BACKGROUND: Amsterdam-based KLM is one of just two European carriers operating a direct route to and from Cape Town year-round. With the airline’s extensive global network, and no requirement for transit visas when travelling through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, it is an attractive option for travellers flying from Cape Town to Europe, Asia and North America.
CHECK-IN: KLM’s online check-in facility is surely one of the best on the web. Aside from the standard features of inputting Advanced Passenger Information and selecting your seat, the process includes information on the aircraft you’ll be flying on as well as in-flight entertainment and meal options available. Boarding passes can be printed at home, or received via email. At the airport there’s a dedicated check-in lane for premium passengers. With no queues for this late-night (22h55) departure it took less than 15 minutes to drop my bags and clear security and passport control.
LOUNGE & BOARDING: Complimentary lounge access is provided in the recently revamped Bidvest Lounge, now situated immediately beyond passport control. The spacious facility has plenty of counter and lounge seating, with free wi-fi and an array of newspapers and magazines on offer. There’s a well-stocked ‘help-yourself’ bar, but for a premium lounge the food offering of soup and sandwiches looked rather tired. Premium passengers and top-tier FlyingBlue members receive priority boarding, which allowed me to skip the queues and head straight to my seat. Menus were handed out, along with champagne and a choice of refreshments, while the friendly and attentive crew settled in passengers. The stylish amenity kits are by acclaimed Dutch designers Viktor & Rolf.
THE FLIGHT: KLM is in the process of revamping the on-board product on its long-haul fleet, and the spacious new World Business Class product is simply superb. Designed in muted tones of grey and blue, the seats fold fully flat to a two-metre bed. There’s a small eye-level privacy screen between seats, and in-seat power for both UK plugs and USB ports. The 2-2-2 layout means window seats don’t have direct aisle access, but there’s enough space to step over a sleeping partner. If there’s one niggle it’s that the footwell in the ‘sleep’ position is rather cramped, but it’ll only impact the tallest of travellers. With the late-night departure the crew did well to expedite the dinner service, taking orders before the plane had even left the terminal building. Of the three courses, the fillet of beef with pumpkin gnocchi seemed to be the crowd favourite. Meals are served on striking Dutch-style crockery by designer Marcel Wanders, and paired with both European and South American wines, including an unusual Tempranillo from Brazil. A QuickBite menu option is also available for passengers wanting to eat and get straight to sleep; a useful offering on this late departure. For passengers not catching up on sleep, the new cabin’s intuitive in-flight entertainment system is one of the best in the sky, featuring a bright, crisp 17-inch screen and a vast catalogue of movies, television and programming. The system is touch-screen, but also offers an in-seat handset for easier navigation, and comes with comfortable noise-cancelling headphones.
ARRIVAL: As we began our descent, the crew offered round what has become a KLM signature: a farewell gift in the form of a ceramic model of a traditional Dutch house. Oh yes, and it’s filled with genever (gin). Each house is numbered, and an innovative KLM app allows regular flyers to keep track of their collection and add to it with each flight. A fine send-off to a comfortable flight. The flight landed slightly ahead of schedule, but a long taxi from a secondary runway meant we pulled up to the terminal just about on time. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is undergoing major renovations, which makes the airport less than impressive, but once they are completed this major European hub should once again be a pleasure to fly from.
VERDICT: With the revamp of its World Business and economy cabins, KLM is claiming a place as one of the top long-haul airlines in the world when it comes to onboard service and comfort. I wouldn’t hesitate to choose KLM for a long-haul flight in the future.