KLM: NCL to GVA

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Flight review June 2014 KLM NCL to GVA Boeing 737-700

A trip with KLM from Newcastle to Geneva meant a connection in Amsterdam for our reviewer

Travelling through Heathrow is not a default position for many of us living across the UK. So, to reach long-haul destinations – or make shorter hops not served directly by regional airports – flying through hubs such as Amsterdam, Paris or Brussels has become a very familiar option for both business and leisure trips.

I live in Newcastle and find the city’s airport very well served by Air France-KLM, with both of the company’s airlines running multiple return services daily to Amsterdam’s Schiphol or Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airports. On this occasion I was travelling to Geneva and, although easyJet offers a direct flight from Newcastle, the mid-morning departure time proved inconvenient – so we opted for KLM’s 5.35pm service with a connection at Schiphol, allowing us to make the trip after work. Here’s how the experience went…

KLM: Check-in

Following a useful email reminder 30 hours before departure, I checked us in online. Extra charges for baggage and seating options were clearly flagged during the process. Although we were travelling with hand luggage only, we noted that charges applied for checking in a bag on this flight (€15, or £12, with a discount online, or €30 at the airport, for a 23kg max suitcase). There are three options for the boarding card – print at home, download to mobile device or collect at the airport. Not trusting my phone’s battery, I opted for the latter – however, the self-service machines at the airport refused to process our boarding passes, so we had to visit the desk (but there was no queue and we were through swiftly). 7/10

Boarding

While having a bite to eat in the terminal we learnt that our flight was delayed – first by 30 minutes, then 45. With only 80 minutes to make our connection at Schiphol we were beginning to feel concerned.

KLM representatives on the ground in Newcastle were charming and helpful, but unable to speak to anyone at Schiphol to tell them we were carrying hand luggage only, so could run to the gate, and hopefully not get bumped from the next leg of the journey. We eventually departed two hours late (a fault with the original aircraft was cited and a replacement flown in) and noted that neither the business-class passengers nor KLM Silver Wing frequent flyer cardholders like us were called early to the boarding. We took off knowing we would miss our connection and a night at an Amsterdam hotel would be the result – but more of that later. 7/10

The seat

Carrying hand luggage only, we like to sit as near to the front of the cabin as possible for a quick exit on arrival. KLM charges for this seat selection privilege in the economy section, but as we are frequent flyers we paid a reduced price of €4 per seat rather than the full €5. While checking in, we also noted a fascinating option to ‘bid’ for business-class seats, with bids starting at €80.

This Boeing 737-700 has a flexible capacity for business class depending on the demand, and for this flight was set at the front three rows – though the curtain can be moved further back if required. The three-three seat configuration remains in business class, but the middle seat is kept empty. We were seated in row six and found the seat pitch good and the cloth-upholstered seats comfortable. 7/10

In-flight experience

The captain and crew were very apologetic about the delay and our missed connection. Drop-down screens throughout the cabin gave updates on flight progress and, on approach, gave details of connecting flights (for the lucky ducks who could still make them) along with gate numbers and a handy map of the Schiphol terminal.

In-flight service included a drink of wine, beer, tea, coffee or a soft drink and a packet of crisps or a biscuit. I opted for a glass of red and some water, and felt I could have asked for a refill – though this would perhaps have been a drink too far on a mere 50-minute flight. KLM’s in-flight magazine contained topical destination guides and entertaining features. 8/10

Arrival

Before we alighted, the captain provided the purser with details of our new connection to Geneva – 7am the next morning. Our front seats allowed us to reach the customer service desk at Schiphol ahead of the herd and we were soon in possession of new boarding cards, vouchers for €50 off our next flights and vouchers for either 2,000 air miles, €10 of food at the airport or €15 off tax-free goods on board. We had to queue again at a separate desk for our hotel vouchers.

The Courtyard Marriott, a 15-minute shuttle bus ride from the terminal, was a good place to be accommodated and free pizza, drink and amenity kits were provided for our stay – though the buses in the morning would get us there either inconveniently early or too late, so we ended up paying for a taxi.

Our new morning flight to Geneva went smoothly and, though we were disappointed to find that our family was scattered through the cabin on the new booking, the crew efficiently arranged for us to be seated together when we approached them at the gate. In a disappointing footnote, however, when we tried to use the €50 discount vouchers to book our next flights we found that their eight-digit codes were not actually compatible with the online booking form’s field of 13 digits.

Several calls to the help desk over the course of two more days were ultimately needed before we settled on the solution of me paying full price before posting the vouchers to KLM customer services and them crediting my bank account with €50 per passenger. A complicated end to a far from straightforward trip from Newcastle to Geneva. 4/10

The verdict

Convenient flight times and a good onboard experience were let down by lengthy delays and a confused and time-consuming process of compensation. 33/50

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