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Reviewing KLM’s new premium economy cabin on the inaugural flight

Sept. 01, 2022
20 min read
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KLM has officially become the latest airline to offer a premium economy cabin.

The Dutch flag carrier formally welcomed its new premium economy cabin Wednesday, a big milestone in a multi-year project that’ll see a fleet-wide rollout by the end of next year.

The first jet outfitted with Premium Comfort, as the airline calls it, is a Boeing 787 registered PH-BKA.

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This aircraft bears KLM's 100-year anniversary livery and also happens to be the first -10 Dreamliner that KLM added to its fleet. It took off from the airline’s hub at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) at 2:54 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

To celebrate the introduction of the new cabin, KLM invited a handful of media and influencers to get a first look at the onboard experience on the inaugural flight. TPG purchased my one-way flight for $1,132.40. Fares for round-trip flights in KLM premium economy between New York and Amsterdam start at $1,191 in September and October and dip to $1,141 in November.

Award bookings are available through the Flying Blue program, with one-way awards starting at 30,000 miles. Award pricing is dynamic, though, so as the cash fare increases, expect the mileage rates to climb. At the moment, KLM’s premium economy doesn’t appear bookable using miles from other Skyteam frequent flyer programs such as Delta SkyMiles.

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Here’s what the experience in KLM's new premium economy was like.

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KLM’s premium economy strategy

KLM first unveiled plans to retrofit its long-haul fleet of Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft earlier this year, though these plans have been in the works since well before the pandemic, Boet Kreiken, KLM’s executive vice president of customer experience told TPG during an onboard interview.

With the introduction of premium economy, KLM will return to offering three cabins on its long-haul aircraft. Back in the day, the airline offered first, business and economy class.

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First class was retired years ago, and in its place now comes premium economy.

That’s a sign of the times, according to Kreiken, since premium economy has become increasingly popular both for airlines and travelers. The recliners, which offer more space than coach seats, are typically offered at a price between business and economy.

Many leisure and business flyers (especially those with strict corporate travel policies) may consider splurging for premium economy as opposed to going all out on a business-class ticket.

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In KLM’s case, premium economy will be roughly double the price of an economy ticket, whereas a business-class ticket is generally four times the price of an economy ticket, Kreiken said.

With the move, KLM is playing catch-up with its fellow European carriers, nearly all of which already offer a premium economy cabin or have plans to do so.

In fact, KLM was the lone holdout of the transatlantic joint venture that includes Delta, Air France and Virgin Atlantic to not offer a premium economy cabin.

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KLM’s Premium Comfort is already available for sale on the route between Amsterdam and New York, and it will be phased into additional transatlantic markets in the coming weeks. The rollout plan calls for service to Los Angeles, the rest of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean launching sequentially.

KLM will retrofit all of its Boeing 787-9 and -10 Dreamliners by the end of the year and will commence the retrofits on the Boeing 777s early next year.

It expects to have the entire fleet complete by the end of 2023.

Ground experience

KLM premium economy flyers will receive the Sky Priority suite of benefits, enhancing their ground experience at the airport.

Flyers purchasing a premium economy fare can enjoy priority check-in, security and group 2 boarding included with their ticket.

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Two standard-size checked bags up to 50 pounds each are also included with a premium economy fare. (That said, I didn’t bother checking a bag for this trip.)

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Additionally, premium economy travelers can bring two full-size carry-on bags along with one personal item. (In economy, you’re only allowed one full-size carry-on.)

Given the recent horror stories about security lines and lost luggage at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), I arrived with plenty of time to spare for the 2:30 p.m. scheduled departure.

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Mercifully, the airport wasn’t nearly as busy as it’s been over the past few weeks. The check-in and security line didn’t snake outdoors, and it took just minutes to get my boarding pass issued.

Shortly thereafter, I cleared security. Notably, there wasn’t much of a line for either the Sky Priority or standard queues. The only holdup was the slow pace at which the new x-ray machines process bags.

From there, I made my way through the automated passport control gates before arriving at the airside area with nearly three hours to go before the flight.

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Most premium economy passengers will likely head straight to the gate or hang out in the terminal. That’s because lounge access isn’t included with the ticket. It instead can be purchased for an additional fee that varies based on your itinerary and status level.

However, I’m currently participating in a Delta Diamond Medallion status match, so my Skyteam Elite Plus status got me into the well-above-average (and somewhat newly renovated) KLM Crown Lounge for free.

The bi-level lounge is quite impressive, with plenty of seating for KLM and Skyteam passengers headed to international destinations.

It was packed when I arrived but the crowds started thinning out throughout the morning. I found plenty of space to relax upstairs at both the expansive outdoor terrace and the indoor bar area.

I spent most of my time in the lounge on the terrace watching KLM jets move around the apron.

Since most premium economy passengers won’t have lounge access, I won’t go into too much detail about this visit. You can find a full recap of the lounge in TPG’s recent review.

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Aside from the outdoor terrace, I especially loved seeing how KLM had integrated its signature Delft Blue houses into the lounge’s design. The entrance area is lined with hundreds of these cute Dutch miniature houses, and there’s even a separate room dedicated to displaying them all.

After catching up on some work, I walked to our departure gate, F9, stopping along the way to snap shots of KLM and other SkyTeam airlines' jets.

After marveling at the Dreamliner I would be flying from the terminal’s iconic pothole-shaped windows, it was time to step on board the jet.

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It turned out I wasn’t the first one there. I stepped into the cabin just in time to capture the tail end of a photo shoot with KLM’s new president and CEO Marjan Rintel, who was experiencing the premium economy product for the first time, too.

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(Rintel didn’t fly to New York. She went back to the office just as passengers started boarding the plane.)

Cabin and seat

KLM’s premium economy cabin is located just behind the second exit door on the 787-10 Dreamliner.

The 28-seat cabin spans four rows, 11 through 15 (there’s no row 13 on KLM), with seats arranged in an industry-standard 2-3-2 configuration.

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The 787-10 offers the largest premium economy cabin in the KLM fleet. The smaller -9 Dreamliner will have just 21 recliners, whereas both the -200 and -300 variants of the 777 will feature a 24-seat cabin.

Note that premium economy is coming at the expense of economy seats, rather than business class, which should be great news for those looking to redeem miles or upgrades for KLM long-haul flights.

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My first impression when stepping into the cabin was how tastefully designed it was. I loved the blue stitching around the headrest and the many hues of blue throughout the section.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

There were even two KLM logos emblazoned on the bulkhead walls, a nice branding touch that gave the cabin a more upscale feel.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

KLM picked a customized version of the Rockwell Collins MiQ seat for its premium economy recliner. (This is the same product that United installed in Premium Plus and American offers in domestic first class and in premium economy.)

Unlike those at its partner Air France (and some other airlines), the KLM recliner isn’t in a fixed shell, where the seat sort of slides forward and down rather than reclining. That should be welcome news for those who aren’t fans of a shell design.

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Each seat measures 18.5 inches wide and offers 38 inches of pitch — in line with the industry standards for this cabin.

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The seats themselves were well padded and felt quite comfortable for a 7-hour flight to New York.

The manual seat controls are built directly into the armrest console, and they’re self-explanatory. One controls the recline and the other releases the leg rest.

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The seat offers 8 inches of recline, which felt quite generous, especially when it came time to catch some shut-eye during the flight.

Speaking of sleeping, each recliner has both a leg rest and a footrest. Note that the bulkhead seats have a footrest that’s attached to the leg rest, which may or may not be an issue, depending on your height.

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The winged headrest can also be raised or lowered, which should hopefully make it easier to sleep.

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When it’s time to eat or work, you’ll find a bi-fold tray table that pops out of the armrest. It measures 17 inches wide and 11 inches long, which is large enough to comfortably fit a 13.6-inch MacBook Air.

There’s even a tablet/phone stand built into the tray table, too.

In terms of storage, you’ll find a literature pocket and a separate small device holder built into the seatback in front of you.

There’s also a small storage compartment in the armrest, though it’s not nearly wide or deep enough to hold an iPad, let alone a laptop. You may be able to keep a book in there, but only if it’s a skinny one.

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There is a water bottle holder built into the side of the armrest console.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

The center console between seats measures 5 inches wide.

There’s not much privacy between recliners, though the cabin itself is quite intimate, with just four rows. It would have been great if KLM had added the new privacy wings to the seats that Delta debuted with its new domestic first-class product.

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While galley curtains separate the premium economy cabin from coach during the flight, you’ll still need to head toward the rear of the plane to use one of the six lavatories.

Asked about why KLM didn’t add dedicated lavatories for premium economy, Paul Terstegge, KLM’s executive vice president of inflight services, told TPG that the “Premium Comfort is the sweet spot between economy and World Business Class… Having dedicated lavatories [in premium economy] was never a consideration.”

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One unique feature about the new product is its focus on accessibility. The aisle armrest on each recliner can lower fully, making it easier for someone who uses a wheelchair to get in and out of the seat.

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Food and beverage

To date, we’ve seen airlines take two radically different approaches to the culinary experience in premium economy.

Some airlines simply take the economy offerings and add a few small touches, while others offer a scaled-back version of business-class dining.

KLM is taking the latter approach.

During boarding, flight attendants passed through the cabin with printed menus, a nice touch that felt decidedly premium.

Once airborne, the crew made four passes through the cabin. The first was to offer a 500-milliliter bottle of water and a personal protective kit.

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Afterward, the drink trolley rolled through the cabin.

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Drinks were served alongside a small package of salted mixed nuts.

While the assortment of alcoholic beverages was impressive (the espresso martini was a big hit), it was especially exciting to see KLM using its signature glassware for the drink service.

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After the drinks, the crew brought around the lunch service. The main meal was served in recyclable dishes, along with metal cutlery. I appreciated that KLM went with black tableware, as opposed to the “classic” white dishes that are popular in economy class.

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There were three entree choices, though the appetizer and side dish were the same regardless of which meal you selected.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

KLM promises to always offer a vegetarian entree on every premium economy flight, though it was interesting to see that the grilled chicken appetizer wasn’t vegetarian-friendly.

I really enjoyed the beluga lentils and spinach pancakes as my entree. I didn’t mind that the meal was delivered covered, especially because each dish was wrapped in specially designed plastic with KLM’s new premium economy motif.

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I also was able to snag photos of the other two entrees, chicken tom kha kai and salmon with potato salad and asparagus, which received overwhelmingly positive reviews from my neighbors.

Interestingly, there’s no choice of bread in premium economy. Everyone received the same warmed white roll.

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After lunch, crew members came through the cabin one final time before dimming the lights. They picked up the lunch tray and offered each flyer a stroopwafel-flavored ice cream cup, which was served alongside Baileys and a choice of either coffee or tea.

While stroopwafels have been appropriated as the go-to snack option on many U.S. airlines, this was my first time trying an ice cream flavored after this popular cookie.

As an ice cream lover, it was even tastier than the packaged stroopwafels I’m used to receiving in the U.S.

There was a small snack box available in the galley once the first meal service ended. The snacks inside were identical to the ones served in economy.

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After lunch, the crew largely disappeared until 90 minutes before landing, when they came through the cabin with the pre-arrival meal.

There was just one choice — a mixed greens and beetroot salad, which was served with four warm falafel balls and a tart for dessert.

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While this service was certainly more basic than the first, the quality of the food was just as good.

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KLM is clearly trying to differentiate the catering offering in premium economy. It’s taking a “business-class-lite” approach, which stands in stark contrast to many airlines, including its partner Delta, which continues to serve premium economy flyers food that largely resembles what the folks back in coach get.

Amenities and IFE

The amenities on offer in KLM premium economy largely resembled those you’ll find on other airlines in the same cabin.

During boarding, the crew distributed amenity kits, which were packaged in a small pouch made from recycled plastic bottles.

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The kits were designed in conjunction with Repreve Our Ocean, a supplier of resin and fiber materials sourced from plastic bottles that are collected near coastlines in countries that lack formal recycling systems.

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The sustainability theme continued with the contents of the kit. The toothbrush was made from bamboo and the Happy Tabs toothpaste came packaged in tab form to reduce waste from discarded tubes of toothpaste.

The kit felt a bit bare-bones, but it was roughly on par with what I’ve come to expect for premium economy.

During boarding, there was a small pillow and thick duvet waiting at each seat.

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Turns out that KLM split the difference between economy and business class with its bedding in Premium Comfort. The pillow was the same flimsy one from economy (with a nicer cover), while the duvet was the exact same one found in the airline's business-class cabin.

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In terms of power and connectivity, each seat features a USB-A and USB-C port built into the armrest console.

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While I appreciate the addition of a USB-C charging port, its location on the side of the seat meant that I kept hitting the cable with my leg during the flight. It would have been better if KLM had put the ports in a less obstructive position.

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There’s also a universal AC outlet at each seat, which is located in the center console between the literature pocket.

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Satellite-based Wi-Fi was available once we crossed 10,000 feet, with a full-flight surf package running 18 euros ($18) or 6,000 Flying Blue miles.

Though the connection was stable throughout the flight, the speeds of the Panasonic-provided service (2 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload) made it hard to run data-intensive apps, such as Instagram.

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Each seat features a 13.3-inch HD inflight entertainment touchscreen monitor loaded with plenty of content, ranging from new release movies to TV shows.

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The moving map software was quite advanced with plenty of customizable views, including my personal favorite, the cockpit view.

I especially appreciated that the screen tilts upward, making for a perfect viewing angle no matter how tall you are or how much your neighbor has reclined.

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Three-prong noise-canceling headphones were waiting at each seat during boarding.

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These are the same headsets you’ll find in business class, though they weren’t especially comfortable and the acoustic quality wasn’t memorable.

Service

KLM hand-picked the crew operating the inaugural premium economy flight, and it showed.

Everyone I interacted with was incredibly friendly, though the senior purser, Martina Van Streun, was perhaps the most memorable.

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That’s because Van Streun doesn’t just work on board KLM aircraft. She’s also KLM’s director of product, and the premium economy cabin was her most recent project.

Watching Van Streun interact with my fellow passengers and explain aspects of the design strategy showed that she really cared about the project.

Of course, it’s hard to get a true sense of the service when KLM executives are on board. As such, I won’t provide a score or rating for this review, but I at least got a chance to observe how the service works.

There are seven dedicated flight attendants for the premium economy and economy cabins, and all meal and drink service is provided from carts.

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After serving the premium economy meals, the flight attendants went back to assist their colleagues in coach.

That meant that the meal service wasn’t as personalized as you’d expect in business class. No one came up to ask how the meal tasted, and when I did press the flight attendant call button during the main meal service, it took over 10 minutes to get an answer.

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For context, I pressed it again later on (as a test), and the call was answered within three minutes.

Bottom line

Though KLM is a bit of a latecomer to the premium economy game, its offering packs a mighty punch.

The seats are comfortable, and the leg rest, footrest and adjustable winged headrest should make it easier to fall asleep than if you are riding in coach.

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You’ll easily stay connected with an assortment of power ports, Wi-Fi and extensive entertainment options.

Where the product shines is in the culinary experience, though, which resembles something you’d find in business class more than in economy.

It was hard to get a sense of the service on the inaugural flight, but if KLM can figure this part out, then it’s poised to offer one of the best premium economy classes in the skies.

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Of course, the big question is whether it’s worth the splurge over sitting in coach. If you’re looking for an elevated experience with some thoughtful touches, all without breaking the bank, then it most certainly is.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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