As I was transferring through Amsterdam from London, I had already checked in and received my boarding pass. As I explained in my review of the London-Amsterdam service, online check-in can be performed up to 30 hours before departure.
There are various paid-for options with advance seat selection with KLM that offer extra legroom or are simply “preferred” due to their location in the cabin. I decided to stick with my seat assignments (selection wasn’t available on the Amsterdam-Havana sector until check-in opened).
There is also the option to log into klm.com through Facebook or LinkedIn, and who else is onboard your flight and send them messages. This “Meet and Seat” service was introduced by KLM in 2012. I logged in as an experiment but couldn’t see anyone else who had (not surprising).
Passengers can also request more superior pre-paid meals such as Champagne Delight (herring caviar, smoked tuna salad, spicy Korean rib-eye and a small bottle of fizz) for £22.60 for the long-haul sectors. I didn’t bother. I downloaded the KLM iPhone app, using it to check in the morning before my flight.
When it came to check-in, there weren’t very many empty no-fee seats left in economy – those that were, were in front of the washrooms or in the middle, between the two aisles. There were a few single seats by windows and on aisles but because I was travelling with a companion we wanted seats together.
For this reason I decided to pay for seats 19A and 19B, over the wing, on both the outbound and return long-haul sectors. My boarding pass was viewable on the app – you can also print it out or have it emailed.
While partner airline Air France also flies to Havana via Paris CDG, the benefit of going with KLM, which flies once a day, is that you get to transfer through Schiphol airport, which is much easier as it is simply a single terminal.
There were no departure screens to be seen upon entering the terminal but a member of staff looked up the gate on her iPad and directed us to Gate E5, a six-minute walk from Gate D5 where we disembarked. There was waiting area by floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to our plane, and plenty of seating.
Boarding started at 0955 for 1030 flight KL0723 to Havana. There was a priority lane for business class and other elite passengers. There was a long queue but people were processed quickly, with boarding passes and passports checked manually. We accessed the A330-300 via an airbridge, where there was a bit of a wait to board but not too long. Crew directed passengers to the appropriate side of the plane to find their seat.
This isn’t KLM’s newest economy class product (pictured is the cabin on a similar A300-200) but it’s not in bad condition. The cabin was clean and the seats in good nick. The picture quality of the in-flight entertainment screens isn’t as sharp, rich in colour or as clear as on more modern systems but there is a good choice of movies. Just make sure you bring your own headphones as the ones provided are terrible. Legroom isn’t horribly tight (31 inches) and there is the added benefit of the A-B, H-J seat pairs which are a great option for people travelling together.
Upholstered in textured royal blue fabric with adjustable headrests, the seats have solid fold-down tray tables, USB ports, IFE remotes in the armrest and seat-back pockets. Pillows and blankets are provided. One design fault was the fact that aisle armrests didn’t lift up and central armrests only lifted up half way, which meant it was really difficult to get out (impossible with the tray tables down). There are no footrests either. KLM is has introduced wifi to some of its B777-300ERs but internet access is not available on this aircraft yet.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Rows 16 to 28 and 30 to 45 are economy class, while at the front, between business class, is Economy Comfort (rows 10-15), which is the same seat but with more legroom. Avoid sitting too near the washrooms (row 28, 44 and 44, as well as aisle seats in row 27 and 43), and middle seats E-F in the middle of the plane. Sitting nearer the front means you will be served food and drink first. Sitting near the emergency exits is much colder than the rest of the plane. Some people pay for the extra legroom offered here – just pack some warm clothes.
The captain came on at 1020 to thank passengers for being at the gate on time (“it makes a big difference”) and to explain that there was going to be a short delay to departure. He also apologised for the fact that the moving map wouldn’t be working on this flight due to a small technical problem. We pushed back just after 1030, taking off at 1045.
Once airborne, headphones were handed around at 1100 and a drinks service started not long after from the front of the plane. There was a good choice of soft drinks, wine, beer and spirits available for free. My pre-ordered vegetarian meal arrived before other people’s food at about 1150. When a second round of drinks came by 20 minutes later, the crew also gave my companion their meal (seeing as I was eating), even though she wasn’t yet giving other people’s theirs. Thoughtful.
My meal was ravioli pasta with sweet pepper sauce (pretty decent), a green salad with a mini bottle of “special sauce” dressing, a bread roll with margarine and a pot of fruit salad. Other passengers also had the option of pasta, as well as chicken in a creamy sauce with either mashed potatoes or polenta (hard to discern) and green beans. There was a slightly weird side salad that could have been fruit salad or coleslaw – it was described as “tropical dress” on the packaging.
Dessert was a kind of profiterole with chocolate and cream. Tea, coffee, cognac and Amarula cream were served after lunch. I asked for a gin and tonic but the crew member said he’d have to come back to me on that (which he did).
By 1400 all the trays had been cleared away. Customs cards were brought around at 1410. I watched a couple of films and slept – ice cream and small bags of Tyrells crisps were offered during the afternoon, along with fruit juice and cups of water.
At 1830 a light meal was served – a Caprese salad with chopped tomato, sliced mozzarella and pesto; a strip of pizza and a cherry cream gateau. More alcohol and then coffee and tea were brought around. I was impressed with the plentiful catering. The journey was a long one, though, at 11 hours from Amsterdam.
There was an announcement of our descent into Havana at 2025, and an apology for a slightly late predicted arrival at 2050 (1450) local time due to the fact that we had to fly around some rainshowers en route which made us a few minutes late. There was a bit of turbulence en route but mainly blue skies.
It took a while to disembark from the front of the plane and across an airbridge. Immigration, about five minutes’ walk away, was reasonably quick at ten minutes. But once through, at 1525, we faced an extremely long wait for baggage. Our cases didn’t appear until 1630 and there were no screens or announcements advertising their status.
As it’s not possible to buy Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) in the UK, I had to queue outside the terminal at the bureau du change. This took another 30 minutes.
The timings work well for this daytime flight to Havana, and I was particularly impressed by the service from the crew and updates from the flight deck throughout the journey. I would probably pack a tablet computer and a good set of headphones as the old IFE system isn’t that great. For economy class, the catering was good. The transfer through Schiphol was easy (apart from the lack of signage).
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2 (A-B, D-E-F-G, H-J)
SEAT PITCH 31in/78.7cm
SEAT WIDTH 18in/45.7cm
SEAT RECLINE 3.5/8.8cm
PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight from London to Havana started from £622 in December.