KLM does not operate this flight any more: this flight KL878 (TPE-BKK-AMS) has been replaced by flight KL808 (MNL-TPE-AMS). At that time, there was no direct flight between TPE and Europe operated by a non-Taiwanese airline. BR operates a direct flight TPE-CDG (my final destination), three times a week at that time and four times nowadays.
Flying through BKK was a significant detour, but I did not have the choice: even though AF/KLM is a single group, there was no way I could exchange this return leg of a KLM flight for an AF flight out of HKG which would have been faster. Granted, there was no AF or even Skyteam flight on the TPE-HKG leg, since CI was not part of Skyteam yet.
When she saw me at the check in TPE, the staff asked me if I had a FF status (strange, could it be that the travel agency had not registered my FB number?) and reminded me that next time, the checked luggage allowance would not be the same. I knew it: this round trip ticket had been bought at the time when a FB Gold PAX could have four pieces of luggage, 23kg maximum each, and I was determined to use all of it, together with a heavily loaded carry-on luggage of maximum size and a laptop case. I had a brief worry when she asked me that carry-on luggage, but only placed an approved cabin luggage tag, and there I was leaving, bringing back to Paris a record 105 kg of luggage (not including my belt pouch and camera) without any additional charge.
Going through Taiwanese immigration was as fast as usual.??????! (Your passport is really beautiful!) : the policewoman who had just stamped my brand new passport in mint condition admired its holograms. She returned it together with my resident's card and a big smile. Of all countries that I visited, Taiwan is by far the one whose immigration staff is the friendliest.
As usual, pictures are forbidden in the security check area… only that a corridor overhead between both terminals provided a panoramic view of the arrival check area of one the terminals which was then undergoing a major overhaul.
The way the picture was taken makes for a strange scene, but there was actually nothing special. The temporary partition which isolates the security + passport check area from landside has a dozen opened doors. In the foreground, it is a wide horizontal surface next to the window behind which I took the picture, which hides the fact that the queues are actually continuous. The passengers in the foreground are simply waiting in line, but you cannot see the lines behind or ahead of them.
Once airside, how many tourists understood the 100 ROC on this image of the Taipei 101 Tower? Taiwan, whose official name is Republic of China (ROC), still claims formally the sovereignty on the whole of China, and celebrated in 2011 the centenary of the Republic proclaimed by Sun Yat-sen in 1911.
If you have enough time, you can go around both parallel terminals in a rectangular circuit (they are not connected landside).
There is a non negligible number of touristic promotion shops, especially of products made by the Aboriginal tribes which only make up 2% of the population nowadays.
Kids must love flying out of TPE: there is a kids' playground which is even larger than that in HKG, and largely sponsored by Hello Kitty – small wonder since this character is a spectacular hit in Japan and Taiwan with girls and young women alike.
There are prayer rooms too, for the Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, in two different places.
TPE is not an ideally plane spotter friendly airport, because you often need to go down to the lower level to have an adequate view of the plane. A China Airlines (the Taiwanese flag carrier) A340.
And some aircraft of Eva Air, its privately owned rival.
A Transasia Airways A321 (a regional Taiwanese airline which is developing fast)
The next two aircraft are from Mainland China: only in 2008 did they start landing in Taiwan. An Air China A321, based in Chengdu (Sichuan province).
A Hainan Airlines B737
KLM of course does not have its own lounge in TPE, and uses that of China Airlines. No window, a rather cold design (in terms of ambiance, not temperature), despite the light wood paneling. The colors are altered by an erroneous camera setting. The luggage storage room was welcome since most of the lounge is downstairs.
The food area is separated from the others by automatically sliding doors, which reduces the propagation of odors. The choice is limited, but there are made to order soups too, and the food is good.
Alcoholic drinks are even more limited, with four bottles of spirits and a single bottle of French Haut Médoc red wine.
A useful and unusual detail: this display provides the immigration forms of a dozen countries, so that you can fill them in quietly in the lounge in advance.
There are showers – you need to ask the reception, probably to receives a towel and miscellaneous toiletry supplies.
Boarding is announced: there is a passport + BP check. There is no priority lance, but it is actually needless, because we actually reach from there into the actual boarding room, and there is no reason that it jams. The real boarding is like anywhere else, with a priority Business / FB Elite line.
The plane is a relatively rare 747-400 Combi – note the freight loading door in the rear.
The flight is nearly entirely by night, even though the summer solstice is near : the sun sets shortly before takeoff, and the plane lands at dawn in AMS. I have therefore no picture of the landscape en route (there was enough light towards the end, but it was cloudy below).
These are several views of the cabin, taken at various times during the flight, but that did not matter much, since it was night outside anyway. There is no F, these are the two J cabins, both located in the front on top of each other, and both relatively small (some pictures are taken without flash, hence the different color rendition).
Top deck, with the stairs on the left:
J cabin on the main deck:
The front Y (or was it Y+?) cabin is narrower, because there is a long galley on the right half of the aircraft.
The FAs who saw me take lots of pictures proposed one after another to take a picture of me with my camera to have a proof that I had really travelled in that aircraft. Neither FR's administrators, my hierarchy or my friends ever asked me to prove that I was really travelling, but they seemed unable to realize that I could not care less that I eventually told them OK, if that can please you. They did not catch the hidden irony in that answer.
KLM's J seat was a clear disappointment. The incoming flight was nearly one year earlier, and I vaguely remembered a seat which was not lie-flat, but with an incline which did not bother me. I do not know if I had had a different seat generation, but that one was neither flat not slightly inclined. A guaranteed slide: I had the distinct impression of partial standing, i.e. part of my body weight was supported by my feet on the foot rest.
Air conditioning was another massive problem. An ice cold draft that I did not localize was pouring on my head. I jury-rigged a protection with the blanket which was to large for that.
No printed menu: the FA simply announced verbally the choice beef of chicken, like in economy on any Chinese domestic flight. The dinner was served in three phases, very quickly so. I liked the cutlery, even though they were quite light weight, and the salt and hourglass pepper dispenser. It was in plastic (glass would have been too fragile), but unusual and functional.
On the other hand, the only dressing available for the salad was oil, without vinegar.
The fish was perch, whose flesh is naturally somewhat compact, and was even more so, for same reason that the rice was superficially completely dried from overcooking.
The dessert was OK
Overall, this dinner was a mixed result: some hit and some miss, but definitely not world business class.
Arrival in BKK: all passengers must leave the plane so that cleaners can take over (and maybe also because the Thai authorities mandate that all passengers taking off from BKK go through a security check). But you need to have your passport and BP and I am not certain that the FAs mentioned that. Only when I was on the jet bridge did I have a doubt and backtracked in time to get them in my carry-on luggage (it could be left in the overhead bins). What would happen to a passenger who would leave the aircraft without them? I don't know, but it must happen from time to time.
A long walk, all the longer that motionless passengers jam the travelators (no self-respecting Taiwanese would do that).
Arrival in the boarding room, where there is no power plug to recharge my laptop, and only once there do you realize that you can have 15 minutes of free wifi connection… if you knew it ahead of time, because you needed to obtain a password BEFORE reaching the boarding room. The wifi is for insiders only.
The draft is again as ice-cold as ever, and now it is continuous. The 747 was full, departing from TPE and from BKK, but few passengers travelled all the way from TPE to AMS. Bad luck: a family with two rowdy 6-8 year old kids boarded in BKK and sat in front of me.
The FAs distribute this cup of dry fruit, which I did not like, and proposed a drink. I asked for coffee, which was probably too unusual : only at the end of the dinner, when I asked for another coffee, did the FA realized that she had completely forgotten about the first one.
This time, the FAs distribute a menu, which appears to be exactly the same as on the TPE-BKK leg. KLM does not display any attempt of originality and could have distributed the menu on the first leg.
For a change, I took beef with pepper sauce, which was excellent.
It was time to use the amenity kit which contains the bare minimum, and even less than that: there is no comb and trying to protect myself from that ice cold draft left me quite disheveled. The only plus is that it is a soft case which can be used for other purposes, unlike semi-rigid cases which are always too small.
The breakfast was quite plentiful, but I did not remember much about it, or rather, I tried not to remember the dry croissant.
This time, the FA offered me a single china house, not two like on the way in.
Landing 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and a quick arrival pier side. Landing early was welcome, because AMS is quite big, and the boarding gate of my connecting flight was of course at the other end of the airport, in the Schengen area.
China Airlines Lounge - 2
Taipei - TPE
Amsterdam - AMS
KLM then and now offers a completely outdated seat and substandard food. Indifferent and somewhat careless FAs on that flight means that KL improved, and that it has a lot of room for further improvements. Unless you are hungry, there is little point in visiting CI's lounge in TPE; I find the general airside area of TPE much more pleasant.
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