Tag Archives: review

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?

The Independent Hotel, Philadelphia

As part of a weekend trip to Philadelphia in September, using flights booked during the #BA100 sale, Lucy and I stayed in The Independent Hotel. Whilst we were planning the trip, it had reasonable reviews and wasn’t badly priced.

We had taken the train from the airport, and walked down to the hotel from City Hall Station. In retrospect, not the best choice given we each had a suitcase, but it wasn’t too bad.

The entrance to the hotel is no more than that — a doorway that leads into a lobby about 6ft square with a lift (elevator) that takes you to reception, which is one floor above. There are no obvious stairs (as someone that prefers to take the stairs for a floor or two).

Reception is a large wooden desk, and it took a little while to find someone to check us in, but as we were being checked in it was explained to us that there was cheese and wine in reception every evening, and that breakfast was delivered to the rooms in baskets every morning, we just had to fill in the card the night before.

The first impression of the room was favourable. It was reasonably large and had a high ceiling, even if the floors were a bit worn.

There was a small selection of books to read from, though the title of the top one was curious!

The bathroom was slightly odd, being an ‘L’ shape with the sink at one end of the L, close to the door, and the shower at the far end of the L, in what I guess might originally have been a different building given what appears to be a keystone in the lintel. As you can see from the photo above, the ceiling was a little uneven.

There was also the usual in-room coffee machine (which leaked whilst in operation). When we arrived there were two ‘normal’ coffee capsules and two decaffeinated. However, even though I was leaving out a tip for housekeeping, it obviously wasn’t enough, as one day when we arrived back (for a second time, when we got back at 4pm the room hadn’t yet been serviced), this is what was waiting:

WHY?!?!

We only had the in-room breakfast once, and it was a bit of a disaster. This is what we ordered (for two people):

A bagel and two hard-boiled eggs each, plus some juice and milk. This is what was delivered:

A croissant and a snack bar, with butter and jam each. There were also two small bottles of orange juice, not pictured. No bagels, and no eggs. Looking at other reviews, this doesn’t seem to be an uncommon occurrence, and as we had plans for the day, we didn’t bother asking them to rectify it, we just nibbled on the croissants, put the snack bars in our bags and headed out.

The less said about the cheese and wine reception the better. The cheese was cubes of American-style cheddar, accompanied by some rather bland plonk. We only partook once.

The rooms are single-glazed, and being towards the bottom of the busy bits of 13th Street let in quite a bit of noise at night. However, perhaps that’s a sign that we should just have been staying out later.

All in all, I was mildly disappointed with the hotel. We had paid over £800 (including tax) for four nights, but the room we had was nothing like the bright, airy rooms portrayed on the website. The power sockets were almost hanging out of the wall, and the breakfast experience was poor.

Hampton by Hilton, Belfast City Centre

This is a little review of the Hampton by Hilton Belfast City Centre, where I stayed for a couple of nights for work at the start of September 2019.

I’d flown into Belfast City airport (BHD) and caught bus 600 into the city centre, which dropped me off at the Europa Bus Centre, a journey costing the total of £2.60 (though I felt sorry for the driver who had to arrange a lot of large suitcases from students starting to arrive for the start of the new University year at Queen’s University), and handily on the same block as the Hampton and indeed the massive Europa Hotel itself.

The reception desks are straight in front of the door, and lead onto the bar and breakfast area.

Reception

Check-in was easy, and the pre-payment arranged by the travel agent was on file, which doesn’t always happen.  I had a room on the fifth floor out of eight.  As an aside, why does the sign in the lift (elevator) correctly refer to ‘G’ for ground floor, but the button is marked ‘0’?

Zero G

When I got to the room it was almost entirely made of bed.  For some reason they appear to have been expecting me to arrive en-masse and the sofa-bed was also made up.  I momentarily worried that a colleague from work had been booked into the same room too.  I could, and perhaps should, have called reception to ask them to stow the bed, but I wanted to get a couple of things done before heading out for dinner, so I didn’t bother (and so no fault lies with Hampton, though I was surprised to still see it there when I got back on the second day, but by that point it was too late to say anything — he said, Britishly).

I remember when this were nothing but Hilton bedding…

There was a large TV in the room which I could see well whilst lying on the bed, but as it was mounted on a narrow shelf could only be swivelled a small amount and so didn’t have a great angle to see from the desk.  It was the usual (for the UK) Freeview channels.  There were double sockets with a USB outlet either side of the bed, which is good news.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

As a minor issue, there was some tape that was flaking in one corner of the room.

The same door covers the bathroom and wardrobe in an interesting space-saving arrangement — if the door is closed to the bathroom then the wardrobe is open, and vice versa.  The shower is easy to operate, not something you can always say, especially in cases when hot water takes a little while to reach the shower head.  Toiletries are large pump-bottles mounted on the wall, but there was shampoo, shower gel and conditioner, plus a hand-wash next to the sink, all of which were full, and all of the pumps were working!

I slept well overnight, and headed down to the buffet breakfast in the morning.  There is the choice of a cooked breakfast (bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, baked beans, small potato bites, etc), toast, pastries, cereals, and a new one on me, DIY waffles, along with tea, coffee and fruit juices.  It was a reasonable way to set me up for the day, and after that I checked out and headed on home.

Breakfast time!

I’d be perfectly happy to stay there again, plus it means earning HHonors points if that’s your thing.

Hotel Indigo, Cardiff

This will be a brief review, as I was only there for one night and didn’t take any photographs.

Hotel Indigo is part of the IHG chain (Holiday Inn etc), but as I type this, the Cardiff hotel is currently rated the #1 hotel in Cardiff on TripAdvisor. [Hotel’s website here.]

From Cardiff Central train station the hotel was about a 10 minute walk (not trailing any suitcases). The entry is quite well disguised in an arcade off Queen Street, which is in the pedestrianised shopping area in Cardiff, and within that the reception is quite small, just 2-3 desks in a cosy lobby, but the staff were friendly. There is a single lift (“elevator”) to the guest rooms and the hotel’s restaurant/bar — a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Bar. When I checked in we were offered a 15% discount voucher for the restaurant, but that is a limited time offer.

My room had frosted windows with no view, but the room and bathroom (with monsoon shower) were obviously relatively new and well-decorated. The hospitality tray had a selection of Welsh teas and coffees (as an aside, I grew up in Wales and don’t remember many tea tree and coffee plantations, but that must be global warming for you), and a small fridge.

A nice touch was the rocking chair with a “nos da” (“good night”) cushion, and Welsh decorations on the wall. A tea pot and tea cosy would have topped that image off to perfection!

The bed was firm, and quite high off the ground, which may or may not be to your preference. Whilst it was a busy weekend in Cardiff, and I could hear the occasional voice of someone walking down the corridor outside, it didn’t disturb my sleep.

All in all it was a nice hotel, in a very good location, and not too badly priced. Worth a shot.