Friday, June 10, 2011

Airline Wars 2: The Royal (Dutch) Treatment

The day after our hellish American overnighter from Honolulu, we set out across the opposite ocean for Europe. After an hour and a half commuter flight to Atlanta, dinner at Arby's, and killing some time marveling at how big a bag of M&M's one could purchase at the Duty Free, we reported for our 10:45 pm KLM flight to Amsterdam.

The difference between KLM and American was apparent from the first second we saw the flight crew. All twelve or fourteen of them showed up as a group, as confident and purposeful in their powder blue raiments as if they were headed out to nuke a rogue comet. You could almost hear the theme music playing as they strode up the concourse, nodded to the swooning gate agents, and disappeared down the jetway.

The music stopped suddenly with that scratching record sound when we started to board, and my boarding pass triggered the little red light that said I wouldn't be sitting in seat 41G with Biscuit after all. We had booked the flight with Delta, and one problem with these international partnership arrangements seems to be that the reservation systems don't work together worth a damn. Fortunately, Biscuit batted the baby blues at the young man sitting in my former seat and he agreed to swap with me. The music was back on, especially when the doors closed and we realized that there was no one between us in our little cluster of three seats.

The economy seats in the Boeing 777 were not what I would call spacious, but there was three inches or so between my knees and the seat in front of me, which was three inches more than I had on the American 767. And the sides of the headrests could be pulled out to keep one's head from rolling side to side when trying to sleep. There was a pillow and blanket waiting in each seat when we got on the plane, and before the doors closed, the flight attendants distributed clip-on headphones to everyone for use with the video system in the seat back in front of us. There was a remote control embedded in each armrest, and after the safety briefing they explained how to use the remotes to watch movies or television, or play games. I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Hall Pass, as well as bits and pieces of a couple of other things, just to see if I would like them. This kept me busy and entertained for well over half the flight. Between movies I would tune in to the "where are we and how fast are we going" channel, which was fun and educational.

Just after we took off, and before each of the two hot meals we were served, the flight attendants distributed hot towels for a quick wipe-down of any road grime. Granted, the towels were paper, and not the scrubby little washcloths I remember from JAL back in the day, but it was still a welcome treat. Dinner was a sort of beef stew or chicken medallions, with veggies, bread, butter, crackers, cheese, and dessert. It was airline food, but some of the best airline food I've had in a while. Soft drinks, beer and wine were all complimentary. The beer was Heineken and the wine came in a carton, but it was still free.

Dinner was followed by a course of coffee or tea and biscuits (cookies to us Americans). The flight attendants retired after all the rubbish was collected, but quietly cruised the aisles every half hour until breakfast with trays of water, juice, and soft drinks. There was also a collection of snacks at each galley to which peckish passengers could help themselves. I snagged some cookies and a couple of little Twix bars on my mid-flight trip to the lavatory. As you might expect by now, one on one encounters with the flight attendants elicited expressions of helpful curiosity, in contrast to the hostile glances I received two nights before.

About an hour and a half before we landed, the crew started the process of waking us with another round of hot towels and beverage service. Hot breakfast came next, followed by more coffee, tea, and biscuits.  The little cookies were these awesome cinnamon shortbread numbers like you get on domestic flights sometimes, but with two of them stuck together with caramel. I liked them a lot. One smooth landing and short taxi later, we deplaned in Amsterdam, tired but amazed at how different two flights could feel.

KLM showed us that they didn't just rock the transatlantic flights when we took a 737 to Oslo a couple of hours later. They fed us each two sandwiches for lunch, as well as the same two rounds of beverage service and tea in a little less than two hours. And narrated the whole thing in three languages. I've been trying to figure out ever since this flight how I can get more of my domestic trips to connect through Schiphol airport.

Next Time: Delta tries to keep up


  1. The best airline food I ever had was flying out to Kenya (no idea of the airline) - a full Indian vegetarian thali. The worst, processed cheese triangles and crackers (thank you Easy Jet).

  2. Thank the gods you had a round of karmic goodness after the horrible American experience. I wish you'd write American a letter. It's the only way they can really gauge how horrible they are -- customer dissatisfaction -- I firmly believe in rotten tomato letters when they are warranted...