I was set to fly London-Havana via Amsterdam. Online check-in can be performed up to 30 hours before departure. I logged on a few days before my trip to manage certain details of my booking, including pre-ordering a special vegetarian meal and selecting my seats in advance.
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.
I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 4 at 0420, giving me just over two hours until my flight to Amsterdam (KL1000) departed at 0630. There was already a long queue forming in front of the KLM check-in-bag-drop area in Zone H, but the desks didn’t open until 0435. It took half an hour to get to the front, whereupon my bag was weighed and tagged, and my Cuban visa checked.
I was told boarding would be from Gate 15 and to head down there at 0600. Security wasn’t far away and it was very quick to pass through as wasn’t crowded. There were free bags for liquids and electronic gates that opened by scanning your boarding pass. Screening was quick – liquids, laptops and tablets had to come out.
It’s about five minutes walk from the security area to Gate 15 – boarding had just started when I got there at 0605. There was some confusion as to which line was for economy passengers and which for business. In the end I think everyone was mixed together. We entered the plane via an airbridge at 0620 and were welcomed on board by the crew.
The flight was full so effort was made to fit everyone’s luggage into the overhead lockers. There was an announcement at 0635 that the airport was very busy so the pilot wouldn’t be able to start the engines for another 15 to 20 minutes, meaning departure would be late. The plane pushed back at 0650.
This B737-800 is configured with 32 rows, with the front five assigned to business class. Seats are arranged 3-3 with the middle one kept free in business class. The product is firm yet comfortable, and upholstered in smart royal blue fabric. There are fold-down tray tables on the back of each seat that are wide and solid enough to work on a laptop. Exit rows in the middle of the plane are 15 and 16.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
Sitting nearer the front means you will disembark sooner, as well as get food and drink quicker. For a flight as short as this you probably won’t need to bother about paying extra to book a particular seat.
There was a delay to take-off – after pushing back and then taxiing at 0650, the plane didn’t take off until 0715. By 0730 we were flying over Clacton-on-Sea, before heading over the North Sea into Amsterdam. The flight takes just 45 minutes in total.
At 0720 a trolley came around, first with snack boxes containing a pot of spring water, mini stroopwafle and a cheese sandwich made from organic brown bread (according to the packaging the grain is prepared using a Dutch windmill). I thought this was a nice touch and the sandwich was really tasty. Tea, coffee and soft drinks came after. Crew were very professional, smart and friendly. It felt calm and civilised throughout.
The plane landed at Amsterdam Schiphol on schedule at 0900 local time despite the late departure (they obviously build in enough time to allow for this in the morning). There was a five-minute taxi to the stand, and then another eight-minute wait to disembark via an airbridge to the front of the plane. Some gate details were given out for connecting flights but not for Havana, which was departing at 1030.
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 a single terminal. There were no departure screens to be seen upon entering the building 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 a waiting area by floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to our plane, and plenty of seating.
A well operated short-haul service – a smart cabin, reassuring service from the crew with lots of information given in a considered fashion, and a thoughtful free snack made with local produce.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F)
SEAT PITCH 30in/76.2cm
SEAT WIDTH 17in/43.2cm
SEAT RECLINE 3.5in/8.8cm
PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight from London to Havana started from £622 in December.