In this review we will take a look at the KLM Crown Lounge for intra-Schengen flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
Heading to the airport
After drinking copious amounts of beer celebrating carnival with my old friends in the south of the Netherlands, it was hard to wake up in the early morning to fly to Siberia.
Somehow I did manage to rise from my bed, and after a double espresso, some fresh orange juice and a good breakfast I was all set to return to Amsterdam airport for what would be a long long day of flying. First I had to fly to Paris, then on to Moscow, then to Irkutsk where I would only arrive after a brutal red-eye flight and more than 24 hours of travelling.
Even though the travel schedule was quite killing, I was immensely looking forward to it as it meant trying out two new airlines in business class: Air France and Aeroflot.
First I however needed to get to the airport in Amsterdam, which is best reached by train irrespective of the part of the country you are visiting. Trains in the Netherlands run frequently (at 10 to maximum 30 minute intervals throughout the country) and the airport’s railway station is located directly underneath the terminal.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is a favourite of many travellers as its a breeze to connect through if you are changing flights – and I do think it is a reputation which is well-deserved as despite its big size the airport is well laid-out and signposted.
Schiphol was however never a favourite of mine if you are actually originating your journey in Amsterdam, as the airport is often prone to massive queues and long walking distances if you end up with a faraway departure gate.
If you are a passenger flying business class or holding elite status, you should also notice that most of the business class lounges are considered to be subpar and are often massively overcrowded when compared to other European airport lounges. Would my experience at the KLM Crown Lounge be the same this time?
I managed to check in online for the Air France flight to Paris, but not for the two connecting Aeroflot flights (although I was able to select a seat in advance for the Paris to Moscow flight, even though that did not work for the domestic flight to Irkutsk).
Luckily, it was relatively quiet at the airport today. Amsterdam Airport has an entirely separate check-in area for business class passengers and those holding priority status who fly KLM or Air France.
An agent stands in front of this curtained-off area to check whether you are eligible to use the priority check-in desks. Once admitted into the area, you can basically use any desk which you want. Even though there was only one passenger in front of the queue I selected, I still ended up waiting eight minutes until it was my turn.
The friendly check-in lady had no problem selecting my preferred window seat for the final flight to Irkutsk and managed to print all three of my boarding passes. As I was travelling with a trolley and small rucksack only, I did not have to check any luggage and within a minute I could walk onward to the security check.
Amsterdam Airport has a dedicated priority security check, which at this time of the day had a wait of less than five minutes. This was absolutely great, as the normal queue for security was in true Schiphol-style much, much longer despite it being a seemingly quiet day.
From the security check, it was an easy 10 minute walk to the Schengen lounges. Schiphol Airport is quite massive but it is very well-designed and signposted, so finding your way around is easy.
KLM has two flagship lounges at the airport – with of them called the ‘Crown Lounge’. One of the lounge is inside the Schengen area of the airport, while the other one serves non-Schengen (intercontinental) destinations.
The Schengen lounge is also known and signposted as “Lounge 25”, while the newly renovated KLM Crown Lounge serving extra-Schengen flights is designated as “Lounge 52” on some airport signs.
Lounge access rules
The KLM Schengen Lounge is located one floor up from the main terminal area opposite the D-pier and is open from 4.45am until the departure of the last KLM flight. Normal Sky Team access rules apply for the KLM Crown Lounge. You are allowed entrance if you hold a same-day business class ticket on KLM or any other Sky Team airline.
You are also allowed in when flying economy on KLM or any other Sky Team airline if you hold Sky Team Elite Plus frequent flyer status, in which case you are also entitled to bring a guest.
If you do not hold any elite status, you can also buy access to the lounge, although at peak hours (especially mornings) the lounge agents might not allow this to prevent overcrowding.
At the entrance, a friendly woman welcomed me into KLM’s Schengen Crown Lounge courtesy of my Air France business class ticket to Paris. For those who have never been at the KLM Crown Lounges at Schiphol: they are massive in size.
Despite their massive size they still can feel a bit overcrowded as especially in the morning there are literally hundreds of people inside as dozens of flights depart to cities all over the Schengen Area. Yet somehow there is always enough seating for everyone in this particular lounge, no matter how busy it is.
The lounge mostly reminds me of an industrial size canteen of a large company. The Schengen Crown Lounge is basically shaped in the form of a large ‘L’ and has all kinds of different seating areas, one main food buffet area, two pantries where you can get drinks, a business centre, a KLM/Flying Blue service desk, a separate smoking area, and a large toilet and shower room.
Do not count on taking a shower at peak times if you have a short airport layover. Especially in the morning the wait for a shower can easily run up to two or three hours!
Massive, crowded but functional
Even though there are a couple of different seating areas, there is little privacy whatsoever in the Crown Lounge. Unlike other lounges where designers try to do their best to play with the lay-out or add some kind of features between pairs of seats to increase privacy, this isn’t the case at the Crown Lounge. It really is just one giant space in which hundreds of seats and tables are crammed in.
As only the far edges of the lounge have views (one onto the tarmac, the other one to the airport’s check-in area) it can feel all just too industrial-scale and massive. Even though it certainly is not the prettiest lounge, it is for sure functional as there lots of seats, plenty of power sockets and a fast internet connection.
Decent booze selection
You can grab a drink at one of the two drinks stations in the lounge. The coffee machines make decent brews and the booze selection at the lounge is quite good, although I’m not a real fan of cheap French sparkling wine they had on offer (Crémant de Limoux) which pales compared to the quality champagne offered in Air France lounges in Paris.
The choice of wines is also rather average, especially when you again compare it to what Air France offers.
Even though some international passengers are visibly delighted to hear that there is free-flowing Heineken available on draught, I think it is actually a pity that there aren’t any other beers on offer in the lounge.
I get that Heineken and KLM are close partners and see that lots of foreign travellers do weirdly enough regard it as a premium international brand and are happy to drink it, but I’m not a particular fan at all of the brew. As a large company, Heineken for sure owns some smaller, more interesting brands which they can offer as well to bring some more diversity on the beer font?
Personally, I also don’t like the McDonald’s like taps for soft drinks and water. I just don’t think it looks classy and I don’t think it is hygienic if I see how some lounge visitors use it. Given the size of the lounge I guess however that it does make sense for KLM from an economical point of view to go for taps instead of cans or bottles.
There is one main food station in the lounge where the food options are spread out on top of a circular bar. At lunch time there were several cold cuts, breads and pastries, cakes and a few hot options: rice, satay, pasta and hot pizza snacks.
Whenever I visit the lounge I’m always surprised by the sheer popularity of the buffet as often people even have to stand in queue. When it is finally their turn they shovel huge quantities of food on their plate like they haven’t eaten in six days.
I assume they just do it as it is for free – as I would be greatly surprised if they do so because they just happen to like the quality of the food. In my opinion, the presentation (and taste) of the food is more akin to some mass-made canteen-style drab given to prisoners at the local jail instead of quality food given to loyal frequent flyers and business class passengers who make up the bulk of KLM’s profits.
Although you can’t complain much about the quantity, the quality for sure is something which can (and should be) improved.
Apologies by the way in advance for the bad quality pictures as due to the huge queue for the buffet I could not stand still for too long to take pictures.
For the sake of reviewing, I tried some of the not particularly appetising-looking options. Both the pasta and the pizza bites tasted super dry and were so completely bland that you could almost hear Gordon Ramsey storm inside. The cold cuts were also all of decidedly average quality as the lounge seemingly just buys whatever cheapest option is available in bulk instead of opting for quality.
The only food which in my opinion was done right was the satay. It’s Indonesian comfort food you basically really cannot prepare wrong. Sure, I’ve tasted way better Satay – both in Asia and in the Netherlands – but the lounge satay was tasty enough and went well with some krupuk and a few glasses of beer.
Despite the massive size of the lounge the staff did manage to keep the entire premises as clean as possible. As at any time in the lounge there are dozens of people standing up and walking to their gate while new people arrive inside to have a quick bite or drink, this is a great achievement. There are enough cleaners walking around who proactively look out for empty dishes and glasses to take them away.
The only downside to this is that many cleaners use rambling carts to collect the empty dishes and glassware, which adds to the overall chaos and crowds and again more resembles an industrial-sized canteen than a quiet lounge environment.
The KLM Schengen Crown Lounge is perfectly acceptable for a short stay. If you want to get some work done, there are plenty of seats, sockets and fast internet, although the lack of privacy and overall noise levels are all minor negatives.
If you search some quietness or hope to get a shower at peak times you can be in for a nasty surprise. However, if all you need is a good coffee or a drink, you will be happy to hear that the lounge is relatively well-stocked with booze.
It is a different story when it comes to the food as the quality is decidedly sub-par and does not really come close to a premium experience. Most of it was downright bland and unappetising, although there are a few notable exceptions (satay!). It’s a decent lounge all combined, but that is about all I can say about it.
That brings me to my biggest problem with this lounge. While other airlines are constantly improving and upping their game when it comes to make their lounges as attractive as possible with seating, design, food & beverages and extras such as spas, massages or other unique features, KLM seems to aspire to be more akin to the canteen of a local steel mill.
For something which is supposed to be their flagship lounge at their own hub of Amsterdam, it really falls short by a wide margin when you compare it with the best lounges in Paris (Air France), Zurich (Swiss) or Istanbul (Turkish Airlines).
I wouldn’t say the lounge is necessarily bad, it’s just that you would expect lots, lots more from the flagship lounge of one of Europe’s major carriers. Luckily, KLM announced that the Schengen lounge will undergo a major renovation (article in Dutch only).
Even though the recent refurbishment of the non-Schengen lounge has received mixed reviews from frequent flyers, I still hope that KLM will manage to improve the Schengen Crown Lounge to top industry standards.
Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.
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