Flying KLM Long Haul During COVID-19: A Comprehensive Review

Advertisement:

On July 1st, Canada and several other countries were added to the EU’s list of acceptable entries. While the Canadian Government still has a blanket travel advisory against all international travel, some Canadians (such as yours truly) have taken the opportunity to travel. A flight was booked with Dutch carrier KLM, with the ultimate destination being Vilnius, Lithuania. This article will cover the long-haul experience in economy class between Vancouver and Amsterdam.

KLM 777
The flight from Vancouver to Amsterdam was a Boeing 777. Often an Airbus A330 is used for this journey. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Pre-boarding

Arriving at the Vancouver airport on a Monday morning, the international check-in hall was quite sparse and almost empty. I had checked-in online, but with one piece of baggage to check, I needed to see an agent.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

With check-in desks opening about three and a half hours before our departure time, I headed to the Sky Priority lane and proceeded to drop my bag. The entire interaction with the check-in agent was done across a Plexiglass divider, both of us wearing masks. This was a challenge for communication with everything muffled.

Once the agent typed my name into the system, she informed me that a ‘pop-up’ had appeared regarding the list of acceptable entries into Lithuania – and that I might not be allowed to board. She consulted a superior and asked me to point out the country on an interactive map on the IATA TravelCentre website. The interactive map showed that Canada was on Lithuania’s list of accepted countries.

While the situation gave me a little bit of a scare, the agent apologized and explained that the situation is continuously changing and there can occasionally be conflicting information. She told me that the website above was what they were referencing to make their decisions.

Advertisement:
SkyTeam Lounge Vancouver food
Self-service at lounges seems to be a thing of the past (for now).  Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

After that, I made my way through security and headed to the SkyTeam Lounge. The lounge experience has changed drastically, and every food item is pre-packaged in disposable containers. A review of this experience will follow soon!

Aircraft space and seating

Once I boarded the aircraft and found my seat at 11A, it was apparent that this flight would only be about 30-40% full – at least in the economy cabin. As a Flying Blue Platinum member, I had a free pick of all economy class seats, which included the more spacious ‘Economy Comfort’ section. I took advantage of this and picked a place in this front area.

KLM 777 economy
A look at KLM’s 777 economy class cabin. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
KLM 777 economy
Inflight magazines are still offered onboard. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

This experience has taught me that ‘Economy Comfort’ has its downsides – at least on the KLM 777. Here’s why:

Advertisement:
  • The bulkhead row (Row 13) gives you that extra space to stretch out – but of course, you can’t have any belongings with you on the floor during taxi, take-off, and landing.  Therefore, it all has to go in the overhead locker. Furthermore, your IFE system has to be folded up for that same period, while other rows can still access entertainment. Taxiing can sometimes take a while, so it’s nice to have that option.
  • Then the row behind it, Row 14, is at an awkward part in the fuselage where there’s an extra-large gap between the windows. If you like taking aerial photos or just enjoy staring out the window, it’s a bit of an awkward row to be at. The one accessible window has its view obstructed by the wing and engine.
  • Finally, any Economy Comfort window seats behind row 14 will definitely have most of their views blocked by the wing and engine.

Of course, these factors may not matter to everyone. Those who don’t care about a window seat view or IFE access during taxi/take-off/landing will be happy with the extra legroom.

KLM 777 economy
Row 14 has an extra-large gap between windows. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
KLM 777 economy
The extra legroom in Economy Comfort is much appreciated. At 5′ 11″ (180cm), I had no problem fully stretching out. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

With such an empty aircraft, social distancing was not an issue or concern. Many people had the opportunity to stretch out across three or four seats, myself included.

Inflight entertainment

Nothing much has changed about the inflight entertainment experience with COVID-19 – at least for the passenger. I’m guessing the seatback and touchscreen are sanitized a little more rigorously between flights.

Advertisement:

The movie and television selection was okay. It’s been months since my last long-haul KLM flight, but I feel like the choice isn’t as diverse as it used to be. I could be wrong though.

KLM 777 economy ife
The IFE system includes a single USB-A port for device charging. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

This 777 also comes with full international electrical outlets. This allowed me to use my laptop for multiple hours and edit videos for Simple Flying’s YouTube channel – which is a very energy-intensive activity. Located down below, there is one outlet for every two seats.

KLM economy power
Electrical outlets were handy for computer work. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The main meal service

The inflight meal service is definitely the most altered part of the flight. While the check-in agent informed me there would be a modified service without hot food, this was not the case onboard as a hot dish was served.

However, there was no choice in the matter. Usually, flight attendants might ask “chicken or beef?” or “rice or pasta?” – not this time. I was also a little bit caught off-guard with the type of hot meal: A warm and sweet rice pudding with a fruit sauce. While I would expect this for breakfast, it did seem odd for a meal later in the day. However, this meal was during that awkward time between lunch and dinner -so maybe that’s why?

Advertisement:
KLM economy meal
Accompanying the sweet meal was some chocolate cake and a caesar salad. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Before the hot meal, full-size water bottles were distributed. During the main meal service, a fairly standard drink service was offered. With my request for Coca-Cola, the flight attendant was ready to pour the can into a cup, but I told her I was okay with just taking the can.

After meal trays were collected and cabin lights were dimmed, the next food item to be distributed was a packaged stroopwafel – something the Dutch are well-known for.

KLM economy meal/snack
Stroopwafels are wafers that sandwich a layer of caramel. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The snack bag and second ‘meal’

What took place after the stroopwafels was perhaps the strangest thing I’ve experienced in recent memory when it comes to inflight meal service. For anyone who was still awake, they had the opportunity to receive a large clear plastic bag full of snacks and refreshments.

Far from the carefully designed and assembled box you would get with an Air Canada meal, the bag was just a jumble of random items. Here’s what passengers got in their bags:

  • Six cups of water
  • One can of Coca-Cola
  • A small blueberry muffin
  • A cereal snack bar
  • Crackers
  • Cream cheese
  • A mini chocolate
  • And a very, very under-ripe banana

The six individually-sealed cups of water were particularly interesting! I am assuming the rationale behind the water – and bag in general – is to supply passengers with anything they would possibly request from crew during the flight. Having it provided all at once, without asking, would undoubtedly reduce the amount of face-to-face interaction necessary.

KLM economy meal/snack
A look at the plastic bag full of assorted packaged items. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Finally, about three hours before landing, we were served a simple vegetarian sandwich along with beverage service.

KLM economy meal/snack
The ‘second meal’ on our nine-hour flight. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Overall thoughts on the flight experience

The nine hours spent onboard this KLM flight was overall pleasant. Thinking back to my previous long-haul KLM flights, the flight attendants working the cabin weren’t as warm and cheerful. This would be understandable given everything that’s happened to airline workforces in recent months, in addition to perhaps feeling like your job puts you at a higher risk of infection.

Comparing other recent COVID-19 flights, here are some points for comparison:

  • Flair Airlines boards strictly back to front, five rows at a time, with the intention of limiting close personal contact with others. This was not done.
  • Air Canada provides a Care Kit which includes masks, gloves, sanitizer, and wipes. This was not done.
  • A hot meal was offered even in economy. This is something that will not be done on equivalent Air Canada flights.

Finally – one additional note to anyone traveling soon: bring a pen with you. In this current climate, you may be required to fill out health declaration forms or just contact forms (for contact tracing). Airlines don’t always provide writing instruments to do this. Plus, other passengers may be reluctant to share pens given the current situation. 

Have you traveled long-haul international in recent times? How has your experience compared? Let us know in the comments.

Advertisement: