Tag Archives: Flight Review

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.

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.