Tried & Tested

KLM MD-11 business class

10 Apr 2009 by Mark Caswell

BACKGROUND KLM recently completed a refit of its long-haul World Business Class cabins on board its MD-11 and B747-400 aircraft to align with that found in business class on board its B777 and A330s. This will mean that there is now a consistency of business class product across all the long-haul fleet. KLM’s website states that a B747 serves the Amsterdam to San Francisco route, but when I flew, it was an MD-11 with the new business class angled lie-flat product on board.

As KLM also codeshares with fellow Skyteam member Northwest Airlines (which has recently merged with Delta Air Lines), some flights on this route will also be served by NWA/Delta aircraft (A330-200, A320-200, B757 or B767) via Amsterdam Schiphol and then Minneapolis or Detroit.

CHECK-IN As this was the second leg of an in-direct flight from London to San Francisco via Amsterdam, I was already checked in. (I did this online the day before and printed out my boarding pass.) So after disembarking from the 0630 KL1000 flight from London Heathrow at around 0845 local time, I headed straight for the KLM Crown lounge (number 52) about ten minutes’ walk away, to pass the time until my flight (KL605) departed at 1110 to San Francisco. (To read the KLM London-Amsterdam review, click here.)

THE LOUNGE Located next to the meditation room on a mezzanine level above the main terminal floor, this huge lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking some aircraft stands has plenty of different kinds of seating from funky, red, retro armchairs and canteen-style tables and chairs to low square couches and banquettes. There are several bars with jugs off fruit juice, bottles of sparkling wine on ice, spirits, and fridges with beer, wine and mixers.

For those feeling peckish there was a breakfast area with trays of scrambled eggs, baskets of fresh rolls, platters of cheese and cold meats, cereal, fruit, crisps, pretzels, doughnuts and biscuits. There were plenty of staff on hand topping up the food and drink and clearing tables and while the facility was busy, there was no problem finding somewhere to sit and work. (There is a raised level beyond the main part of the lounge connected by a shallow ramp, which also has another bar so passengers are spoilt for choice.)

Other benefits the lounge provides are free wifi (the password is simply “KLM” followed by the date “ddmmyy”), showers, free English newspapers including The Guardian, a smoking room, and large departure screens by reception.

BOARDING On my way to Gate E2, I popped into the airport’s on-site Rijk Museum to check out a small temporary art exhibition. Once at the gate, there was a security check (laptops out, shoes and jackets off) and a separate priority lane for business class passengers to join. While the area was crowded, the line moved quickly, and I was on board by about 1045.

Jackets were hung up in a cupboard at the front, and a tray of champagne, beer, orange juice and water was offered. This was followed by noise-reducing headphones, the menu and a royal blue amenity kit containing socks, an eyemask, toothbrush and paste, lip balm, ear plugs, comb and a pen. Shortly before take-off, a member of the cabin crew came to take the food order, but as I had ordered a vegetarian meal there was nothing on the menu to choose from so just had to wait and see what turned up.

THE SEAT Business class on board this MD-11 consists of 24 seats across two sections with two rows of forward-facing seats configured 2-2-2 (A-C, D-F, G-J) in the front and two rows staggered 2-3-2 (A-C, D-E-F, G-J) in the section nearest economy. (G and J in this part are a single row.)

These angled lie-flat seats in a spacious cabin have a 60-inch (152cm) pitch and 175-degree recline, a width of 20 inches (51cm) and slide back to form a bed which is 74 inches (1.9 metres) long. It can also be adjusted electronically with three pre-set positions – upright (for take-off and landing), a “z-shaped” relax position, and a sleeping position. The seat also features an adjustable headrest, lumbar support with (a pretty ineffective) massage function, privacy canopy, dimmable reading light, in-seat power, an in-arm video screen (with AVOD) measuring 10.4 inches (26cm), and a handset controller in the arm next to it.

A pillow and a dark blue blanket (full of static when unfolded) were provided and although this was a day flight I did make use of them when I had a nap midway through the flight. Although the seat is comfortable for sitting upright in while eating or lounging back in while watching a film, I found it difficult to find a position that I could sleep well in as it didn’t recline to a fully-flat bed.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? If you like the extra legroom you get in row one then seats here are a good option, as are 5G and 5J. However, seats in these rows do not have under-seat storage as there is no seat in front. Seats 1/2D and F are good options if you are travelling with someone who wants aisle access as well as you. Avoid seats 5/6E in the second section as you don’t have a view out of the window or direct aisle access and will be knocking elbows with the people next to you at meal times.

THE FLIGHT After take-off at 1125, the pilot informed us of the route we would be taking – over Iceland, Greenland, Hudson Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and finally into San Francisco. Another round of drinks were served, along with a pot of assorted nuts. Lunch was served an hour later. After unfolding the tray table from the left arm, an attendant placed a white tablecloth on it and served my starter of green salad, and Mediterranean roasted vegetables with couscous, asparagus, apricots and prunes. (I am not sure that the dried fruit quite worked but the rest was tasty.) The main course, also served on china with metal cutlery wrapped in a large cotton napkin, consisted of vegetable curry and dahl with rice (edible but not particularly inspiring), followed by fruit salad, although there was the option of some kind of chocolate pudding and cheese from the trolley, which I was not offered.

The KLM menu was designed by Sergio Herman of the three Michelin-starred Dutch restaurant Oud Sluis, and was available until the beginning of April this year. Passengers started with an appetiser of smoked salmon with curry mayonnaise and lime jelly, followed by a choice of three main courses: paella with shrimp and chorizo with crayfish gravy, green olive compote and peas; slow-cooked chicken breast with tarragon gravy, potatoes fondant and green-pea puree; or shredded beef with truffle sauce, basil and arugula risotto and green asparagus served with a Terra Andina Altos, 2007.

Other wine choices included: Billecart-Salmon brut champagne; Niepoort Evento, 2006, Douro, Portugal; Peter Lehmann Wilcard shiraz, 2006, Australia; Kanu chenin blanc, 2008, Stellenbosch, South Africa; and a very palatable Bernardus chardonnay, 2006, Monterey County, California. KLM was the winner of “Best Business Class Cellar” in the Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky Awards 2008. (For more information see online news February 11.)

Throughout the flight more drinks and snacks were offered, including crackers, Godiva chocolates and sweets, sandwiches and raw vegetable sticks with a dip. Passengers could also walk to the galley separating the two business class cabins to help themselves to more. I watched a couple of films to pass the time – the in-flight entertainment system is AVOD and there is a decent selection of new releases, foreign language and comedy features.

Immigration forms were handed out to be filled in before arrival, and towards the end of the 11-hour flight, a member of the crew came around with a tray of KLM’s free souvenir Delft Blue miniature ceramic houses filled with Bols genever (Dutch gin), available only to business class passengers.

ARRIVAL Landing was on time at 1425 and business class passengers were given priority disembarkation. I didn’t have to wait long for my suitcase and joined the short queue at immigration where I was asked a few cursory questions about my business in the US, my forms stamped and my passport returned.

VERDICT While some people may find it difficult to sleep on a bed that doesn’t fully recline, for a day flight like this one (albeit a long one) it is not such a problem. The cabin crew were always on hand and there was never a shortage of food or drink. Although direct flights are generally preferable, going via Schiphol will also reduce the price dramatically, which is a plus point. A good, punctual business class service with great lounge facilities in Amsterdam.

PRICE Return business class flights from London Heathrow to San Francisco in mid May started from £1,669.


By Jenny Southan

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