Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Flying Blue: Business Class on KLM's Boeing 747-400

How often can a guy get lucky?  I seriously thought my first and only time to get on the fabled Boeing 747-400 was last September with Delta.  I was fortunate enough to snag the last seat on the final domestic 747 flight, thinking I had flown on my only flight on the Queen.

You should've gone to La$ Vega$ and put money on me.

Originally, this trip to Greece didn't even have me on the 747.  At all.  My routing was Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, overnight there, then the next morning do Los Angeles - Seattle - Paris - Athens, with the return 3 weeks later doing Athens - Amsterdam - Detroit - Los Angeles, overnighting there again, AFTER a segment on Delta's new long haul flagship, the Airbus A350-900.  Well, by the time the end of March had rolled by, my ticket for this trip had been subject to not 1, but 5, that's right, count them, 5 schedule changes.  Each change getting worse and worse and my arrival time into Athens going well past midnight.  Ugh.  So I got on the horn with Delta and told them, I don't want another schedule change, and while I'm at it, get me off as much Delta metal as you can, just for putting me through those changes before.  The poor agent was horrified, but we ended up with a decent schedule.  Leaving from Los Angeles, I was to go nonstop to Amsterdam then onwards to Athens, all on KLM, and returning the same way.  Beautiful.  The agent made the final change and confirmed the flights.  Turns out, the Los Angeles segments were on the Queen herself, the Boeing 747-400.  I was happier than Hugh Hefner in a Strip Club.

So the time for my trip FINALLY came.  Off I went on an overcast morning from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles on the hot rod Canadair Regional Jet 700 (or CR7 to us avgeeks).  As I was on American Eagle (American Airlines' regional operation), we arrived at the double wide trailer sized commuter terminal smack in the middle of the sprawling complex LAX is.  No biggie.  Until you realized how much luggage I had with me...

Fast forward 24 hours.

Having been dropped off at the iconic and much-filmed Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) (you can see it in Die Hard 2, Die Hard, Commando, etc. etc.), with my mountain of luggage, I shagged a luggage trolley and made my way to the KLM check-in counter upstairs.

"My apologies, Mr. Andritsakis, but it seems we have given your Economy Comfort seat away.  We have a few seats at the very back of the plane, or one last seat open in Business Class on the Upper Deck.   Which would you prefer?"   advised the harried agent after he realized the system goofed.  I told him I wouldn't mind the Upper Deck at all.  "Very well, sir, also, since you'll be in Business Class, I'll check all your bags for you all the way to Athens, and you also have access to the OneWorld lounge just inside security until departure."  Bonus. now I don't have to pay the extra baggage charge for my 3rd suitcase, nor do I have the pay the excess weight charges, either. This trip was starting off just right.

Why would KLM have use of the OneWorld Lounge when they are a full-fledged member of SkyTeam you ask?  Well, it's simple.  The TBIT only has a few lounges, and Korean Air has one, but it's small, noisy, and most of the time cramped.  So, KLM, and the other airlines not in OneWorld, sensing they don't want to lose their premium cabin passengers at such an important gateway as LAX, struck up agreements with the airlines that have the lounges, and sure enough, at that time of the day, this lounge was full of KLM, Aeroflot, and other SkyTeam passengers.

After a great breakfast and preflight mimosa in the club, I headed down to the gate, insomuch as for me to get my inner avgeek satisfied by watching planes until boarding.  I got a few good shots with my phone, and before I knew it, it was time to board.  The gate staff had us line up behind several boarding group signs, and Lord have mercy on your soul if you tried to board before your group, as I saw while waiting behind the Group 1 sign.

My ride for the day was KLM's Boeing 747-400 PH-BFL, named the "City of Lima".  Delivered to KLM from Boeing on May 12, 1991, this Queen is the 888th 747 off the line.  Stepping inside, you really can't tell, though.  KLM, as European as it is, keeps their fleet up to snuff.  OK, so the Business Class isn't a suite, nor is it single seat with aisle access AND a window, but, that being said, my seat was spacious and amazing to my 6'1", 400 lb frame.  I was far more comfortable in this seat than I was in Delta's 747-400 DeltaOne seat several months earlier.  No offense to Delta, but GOD those seats, once I was in the lie-flat mode, felt like a narrow coffin.  But I digress.

So on board I went, hang a right after greeting the gorgeous Dutch Flight Attendant, passing the oddly laid out Economy Comfort section (including my long since re-assigned seat 16A), and on up the staircase to the Upper Deck.  down the aisle I go and get myself situated in 71K (shoes off, and wearing my KLM issued socks from the quaint amenity kit), the very first window seat on the starboard side.

Before we knew it, we were getting the pushback out into the alleyway behind the TBIT, and we were on our way.  Being early afternoon, there were a few Asian, domestic, and European flights already queueing up for departure on LAX's North runways.  One by one they departed, and soon enough it was KLM 602's turn, and we were hurled aloft by the power of those 4 GE engines, over Playa Del Ray Beach and the Pacific Ocean before a leisurely left turn and high angle climb Eastward towards Europe.

The dinner service promptly began once we had leveled off somewhere between LA and Las Vegas.  The lovely Flight Attendant brought my seatmate and I our pre-meal warmed nuts and beverage service, where I decided to try KLM's signature drink, the "Flying Dutchman".  This amazing concoction was developed for KLM by legendary Dutch distillery Bols, who blend their amazing blackberry schnapps with gin and a splash of lemon juice and simple sugar.  An amazing cocktail to start the journey off right.

The appetizer course came and I chose the cauliflower soup, thinking it was cold.  Well, it wasn't and hit the spot with an amazing taste that left me asking for more later on in the flight (my daughter Susie would've emptied the plane of it had she been with me!).  The main course was a selection between cheese fragottini with grated Swiss Chard over it, chicken teriyaki with rice, or a beef stew over ratatouille.  I picked the fragottini, and was not disappointed.  For inflight dining, and a pasta dish no less, it was not over cooked and slightly al dente, which is the way I like it, with plenty of cheese to satisfy the heaviest of turophiles.  Out of the several choices I had for dessert, I picked the unlisted pecan pie tart that the flight attendant recommended.  Not quite to Deep South standards, but it was delicious nonetheless.  Once the dinner service was over, I laid out my seat to the full flat position, polished off one glass of Perrier while I was brought another, popped my earbuds in, turned on the Stephen Coonts audiobook I was listening to, and was lulled asleep by the 4 GE engines droning on yards away and below me, aimed for the bohemian paradise of Amsterdam.

About 7 and a half hours later I woke up, not groggy, not lagged, but remarkably refreshed, even though I was completely flat.  I opened my window shade to look out and sure enough, it was still night over the Atlantic, with a full moon in all its glory higher up in the heavens.  I took a look at the map on the screen and we were only 2 hours away from touchdown.  No sooner had I turned my head and reached for my Perrier, the flight attendant came by for the breakfast order.  They had a choice between a turkey, ham and cheese wrap, apple pie a la mode, or granola-topped yogurt.  Since I was on vacation, and I couldn't care less about making my arteries scream, I chose the turkey, ham, and cheese wrap, accompanied by a bowl of fruit, several croissants and a plate of cheese and jam.  Oh, and let us not forget the amazing Dilmah Tea (served straight black, of course).

With breakfast cleared, I reclined a bit and watched the map and gazed out the window as the sun rose over Western Europe.  A few twists and turns put us into the approach pattern for Schipol Airport and sooner than I would've liked we had a featherlight touchdown and quick taxi to the gate.

Overall,  KLM's Business Class is a fantastic way to cross the pond.  Thanks to the mistake made by the LAX ground crew, I got to experience it, and in nothing less than the grand dame herself, the iconic Boeing 747.  From what I have seen of newer planes, even though they are single seat window and aisle access seats, the new layouts seem almost...what's the word...antiseptic and bland.  The 747 and her iconic upper deck allow for the Premium classes to have their own space, without intruding past the other Economy or Economy Plus sections.  In the 747, KLM has a small Business Class section forward of the L1 entry, an oddly laid out galley that is parallel to the length of the cabin wall (this must make it MUCH easier for the crews), with Premium Economy in that space between the L1 and L2 entries, the main Business Class upstairs, and standard Economy in the 3 cabin sections from the wings aft.  The inflight service is fantastic, living up to the famed hospitality of the Dutch, with a storied and historic carrier that spans the globe.  The 747-400's days are sadly numbered, and are being replaced by newer, more efficient Boeing 777's and Airbus A330's and A350's.

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**All photos my own except where noted**

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