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Despite recently updating its entire long-haul fleet with new business-class seats, KLM’s product is still underwhelming. The Pros: Friendly service and new finishes. The Cons: The lie-flat seats already feel outdated, while the food and amenity kits were lackluster at best.
I have a few back-to-back trips to Europe lined up this year and turned to one of my favorite airfare purchasing tricks to book them: business-class tickets are often much cheaper if you buy them round-trip from Europe to the US, rather than the other way around. In fact, I found several business-class fares between $1,100 and $1,500 from various European cities like Madrid and Berlin to the East Coast of the US. Needless to say, that’s how I ended up in KLM’s new business class.
Because of my timing, I purchased a round-trip ticket from Madrid (MAD) to New York (JFK) aboard Air France via Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on the outbound and through Amsterdam on KLM on the return for just $1,208. Going the opposite way would have cost between $4,200 and $6,400 right around the same dates and with the same airlines, so I thought it was something of a bargain. Not only that, but it would let me fly one of my favorite business-class products to Europe — Air France’s new reverse-herringbone seats — and to try a new one (for me, at least) on the return.
Best of all, I’m focusing my elite status and mileage strategy on Alaska Airlines these days and Air France and KLM are partners, which meant I could credit my flights to my Mileage Plan account. My tickets were in the J and Z fare buckets, earning me 125% elite-qualifying miles — I also have Alaska MVP Gold 75K status, so I earned an additional 125% award-mile bonus on top of that, so all told, I earned about 21,000 redeemable miles and 11,650 elite-qualifying miles. I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to book so I’d earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on top of my Alaska mileage earning.
Because the airfare was so cheap, I didn’t even bother looking into the mileage options on this one, though I would have had a few choices. Alaska is partners with Air France and KLM and charges 62,500 miles each way to fly from the continental US to Europe with them. Both carriers are part of SkyTeam along with Delta, so I could have transferred Amex Membership Rewards points to my Delta SkyMiles account as well. However, Delta raised partner award rates without warning back in April, and it now appears business-class awards on partners from the US to Europe are 85,000 SkyMiles — that is, if you can even find award availability, which I could not on this particular route even though I was looking several months out.
Meanwhile, Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue program is a 1:1 transfer partner of all four major points programs — Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest — but it’ll cost you 62,500 miles and about $200 to $300 in taxes and surcharges each way, which was definitely not worth it in this case.
Unfortunately, my connection from LA to JFK was rather late — thankfully, I landed in the same terminal as I was departing from, so at least I didn’t have to leave and re-enter security.
Instead, I sprinted through JFK’s Terminal 4 and made it to my gate just as the business-class boarding was wrapping up and general boarding was beginning. If there was more time, I would have stopped by the nearby Delta Sky Club, which is the airline’s flagship lounge and one of TPG’s favorites. It also consistently ranks high on our lists of the best airline lounges in the US.
I hopped into the business-class line and made my way down the bridge only to find a bottleneck — apparently, the boarding process had started before the plane was completely ready for passengers. We only had to wait another minute or two before we were let on though.
We boarded through the second door on the left side, with those of us seated in the forward cabin turning left.
Cabin and Seat
Business class aboard KLM’s 777-300ER consists of one main cabin with five rows and then a sort-of single-row mini-cabin behind the galleys. The seats are laid out in a 2–2–2 configuration, with five rows on the left side and center of the cabin and four along the right side, then that single row of six behind the galleys. There are 34 seats total.
Each seat is 20 inches wide and has 63 inches of pitch, but reclines to a full length of 78 inches. Those Dutch people are tall, after all!
Though they are forward-facing lie-flats, the seats are set at a slight angle from dead-center forward. In that respect, they’re like the business-class seats aboard United’s 787s and 767s (not Polaris) as well as those on other airlines like Aeromexico and Air China.
The seats are narrow, and the ones near the windows don’t have direct-aisle access, which seems to be more and more of a priority these days.
I think the major complaint most people have about these seats is that the footrest is like a small cubby that’s rather restrictive. If you have big feet or want to sleep on your side, it can be hard to wedge them in there. I have size 10 feet and this is what it looked like for me:
Though a bit of a squeeze, I didn’t have any issues sleeping, but I can see how this might bother some folks.
I really liked the dimpled cup placeholders on the armrest — they’re made that way to keep glasses from slipping.
Permanent metal screens with little holes punched in them are between each seat and provided more privacy than I initially thought they would. That was a good thing because these seats are narrow, so you end up being pretty close to the person seated next to you.
I would have liked more — or any! — storage so I could have kept my laptop out easily but instead, there’s just a slim pocket that held the airline literature and safety guides.
The cabin and seats were designed by Dutch industrial designer Hella Jongerius, who incorporated some interesting touches, like the airline’s traditional palette of blues and some warmer purple and brown tones. In fact, the carpets in the new cabins incorporate recycled KLM female flight attendant uniforms, so you’ll see some flecks of that signature teal-blue underfoot.
The seat is controlled by buttons on the armrest that can adjust the back and leg rests individually, with pre-set positions for takeoff and landing as well as sleeping. Each one has a universal power plug and USB port to the right of the headrest, which is where the provided noise-cancelling headphones can be plugged in to access the entertainment system. I really liked this placement since it meant not having to search for the plug in a storage cubby or under the seat. You’ll also get a medium-size pillow and a (very) light blanket.
To be honest, I thought the bedding on this flight left a lot to be desired. The pillows and blankets were pretty small — they were also quite thin and acted more like a cover-up. I much prefer the duvet you get on Delta, for instance.
The seat itself was also not the most comfortable for sleeping — the cushions were firm and didn’t have a lot of give, but more importantly, each felt confined. I’m not a big guy and at 5’8” and about 150lbs, I don’t take up a lot of space, but even I felt like the seat was too narrow. It’s not like I was tossing and turning, but each time I wanted to change positions, I ended up bumping into something or other because the space was so cramped.
I thought about lowering the aisle-side armrest to get a few more inches of space, but decided to keep it up so I’d be shielded from activity as much as possible.
Put simply, these seats were not cutting-edge at all and just felt old. They did have some nice finishes and other touches though, and there were still some interesting elements to the overall cabin design.
One surprisingly good part of the in-flight experience was the Panasonic ex3 entertainment screens. For a business-class cabin like this, they’re pretty large at 17 inches.
Not only that, but the movie and television selections were extensive and up-to-date with more than 150 movies and 200 television episodes to choose from.
You can control the system by tapping either the screen itself or the touchscreen handheld remote, which also operates independently so you can view a movie on one screen and your flight status on the other.
The noise-canceling headphones are fine but next time I’ll bring my own. There was no Wi-Fi aboard this flight, though KLM does offer it on its 787s. It wasn’t a huge issue for me since it was an overnight flight and I wasn’t going to be working from it anyway.
KLM commissioned Dutch designer Jan Taminiau about a year ago to design KLM’s amenity kits, which are stylish and compact, but contain just the usual basics: an eye mask, socks, earplugs, a comb, toothbrush and toothpaste. No skincare products were included at all and to me, that’s a major shortcoming in a premium product.
The one other major shortcoming is that there are only two lavatories for the whole cabin — one is located by the forward galley, the other by the aft galley. At certain times, like right after meal service or before landing, there was a line of folks that was exacerbated by the flight attendant activity in the galleys. There were Zenology products in the lavatory, including facial mist, deodorant and moisturizer, but who wants to use a germy communal bottle?
Food and Beverage
I have to say, my dining experience with KLM has been disappointing every time. The service is usually wonderful — prompt, professional, friendly and attentive — and that was the case this time as well. The flatware, designed by Marcel Wanders, is also quite cool. However, the food itself was… terrible. I am reticent to say so outright, but felt strongly enough about it that I think it bears discussion here. It’s even more surprising because the airline touts its partnership with chef Jacob Jan Boerma. Why even bother having a chef partnership when the results are like this?
Because of my flight’s departure time of 10:15pm and the fact that I’d had to fly in from LA, then dash over to catch this KLM flight, I was actually happy to see that they’d be serving supper after departure. The flight was about seven hours long, so most folks went to sleep right away — but I stayed up for it.
The meal was all served on one tray, partly for expediency and partly because that’s how KLM seems to do meal service in business class. The appetizer I received consisted of grilled asparagus spears wrapped with smoked salmon and served with mustard crème. The main course choices included lasagna with pesto cream and blistered tomatoes, grilled beef with ramen noodles and Asian vegetables and roasted cauliflower soup. Then there was a small plate with Colston Basset Stilton and Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and a dessert of coconut-corn tartlet.
The china and flatware used by KLM, designed by Wanders, pays homage to the Netherlands’ famous Delft tiles and sets a fun, whimsical mood for the meal service. However, the food itself was awful. The beef with noodles was flavorless and tough as leather. The tartlet was basically like corn pudding in an undercooked pastry shell, and the cheeses might as well have been bought at the grocery store. At least the appetizer was fresh, though.
About an hour before landing breakfast was served — major props to KLM’s flight attendants for not waking people up super-early and cutting into sleeping time on this short flight.
Again, it was all served on one tray, but I appreciated the efficiency of this service style. There was a choice of cheese or apple tart or yogurt with granola, as well as a bowl of fresh fruit, some hot rolls and choice of jam. You could also have hard-boiled eggs and cold cuts. I opted for the yogurt and fruit and enjoyed a glass of pulpy orange juice as well.
The flight’s wine selection was decent and included Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne. There were two white wines from France including Chateau Tour de Mirambeau 2015 from Bordeaux and on the red side, a French Rhone blend, a Spanish blend of Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo and a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon by Viu Manent, which I greatly enjoyed. Next time, I’m going to try the signature Flying Dutchman cocktail of Damrak gin, Bols blackberry liqueur, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup — it sounds delicious!
As an airline, I really like KLM. Its flight operations are usually smooth as can be, it has great aircraft and the carrier is at least trying to keep its premium seats updated. However, just as KLM finished refurbishing its fleet, the new business-class seats area already starting to feel outdated and cramped. The sleeping amenities are unexceptional at best, as are the amenity kits. The element that really stood out — in a bad way — was the mediocre in-flight food. So much so that I might avoid flying KLM in the future in favor of a partner carrier, and that’s saying a lot.
I don’t want to get too down on it since I did have a comfortable flight, so I’ll end on a nice note. The flight attendants were just plain lovely — they were friendly and gracious, but also very quick to meet passengers’ needs. The FAs definitely made the experience better, and made me want to get to Amsterdam faster to experience more of that sunny Dutch hospitality. I don’t have plans to fly with KLM again soon and like I said, I won’t go out of my way to do so. However, for such a bargain-basement fare like I found, this was a very good way to get to Europe, especially since it got me closer to my 2017 elite status goals.
Have you ever flown in business class aboard KLM’s 777-300ER? Tell us about it, below.
All photos by the author.
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