Flight Review: KLM (787-9) Business Class From Amsterdam to San Francisco
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To The Point
KLM’s business class aboard the 787-9 made a very comfortable ride between the US and Europe. The Pros: private, reverse-herringbone seats and friendly service. The Cons: food and beverage options left something to be desired.
On a recent trip to Europe, I flew from Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris (CDG) in Air France’s latest business class aboard the 777-300ER. For my return trip, I flew from Amsterdam to San Francisco aboard its partner airline, KLM, since the route is operated by a new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and this would give me a chance to try out its latest business-class seat.
According to KLM’s website, the airline currently flies the new jet to Abu Dhabi/Muscat, Rio de Janeiro, Osaka, San Francisco, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Chengdu, Shanghai, Colombo, Dubai, New York, Calgary and Kuala Lumpur. I won’t go into too much detail here since I covered this pretty thoroughly in my previous post about the Air France flight, but here’s a quick refresher:
I was flying from Los Angeles (LAX) to Bucharest (OTP) via Paris (CDG) and returning from Bucharest to San Francisco (SFO) via Amsterdam (AMS) with an overnight layover so I could have some time to enjoy the city. My ticket came to $2,057 for the airfare, plus $543 in taxes and fees for a grand total of $2,600. Because I had booked it a few months out, I had my pick of seats on the Amsterdam–San Francisco leg. I selected seat 2K on the side of the cabin for privacy and so there would be a little distance from the lavatories and the galley.
I am still deciding but will likely credit the miles I earned to Alaska Airlines, a non-alliance partner of Air France/KLM — since I have MVP Gold status, this flight should put me over the top to qualify for MVP Gold 75K this year. Sure, I’ll only earn a 25%mileage bonus based on my fare class (J), but I’ll get a 100% award-mile bonus due to my status. I’d end up with 15,318 elite-qualifying miles, but 27,572 award miles for my entire itinerary.
Check-In and Lounge
My flight departed at 10:35am, so I got to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) at 8:30am. Thanks to my business-class ticket, I was able to check in at the SkyPriority section.
I skipped the automated kiosks — I had to check a bag anyway — and walked up to an open counter, where the attendant looked at my passport, tagged my bag and sent me on my way. Security went pretty quickly, too, and I was en route to the lounge within about 20 minutes of arriving at the airport.
The check-in agent had directed me to KLM Crown Lounge 52, the one nearest my gate. To get there, I had to go through an area of the terminal with a lot of shops, up one floor and down a hallway.
The lounge was enormous and full of travelers around 9:00am.
It had several large seating areas with armchairs and side tables, where you could charge your electronics.
There were also three nearly identical buffet areas offering yogurt, cereal, a few baked goods, cold cuts and hard-boiled eggs.
Red, white and sparkling wines had also been set out and you could help yourself to spirits. Heineken was also on tap.
Near each of the buffets was a sort of dining area with regular tables and chairs if you wanted to have your food there.
A small office area with computers and printers was also available.
The Wi-Fi required a password and was operating at OK but not great speeds.
As I mentioned, the lounge was packed to the gills and was sort of dark and gloomy, so I had a coffee, sent a couple of emails and headed back down to the gate.
I wanted to be on the plane as early as possible so I could take a few photos before there were too many other passengers.
I got to the gate about 20 minutes before boarding was supposed to commence only to find there were about 30 people already lined up in the SkyPriority line!
Boarding began about five minutes early and I wasted no time. Passengers entered through two doors: one at the front for business class, the other behind the business-class cabin for everyone else.
Cabin and Seat
Unfortunately, I got stuck behind an older couple who were also seated in business class — they had about four bags to fit into the overhead bins and by the time I could start taking photos, lots of other people had boarded.
Still, I tried to take a few shots of the business-class cabin without before walking farther back to have a look at the economy comfort and economy cabins.
The layout of this plane was interesting for a few reasons: Usually on long-haul aircraft, you’ll have two smaller premium cabins, but the entire business-class section on this one was in a single cabin — and it wasn’t very large.
All told, there are 30 business-class seats arranged in a reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 configuration, with seven rows of four seats across and one row (the first one) with just a single seat on either side of the cabin. Each seat had 42 inches of pitch, was 20.25 inches wide — with the armrest lowered, it was more like 25 inches — and reclined to a fully flat bed.
Behind the last row of business class was one of the galleys, and beyond that were four rows of economy comfort, a total of 48 seats.
Like the other economy seats, these were arranged in a 3-3-3 pattern, but had 35 inches of pitch and were 17.5 inches wide.
By comparison, the regular economy seats were the same width but had just 31 inches of pitch — not much considering the Dutch are the tallest people in the world!
There are 216 regular economy seats.
All economy seats have 11-inch touch screen IFE systems and in-seat power plugs.
Back up front, I was loving this style of the Zodiac Cirrus business-class seat — the ones on the sides of the plane offered a lot of privacy, while those in the middle were nice if you’re traveling with a companion. These aren’t the biggest reverse-herringbone seats out there, but they were still pretty comfortable. To be honest, they felt pretty much exactly the same as the new Air France ones I’d flown on the outbound — both had a slim profile, the dimensions and IFE systems were practically the same and they had similar design elements.
Of those elements, I really liked the navy blue upholstery and the textured robin’s egg backsplash of the seats. The footrest/cubbies, which can be constricting in some seats configured in this style, were also pretty big. The seat also contained a small compartment for holding items like a wallet or phone, plus a vanity mirror for freshening up.
Each seat also came with a universal adapter and a USB outlet — mine weren’t working for much of the flight despite a couple of system resets and I eventually had to plug in my laptop inside the purser’s “office” at the back of the cabin. Inexplicably, by the end of the flight, my plugs seemed to be working, so I was able to charge everything then.
There wasn’t much storage space to speak of, so I ended up sitting with my laptop behind my back for takeoff and landing, then just leaving it out on the wall-side armrest when it wasn’t being used. The tray table slid out from the wall-side armrest and was adjustable, so you could leave it half open and slide it closer or farther away, depending on what’s comfortable.
The seat also had both overhead and side-mounted reading lights, though my smaller light didn’t seem to work — I think it was part of the same issue as my electrical outlet. Seating positions are controlled by three buttons — one shifts the seat bottom backward and forward while raising or reclining the seat back, the second is the main recline button that you can press and hold to reach the full recline position and the third is for the upright position — while a fourth button controlled the accent lighting around the base of the seat.
Personally, I prefer controls like the ones you’ll see on Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways, where you can move individual parts of the seat — like the leg rest or the seat back — because there are a lot more potential positions to choose from.
At boarding, each seat had a duvet and pillow waiting on it — the duvet was soft and lightweight, while the pillow was stuffed with feather down, which made it nice and fluffy. I just wish there had been seat coverings to put down when you wanted to go to sleep.
When I did lower the seat to its full lie-flat position, I found it to be comfortable and spacious enough for my 5’8″ frame, and was able to get about five solid hours of sleep on this flight.
After boarding was complete and before takeoff, the flight attendants came through to distribute amenity kits. KLM recently partnered with Dutch fashion designer Jan Taminiau to design these for the next few years.
While I liked the kit itself, its contents were underwhelming. Inside were an eye mask, ear plugs, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste — but no skincare products! For those, you had to head to the lavatory, which was stocked with Zenology products, including deodorant, hydrating mist and moisturizer.
I also liked the lavatory’s wallpaper, which featured the airline’s signature white-and-blue Delft houses.
Each business-class seat had its own 16-inch HD touch screen IFE system, plus a handheld remote you could use to control it or if you wanted to view a separate stream of content. The main screen stowed in the seat back of the preceding seat and then swung out at the touch of a button, so it was perpendicular to the seated passenger. While you can stow it for more space when you want to, you could also watch content from boarding through landing — after landing, the system went dark.
I thought the safety video was kind of cool since it featured animated Delft tiles — a cute little touch that was just so… Dutch.
The IFE system was stocked with more than 150 movies and 200 television episodes. I browsed through the new releases, which included options like Bad Moms and Café Society. There’s also a fun feature that lets you chat with other passengers through the system. Pairs of noise-canceling headphones were kept in the little side cubby.
KLM also offers Wi-Fi onboard, though it was too limited — and expensive — to tempt me, with pass prices ranging from 5 euros (~$6) for 20MB up to 30 euros (~$35) for 200MB.
Food and Beverage
Before I get into the menu, let me just say that this part of the flight experience was a disappointment on several levels. To be clear, the service itself was lovely — the flight attendants were warm and friendly, chatting and joking with passengers and checking on folks at regular intervals to see that they had everything they needed. Rather, it was the food itself, as well as the pacing, that were the problem. Not only was the food uninteresting — and unattractive — but service for the first meal was extremely slow. So slow, in fact, that I had time to write an entire article between the appetizer and the main course. The whole lunch took about four hours to wrap up, which doesn’t leave a ton of time to get some rest on an 11-hour flight. I’m not sure if there was an issue with the galley or something else going on, but I’d be curious to hear from readers whether they’ve had the same experience with KLM.
One thing I did enjoy about the meal service was the design of the cutlery, flatware and glassware, which, it turns out is by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, who also designed the Andaz Amsterdam. I found the place settings to be contemporary and fun but also an homage to classic motifs, with cut crystal glasses and eye-catching patterns on some of the plates.
Once most of the business-class cabin had boarded, flight attendants came around with glasses of water, orange juice and Champagne. I opted for a glass of water to stay hydrated and a glass of bubbly, which was Nicolas Feuillatte NV Brut Réserve.
About 30 minutes after takeoff, flight attendants took beverage orders, delivering them with a choice of nuts or cheese about 10 minutes later. Around the same time, the purser came through taking orders for the main meal. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, the crew came through the cabin with another round of drinks and put down tablecloths for meal service, but no food appeared.
At about the hour mark, appetizers were served — a choice of salmon tartare with cucumber, goat cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes and a smoked beetroot dressing or a pumpkin soup with cashew seroendeng, which was kind of like a powdery garnish. It had been rainy and chilly in Amsterdam, so I chose the soup. While creamy and light, it wasn’t that tasty so I didn’t finish it. I also sipped a Sauvignon Blanc by Pacific Potion from New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay region.
Two of the main course choices were pike perch with yuzu sauce, pearl barley, celery, asparagus and turkey lardons, and braised beef haché with pickled vegetables, potato purée, beetroot, yellow onions and gingerbread crumble. Instead, I opted for the third: pan-fried chicken in red curry sauce with lemon risotto, celeriac mousseline, bok choy and pickled peppers.
As you can see, it did not look at all appetizing and as soon as I saw it, I regretted my choice. It tasted okay, but not great. Again, I didn’t finish it. I did try a wine from Portugal’s Douro Valley, Beyra Biologico Touriga Nacional–Tempranillo blend, which was medium-bodied and slightly fruity.
Dessert service came on a cart so you could see all the options. I decided to try the cheese plate with Dutch Beemster, blue cheese and frozen yogurt with Dutch cookie crumble and caramel sauce. I had the Taylor’s 2011 LBV port as an accompaniment.
As I mentioned, meal service had eaten up about four hours of the flight at this point, so I didn’t wait for the flight attendants to clear my tray. Instead, when I got up to brush my teeth, I stopped in the galley to let them know I’d finished and would be taking a nap soon and asked if they could clear my setting. It had been done by the time I got back to my seat.
I had a nice rest, and about 90 minutes before we were scheduled to land, the second meal service began. This one was a lot quicker since many of the items were on a single tray. I chose the pasta with eggplant, asparagus, yellow onion and toasted pine nuts instead of a turkey club sandwich, and a plate of chicken salad with mango, coconut and bell peppers.
While the pasta and vegetables were decent — and made a nice, light option — the chicken salad was bad. The fruit was fine, but the chicken was more like chicken shavings and the pieces were so dried out they ruined the whole dish, so I ended up not eating it. The fresh fruit on the side was nice to have, though, and I loved the little Dutch apple pie-lets that were served as dessert, complete with whipped cream.
Finally, about 30 minutes before landing, the purser came through offering folks a choice of about 20 different Delft Blue tile houses containing Bols Genever gin. The airline recently released the 97th house to coincide with its 97th anniversary, and here it is, a model of the Holland Amerika Lijn/Hotel New York building in Rotterdam.
It’s been ages since I’d flown on KLM, and I was really excited to try the airline’s new business-class seats, which did not disappoint. I thought they were stylish, spacious and comfortable, and I felt well rested after a few hours’ sleep in lie-flat mode. The service was really friendly and courteous. The flight attendants clearly took pride in the new aircraft and all of its fun features, like the window shading and the mood lighting.
My one quibble was with the meal service because it ate up (so to speak) an enormous chunk of the flight. It wasn’t a huge issue this time since I was on a daytime trip headed west, but in the opposite direction, when you’re flying overnight to Europe and hoping to get as much sleep as possible, the prolonged meal would have been quite a drawback. I also would have liked to see some individual skincare products in the amenity kits. Most airlines partner with well-known brands to offer at least lip balm and moisturizer to their business-class customers, so their absence here was noticeable. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with KLM and this particular business-class product again, and I’ll be watching for more inexpensive tickets for future trips in order to do so!
Have you flown in business class aboard KLM’s 787-9 Dreamliner? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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