Today’s review is by reader David. If you would like to share your travel experience with TLFL readers, drop us an email at [email protected]
Some Things Change, Others Remain The Same
Is flying in economy really that much different on short-haul flights than it was in normal times? With KLM I would suggest the answer is yes, however to a minimal extent when actually flying and I hope the review of the following four flights will give you some reasons as to why. Furthermore, over the weekend I have also seen changes to the in-flight service which has improved the offering somewhat. In part one, I will write about the outbound nature of the flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle, via Amsterdam Schipol.
Firstly, a little background to this trip, and why we decided to take it anyway. Since October 2019, I have had my annual pilgrimage to Paris booked for the end of the Tour de France. Of course, currently due to Covid-19 the Tour de France has been delayed and it has been 12 years since I last travelled to Paris for no other reason than to simply be a tourist. For weeks upon weeks there was the constant back and forth of do we cancel and take travel vouchers to re-book or should we go anyway if we are allowed to, and what if we are stopped at immigration? In the end, once travel for entry of passengers from the United Kingdom was allowed, our minds were made up. We were going! Reasons being that France as a whole had a much better grip than the UK as a whole. Though as we are based in Scotland in comparison to Paris, the figures were better at home than at our destination. However on the base of risk, taking in factors such as avoiding all physical contact with people and ensuring we wore masks at all times in public we realised it was going to be a safe enough trip, in a Paris that we would expect to be much quieter than normal.
So, to Edinburgh Airport for a 6am flight to Amsterdam Schipol before transferring to Paris Charles de Gaulle. As Flying Blue Platinum holders with hand baggage only and our boarding cards safely stored on our smartphones, we entered the only current entry point for the terminal. This is located in the centre by the escalators which direct you up to security. The queue of people in line for dropping off baggage was not large at 4.45am, though there were no separate lines for Sky Priority passengers being run at this time by Swissport, the handlers for Air France/KLM at the airport.
We went up to security, went towards the FastTrack doors to see they were closed and to proceed to the Family Lane per the sign on the door. Making an about turn, and heading for the Family Lane entry point with boarding pass in hand, the gentleman behind the glass wall said we could not use it and to go through the regular security. Even when we explained slowly and clearly that the sign stated go to the Family Lane as FastTrack was closed whilst wearing a mask, he said we could not use FastTrack because it was not open and to use the regular security lanes. Communication has always been a poor point at Edinburgh Airport with security in general, as well as with UK Border Force there too, but that is another story for another time. Security was really quiet at this time, unsurprisingly considering the few flights involved and we were through within 8 minutes including a secondary check having passed through the metal detector.
This was then followed by the obligatory walk of pain through World Duty-Free which was empty and no testers were on offer for your health and safety. Every time we decided to stop a member of staff was quickly walking to approach, so we decided to move on as we were not interested in buying anything. Once out, the water station was available to use to fill your empty bottle with, and the layout of the signage on the floor for the one-way system to walk around the airport was in place. Due to this, and because all but Boots and WHSmith were open, we decided to walk to our gate, seeing that the lounges were closed too, which we knew from the boarding pass was gate 18, just along from the extended section of the terminal.
In the gate area, many of the seats were taken at a socially distanced level already, though we comfortably found two and sat down awaiting boarding. I did ask the question of one of the members of Swissport as to which queue was which as no signage was available, and we joined the queue about 5 minutes prior to boarding. It was much more akin to waiting for a train than an aeroplane in general. With the flight being over two-thirds full we were well aware that someone would be sitting next to us. However, boarding was chaotic, with the two lines not being separated at a join, and although those with Sky Priority were separating physically those in the regular queue were all standing very close together, and in some cases jumping the queue in front of other passengers. Being gate 18, it was a case of walking onto the Boeing 737-800 (PH-BXE) .
Edinburgh to Amsterdam flight
I then found seat 4D on the aisle with my partner in 4E. These are classed as Economy Comfort, and are free for selection for Flying Blue Platinum holders with discounts of 50% and 25% for Gold and Silver holders respectively. They have more legroom and are generally repurposed from the business class seating if there are fewer seats sold in business by the usual curtain rail being adjusted to the correct location. The Holland Life magazine, safety card, and paper bag were all present as normal and the seats and seat trays were for once absolutely spotless, so cleaning was certainly more thorough than in previous times.
Once boarding was complete, we quickly pushed back a couple of minutes early and took off at 6.04am. As soon as the seat belt signs were off, one of the crew from the front of the plane closed the curtains and I asked if I could move into one of the empty seats in 4B or 4C, to create extra room for physical distancing (intending to sit in 4C) this was encouraged by the member of crew.
Within 5 minutes of the seat belt signs being annulled, the cart came down with the snack, no choices were offered, and the box was handed out consisting of a slice of lemon cake, a tub of water and a pre-packed tissue. It was also possible to request a tea/coffee or a soft drink such as fruit juice, water, or a carbonated drink like Coca-Cola. Overall, it filled a gap for a short flight though generally the sandwich offered for breakfast in economy is not usually much more filling and at least the cake was moist and not overly flavoured in lemon making it pleasant to eat. If you take tea with milk, you should note you receive a sachet of powdered creamer rather than a small pack of UHT milk on KLM, though more suited for coffee it does a decent role for tea as well.
Before long the expected one hour and 35 minutes flight was descending over the North Sea for the approach into Schipol and the seat belt signs were lit up again. We landed on the nearest runway to the terminals and pulled off to come into the gate at terminal D, at the dreaded end of the fork which would mean a very long walk up to the passport control. The good news was doors opened at 8.05am meaning we were 30 minutes early. Prior to this, the purser announced that for alighting the plane it would be done in row-by-row from the front and no-one should stand until the row in front was clear. No-one listened, so as soon as the seat belt signs were off, most passengers jumped up to collect bags and other belongings. To prevent a rush to the front, I swung my legs out into the aisle and waited until the third row was empty then let my partner and the other two passengers go before collecting my bag and walking out.
After the long walk up the D gates concourse to the central area, it was nice to finally see some shops open. Yet rather than being the bustling terminal it normally is, Schipol was practically deserted with so few people milling around or walking to other gates. The e-gates for passport control were open and we were the only two who used them at the time of passing through so this was a few minutes quicker than normal too. All in all, we were at the Schengen lounge within 15 minutes of brisk walking.
For Flying Blue Platinum and Gold card holders you can go to the KLM Crown Schengen lounge, otherwise on the floor above is the Star Alliance or Aspire Lounge (accessible with the Priority Pass/Dragon Pass). We took a look at the Aspire Lounge briefly as it is the first time we had more than enough time to go in and still enjoy some time in the KLM lounge too. It is quite an open space with different seating, from the singular pod seats at the window though without runway views to the booths running along one wall and a number of different sofas and seats around the rest of the lounge. It was very much a simply planned space which worked, and was very quiet with around 20 people in. Food was pre-plated with croissants, ham, chicken and cheese available, or some small pancakes and a bowl of syrup. Drinks were available from machines including tea, coffee, fruit juices, soft drinks and Heineken (both 0.0% and regular) from self-pour draught machines. It was a decent space, though in normal times I would expect it to be very busy and as it is a little smaller than the previous lounge be more difficult to access with a lounge card.
We then headed back down to the KLM Crown Lounge and barring the one-way system in and out, the place was almost our own. I counted 8 people on my first wander around, possibly as it is only open till 12pm at the moment. The layout has been remodelled as it has extended out over the old Aspire Lounge space with the previous area extending out towards the security and check-in areas now closed off with a wall across. There are four food and drink areas with one in operation. Open sandwiches or muesli were available to be made for you.
The sandwiches had beetroot, salad, with ham and/or cheese. The bread was a touch on the dry side, but with the beetroot salad providing the moisture rather than butter it worked quite well. The drinks selection was not reduced, with Jaume Serra Cava, plus two white, one rose and one red wine available and a non-alcoholic spritz plus Heineken and a selection of standard spirits and liqueurs. The seating is comfortable, though the smoking room is closed, for those you like to smoke. Overall, the space is so large that having so few people in the lounge meant it felt quite strange being almost alone.
At just before 12pm we left and wandered about the terminal towards the gates and saw the majority of the shops were open. Very few people were in the shops and those stores which were branded were certainly not providing their regular discounting on items, whereas the duty-free stores run by Schipol did have some promotions running.
Amsterdam to Paris
We arrived at gate C5 with plenty of time and went straight to the Sky Priority queue. Most people waiting for the flight were seated, though all together and not distancing from each other. The lack of physical distancing became more apparent once the announcements were made that boarding would being with the queue being almost nose to tail all the way down. There were fewer on this Boeing 737-800 (PH-BXC) than the previous flight yet boarding was more chaotic as we also had to wait for transfer passengers on a delayed incoming flight therefore we departed 29 minutes late at 1.39pm. A short taxi and we took off with a member of the crew immediately inviting me to move across the aisle from 4D to 4C to create physical distancing for our comfort and safety.
There was plenty of room for everyone on the flight to do the same if they so wished too. Again, the plane looked really spotless and service was within a couple of minutes of the seatbelt sign going off. The same snack box and drinks were offered. One thing to mention was you were advised not to remove your mask until all members of your row were served. This looked to be followed by all passengers in and around our row on both outbound flights. The crew were proactive and even though they minimised contact, they would still be pleasant and try to smile with their eyes and body language instead which was a really good way to make everything as comfortable as possible.
The short flight meant we descended into Charles de Gaulle only 37 minutes after take-off. So even though we were almost 30 minutes late leaving, we alighted 9 minutes early and into the scrum that was the passport check at CDG. We knew that we would need our passports and health form to pass through, but the communication from the two staff dealing with around 300 people from numerous flights were poor, once we got to speak to a member of staff we were invited through the priority queue and were out in a couple of minutes. Tape and directional arrows were on the floor to keep the distance between each other and ensure you did not too close to each other. As a side note the toilets in the baggage claim of 2F are now unisex, with the ladies’ toilets closed, and the cubicles in the men’s toilets available for ladies to use.
Overall, the flights themselves were as close to normal as possible. Crew onboard were very good with their announcements and we did feel very comfortable and enjoyed both flights. It was good that we had access to early boarding, and were able to select seats in the forward section of the aircraft. The lack of alcohol being served did not distract from the enjoyment for these short hops and it was plain to see that fellow passengers were in part happy to follow the rules as requested by the crew, but still wanted to board and alight as soon as possible, and were not prepared to physically distance whilst wearing their masks in the queues. As the saying goes, “some things change and others remain the same”.