I was travelling from Birmingham to Delhi via Amsterdam and the 40 hours it took me to get there will make me re-consider using KLM for long-haul connections in the future.
I had booked a semi-flexible business class ticket and I have a Flying Blue Platinum card. I checked in at about 8am for our 9.20am BHX – AMS sector. At 9.15, they told us that the flight had developed a technical problem on its way in from AMS and needed to be inspected by an engineer who was en route from London. In 20 minute bursts, this dragged out until about 11.45. They refused to escort passengers who wanted to leave airside and they refused to unload bags except for those of a dead-heading crew. They also refused to re-book any connections from BHX (I had several options for getting to Delhi that evening). After various traumas with the paperwork, we took off at about 12.30.
In Amsterdam, they said that my only option was to wait for the next day’s Delhi flight. They were very pleasant but explained that they had a grid and that passengers not on full-fare tickets could only be re-booked on AF, DL or KL flights, even with a top tier card. I pointed out that there was a Sky Team connection that night (KLM to FCO then China Airlines to DEL) but they said that they were not allowed to book this either. (And certainly would not book available connections on LH, BA or VS which would have got me to Delhi early the next morning). They even refused to use the AF / AI codeshare from Paris that night. I chose to go AF the next day (which, at least, got in three hours earlier than the KL direct from AMS). Most intercontinental passengers would have found themselves in my predicament: KLM flies most long-haul routes once a day (or less)
I should have asserted my right under EU law to be returned to my country of origin and to get a full refund. I could then have flown Air India from LHR that night for about the same price. I wasn’t quick witted enough.
KLM’s original plan was to re-route my bags automatically and give me “an emergency overnight kit”. Schiphol’s baggage handling is bad enough anyway and I had visions of never seeing my suitcase again. After a bit of insisting, they agreed to retrieve my luggage. It took two hours. There would have been a wait anyway as there is a bureaucratic shuffle from various desks to various others to get your coupon for a mediocre hotel in a industrial estate 15 minutes from Schiphol. Its shuttle bus is erratic and unreliable — this is the hotel reserved for “our best premium passengers”! I should have just paid for my own
I have had a few other connection problems in AMS before but none this bad. It’s tempting to consider KL as the British regional choice (because they fly from so many regional airports) but this experience suggests that you should think twice unless you’re on a full-flexible business class ticket (in which case, you’ll probably go Virgin or BA anyway) or you have 24 hours to waste in either direction. Fortunately, this time, I just missed dinner with colleagues but, on another trip, I might have missed a crucial business meeting.
I shall claim my €600 in compensation with great glee and thank the European Commission for protecting my rights so well.