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After surviving 18 hours in the economy comfort section of KLM heading out to Capetown from JFK via Amsterdam, I was called home early due to a family emergency. Luckily, I was able to redeem 120,000 Delta SkyMiles for a last-minute business class award departing South Africa earlier this week and returning on a dummy booking in the spring (which I’ll shift around and use somehow for a future trip). Because Delta doesn’t charge last-minute booking fees, I was only out $141 in taxes and fees – less than the $300 change fee I would have paid to change my ticket and still have to fly economy! I’ll still lose $300 in value from my return ticket, but the bottom line is that I needed to get home and wanted to do so in comfort (without paying the huge cost of business class).
The flight was on KLM’s Boeing 777-200 ER, which has a 2 x 3 x 2 seating plan in World Business Class with 35 angled lie-flat seats and an average seat pitch of 60 inches, compared to the 34-35 inches in Economy Comfort, which I flew out on (see review here).
My journey home started at the KLM Lounge at the Capetown airport, which although small, included a hot food station serving a selection of pasta, chicken, bread and a salad bar. While the food was fresh, the experience was somewhat hampered by the fact that there were hardly any free seats – even though our flight was the only one that night.
At least there was a bathroom and shower, which was a refreshing perk before boarding the long flight home. There was also a bar stocked with liquor and cold sodas in the fridge.
Here’s an Instagram video I made of boarding when we were finally ready to go.
After battling on both the phone and Twitter to secure a decent Economy Comfort seat on the way out, I was able to select an aisle seat with no-one next to me- even though I was originally put in a middle seat when I booked the award. These days it is weird to think about a middle seat in business class and I’d avoid flying KLM’s because there isn’t a ton of room and it would take some acrobatics to access the aisle if both of your seatmates were sleeping.
Unlike on my outbound flights where the meal service came more than two hours into the itinerary, on this flight the food came out quickly and all at once, which was appreciated since the flight left at 11:25pm and I was exhausted from a great time in Cape Town.
The dinner choices were Beef Potjie with potato mash, rosemary balsamic onions, Brussels sprouts and carrots; or Mushroom Ravioli served with Parmesan cheese cream sauce, cocktail tomatoes and sauteed leeks. There was also a cheese selection and salad on the side.
I opted for the beef, a hearty South African stew that was served in a sturdy white bowl. The meal was basic and a little bit fatty. I’m okay with getting a basic meal in before trying to sleep for as much as possible.
The wine list included a lengthy selection of wines both from South Africa and other countries including Chile, which was represented by Casa Silva and Cono Sur.
The dessert of a lemon tartlet with strawberry sauce was even simpler but delicious. You also have the choice of skipping the meal and having finger food of French bread canapes with salmon and cream cheese, roasted chicken and pesto mayonnaise or duck with mango salsa. In-flight snacks range from a healthy energy bar to not-so-healthy potato chips, Oreo cookies and Dutch waffles.
Afterwards I was just happy to get some rest, but it was admittedly a little cramped for business class. Call me spoiled by newer products like Cathay Pacific and American’s new 777-300ER business class, but the old-school KLM World Business Class seats just don’t make the cut in 2013.
They have a shell that, when it’s down means you can see straight into the person in front’s head space, which definitely hinders the experience and makes me realize how spoiled I am by the privacy of some newer business class cabins. Luckily, the seat next to me was empty so I had more space, otherwise I would have felt cramped. Once again, I’d avoid the middle seat at all costs!
The in-flight entertainment here is a personal 10.4-inch TV screen, which feels minuscule and outdated these days, with a choice of 80 movies and a wide range of shows, and there was also an in seat power port.
Fortunately, KLM revealed their new business class lie-flat seats in March, which they will be rolling out next year. The airline will first be refurbishing its fleet of 22 747-400′s with work scheduled to be completed by April 2014, followed by its 777-200′s before work begins on its Airbus aircraft. Each will recline to a full 2.07 meters (just enough to accommodate me!) and will have 17-inch seatback flatscreen IFE systems. All those customizations will take KLM’s current seating down from 42 to 35, likely making award availability even harder to find. For all the details on the new seats, check out my previous post here.
Meanwhile, my seat on this flight was comfy and reclined at a pretty strong angle – 170 degrees compared with the usual 165 of angled lie-flat business class seats – with lots of leg room so at least I didn’t feel like I was sliding out of it like on Air France and American Airlines. It was kind of like sleeping in a Lazy Boy, which I’m OK with!
I was given a Viktor & Rolf amenity kit, which was basic but had everything you needed including an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, socks and ear plugs in a nice metallic brown case.
I had to order breakfast the night before – and I forgot to, which was sort of annoying. But luckily the friendly flight attendant got me a savory meal without my asking so I had plenty to eat and I felt taken care of.
The a la carte choices were poached egg with Hollandaise sauce on a toasted muffin with ham and spinach – yum! – or pancakes with maple syrup, blueberry topping and ricotta cheese. I got a side of fruit, yoghurt and cereal as well, so was feeling very spoiled, and rather full. On the lighter side, there was also the express option of a savory or sweet offering from the bakery.
One unusual perk of flying KLM business class is that you get to choose a blue Delft Miniature house to take away with you as a souvenir and the little reproductions even contain the famous Dutch young jenever, a Dutch gin distilled by Bols Distilleries. They kindly wrap it up and give it to you in duty free in case you are transferring since you have to go through security again. The airline introduces a new model every October – they currently have 93 – so they are a fun thing for frequent flyers to collect, though I won’t be collecting a full set anytime soon (at least not the hard way).
Overall, the flight was fine. There were nice attendants and the food was OK, but nothing exceptional. If you set expectations low (for business class!) then you will be happy – and it was much better than economy. Definitely worth the extra 20,000 miles you need to redeem each way with Delta to score a business class seat instead of coach. Still, I won’t be flying KLM again anytime soon until I can try out their new, more modern business class.