In this review, we will take a KLM Cityhopper business class flight from Stavanger to Amsterdam on an Embraer RJ-175.
Short intra-European hop
My flight from Stavanger to Amsterdam would be the first of a total of 12 business class flights as part of the Air France error fare ‘deal’ which I booked for just 650 EUR and would take me to places as far away as Siberia and Azerbaijan.
The flight also marked my first time flying KLM in business class so you can imagine that I was enormously looking forward to the flight despite the fact that these short intra-European hops are often never much to write home about, not even in business class.
When I left the excellent Stavanger business class lounge I did not have to walk long to reach the gate as the Embraer RJ-175 had parked right at the nearest jet bridge. The gate agent announced that boarding would commence soon, first calling forward all business class passengers as well as Sky Team elite members.
With business class being fully booked and a lot of passengers on this flight having elite status, it meant that some 25 to 30 people swarmed to the gate.
Unlike the other two alliances (Oneworld and Star Alliance), Sky Team airlines hand out priority boarding as a benefit to lowly silver members as well, which means that priority boarding crowds are usually quite a bit bigger when flying Sky Team airlines such as KLM, Delta or Air France.
Stavanger (SVG) to Amsterdam (AMS) on KLM
Flight KL1200 (booked as AF8306) – Embraer RJ-175 – Business class, seat 1A
Departure: 11.40am – Arrival: 1.20pm
Flight time: 1h40m – Distance: 456 miles
Costs: 800 EUR, as part of a ticket including 12 flights in business class
Embraer RJ-175 seating
Today’s flight would be operated by an Embraer RJ-175 on KLM’s so-called Cityhopper fleet, which operates regional flights on narrow-body jets and turboprops on behalf of the Dutch airline. I swiftly found my seat 1A and made myself comfortable.
Just like most other European airlines, KLM does not have “real” business class seats as to speak off on its entire narrow-body fleet. You just get the same seats as economy class and are given more premium meals and beverages.
On short-haul planes with 3-3 seating such as the Boeing 737, the middle seat will always remain blocked in business class giving you a bit more shoulder and elbow room. Unfortunately, KLM does not give the same benefit on its all-Embraer Cityhopper fleet, which consists of 2-2 seating. You really have the same seat and space here as in economy class.
As the flight was fully booked in business class and seemed equally filled to the brim down in economy, it meant that I had a seatmate as well next to me. I found the seats to be very cramped and not really pleasant at all. To put it in comparison: I found an Embraer-operated flight with LOT Polish Airlines in economy class a lot more spacious (pun not intended) in both seat pitch and shoulder room.
Getting ready for departure
KLM does not hand out any pre-departure beverages on intra-European flights in business class – which is a big minus as every other airline I would fly this trip (Air France, TAROM, Aeroflot and Azerbaijan Airlines) does give them.
It’s not the end of the world as I already had a couple of drinks in the lounge, but the wait until departure seemed to be endless today… the reason for the long wait became obvious soon as I overheard the crew talking about a yet unknown delay due to a storm in Amsterdam which forced the airport to close two or three out of the five runways.
Immediately this crew started to show what I think is always one of the stronger sides of KLM compared to other airlines: communication. Sure, KLM crews can be a hit-or-miss affair and I have encountered plenty of arrogant and uninterested KLM flight attendants before. But this crew was simply exceptional – especially in the way how they dealt with the delay.
To start, one of the friendly flight attendants informed the passengers about the delay and that we might be standing still for quite a while at the gate. After that, the captain spoke more in depth about the reason of the delay: due to some stormy winds at Amsterdam some runways were closed – and all intercontinental traffic had priority above intra-European flights to land.
Only when a fixed time slot for arrival would be given by AMS traffic control, would we be allowed to take off from Stavanger as otherwise we would be circling endlessly and unnecessary in a holding pattern. While the effectiveness of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport when dealing with inclement weather is something up for discussion (hint: they are lousy at it) the entire reason for the delay was of course perfectly understandable and logical. Why can’t other airlines be like this in communicating open and honestly about delays?
Great flight crew
The all-female team of flight attendants started to hand out bottled water to the passengers in business class as well as pouring cups of water for the people down in economy class. A greatly appreciated gesture, but why they don’t do this as standard in business class as pre-departure beverage service is really a mystery to me.
At that moment, also the pilots showed just how amazing they are when it comes to communication and true dedication to the job. One of the pilots came down from the flight deck and started to talk with each individual passenger who had a tight flight connection in Amsterdam to explain more in detail about the predicted arrival time and whether or not they should still be able to make their connecting flight.
To my big surprise, the pilot did this while kneeling down in the aisle to be on the same eye-level as the passengers. That’s almost Asian-style costumer service and dedication which you normally only see from flight attendants from airlines like Singapore Airlines or Garuda. Count me impressed by this.
While the pilot was talking to the passengers with short connections one of the flight attendants walked down the aisle to collect all the kids in the plane to take them up front for a cockpit visit. She was just fantastic how she dealt with the children, as was the other pilot who remained in the cockpit while his colleague informed the passengers.
After the kids went back to their seat, I decided to take a look in the cockpit myself, asking jokingly to the pilots if “those who still feel at times like a child” could also take a peek 😉
The relatively young pilots had a laugh about the line and immediately started to share stories about previous flights, telling a tale how once a father dragged his very reluctant son to the cockpit. The father asked the pilots if his son could have a look while it was clear that the father only did so because he was dead-set about seeing the cockpit himself as an aviation geek.
After talking for ten minutes I asked the pilots if I could make a picture for this trip report, to which they gladly obliged. They even ‘forced’ me to take a seat in one of the pilot chairs so one of them could snap a picture of me in the cockpit!
After ten minutes chatting with the pilots about all kinds of random stuff they got a message from air traffic control that in 10 minutes they would finally be allowed to depart Stavanger as a landing slot in Amsterdam was finally issued. I quickly went back to my seat and left them alone for their last preparations before departure.
Ready for take-off
It went fast from the moment the pilots were given the all-clear. To the joy of all passengers they told that we would depart within a few minutes and announced a flying time of one-and-a-half hours to Amsterdam. Soon we were already taxiing on the apron towards the runway.
As there were no other incoming or departing flights this time of the day, we could immediately take the skies. There were some great views over coastal Norway while ascending into the clouds. In the end, the departure was delayed by about a full hour.
KLM in-flight service
When the fasten seat belt sign blinked off, the friendly crew immediately jumped into action and distributed the menu cards. On short-haul KLM flights in business class there are no hot food options. Rather, you have the choice between three different sandwiches to stay true to Dutch lunch culture.
As I was in a bit of a party mood, I decided to opt for the cava as drink. For the sandwich I selected the beef pastrami. The sandwich, salad and dessert were all tasty and I think the food was beautifully presented. As I basically had two breakfasts (one in my hotel, one in the lounge) it was also definitely enough in quantity for me, although I can understand that some people used to other business class products might be disappointed not getting a full hot lunch.
I know it is somewhat of Dutch lunch culture to just eat a sandwich instead of a warm meal, and for a short flight of 1.5 hours it is for sure a decent enough option. If I compare the food on KLM to the two short-haul Air France flights I would fly later on during this trip, then the KLM soft product would not even come close in quality, quantity and other small meal details. While certainly not the worst in the industry, I wouldn’t rate the KLM food more than an average rating.
Some other minor thoughts
There were some other areas where I think KLM falls short. To start, I don’t really get the choice of sparkling wine. The Codornu Clasico retails for 5 EUR a bottle and can hardly be described as a premium choice of bubbly. To be fair, KLM does serve an acceptable champagne on long-haul flights (Nicolas Feuillatte) and I understand that the airline wants to offer a slightly less premium offering on short connecting flights.
There are some great cavas out there (I recently very much enjoyed the Vilarnau Brut Reserva in the Diamong Lounge at Brussels Airport to name one), but this one? I did not find it very good at all.
Of course, price doesn’t say everything about quality, but is it so hard to put a bit of effort in actually finding some wines which at least have a good reputation or are otherwise interesting choices? On other KLM flights I would take on this trip I would also be equally disappointed by the wines which were offered on intra-European flights.
If you would compare the wines to the ones Air France selected for its short-haul flights the KLM selection does not even come close to the ones on board of their partner airline. On a positive note, I did like the glassware used by KLM!
Landing in Amsterdam
When the flight attendants came by for another drink round I decided to ditch the cava for a beer. The flight went by very fast and before I knew it, the captain announced we were starting our descent into Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
To the loud cheers of all passengers the captain announced that all connecting passengers were likely to make their flights if they would step up their pace a bit and hurry to their connecting gates. He said as well that KLM would hold their flights for a few minutes longer if necessary. Massive kudos again for the pilots and the entire crew of today’s flight – as they were all superb.
Of all countries on Earth, the Netherlands is perhaps one of my favourites to fly into. Sure, on the ground it has probably the most boring, flat scenery imaginable – but from the air it just looks so picture perfect, almost like it is designed in a computer simulation.
It’s testimony how mankind can beat the elements (in this case mainly the incoming sea) and create an amazingly functional country with excellent infrastructure and the most productive agricultural sector in the world.