This long awaited trip to -yet again- the United States west coast, will take you in three parts:
* AMS-SFO KL605 on a Boeing 787-9 (which you are reading now) * LAS-LAX DL1898 on a Boeing 737-800 (found here) * LAX-AMS KL602 on a Boeing 747-400 Full Passenger (found here)
A warning beforehand that all pictures were taken using my iPhone and some, if not most, are vertical. My apologies if this bothers you. Also, this trip was made with two persons and I tend to switch a lot between 'I' and 'we' - do note that we were with the two of us throughout the whole of the trip, but most are from my point of view.
I already booked this trip in September last year even before I went to California for the first time and when I returned on the flight documented here it was time to start the fun. Picking hotels, picking a car, finding stuff to do. This lead up to -the- day, February 17th of 2017. Everything was done what was needed to do and I woke up to yet another KLM Flight Info mail (the same sender as the cancellation of the KLM flight back in September) but fortunately this was only a delay announcement. The announcement was as follows:
Dear Mr BLOEMINK,
We regret to tell you that your flight has been delayed due to operational constraints. You will arrive in SAN FRANCISCO later than intended and we are very sorry for any difficulty you experience.
This was a nice gesture of telling us that the flight was delayed although we still did not know why exactly. But oh well, it was -just- a delay of 40 minutes.
KLM offers a Flight Guide about two days before departure in which they state the aircraft they are going to use on your flight and mine was stated as 'Lavendel' which is the name of KLM's newest 787-9, PH-BHI, which would arrive from Calgary and take me to San Francisco. The delay was caused by a destination swap with Dahlia, KLM's fourth 787-9, PH-BHE, which would arrive from San Francisco and originally continue to Calgary. This also meant a gate change, from F6 to G8, which was unfortunate because KLM flights on F6 can, since a short time, now try out biometrical boarding. But oh well, at least it wasn't cancelled.
To keep a long story short: the flight was operated by PH-BHE, named Dahlia.
At the airport
The drive to the airport at 5 AM takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes, max, if you take into account road works on the way. I opted to depart this early in order to beat the traffic underway big time, instead of risking to get into it. I was at the airport at 6:45, around four hours before the original, scheduled departure time, parked the car and went directly to departures level.
Entering the airport from the parking garage P1 (which is short term parking which was more convenient in this case given the bus ride one needs to take on P3 long term)
The flight was still on so I was pretty confident that I would actually depart on a widebody KLM jet this time, unlike last year
The kiosk, just like the cancellation message last year, did warn us about the delay.
We quickly obtained our flimsy boarding pass which we like to keep for the collection and stored it immediately and continued with our Passbook passes which we both prefer.
When flying on KLM or partners from Schiphol, one uses the self-service bag drop kiosk which explains itself on its screen and on monitors throughout the bag drop area.
One places their bag, handle up top, in the opening, scans their boarding pass and verifies they are not transporting any prohibited items in their luggage, after which the machine prints a self-adhesive label for you to put through the handle. The machine then weighs the luggage and scans the labels in order to verify that they are indeed readable by the scanner. You are then given a paper claim tag and you're good to go. Sad to see that more and more humans are disappearing from the airport, however, I really don't mind speaking to a person of flesh and blood. But oh well, costs.
The machine also announces your departure gate if you have not found that information yourself yet.
The new security filter at AMS is upstairs in departure hall 2 and 3 so up the stairs we go.
Security wasn't busy at all, merely a five minute wait, but new regulations at Schiphol forces you to have you take out of your bag not only your laptop and iPad, but also their chargers and anything with a cable. So yes, even your powerbank and headphones do need to come out of that bag.
When my nearly-empty bag, my electronics and my vest were cleared, I was subject to the usual pat down which I always have, and when I finished packing my bag, we joined the queue for passport control which was long due to construction work. They were doubling the amount of kiosks and probably installing automated passport control for European citizens (which, from what I understand, works for all EU passports with a chip, without registration unlike the French PARAFE). Anyway, that line took about 10 minutes after which we were released airside and proceeded to get breakfast at our favorite McDonalds in lounge 3.
While we were having breakfast, PH-BFE 'City of Melbourne' was towed into gate F3. This 747 is, as far as I know, the next in line to be removed from active fleet. Sad. They are great planes and a true icon.
Our aircraft had arrived a tad late from San Francisco but we had hours to kill (one thinks, why the delay, but okay) so we split up and did something for ourselves, my fellow passenger read a book while I walked through the non-Schengen piers D (low), E, F, before picking her up and walking to G8, our scheduled departure gate.
I did a 'small' spotting spree to check out which birds were around, of which I will share with you the two catches that got my attention.
PH-BQB, a KLM 777-200 named "Borobudur" has a white radome which is a funny sight
Singapore Airlines flies with an A350 to AMS which I have never seen face to face before
Arriving at the gate we find a moderately filled departure lounge and a gate member announcing that the flight would be a full one which was confirmed by the app there only being three available middle seats in the plane. She asked us not to come forward for seat changes and instead, solving that on board with fellow passengers, as she would need to have consent from both parties in case of a switch which would be very hard. That's fine. We did not want to change anyway.
PH-BHE on stand
At 10:20, delay was announced until at least 11:30 due to a missing crew. At 10:30, crew appeared who did their best to limit further delay and at 10:45, preboarding began, followed by SkyPriority boarding and the elites. Boarding was a complete chaos, so ultimately 'elites' meant 'free-for-all' and as we were standing near the podium, I was forced to board by the gate agent. That makes me a bit of an elite, no? Not at all. Of course the awaited questions were asked 'did you arrange for an ESTA, sir?' 'How long are you staying in the United States?' 'Have a nice flight sir'.
This was the first actual time I have seen split-jetway boarding at Schiphol. Business class and Economy class were separated in the jetway, directed by electronic signage.
The windows on the left gave this view with the name of the aircraft clearly displayed. The KLM 787's are named after flowers for the one who hasn't been paying close attention ;)
Boarding, as mentioned, was a complete and utter chaos, with a jammed jetway. This gave me the opportunity to make this -for me- compulsory shot, which I always do if I get the opportunity.
I was then on board my third ever KLM 787, of which one was the welcome flight in November 2015 (PH-BHC or Sunflower/Zonnebloem) and the other one was in June 2016 when I attended the arrival of KLM then newest 787 from Everett, PH-BHG, named Mimosa. This would actually be my first -real- flight on a 787.
We found our seats, 32J and K and found out that the entertainment wasn't working yet. The senior purser announced himself, apologising for the delay, explaining that there was something with the cargo hold which meant that every bag had to be loaded manually.
The seats were comfortable at first however after a few hours we did feel a bit cramped.
At 11:45, we pushed back and we were welcomed and flight time was announced to be 10 hours and 35 minutes. The senior purser also apologised again for the delay. During taxi, the captain announced our flight route which would take us over England and Scotland, south of Iceland, over Greenland and over Canada.
As announced, the safety film was played which is relatively new and super cool, done with actual Delft blue tiles in stop-motion. Cool detail is that one actually sees coffee cups, stains, of various objects placed next to the tiles. Real stop-motion. I believe the tiles were actually mounted in the non-schengen Crown Lounge, but I don't think I'll visit that anytime soon ( :( )
Mood lighting was set for takeoff. Very neat feature.
We taxied to the furthest runway 36L (which after all, due to our departure gate, ended up being closer than usual) via the taxiway around runway 36C because it was in use. If it isn't used, traffic can cross using taxiway W5. This saves a couple of minutes. View of the A5, a Dutch highway
Because of the distance from the terminal, 36L/18R has their own control tower, Tower West.
The entertainment system then came to life, something unusual because usually it is enabled at the gate as far as I know
The WiFi was also turned on
Above 10.000 ft, wifi connectivity became usable and I bought a 200mb pass for 30 eu (which is a rip-off imo) in order to try it. One has to provide their booking code or log into their Flying Blue account in order to retrieve flight data and then has to create a Panasonic account. Overall, a very complicated way of providing Wi-Fi but it did work until we passed Greenland. More on that later.
I may have mentioned in the past that I am a huge fan of the airshow. Most of the time, this is the channel I am watching. The other channel is the window! On the welcome flight, the animated model was a 777 - this time they did it correct!
Seatbelt sign was switched off at around 10-15000 ft and crew handed out smoked almonds with a drink. I chose a coke.
After about 45 minutes of flying the purser announced that a lot of passengers had trouble with the system and he told us that he needed to reset it. This would mean at least 30 minutes without entertainment and also strongly advised us not to touch the screen during startup.
I played a game they integrated in their wifi portal when that was up and running again (actual internet access was not available yet but the wifi portal displays flight information and has this game available that kills some time)
Due to the reset, our flight path thusfar was gone
Meal consisted of a coleslaw, accompanied with a choice of vegetarian pasta or a mash duo with meatballs. Dessert was a stroopwafel pudding. And of course with a bottle of water, a hot roll and some crackers with butter. I chose the mash with meatballs and it were a combi of Dutch boerenkool (kale with mashed potatoes) and hete bliksem (mash with apple).
After unwrapping (I did eat a bite of the hete bliksem before remembering to take a picture)
To have the meal topped off with an African Amarula
The food is what I expect when flying KLM from Amsterdam. The starter was a bit meh, the main was delicious. For plane standards the mash was just right and the meatballs were juicy and hot. The dessert was outstanding. The roll was a bit hard, but nevertheless still edible (unlike mine on AF CDG-LAX). I'll give it an 8,5 out of 10, for sure.
I finished my meal around here.
After the meal service, I watched Golden Years which I found amusing and I ceased any movie-watching after it ended, except for watching the only Family Guy episode available and an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
During my relatively short movie-watch period, we flew over Greenland! That was a first for me (as we say in Dutch; driemaal is scheepsrecht, third time's the charm), the first one to IAH routed us too far south of Greenland and I was seated on the left hand side, and during the second flight on AF there were too much clouds and was seated left as well. This time I was -actually- able to see it really well.
As our seat mate (who was actually a Dutch student around our age who went to study in the Bay area for 6 months, if you're reading this, thanks for your kind company and talks and good luck out there!) went up to go to the lavatory, we went out for a walk around this beautiful aircraft. In the back galley there was a box set up with treats - I knew they did this but the box was out there for some time already and there wasn't much left. I gave the syrup cookie to my GF and took a roll of mints myself. Before we entered Canada, we were given an ice-cream treat or a bag of crisps from the FA's. I chose the ice-cream and my GF and seat mate chose the crisps.
By the time we were seated again, we were far over continental Canada.
During our cruise over continental Canada, the Wi-Fi connectivity almost never worked - nothing loaded and it was blacked out for multiple hours of cruise, at which point I actually asked KLM in the minutes that it worked, if I could get refunded or compensated. When we entered continental US airspace, it worked like a charm and I managed to, apart from 10 mb's, actually spend all MB's in one hour, completely uninterrupted. I decided not to do anything with my complaint after all given the complete turnaround the connection made. It is plane Wi-Fi after all.
Around 1,5 hour before landing, we were served the 'warm snack' which I actually could guess in it's whole before even taking off as it would probably be the same as on my flight to Houston one year earlier (and my dad, who actually flew to Houston on KLM six days earlier, got the exact same thing as well, they even had the éxact same meal choice on board). It would consist of a tomato pit/mozzarella/pesto combi as a starter, a margherita pizza thing and a cappuccino pudding as a dessert, served with cheese, a roll, crackers and butter, with drinks to choice.
The meal as served, without the roll (I keep forgetting those are given out)
The meal concluded with yet another coffee/tea/liquor round and I decided to have a coffee instead of alcohol as I needed to drive after the flight. When it was finished, we were nearing the conclusion of the flight.
The captain came over the PA to update us with the weather in San Francisco which was around 7 degrees Celsius and rainy, and the descent would be turbulent. We started descending towards SFO no less than 10 minutes after that announcement; no less than five minutes after starting descent the captain turned on the seatbelt sign and announced:
"Ladies and gentlemen I have just turned on the seatbelt sign, weather predictions are far worse than I initially expected and I will not be expecting to turn the seatbelt sign off before arriving at the gate in San Francisco. If you are not currently in your seat I am strongly advising you to do so and fasten your seat belt and cabin crew, please hurry up in preparing the cabin for arrival and take your seats for landing please"
Slowing down during descent
The cabin crew ran their asses of to get everyone upright and secure the cabin for landing and they were seated down as the turbulence began. It was without doubt one of the, if not, most severe cases of turbulence I have ever experienced. It was a hell. My stomach usually is quite strong but this time I had a lot of trouble staying fit. One fellow passenger actually needed to let something go urgently, and went to the lavatory during approach. All went well after we left the cloud layer and we landed on runway 19L with only minor delay.
When we arrived at the stand, the jetway was connected and the purser asked the passengers in wheelchairs to disembark last so they would have all the space they needed to get off.
My seat after the flight.
Thank you for the ride, Dahlia! And thank you, SFO, for providing such amazing photographing opportunities to arriving passengers!
We continued to the arrivals hall where I got my third US arrival stamp and we proceeded to our luggage and our rental car for our week in California and Las Vegas.
Amsterdam - AMS
San Francisco - SFO
KLM as we expected did their job and they did it well. Cabin was nice, the 787 is an amazing aircraft with comfortable but a bit cramped seats but I have never really bothered much about that. Crew was very nice and did their best to suit everyone's needs. Entertainment does not have the best offering, even though with 11" the size is superb. The meal, as expected with a departure from Amsterdam,
Schiphol is always a treat. Especially the non-schengen area. Getting to watch all the planes from my favorite carrier and even more, and in the same process getting all the exersice I am going to miss while flying. Not just that, I am always positively surprised when flying through Schiphol, both arrival and departure, even though the efficiency was a bit of a letdown this time because of the renovations. It still is my favorite airport tho, by far.
SFO is a big airport and still I did not have the feeling it was. We were in line for passport control within five minutes and that took a bit longer than 30 minutes. The CBP officer was a bit grumpy tho, but I guess that's a CBP thing and not something SFO controls. +1 for not having Trump's presidential portrait as well. I did see Obama in LAX last year.
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