Flight review: Amsterdam to New York in Economy Comfort on KLM’s 787-9 Dreamliner
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we are still publishing new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken just before the lockdown, like this one. Please note that if you fly during the coronavirus pandemic, you will encounter a very different experience, both on the ground and on board, from what was experienced during this review flight.
Before travel came to a screeching halt in March and April, I was fortunate to spend a couple of long weekends in Portugal. To return to the U.S., I was originally scheduled to fly from Porto to New York JFK via Milan Malpensa (MXP) with Alitalia, but by the time I was returning home in the first days of March, the coronavirus had already gripped Italy, and flights between that country and the U.S. were getting canceled with very short notice.
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My ticket had been issued by Delta; Alitalia is a fellow member of the SkyTeam alliance, as is Air France – KLM. With that in mind, I called Alitalia and Delta, with the hope of changing my flight home to go through a hub that was less affected at the time by the pandemic.
Eventually, after some back and forth between the two airlines, a friendly Delta agent booked me home to New York via Amsterdam (AMS), which meant I’d get to fly KLM, an airline that I’d never flown before! Even better, I’d get to fly on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which has become one of my favorite aircraft.
Since I was flying at thee beginning of March, I was also curious to see if my flight was going to be any different than the last one I’d taken just a few days before. Spoiler alert: Things weren’t all that different from the usual then — besides the flight being emptier than what was typical before the pandemic — but they’re certainly much different now.
This flight was booked as part of a round-trip economy ticket from NYC to Europe and back. Originally I had booked the ticket as a nonstop flight from New York JFK to Madrid (MAD) and then Porto (OPO) to JFK via Milan. But, as I explained above I had to change my flight home, and it became OPO-AMS-JFK. This review will cover the AMS-JFK leg on the KLM 787-9.
We paid a total of $760 for the ticket, and charged the fare to the Platinum Card® from American Express, which earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly through the airline or with Amex Travel. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year. For this flight, we earned 3,800 MR points, worth about $72, according to TPG’s current valuations.
Since it was a cash ticket, I was able to earn Delta SkyMiles. From this flight, I earned a total of 3,644 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), 287 Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) and 3,157 redeemable miles — 1,722 of those which can be attributed to the bonus I earn as a Diamond Medallion member.
This trip wasn’t only my first time flying KLM, but also my first time traveling through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. I’d heard great things from TPG colleagues, so I was very excited to see it for myself.
I’m happy to report that it lived up to its reputation. We arrived from Porto at a remote stand, and were bussed to the terminal. The ride wasn’t very long at all, and much shorter than the seemingly never-ending bus rides at Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG).
As soon as I disembarked from the bus, I located the bank of monitors displaying all the departures and found the gate I needed to get to. I had over an hour to kill before I was scheduled to board and planned to explore as much of Schiphol as I could.
I slowly meandered through the terminal and took note of some of the details that immediately made me like the airport.
Take, for example, the quintessentially Dutch tulip stand.
Or the calming sitting areas providing apron views, perfect for any AvGeek.
Of course, I’d heard much about KLM’s new-ish Crown Lounge, which was unveiled in 2019.
After walking down a couple of wrong hallways, I found the entrance to the lounge, and was instantly drawn to the huge entrance wall of floating Delft houses. Sadly, I wouldn’t be taking one home after my flight since I wasn’t flying KLM business class — where passengers get a Delft house on every flight — but at least I got to witness the giant wall of them!
The lounge itself won’t be factored into the score of this section, and you can read our full review of the space here, but I was able to access it thanks to my SkyTeam Elite Plus status and definitely wanted to experience it for myself.
The lounge is essentially one gigantic room (it really is huge, over 73,000 square feet!), but it’s separated into several, clearly defined areas.
There are long communal tables for working, comfy leather benches for lounging or catching up on a book or favorite TV show, chairs next to the windows for watching planes, and even a dedicated Heineken beer bar — another wonderful ode to the airline’s home country.
I think my favorite was the tiered sitting area outfitted with light wood trim and with different seating elements spread throughout. It is certainly an eye-catching centerpiece of the lounge and I made sure to sit there for at least a few minutes before I had to leave.
After I did a lap to get my lay of the land, I settled on a place to have a quick bite to eat and then ventured out again to survey the food-and-beverage scene. One of my favorite parts — the self-serve buckets of wine — will likely be no longer due to the coronavirus pandemic. The lounge is currently open, but with reduced service.
After I poured myself a glass of wine, I set my sights on the food, which was predominantly buffet-style, so that will likely be another casualty of the pandemic. In early March, blissfully ignorant of what was about to happen to the travel industry, I was more than happy to participate in a pre-flight buffet.
I helped myself to salads, cold cuts of meat and delectable pastries. I even caught a glimpse of some caviar.
After a little under an hour in the lounge, I departed and made my way to gate F9 where I saw my Dreamliner awaiting.
Only a few minutes after I arrived, the gate agents announced that we’d be starting the boarding process. I lined up right away since I wanted to get photos of the plane with as empty of a cabin as possible, but due to my SkyTeam status I was able to board in Zone 2 anyway.
This was before sweeping travel bans were enacted, and I was simply asked “Have you been to China in the last two weeks?” when it was my turn to board. I replied that I had not, the agent gave my passport a quick look and I was allowed on board.
Cabin and Seat
KLM’s 787s feature just two cabins, business and economy, with Economy Comfort being a subset of the economy cabin; there isn’t a true separate premium economy. Business class is arranged in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone pattern, while economy and Economy Comfort sport a 3-3-3 arrangement, typical for this aircraft.
When I was on the phone with Delta changing my itinerary to this one, the agent kindly noted my Diamond status and said that while she couldn’t clean an upgrade to business class with one of my Delta Global Upgrade Certificates, she could assign me an Economy Comfort seat (I picked a window, of course) while on the phone.
One of the most glaring signs that the pandemic had begun affecting Europe in a big way was that the Economy Comfort section was just about empty. In fact, every person in the section had their own row, myself included.
Each Economy Comfort seat measures 17.5 inches wide and offers 35 inches of pitch, while regular economy seats seats are the same width but only offer 31 inches of pitch.
I appreciated the winged, adjustable headrest, which came in handy as I made myself comfortable, resting my head at the window and stretching my feet across the whole row — poor man’s business class at its finest!
Like many modern economy seats, these were equipped with cupholders that could be used while the tray table was in the upright position, making what little space you have just a little bit easier to work with.
I found my seat to be plenty comfortable, especially with the extra legroom and the fact that I had nobody else in my row. Even if it had been a full flight, I have no doubt I could have gotten comfortable for the relatively short transatlantic hop.
Amenities and IFE
Upon boarding, I found a pillow and blanket at my seat. On their own, they weren’t much, but since I had the whole row to myself I gathered thee other two sets and used them in my poor man’s business class setup. Flight attendants offered earbuds, but they were the typical low-quality kind and I passed since I had my noise-canceling headphones with me.
My seat offered both AC and USB power outlets which allowed me to arrive home with fully charged devices.
If I’m sitting in economy, I can ignore the relative discomfort as long as there’s plenty of entertainment to keep me occupied, and KLM passed this test.
With a choice of more than 200 movies and 140 TV programs with multiple episodes, I had no problem selecting a couple of movies to watch throughout the flight.
The inflight entertainment (IFE) system overall felt modern and was responsive to touch input. It offered a number of map views and displayed pertinent flight information in many, easy-to-access spots throughout the interface.
KLM offers Wi-Fi on its Dreamliners, with a few options, ranging from 20MB for 5 euros (about $6) to a full-flight package for a reasonable 18 euros (about $20). I selected the full-flight package as I wanted to stay caught up on work, but found it to be frustrating to use and it didn’t offer a strong enough connection to get much done.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Service in the cabin (another element of the flying experience that has changed dramatically since this review because of the pandemic) began just 10 minutes after takeoff, with flight attendants distributing towels and water bottles.
After that, there was a fairly significant gap in timing before the meal service began in earnest almost an hour into the flight. There were no menus provided for economy passengers, but rather a simple choice between vegetarian pasta and the beef meatballs.
I selected the meatballs as they sounded a little more substantial than the pasta. I also ordered a gin and tonic.
I made the right call, as it was certainly one of the heartier meals I’ve had in economy. The meatballs themselves were served hot with mashed potatoes and spinach, and the rest of the meal consisted of one of the best salads I’ve had in economy, a dinner roll, crackers and cheese and a small blueberry cake for dessert.
No, it wasn’t a multi-course business-class meal, but it did the trick and kept me full.
The second meal service was much less substantial than the first, but it’s what I’ve come to expect on long-haul economy flights: a small cheese pizza served warm, along with a Diet Coke and a glass of water. This was served a little over an hour before landing.
While the second meal was wholly average, I do commend KLM for offering a tasty and hearty first meal, especially compared to some of the other meals I’ve had in economy class.
The crew was friendly and relaxed, and though we didn't interact much, I could tell they were happy to serve passengers and wanted to do a great job.
Interactions with the crew were minimal, but I appreciated that they made multiple trips through the cabin to offer water bottles outside of meal services, and they were very friendly each time I asked for anything. I’m sure the relatively empty cabin contributed to the relaxed atmosphere, but I had no issues whatsoever with the crew working my flight.
My first flight with KLM was a success. Having flown Air France numerous times across the Atlantic, I was excited to see how another one of Delta’s major European partners stacked up. What I experienced was a painless airport experience, a comfortable flight (made even better with no one around me), above-average food and a solid crew. Overall, this was worthy of a 78-point score, well above the 71-point average than economy class on long hauls.
As we look to a return of international travel over the next several months I hope that once it’s safe to do so again I’ll get to fly with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines sooner rather than later — and maybe even get to sit up front the next time around.
All photos by the author.
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