a passenger’s actions, even if there had been a mistake, is not really what I’d call a premium experience. Breakfast was soon on the way, but this was the one exception to an otherwise excellent experience of being upgraded!

As an aside, this started a run of three consecutive upgrades from World Traveller Plus to Club World for me on BA. After this flight there was Heathrow to New Orleans, and Dallas to Heathrow. I think I’ve exhausted my upgrade karma for the next decade, but one suggestion BA, can you put a better pen in the amenity kit? On two of the three kits the pen was useless — one the ball had been pushed back into the nib, and the other just didn’t click.