What it’s like flying KLM’s business class on the Dreamliner — on a 709-mile South American route
While the Boeing 787 is designed to fly more than 8,000 miles without stopping, I got to experience this jet on a short, 709-mile flight from Santiago, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
No, there wasn’t a diversion or a mechanical issue — this was a regularly scheduled daily commercial service on a 787 between the two capitals.
The thrill of flying on a wide-body jet for a 90-minute hop would have been enough for this aviation enthusiast to specifically book this flight. It gets even better, though.
This wasn’t a Dreamliner operated by the flag carrier of Chile, LATAM Airlines. It was a 787 operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as part of a once-daily service between Chile and Argentina that connects Amsterdam with both countries.
The jet leaves Amsterdam bound for Buenos Aires. After landing in Argentina, it flies to Santiago and then retraces its steps along the same route.
Not only can KLM carry passengers to and from Amsterdam, it also has permission to sell the fifth-freedom route between Buenos Aires and Santiago as its own ticket. Fifth-freedom rights give you an opportunity to try a foreign carrier on a unique route, possibly very far away from the airline’s headquarters.
When I found myself in Santiago recently after flying Delta’s first “new” Airbus A350, this route immediately came to mind.
I did some quick research and realized that it would work with my schedule and there was saver business-class award availability through Flying Blue. I could even ticket my Delta flight on the same award (which totaled 104,000 miles), making for a seamless connection in Santiago.
I didn’t hesitate to book — and I’m so glad I did because it was a highlight of my recent travels.
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Starting with SkyTeam
My time with KLM began on the ground in Santiago with a visit to the new SkyTeam Lounge, which opened earlier this year.
Flying Blue (and SkyTeam partner) elites, as well as those ticketed in business class, can access this lounge. Priority Pass members who are flying on a Skyteam carrier from Santiago can also enter the space.
I “rope dropped” at this lounge, arriving at the ground-level entrance just minutes before the posted 8 a.m. opening time.
Once inside, I had the space all to myself. I sampled some of the seating options and found them all to be quite comfortable.
The lounge isn't massive. It’s designed in an L-shape, with most of the seating area occupying a long, rectangular corridor.
I caught up on some emails and uploaded my Delta pictures during my hour-long visit. I then made my way to the gate, which I noticed was already filling up with passengers.
Minutes after arriving, my name was paged. The gate agent needed to verify my Argentina entry documents. (I had received my boarding pass on Delta stock during check-in in Atlanta.)
Once verified, I received a boarding pass in KLM stock. Business-class passengers were invited to pre-board nearly 55 minutes before our scheduled 10:40 a.m. departure.
Pods for the hop
I was the first passenger on the six-year-old 787-9 Dreamliner (registered PH-BHD), and I was welcomed with a smile and “hallo” from the purser waiting just inside door 2L.
I turned left into the eight-row World Business Class cabin and immediately started taking pictures of the product. (The best cabin pictures are those without other passengers in them.)
KLM’s business class on the Dreamliner is arranged in a reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 configuration, with direct aisle access for each of the 30 passengers. The color scheme with blue paneling and navy seat covers exuded quiet elegance.
Of course, a lie-flat pod for a 90-minute flight isn’t necessary, but it’s definitely a novelty and thrill that I appreciated as an aviation enthusiast.
I only reclined my seat into bed mode for the pictures. The 78-inch-long bed certainly looked comfortable, especially with the open footwell area. TPG reviewed the product in great detail on a long-haul flight just before the pandemic, so be sure to check out our story for more details. More recently, TPG's Clint Henderson flew on KLM's Dreamliner business class earlier this year. You can check out his take on it here.
There was a plush pillow waiting at each pod, but the airline reserves duvets for long-haul flights.
I didn’t have time to watch TV, but the crisp 15.4-inch touchscreen was loaded with a handful of new releases and TV shows. I especially appreciated that the screen swiveled upwards and downwards, making it easy to watch from every angle (including while in bed).
I spent most of the flight catching up on some work — after all, I was traveling during the work day in New York.
KLM’s Dreamliners feature Wi-Fi, which was available for purchase once we reached 10,000 feet. A single flight pass costs 18 euros ($19), which was definitely expensive for such a short flight. (The airline's Wi-Fi pricing on long-haul jets is fixed and doesn't take into account flight distance.)
Download and upload speeds hovered around 2 Mbps throughout the flight, which was good enough for light web browsing.
The bi-fold tray table popped out from the side of the seat. It wasn’t big (measuring 11 inches long and 19 inches wide), but at least it moved on its track, making it easy to get up and use the restroom while eating or working.
One perk of flying on a plane designed for long-haul travel is the availability of power ports and USB outlets.
Though this was just a short flight, I appreciated that each business-class seat had a universal power outlet and USB-A port. Had I instead been flying on a LATAM Airbus A320, I likely wouldn’t have had access to power.
There were two lavatories for the business-class passengers, both located at the front of the cabin. Each was standard-sized, but I especially appreciated the Dutch design motifs, including the Delft house wallpaper and orange tulips.
It’s these small touches that make fifth-freedom routes so unique and fun.
A uniquely Dutch experience
Speaking of unique, I was particularly curious about the onboard service. Would I be served a full meal? (No.) Would I receive the signature Delft Blue house? (Yes!)
The service flow began on the ground with a choice of predeparture beverages. Though I was offered a glass of juice or pre-poured Champagne, I instead asked for a cup of water, which was delivered just moments later.
Boarding was efficient. While the economy cabin filled up, just 10 of the business-class pods were occupied — a few of which were taken by last-minute operational upgrades.
Once I settled into my seat, the incredibly friendly flight attendant, Bouke Van Den Oever, came by to ask (politely) why I was taking so many pictures. I explained that I'm an aviation enthusiast, and he immediately asked the captain if he could take me to the flight deck. That certainly wasn't the gruff reply I was expecting.
After my visit to the cockpit, I returned to my seat only to find the airline's two long-haul amenity kits waiting at my seat (one for departures from Amsterdam and one for flights to the airline's hub).
Though the airline doesn't proactively distribute them to passengers on this flight, Bouke wanted me to "get a sense for the real experience."
The kits themselves are branded in partnership with popular skincare line Rituals. The bag design is inspired by the famous Delft Blue vase on display in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.
Once airborne, I kept my eyes peeled to the windows for a view of the Andes mountains, but unfortunately, the thick cloud cover got in the way. I instead spotted a glory, which is an optical phenomenon in which the plane's shadow is cast onto a cloud, and the shadow is surrounded by a circle of light.
When we crossed through 10,000 feet, I had the option to choose a light snack, consisting of either a ham and cheese or a Caprese sandwich. I wasn't especially hungry, so I passed.
Minutes later, Bouke was back with a "taste of Amsterdam," as he described it — a stroopwafel and a bag of Noble chocolate clusters, a popular brand based in Belgium.
The snacks were served alongside a drink of choice. I stuck to water, which came in the airline's signature glassware designed by Marcel Wanders, a famous Amsterdam-based designer.
The best part of the onboard service happened just as we were descending into Buenos Aires. Bouke passed through the aisle with a tray of the airline's signature Delft Blue houses.
Each year on its birthday (Oct. 7), KLM unveils a new gin-filled miniature Delft house portraying a Dutch house that is historically or architecturally significant. (There are 102 houses in the series, with some of the rarest going for thousands of dollars on the second-hand market.) The houses are filled with Bols Jenever gin, and they're offered to business-class passengers on intercontinental routes.
I didn't expect to receive one on my short journey, but I was pleasantly surprised to bring home a memento from the unique flight. It now sits on my bookstand as a reminder of this special experience.
Tot ziens, KLM
All good things must come to an end, and this flight definitely wrapped up way too quickly.
Before long, we were descending into Buenos Aires. I took one more look outside the window and caught a shot of us passing over the city's suburbs with the Dreamliner's GEnx-1B engine bearing the KLM logo.
As we pulled up to the gate, I looked back at that photo and reminded myself how cool it was that I had just flown between two South American countries on a European carrier.
Then, I went back to the list of top fifth-freedom routes and started planning how I'll fly the next one.