Advantages Handy from regional airports
Disadvantages Luggage - what luggage?
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Its quite difficult to write a review of KLM as the services and planes differ so much from the flight options they offer - from a regional airport shuttle to Amsterdam, to a couple of hours flight to a city in Europe to a transatlantic crossing all of which I have done numerous times in the last couple of years. I will try and share my opinions on all of these.Let m start of though with a little bit of background and history on the company. Firstly the acronym KLM means Royal Aviation Company in Dutch but in English the company is generally referred to as KLM "Royal Dutch Airlines". Founded in 1919 its the oldest airline in the world operating by its original name. KLM merged with Air France in 2004 but they do seem to be operating under there own distinct brand names. The main hub for the airline is Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands (Holland). KLM is part of the "SkyTeam" airline alliance. They currently have a fleet of more than 200 aircraft.
It may surprise some people why so many British people end up flying on a Dutch airline. Let me explain why I (and many others) end up using KLM so much. This is basically because I don't live particularly near to a "major" airport such as those in London and Manchester but I am surrounded by what I would call "regional " airports such as Leeds/Bradford and Humberside. KLM uses these as well as numerous other airports stretching from Aberdeen to Jersey as access points from which to link to Amsterdam. Amsterdam Schiphol in turn opens up a world of travel opportunities - KLM service just under 100 destinations and you can also add the destinations serviced by the other SkyTeam carriers. Basically when you check in at your regional airport your bags go straight through to the final destination and you receive your boarding passes for each onward flight there and then. KLM operate these services under the name "Cityhopper" and they tend to be smaller aircraft made by Focker be they jet engined or in some cases "turboprops" with a propeller. Due to a purchase of AirUK a number of years ago a lot of the on board crew do still tend to be British. I have never had any real problems on these flights albeit they tend to last less than an hour over the North Sea and apart from when the weather has been particularly bad I normally arrive on time. You are normally given an in-flight sandwich and drink as part of the cost although I noticed that on my last hopper flight out of the UK I was given a £5 KLM voucher to spend in the airports only cafe due to no on board sandwich. Suspiciously the cafes breakfast butty had risen to nearly this price. Not KLM's fault but just shows how a reasonable idea can be "abused" by a monopoly.That is the advantage of KLM and why I use them. It is also the disadvantage and let me get these out the way straight away. That is the chances of having you bags arrive with you (or possibly ever) and the chances of missing connecting flights. I am not sure if I can quantify the chances of something going wrong but on a pessimistic scale I would say roughly 1 in 20 times I fly a bag or a connection goes amiss. Firstly your luggage. Clearly if you are getting on a plane at a regional airport in the UK and changing planes in Amsterdam there is already room for failure for a bag to go missing. Add to this the amount of time you have between connections and you can see this is sometimes going to happen. A couple of years ago I understand Amsterdam had real problems with the baggage transfers but I think a lot of those problems where sorted out. Normally when I check in a bag with a small connection time the handler puts a priority sticker on so they are clearly trying to do something about these connection time issues. I should say this problem isn't unique to KLM but you are less likely to come across it flying direct when possible and KLM do push the whole UK to Amsterdam hub thing. If it does happen however KLM do in fairness try and do the best they can for you by providing an overnight bag of essentials (unless you are in Moscow but that's a whole different story). On 3 occasions of having luggage not arrive (one coming home, twice going away) the bags have ended up with me the next day and you can track your bag location update online to see where it is or isn't. I have on occasions also received vouchers for money off flights because of the inconvenience.
The second problem is missing your connecting flight. Generally speaking this tends to happen because of bad weather and a delay from the first location. Normally you are put up in a local hotel (mine was a pretty good one), given a voucher for a meal and a drink, a simple white T-Shirt and some toiletries. Looking at the number of people in white t-shirts at the evening meal I had in the hotel a lot of connections must get missed! Needless to say this again isn't unique to KLM but you are warned that by adding an extra hop to a flight you are increasing your chances of something going wrong.Schiphol Airport..
It has a section in its own right to review on but a review of KLM from my perspective is incomplete without mentioning the main hub airport. Firstly let me say that Schiphol is a clean, efficient and easy to get around airport with plenty of facilities. This is far better than some mazes of airports with multiple linked terminals (I hate Heathrow) and is all under one roof. What it is not however is the great shopping experience it maybe once was and I personally now find myself looking at the same shops selling clogs and mugs with tulips on them each time I have a stopover. It does have an ample number food and drink options as well as a good lounge for KLM frequent flyer members.The next hop..
As I said a lot my travel is done onward from the hub in the Netherlands. I have been on a number of flights to Canada, Russia and Ukraine in the last couple of years.
Within Europe this has been on Boeing 737's. No complaints on any of these, you don't get any entertainment as such (not sure how normal this is on a 3 hour plus flight these days) aside from the in-flight "Holland Herald" magazine which isn't a bad read. Food is generally a couple of sandwiches recently followed by a very nice Dutch butter cake. I had previously being treated to a strange cabbage dish on flights to Russia and have had better meals on the much maligned Aeroflot. My only gripe is when getting a coffee you get whitener and not real milk! Depending on the exact plane you sometimes get the personal screens at least showing your current location, speed etc.
To North America I have always been on a Boeing 747's. The "entertainment" is normally much better on these with multiple channels and now one even offering language courses. You can even go onto the KLM web site to see what films are going to be on during your flight. On these flights you normally get choice of two meals for your main meal and also a breakfast and a small treat somewhere in the flight.
With all of the flights most of the crew are Dutch so the level of English is excellent and all announcements are made in English. I still love the Dutch slant on English. A regular captain continues to say just before landing "Cabin Crew.. Take your sheets".
Its worth knowing you can check-in online via the KLM web site to save you time at the airport. You also get the option to choose your seats where available.The frequent flyer scheme..
Again you could do a review on this itself but I will give some brief details on its benefits. The program was originally "Flying Dutchman" but is now the joint program with Air France "Flying Blue". I have to say that like many airlines schemes what was a big perk seems a lot less valuable these days. The amount of miles you earn depends on what level of flyer you currently are and also any promotions. For instance a flight to Amsterdam can earn anything from 200 to 2000 flyer miles.
Spending your miles can be done via the KLM website or ringing a call centre. The problem these days is you can use your miles against a flight but it doesn't cover the tax which can be ridiculous. This is particularly the case if hopping via Amsterdam as you pay tax at each destination. As an example a "free" flight using my miles to Amsterdam would have cost around 110 euros in tax while I could have just bought the flight for £150 anyway. The further you go the better value it becomes. New York would have cost me 280 euros in tax (still a lot) but over £400 for the flight. One thing KLM have added in the last few weeks is to also be able to pay your tax on some flights with miles also. As well as booking flights you can also use your miles with other companies. For instance I booked a Kyriad hotel in Paris using 25,000 miles for each night I stayed.
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