The coronavirus situation has had an incalculably negative effect on the aviation world. With employees furloughed, fleets grounded and the threat of many airlines totally evaporating over the course of the next few months, there is little to celebrate if you’re an aviation geek.
KLM made the shocking – if perfectly rational – announcement a few weeks ago that it would retire all 747 aircraft by the end of March. The last one in passenger service flew yesterday, and it is now no longer possible to fly on the Queen of the Skies in KLM’s colors.
I booked my ticket on this Curacao to Amsterdam trip last summer, and the flight took place on March 14 – so, my trip upon this flight so close to retirement was an accident rather than by design. I also filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:
KLM offers private boarding via Curacao’s Jet Centre for 100 USD. Given the special nature of this flight, I figured I would splash out on this occasion.
Using the Jet Centre means you don’t need to enter the main terminal building at all; it’s where all the private aviation flights leave from.
It was very quiet when I passed through; there were no private clients and only two other passengers deciding to part with the money on this occasion. There’s a private security checkpoint, and even private immigration (you need to wait for a single officer to drive over, but it is a very civilized wait with drinks and snacks!).
It’s a very professional and discreet service, although the security check and immigration point are very hard to avoid in any photograph, so I apologize for the lack of detailed photography here!
The drive to the aircraft is very short; KLM uses the stand closest to the Jet Centre anyway, and after a short, 60-second ride, we are right below the wonderful bright blue 747.
From here I was escorted up the steps to the jetbridge and was the first onboard.
KLM’s economy class occupies most of the lower deck and is in a standard 3-4-3 configuration. The steps to the left are, of course, for access to the upper deck, which consists entirely of business class. There is no premium economy on any KLM aircraft, although that situation will soon change.
I was fortunate to have allocated myself seat 1A, which is, in my opinion, always the best seat on any 747 and even trumps any seat on the upper deck. Many will disagree…
The nose is very exclusive and sitting in the front row means there’s very little foot traffic – and of course, there’s the special feeling of sitting even in front of the pilots.
In the four row is a curious “throne” seat which, in my opinion, is horribly exposed – although I know many people who will happily sit there as the center of attention! Apart from 1A and 4A, this seat is the only other solo seat in business class.
The nose curves at the front and it’s possible to look slightly forward from seat 1A. On a previous trip on British Airways, thanks to a stiff crosswind in Chicago requiring a significant crab angle, I was actually able to watch the runway we were landing on all the way down final approach.
The nose itself houses a large wardrobe to hang jackets and larger bags.
This was a special occasion, so I chose a glass of champagne as my pre-departure drink.
Menus were also handed out just before pushback.
Takeoff was to the east, with a left turn northeast shortly after liftoff to orient us towards Amsterdam. The flight would take just under nine hours to complete.
KLM’s amenity kits are made by Jantaminiau, a Dutch brand. KLM’s bags are a token effort, although I hardly mind; amenity kits are wasteful and I expect many airlines to send them the way of the dodo once we are through this virus crisis.
I’m often keen to try airline signature cocktails. KLM’s is a Bols Negroni and I found it delightful.
Service started promptly with our very friendly and experienced cabin crew – who, by the way, were very sad about the imminent retirement. I hope KLM is making every effort to protect all of its staff. I have always found their staff a key component of KLM’s fun and informal image.
I had duck for starter, which was delicious and actually the best part of the meal.
Chicken teriyaki followed for main course, which was not particularly well presented, but nonetheless a substantial and tasty dish which left me very satisfied.
I might have “liberated” these cute red clog-shaped pepper and salt dispensers as a little souvenir!
Dessert was a range of sweets, which were fine if nothing special. A perfectly acceptable business class meal, although in the grand scheme of things perhaps not my most memorable.
With about six hours still to run, it became totally dark outside.
These old 747s have an ancient inflight entertainment system. I assume the storage capacity is low, as every TV show had only a single episode. The interface was also very dated, as you would expect.
It was soon time to sleep; KLM provides a pillow and blanket and the seats in business class lie flat into a comfortable bed. I slept well and solidly, being woken up just over an hour prior to landing.
The orange juice was described as “freshly squeezed” and they really meant it! This was absolutely superb, smooth and full of pulp! Why don’t more airlines do this?
There’s also a decent tea selection for breakfast, too.
I chose an apple strata for breakfast – perhaps a mistake, as with the fruit bowl that ended up being quite a lot of sugar! Also, I’ll never understand why airlines serve croissants, which explode and shatter if you tear or bite into them. The flakes must get everywhere.
Every passenger in long-haul business class on KLM can choose a free Delft house. KLM take the cuteness seriously – there’s even a KLM Houses app where you can track how many you’ve collected!
We touched down in an overcast Schiphol Airport a few minutes ahead of schedule. This was the Polderbaan, the longest and newest runway at the airport and was around 20 minutes’ taxi time from the stand.
After landing, I was invited by the purser and captain upstairs to check out the “bubble” business class section and the cockpit. I appreciated the invite! The 747 is an iconic piece of kit and democratized air travel. It’s a sad day to see many retirements now accelerated.
I paid around 1,600 Euro for this return trip directly with KLM. I’m glad I did. Farewell, KLM 747… the Curacao route will now be operated by a 787 for the foreseeable future.