May 13, 2022.
Our flight back to Canada was scheduled to leave Bergen at 6:30 a.m., which meant being at the airport by 3:00 a.m., negative Covid tests in hand, and ArriveCan and KLM’s ReadytoFly apps completed. The first leg was the short jaunt to Amsterdam, in the same kind of plane, and seats, we had for our Toronto to Fort Lauderdale flight back in December: regular seats but spaced for more leg room, and only every second seat used. Economy was packed, and with almost no one wearing face masks any more on flights in and from Europe.
The biggest difference between Westjet’s Business Class in December and KLM today on the short haul trips was that we got a nice continental breakfast today, including a warm cinnamon roll, with water/juice in actual glasses and our coffee/tea in Delft blue and china cups.
We were last at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport back in 2013 when we took our first river cruise, but were whisked through the airport to our waiting Viking limo and really did not notice the airport at all. This time we have a 2.5 hour layover, so after walking about 15 minutes to our gate, and going through the health screening process (it was a bonus being able to jump the queue with our business class tickets), we took turns wandering around a bit. The airport is HUGE, and busy, but also very modern, so it feels quite calm despite the crowds. We did not get to see the iconic Maarten Baas clock called “Real Time” in which it appears, via the magic of a continuously looping 24-hour film, that a man is painting the time minute by minute. That clock is in the main departure hall.
KLM is well known for excellent service, and their first/business class is truly all that.
First of all, the masking protocols are much stricter on this flight to Canada. Here are the rules, as presented on my nice big touch-screen TV:
Given that my usual routine for long flights is just to take 2 Gravol and go to sleep, I wasn’t sure I would be able to appreciate all the amenities in first class on this 7 hour flight, but… SLEEPING PODS !!! We’ve walked on and off planes where we had a glimpse of these before, but never dreamt (pun unintended) we’d get to experience them.
While the 37 economy rows were still boarding, we were settled into our pods checking out all the buttons and remote controls, and enjoying our pre flight drink: orange juice for Ted and champagne for me, in cut crystal stem glasses.
In each of our pods a lovely zippered linen amenity bag was waiting for us, with socks, a sleep mask, toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, moisturizer and soap – all in the iconic KLM bright blue, of course! There’s no reason to arrive with bad breath after a long flight – even after eating and drinking selections from the á la carte menu (below). There was also a fluffy pillow and a soft blanket. The seat turned into a single bed long enough for me to completely stretch out in. Ted said he’d slept comfortably too.
Our flight also included wifi, but the first officer forewarned us that it doesn’t work well when we’re in the air over the Atlantic. What he meant was that it doesn’t (or at least didn’t) work at all. It hearkened back to our months on the Star, with its intermittent wifi.
Once everyone had been offered another round of drinks (considered pre lunch this time, as opposed to pre flight), and had placed lunch orders, the business class galley began to smell delicious, and our flight attendants appeared with white damask tablecloths for our oversized tray tables.
Our first course was Thai red curry soup, salad with Italian fig dressing, and a ciabatta bun with Dutch butter. It felt as if we were still on our world cruise! Ted even had Portuguese wine with his.
Next I had the sesame salmon entrée, and Ted had the chicken with star anise. That was followed by cheese plates for both of us (plus a sweet Tschida Muscat Ottomel Auslese 2018 for Ted) as well as two delicious little Dutch chocolate houses, and a couple of hours watching the newest movie version of West Side Story (loved it!) and taking a nice long nap.
As we reached the point of flying over the St. Lawrence Seaway it was food time again: a cheeseburger and beer for Ted, an empanada and Pellegrino for me, and a lemon meringue tart for each of us. Eating sensibly starts tomorrow.
Check out these cute tiny red Dutch clog salt and pepper shakers!
As I did for our departure flight back in December, I’ll share the bottom line. If it had not been an automatic inclusion on our world cruise, the business class ticket for this specific one-way flight on this specific airline would have cost $3104 per person, as compared to $826 per person for economy (again approximately 4X as much). It was certainly a much more luxurious first class experience on KLM than the Toronto to Fort Lauderdale flights on Delta/Westjet , AND in a more sleep-conducive seat configuration, but unless we were suddenly independently wealthy, I can’t imagine choosing first/business class flights for our travel at a 400% premium. And yet, I’m finding myself rethinking the $9K premium per person for our 18+ hour flights to Bangkok and 24+ hour flights home from Indonesia in November.
As we neared our destination, our flight attendants offered each international business class passenger a souvenir: a lovely Delft Blue Dutch house! Each year since the 1950’s KLM has added one new house to their original collection; there are currently 104. Ted and I chose #50 and #43, respectively. We’re a lot of KLM international business class flights away from a whole set! The houses are so popular that they even have their own app, called simply “KLM Houses”.
We landed at Pearson Airport just minutes before 7:00 p.m. Bergen/Amsterdam time, or 1:00 p.m. Toronto time. Our exit from the plane was delayed by Canadian Customs agents boarding to interview someone in economy – I guess there was an issue with paperwork that meant they might not be allowed off the plane in Canada. Was that was completed, business class debarked first, so we were off the plane as quickly as was possible, but still needed to clear Canadian customs, get our baggage, and call for our hotel shuttle.
Guess who got “randomly selected” for an arrival Covid PCR test? After 139 consecutive days of shipboard testing, AND a test yesterday in Norway for which I was carrying the negative result paperwork, I still needed one more swabbing.
“My” plan for today was simply to catch up on sleep, but that was not to be. Our hotel insisted we had no reservation, and they were full. After lots of back and forth, they gave us their last room (saying they’re never supposed to give up their “emergency” room), but were going to charge us for it, despite my receipt showing i’d already paid. The hotel claimed it was basically not their problem if I’d paid the booking site and the booking site had not passed on the information. We had made a separate booking (that is on their records) for tomorrow, and were just too tired to continue arguing, but then I ended up trying to troubleshoot it on the phone with the travel agency for quite a while.
Realizing that we’d be here in the “big city”, Ted thought it would make sense to try to buy my new iPhone and get my iPad screen repaired while we’re near an Apple store. It took over an hour on the phone, being shuttled between robots and unhelpful humans, to get an appointment with no guarantee that when we get there they’ll even have what we need. Apparently their “policy” is not to hold items for folks with appointments.
We were feeling less than thrilled to be back in Ontario.
But…. the weather is sunny and 24°C, we went out and enjoyed a nice long walk, tomorrow we’re meeting a good friend from our Mississauga days for coffee, and on Sunday son #2 will pick us up and get us back to the lovely Collingwood condo we’ve rented until the end of June. I’m ready for grandson hugs!! THEY are always first class.