Tag Archives: KLM

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?