The airline with the best average rating is KLM with 7.4/10.
The average flight time is 6 hours and 51 minutes.More information
Every year’s journeys have to begin somewhere, and for me, 2019 starts with a quick “comfy mileage run” from Toronto to Johannesburg and back with KLM.
The comfy mileage run, by my definition, is any mileage run taken pretty much exclusively for the purpose of the journey. If normally, getting there is half the fun, here we’re talking probably more like 80 percent. Beyond that, the comfy mileage run aims to earn as many elite-qualifying and redeemable miles as possible, while flying in a premium cabin, all for as few dollars as possible.
This trip was booked on a cheap Delta “V” economy fare, and upgraded at booking with Global Upgrade Certificates. How? We’ll get that into that in-depth momentarily.
Over the last few years, I’ve accumulated quite a mountain of SkyMiles, and most of my leisure travel this year will be devoted to trying new experiences by driving down that stack of SkyPesos before they can be devalued anymore.
But not this trip.
I’m starting 2019 much the same way I started 2017 — with a quick SkyTeam run to Johannesburg and back, just this time with KLM instead of Air France. This one was also a lot more affordable.
While Delta can be a frustrating airline in many ways for frequent fliers, once you get to know the ins and outs, you can extract a decent amount of value. For example, with Global Upgrades, you can upgrade any Delta fare other than Basic Economy to business class, assuming there’s availability, on either Delta or KLM flights.
You see, KLM flights booked under their KLM flight numbers require you to book only the top few most-expensive economy fares to upgrade. The sweet spot is when you buy a Delta-marketed, but KLM-operated flight (IE: a KLM flight purchased under its Delta codeshare number.) Then, one can upgrade from the cheapest available economy fare directly to business class, assuming one can find KLM Z fare availability, its most affordable business class.
Fortunately, finding KLM Z availability is really easy with ExpertFlyer, and Z on YYZ-AMS and reverse can be like falling out of a boat and hitting water much of the time. AMS-JNB and return are a little tighter, but I found the dates I wanted pretty quickly.
Equally fortunately, Delta and KLM codeshare on AMS-JNB flights (but doesn’t on most AMS-Asia options), and Delta files a very reasonable lowest main cabin fare on YYZ-JNB, available on a variety of dates.
Having found availability of both Z fares and a cheap Delta economy fare, I prepared myself for combat and called the Delta Diamond Medallion line. I asked about GUC availability on the dates and route I wanted, and the very helpful agent confirmed it was available. But, she quickly added, I’d have to book a full Y fare to be eligible to upgrade. I replied that no, for a Delta-marketed flight, I could purchase any economy fare other than basic. She replied that she’d been sent back from the KLM partner desk many times in the past and told that a full-fare economy is available to secure the upgrade.
Having expected at worst a battle, and at best to have to teach the agent, I read to her directly from the terms and conditions on the Delta GUC in my online “wallet.” “For travel on KLM-operated, Delta-marketed flights this certificate may be used to upgrade on published fares booked in Y, B, M, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V class and all fare classes upgrade into Z class.”
She replied she’d never heard of that before, and spend a few minutes looking things up on her side, but couldn’t find anything. Nor could she access the Ts and Cs on the GUC, since they’re apparently only visible to passengers who have them.
She ultimately put me on hold and went off to talk to her supervisor, and the KLM desk. About 15 minutes later, she came back and thanked me for teaching her something, confirming that the upgrade was available.
With that done, I booked a V fare for the dates I wanted and applied an existing Delta credit to it. She then processed the upgrade, which involved “converting” the flights from DL flight number to their KL equivalents and then rebooking them in Z.
The whole process was pretty seamless, and about 15 minutes later, the ticket had been reissued in Z under KLM flight numbers, and I had my KLM PNR for the flight.
So, for a little bit of knowledge, and some polite persistence, I had a roundtrip ticket from Toronto to Johannesburg in business class for less than $600 Canadian.
To be fair to my agent, as far as I know, when KLM upgrades were introduced, they always required the top couple of economy buckets to be applied, regardless of on whose stock the flight was booked. It was only after introduction — and after whatever training agents may have received — that the fare requirement was relaxed for DL-marketed but KL-operated flights.
The whole thing is bizarre to me, but I don’t make the rules. I just try to make them work for me as best I can.
Making it even better, because the ticket is rebooked into Z, it ends up crediting as such — earning 150 percent qualifying miles, and redeemable miles based on distance and fare class (with elite bonuses), instead of the DL-standard revenue-based earnings. That works out very much in my favour.
So… happy new year to me!
While I was initially planning on checking in at the airport, I ultimately decided to see what KLM has to offer regarding online check-in experience, and I’m glad I did!
The check-in experience itself was painless enough. I quickly confirmed that unfortunately, there were no free window pairs, so I stuck with my originally-selected aisle seat in the second row. But it’s the next part that was the pleasant surprise.
Having checked in, below my flight information, I found a picture of the nose of the 777, with an invitation to find out more about my flight.
That link took me to this microsite, wherein I found all kinds of information about the plane on which I would be flying, the meal services and timing, the available IFE, and more. Really, really good stuff, KLM! I’m very impressed by this aspect of the online experience. It’s not something I’ve seen before.
After downloading the KLM app on my phone, I was also able to simply get my e-boarding pass, the app-based version of which even thoughtfully shares not just boarding time, but other details on the critical path to getting my flight off the ground.
Altogether, a very well thought-out online and app experience from KLM — probably one of the best I’ve seen regarding these kinds of flight details.
We’ll pick up the story in the early afternoon, as your humble blogger took the train into Toronto’s central Union Station, and then onwards to Pearson.
Throughout the morning, I was having a good chuckle to myself, as the radio kept referring to the day as “Blue Monday” as apparently the third Monday of January is the most depressing day of the year. Yes….it would be a very blue Monday for me too. Just a different shade of blue.
It was a typically balmy Canadian January… nawww, just kidding. It was the coldest day of the season so far in the Toronto area.
My psychopathic AI-powered weather app informs me that it’s all revenge, but to be fair, it was feeling like -39 just a few short hours ago, and with the sun out, it’s the kind of super-cold that’s actually kind of nice out. As long as you don’t have any exposed skin.
There were a lot of weather-related delays with rail service in the morning, but by early afternoon, my train was right on time and took me into the core of Toronto.
Once we arrived, it’s a short walk through Union Station, which is perpetually getting a facelift, to make it to the imaginatively-titled UP Express — or Union Pearson Express in full, It lacks in creativity, but at least it gives Toronto an honest-to-goodness option for public transit between the city’s core and our primary airport.
From the GO Train, it’s a short walk through the perpetually-under-construction Union Station to hop the UP Express.
It’s a full ride, but still quite comfortable. There’s free WiFi and power outlets in each row— all in all, not a bad deal for a 25-minute train ride.
Soon enough, it’s clear we’re getting close to the airport, and not just because I recognize the terrain A WestJet Encore Q400 and then an Air Canada 787 on final approach are dead giveaways.
Making the turn as we approach Terminal 3. One of the downsides of this setup for T3 fliers is that the UP Express pulls into T1, and then you have to take a separate train over to T3.
The few heavies afternoon heavies Of T3 — China Eastern, British Airways, and Hainan.
Arriving into Terminal 1, complete with my avatar inukshuk in front.
And then it’s a short ride over to T3. It’s cold, but a beautiful day.
Down the escalator and into the departures level of Terminal 3. Since I already have my boarding pass, and I’m flying with carry-on, away I go.
I actually pull into the portion of security more devoted to domestic flights but also offering access to international gates. The main benefit of this is that I don’t get spit out into the duty-free shop.
There are only three people in front of me waiting for security, but it still takes me about 15 minutes to get through. I’m through the X-ray in just a minute, but then my bag gets sent for a second look, in a queue behind about eight other bags. With two agents clearing these bags that need a closer look, it takes a few minutes, but finally, my bag is through. And it turns out that the only problem is that they didn’t get a proper image of the suitcase. So back through it goes, and away I go.
There’s not a lot of exciting spotting to be done at T3 at this hour, but Hainan in Kung Fu Panda colours is pretty.
And then a trifecta of 777s. British Airways in the foreground, China Eastern in the alley behind it, and then Air Canada on the domestic gates of Terminal 1 across the way.
And finally, up close and personal with the Jet Airways 777 that will be doing the same route I’m doing, just a few minutes later tonight.
With that not-very-exciting spotting session done, it’s time to head upstairs and check out the lounge. The Air France KLM Lounge is one of two lounges available in the international section of T3. There’s also a Plaza Premium offering.
Since they’re partners, the AF/KL Lounge is also the chosen lounge for Jet Airways pax so it could be quite full in a little while.
Inside, there are a couple of people in front of me — one of whom is a Priority Pass user. I’m a little surprised they aren’t limiting Priority Pass customers for what surely must be this lounge’s rush hour, with KLM and Jet Airways leaving at around the same time, and the early arrivers for the later AF flight to Paris likely showing up around the same time. Nevertheless, I’m scanned in, and while there are quite a few people here, it’s not yet packed.
I catch a glimpse of the 777 that will take me to Amsterdam as I enter the lounge, as it taxis over to Gate 33.
The lounge is rather small but looks new, fresh and clean, with a variety of seating options ranging from lounge chairs and work desks by the windows to many cubby cutout seating areas, all centred around the buffet area.
I set up by the windows, and it’s a very nice seat, but facing the setting sun, it gets quite hot by the window by about 4:30, by which time the lounge is filling up as well.
Food options including a few hot choices, soups, pasta, snacks and sweets. There’s also some juices and a self-serve bar. There are wines, but not sparkling options.
I grab a snack and some water. It’s nothing exciting, but it’s all pretty tasty.
As I eat, Aer Lingus makes its way towards the terminal.
By the time I go back for dessert, which is also not very exciting, there are a couple of bubbles on offer — a Henkell Rosé, and a Ruffino prosecco. I start with the rosé, but ultimately sample both as I enjoy the action on the ramp in the slowly setting sun.
The lounge WiFi is reasonable and easy to access. Time for a corporate shot? Oh yeah. Hmmmm… it’s been less than 12 hours since I was “all caught up” and there’s a bunch of new stuff posted. Good job, flight-reporters!
With boarding slated for 5:25, I decide to leave the lounge to stretch my legs before the flight, and to see if there are any additional spotting opportunities.
Down at the gate, ol’ Pont Du Gard is getting ready to head back home, and take me with her.
And what’s that I spy over her shoulder? I apologize for the garbage image quality as I had to use maximum digital zoom to get in close on Westjet’s first 787, on just her second day in Toronto. Lookin’ good, newcomer!
As I arrive at the gate, they’re calling passengers for passport verification. I don’t hear my name, but having checked in online, I can be sure I’m on the list, so I join the lineup. And after about five minutes, my credentials are checked, and I’m good to go.
At the gate next door, China Southern has just arrived and is getting prepared for her late-night return to Guangzhou. Hmmmmm… CZ isn’t SkyTeam anymore, but I can’t help but think I’ll be seeing this bird sometime in the future.
I make the short walk back to 33, and to my surprise, they’re already calling boarding for Zone 1, which includes business class passengers. I hand my phone over to the gate agent who just verified my documents only five minutes ago, and I’m on my way.
But first, a closer look at my ride from the foot of the jetway. The old livery isn’t quite as nice as the new one. What can I say, I’m a sucker for swooshes. But still, the iconic KLM blue is striking.
From: Toronto Pearson (YYZ)
To: Amsterdam Schipol (AMS)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER
ATD (STD): 18:25 (18:05)
ATA ( STA): 06:55+1 (07:05+1)
At the door, a male flight attendant motions for me to go down the port-side aisle, where I’m in the centre section for this flight. KLM’s done a lovely job of adorning these seats, in my opinion, and they’re still decently comfortable seats, but the lack of aisle access makes them a tad uncompetitive for a world-class airline in 2019. KLM seems to have acknowledged this, going the reverse herringbone route on the newest members of their fleet, the 787s.
A look at the forward J cabin — five rows of six abreast. There’s also a single row of J behind door two, for the smallest mini-cabin you’ll find most anywhere.
My seat is equipped with a pillow and blanket. Pretty standard fare. The pillow fine for a lower backrest, but a bigger one would be appreciated for sleeping.
The privacy divider between seats. I’m not entirely sure why KLM went with the bullet-riddled look.
There’s a small storage cubby behind my right shoulder, with headphone port, power port, and USB. The noise cancelling headphones are also located there.
Seat controls and a modern wired touchscreen remote for the IFE.
The IFE screen itself is a decent size, and the resolution is excellent. The cubby over my shoulder and the little shelf under the IFE, specially designed to send anything in it during takeoff flying back at you, are the only storage spaces available on these seats, which is a weak point for sure.
The footwell is pretty small. We’ll have to put this to the sleep test a little later.
Legroom isn’t a problem.
The provided headphones look like Bose QC25s but don’t offer nearly as good noise cancellation as my Bose QC35s. I’d go to swap them out later, only to discover I’d left the cable for connecting my headset into the IFE system at home. So I’d have to use the KLM-supplied set for watching IFE but would switch to my own pair for sleeping.
Service begins with a tray of drinks. Choices on offer were Heineken, water, orange juice, or champagne. I go with the latter, of course.
After that, the senior purser comes by, offering each passenger a welcome aboard and a handshake.
Next up, amenity kits. Blue denim for men, red velvet for women. It’s an attractive case, if not necessarily the most functional in terms of reusability. But I’ll see if I can’t come up with something. We’ll take at the content a little later.
Following them, menus are offered. Note that they appear to be personalized down to the actual date of the flight. The contents of the meals are also markedly different from what the KLM website said would be on offer when I checked in last night.
Since I’m in an aisle seat and nowhere near a window, I might as well fire up the IFE. My first selection. It’s entertaining.
Orders for the first meal are taken on the ground. One minor point of frustration with KLM’s meal style is that there’s a choice required between soup or appetizer. It would not seem inappropriate, in my humble opinion, to be offered both before dinner, as it the case on some other airlines.
We push back right about on time, and the KLM’s very distinctive safety video, featuring lots and lots of Delft Blue, rolls.
It’s a pretty short taxi, and we’re off into the night sky above Toronto. As we cross through 10,000, the captain comes on to inform everyone on the left side of the plane that there’s an excellent view of the downtown core of the city. Nuts.
Once we’re freed from our seats, I grab what I’ll need for the flight from the overhead bin, then take a look at the contents of the amenity kit. Pretty basic, pretty standard.
Service begins with hot towels.
And that’s quickly followed by drink cart service. When in Holland, go with the signature drink, as they always say, so I decide to try The Flying Dutchman. It’s light and refreshing, but I probably wouldn’t want to drink more than one.
Meal service is a bit slow, and it’s about 45 minutes after the initial drink service that the appetizer tray is served. Soup is poured from a thermos tableside, and bread and olive oil or butter are offered. Another round of drinks and I take sparkling water and a glass of champagne. I quite like the Feuillate.
The soup is delicious, as soup on a plan almost always is, and the salad, while small, is okay, with fresh greens, crisp peppers, and a nice balsamic vinaigrette. Note also, of course, the signature red Dutch clog salt and pepper shakers. Very cute.
Dinner continues to be quite a slow service, so the movie wraps up. I decide to start something else, as dessert has not yet made its appearance. This is not nearly as good a choice. Hey, does anyone remember when airlines censored movies with plane crashed in them? Yeah. Not KLM. I much preferred the old video game to its namesake movie.
The main arrives just over half an hour after the appetizers, and with it, a refill on both drinks, and on bread and olive oil. The flight attendant serving my aisle has this endearing little patter with herself in Dutch, a constantly-running monologue that I obviously don’t understand, but seems like she’s reminding herself of what she needs to be doing.
The main is pretty satisfying. The cod is not overdone at all, and is quite tasty, although I think it could use a little bit more sauce. I’m reasonably satisfied with the meal, aside from the speed of service.
That pace continues for dessert, with the flight attendant coming through with the cart. Options include a cheese plate and a lemon mousse. In the words of the little girl from the hard tacos vs. soft tacos commercial, “Why not both?” And I request a bit of the Aberfeldy on the rocks as an after-dinner drink. The whisky is presented along with a bottle of water for the night.
Both desserts are excellent. The cheese course is simple, but quite a delight and the lemon mousse is a pleasant surprise. Much better than I expected. Aberfeldy isn’t my favourite single malt, but it’s pretty enjoyable too.
Dinner service ends with the traditional KLM chocolate house, and then it’s lights out for the night. As I put the movie on pause, there’s only about 3:50 to Amsterdam. Even with a few drinks in my system, I’m less than sure I’m going to get any sleep on this flight. The speed of meal delivery is my only complaint with this meal service, and it's made all the more impactful by the relatively short flight time.
Before bed, it’s time for a quick trip to the lav, because who doesn’t love lav pics? I quite like the lav, with its Dutch tulip and wallpaper of little Delft houses.
Back at my seat, I trade my KLM headphones for my own QC35s, put on my favourite go-to-sleep podcast (The Insomnia Project, you should check it out sometime if you want something mundane to listen to while trying to drift off to sleep), and see if I can get some rest on this all-too-short overnight. We’re just 3:38 from arrival as I put my seat down into bed mode.
The bed is decent, and I am asleep before the hosts of the podcast can finish their 26-minute debate over who was the most boring Canadian prime minister. But I’m in and out over the next two hours. I’m a side sleeper and have to wake up frequently to change positions because whichever arm is on the bottom has fallen asleep. Also, it’s just way too early to be trying to get to sleep for me.
I’m awake when the lights come on as we’re about 1:15 out of Amsterdam, just about to cross west coast of Ireland.
I swap out my own headphones for KLM’s and resume the movie. What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment, and there isn’t enough time left to start a new film before arrival.
Service begins promptly with a hot towel, though a thinner version this time.
That’s quickly followed by a tray of orange juice to start breakfast. Both are promptly collected afterwards.
Breakfast is served as a single-tray affair from the cart, and I choose the crepes, and a croissant to accompany it, along with a black cup of coffee. Everything’s pretty good, and it’s more than enough for breakfast coming as it is just three hours after dinner came to an end. I do so love these long Transatlantic nights.
As the dishes are collected, I’m offered a refill on my coffee, but I instead request a glass of water, which is cheerfully delivered.
My movie comes to an end as we cross the eastern side of England, about 35 minutes from arrival. The captain comes on to give us an update on our arrival into Schipol. It’s a balmy -2 C in Amsterdam. And for once, I’m not being sarcastic, considering where we were coming from. We’re expected to be on the gate, the captain says, about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. And that’s just fine by me.
We’re not yet locked down, so I see this as good a time as any to pack up my stuff and get ready for arrival.
It’s just then, of course, that the flight attendants make their rounds with a tray of KLM’s blue Delft Houses. I welcome #83 into my collection, which now stands at a whopping two members.
It’s still dark as we touch down, with the flight deck crew ever-so-gently settling us onto the runway about three minutes before seven am, Amsterdam time. We proceed to taxi for about fifteen minutes before coming to rest at Gate E18 — just a few gates down from where I’ll depart for Johannesburg. It’s early, but like the megahub it is, Schipol is already in full swing.
That’s where we’ll leave it for this flight-report — we’ll pick it up next time as I head out in search of the KLM Crown Lounge.
Thanks for joining me for this first flight of 2019, and I hope you’ll join me for subsequent segments. Happy flying!
A pretty good, albeit short, Transatlantic experience with KLM to start out this series.
The service was solid, about what one expects from KLM in business class
The catering was good, but given the short flight time, it would be nice if courses were delivered more promptly.
And the seat, for what it was, was adequate, although I can’t give them full marks for that because the 2-2-2 business class on long-haul aircraft seems a bit behind the time.