FIRST IMPRESSIONS I arrived early at Schiphol on a connecting flight from Heathrow, for the inaugural flight KL891 from Amsterdam to Chengdu in southwest China. This twice-weekly service began on Sunday May 28 departing at 2040 and arriving in Chengdu at 1230 the next day, a flight of some nine hours. Another flight leaves on Wednesdays with identical timings. The return flight departs Chengdu on Mondays and Thursdays at 1400 arriving in Amsterdam at 1845. The route is a codeshare operated with China Southern Airlines and is the first link between this region of China and Europe; previously passengers had to travel via Beijing or Shanghai and then backtrack west on a connecting flight.
BOARDING Boarding was from gate E08 and was on time. I was in my seat at 2015, as crew members were offering around orange juice or champagne. We also received amenity kits containing a pen, dental kit, eye mask, a pair of warm socks and ear plugs.
THE SEAT This Boeing 777-200ER has a two-class product with a configuration of 2-3-2 in its five rows of business class (economy is laid out 3-3-3). The seat is part of KLM’s modern business class product and has an up-to-date in-flight entertainment (IFE) system and electronic lie-flat-style seat with 152cm pitch, 51cm width and recline to 170 degrees. There are three preset positions for sleeping, take-off and eating and you can press each button for as long as you need to in order to adjust the angle of the seat and make it more comfortable. There are also eight individual controls to adjust the footrest, lumbar support and massage function. When the seat was fully reclined I found it slightly difficult to get comfortable initially, as I am fairly short (5ft 3in) and couldn’t reach the footrest to anchor myself. Instead I had to hook one foot into the seat to stop myself from slipping down so that I could sleep more easily on my side. The seat doesn’t have privacy screens so I could see the people on either side of me (I was in a centre seat of three) when I was reclined. The IFE is excellent and I was impressed by the wide range of current and recent films. There is also a good selection of music CDs and the ability to select songs to add to your personal play list, which is an absorbing way of passing the time. The noise reducing headphones are also good quality.
Storage space is in the seat back in front and is sufficient. The seat has a power socket for portable electronics (110/60hz) suitable for two and three-pin plugs. Usefully, a card in the seat pocket described how all the seat functions worked – often you are just expected to work it out for yourself.
THE FLIGHT The plane left the stand at 2035 and was airborne at 2048. After 20 minutes, drinks were served and menus handed out. There were three main courses on offer: chicken, seafood or beef (surprisingly there was no vegetarian option). The appetiser was described as fresh goats’ cheese, beetroot, orange and red stewed pears with lemon and olive oil dressing – when it arrived it also contained cured meat, which had not been mentioned on the menu but was tasty.
For the main I chose beef fillet in Pinot Noir sauce served with cappeletti pasta filled with goats’ cheese, sugar snaps and caramelised pearl onions. I enjoyed it and the meat was cooked to perfection, which is an astonishing feat considering the obstacles of producing food at altitude. The dinner was well presented and we were given metal cutlery. I was served slightly later than the passengers on either side of me – perhaps because I was in a middle seat and the two attendants on each aisle both seemed to think the other would serve me, and consequently by the end of dinner I was almost a whole course behind the passengers on either side of me.
After dinner we were handed cards on which to tick our breakfast choices. The lights were turned down shortly afterwards and I tried to get some sleep. The lights were turned on again four and a half hours later (two hours before landing) and breakfast was served. Once again I seemed to be served after the people sitting next to me – I couldn’t see whether this was happening to other “middle” people in the cabin and for a while I wondered if my breakfast card had gone astray, but after a few minutes my tray arrived. I had muesli, fruit, cheese and a croissant.
ARRIVAL We arrived promptly at 1230 local time and, because this was an inaugural flight, were off the plane quickly for the opening ceremony.
VERDICT KLM’s business class seat on the B777 is an up-to-date product with an excellent IFE system and a good lie-flat-style seat typical of many modern business class seats – though I would have appreciated a privacy screen. After my middle seat experience I would try to avoid that seat in future.
PRICE A return business through fare from London to Chengdu via Amsterdam costs £1,415.