I was just looking at the flight itinerary for an upcoming trip next month, going through the details for each stage of the three flight journey each way, when I was struck by a sudden revelation.
That six flight round trip- from Newcastle to Fort Lauderdale, Florida- features no less than five different kinds of aircraft. Is this some kind of record?
If not, it points up just how diverse a carrier KLM- the Dutch national airline-has become over the years.
I prefer using KLM for both European and long haul travel if at all practical, because it allows me the option of avoiding Heathrow, instead changing at the far more user friendly and well laid out ‘home base’ at Amsterdam Schipol instead.
The economy product is actually pretty good, especially long haul. Some people complain about the new seat design installed in the last few years- mainly in the Boeing 777-200- but, truth be told, I don’t have a problem with it.
Anyway, back to the flights;
The first flight- from Newcastle to Schipol- is on one of those spiffy little Embraer E90 planes, with double seat configuration and just over a hundred passengers. Thse are trim, tidy little ‘puddle jumpers’ that are, in my opinion, vastly superior to the usual Boeing 737’s that KLM use on short haul European routes, as far out as Istanbul (I came back from Istanbul on one of these the other week). Either way, it’s a spiky little plane to start a long, long trip on.
I’m anticipating the usual, easy transfer at Schipol. The other week, I was able to change planes here with only forty minutes as a window. That alone points up how user friendly this airport is. And yes, my luggage did make it.
The second flight is on one of the revamped KLM Boeing 777/200 planes out to Atlanta. Economy comes in a 3-3-3 configuration here and, though I prefer the 2-4-2 configuration of the American Airlines 777, there is a new seat back screen on the KLM flight that serves up something like one hundred and fifty different feature films on demand. In other words, there is more than enough to keep me amused on the nine hours and fifteen minutes’ haul out to Atlanta.
Long haul, KLM tends to be pretty good. The food is decent and plentiful (for most), the staff are usually very pleasant and helpful, and the airline offers an open bar right throughout the flight. I’m told that they now deliver ice cream treats in mid flight as well. So I’m anticipating some nice food and drink, a decent film or two, and then hopefully I will slip into a happy, wine fuelled slumber before wheels down in Atlanta.
Atlanta. Gawd. Now we are talking about one hot mess of an airport…..
Still, i have almost two hours to do the mandatory customs and immigration checks here before changing terminals. From there on in, I am at the tender mercy of Delta Airlines.
As the code share partner of KLM, Delta will (hopefully) be wafting me from Atlanta down to spiffy, very user friendly Fort Lauderdale airport. Anyone who has used this airport will tell you what a vast improvement it is on the horror story known as Miami International, some twenty-five miles distant.
From there, the real fun begins; a week’s effortless, indulgent cruising around the western Caribbean aboard Holland America Line’s stunning Eurodam. And there is something almost poetic about taking Dutch flights to board a Dutch ship which, to my mind, just seems so damned right.
But, after the ball, the long haul home will still await me.
Once more, the first leg sees me at the tender mercies of Delta. It’s back off from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta on yet another like as not hideously overcrowded Boeing 757.
Last time I flew Delta long haul, the plane was delayed a full hour on the ground in Miami because of an engine fault. Airborne, about an hour into the flight, the pilot suddenly announced that we would have to turn back, because of a problem with the engine….
Cue one rather anxious travel writer until our wheels kissed the tarmac; not in Miami, but at Atlanta in the small hours. Result; a six hour wait for a replacement aircraft and crew.
But I digress- from Atlanta overnight to Amsterdam, I’m back with KLM. The Dutch airline flies an Airbus A330-300 on this route; a twin engine jet that seats economy class passengers in a 2-4-2 configuration that I’m much more comfortable with.
Any kind of Airbus is unusual for KLM; the company has almost always purchased it’s aviation hardware from Boeing. None the less, I’ve been on lots of these planes- mainly with the now defunct US Airways- and I find them a robust, reasonably roomy and comfortable plane to spend an overnight flight cocooned in.
Service and amenities are pretty much on a par with the outward flight and, with a bit of God’s good grace, I might snatch a few hours’ sleep on board before our descent back into Schipol.
I would rather transit Schipol any day in the early morning hours, instead of that random, disjointed mess called Heathrow. Two and a half hours here allows plenty of time for a good breakfast and some wonderfully reviving Dutch coffee, before the final, short hop.
Here’s where KLM gets all too predictable; one of their ubiquitous Boeing 737’s will be waiting to shepherd me over the North Sea on the last, one hour plus run back into trim, tidy Newcastle International.
God knows, I’ve done hundreds of flights over the decades, but I can honestly say that I think this is the first such journey that has involved five different kinds of planes on the same ticket.
Anticipated highlights? Well, my first flight is not until one fifteen in the afternoon, and that alone means a full nights’ sleep before I fly. Normally I am at the airport at four in the morning before I fly to the USA, and thus usually tired and irritable from the get-go. Not this time, by the looks of things.
Second; the Boeing 777 long haul. Yes, I know that you’re more or less confined to one seat for over nine hours. But when was the last time that you had nine hours just to indulge in food, drink, entertainment of your choice, and even sleep en route to anywhere? Hopefully fate will be kind, and give me agreeable seating companions. If not, that’s what headphones are for.
Third; being able to do my customs and immigration in Atlanta. This means that when I do finally rock up at Fort Lauderdale not long before midnight, my flight will be classed as a domestic arrival. Just need to pick up my luggage and head for that sign marked ‘Exit’. Hopefully.
Dreads; Atlanta airport. Simple as that.
KLM is not an overly luxurious airline, but it is in general solid and dependable, and it has a reliable, reassuring air-pun wholly intentional- which is half the battle when you are contemplating being catapulted half way around the world via a string of sudden, rapid jaunts.
I’ll be reviewing the actual long haul flights as and when I get back from the Caribbean. So, if air travel is your thing- or even just a passing concern- then it might be worth checking back to this blog in a few weeks.
As ever, pray stay tuned.