Back in November, I flew Qatar Airways’ Q-Suites on a superb sale fare to Canberra, Australia. The only catch? The fare started in Helsinki. So, I figured I’d get there a slightly novel way, by flying from (what was then) Britain’s least-used international airport, Teesside. I also filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:
KLM sell upgrades at check-in at some regional outstations…
…but it’s far easier to do it via online check-in. On top of a base fare of £119 one way, I was offered upgrades of £33 and £69 for the Teesside-Amsterdam and Amsterdam-Helsinki legs respectively. In about a dozen trips with KLM on short-haul, I’ve found these cheap upgrades are available most of the time.
However, cutting into the value proposition is the mandatory passenger facility fee at Teesside, which is £6. The airport is now publicly owned and the Tees Valley mayor has said he will rescind the fee once the airport becomes financially viable.
My flight left at 0610 and was one of just six that day, so as you can imagine there wasn’t a lot going on airside.
Our Embraer 175 of KLM Cityhopper, the regional sub-brand of KLM, nightstopped here from the previous evening’s route from Amsterdam.
Teesside has a Premium Lounge available to business class customers and Priority Pass, which is surprisingly well-stocked with cooked breakfast and plenty of choice in food for such a small airport.
Unfortunately, our captain explained our flight was to be delayed for at least an hour due to heavy fog in Amsterdam. Fortunately, this didn’t affect my plans as I had deliberately built in a long connection!
We boarded an hour late and were subject to a further 20-minute delay waiting for clearance. During this time we were given a welcome cup of coffee by the crew. The E-175 is in a 2-2 configuration throughout and there is no seat block in Business Class, hence the low price of the upgrade on this leg.
Seat pitch in the first seven rows is 32 inches, three more than the rest of the aircraft, which is very welcome.
We took off into the breaking dawn and turned immediately southeast for Amsterdam.
KLM Cityhopper make use of cold breakfast boxes on short flights. The presentation and quality are good and the box means you can keep everything tidy and hand the leftovers back easily.
After less than an hour we were descending into Amsterdam alongside an Air France (wearing Joon livery) A321 on a parallel approach to Schiphol.
Cityhopper flights park at the old “Fokker Farm” stands and disembarking is by stairs and bus.
The KLM Crown lounge at location 52 is new and had just opened.
It’s huge, themed and impressive – with multiple areas oriented around food, working, smoking, relaxing, sleep, and showering.
It is incredibly busy though!
The only area not busy was the “Dutch Mountain” which had been sealed off for a PR event marking the launch of the lounge.
The flight to Helsinki was operated by a Boeing 737-800. KLM has 31 such aircraft in its fleet although it is mulling replacements.
Seating on the 737 is a standard 3-3 layout with recognizable Euro-business blocked center seats.
All seats have in-seat power.
Seating in the first six rows sports a blissful 33 inches of legroom compared to 30 inches further back. (British Airways take note!)
Takeoff was to the south into a sky now clearing of fog as the afternoon wore on.
The meal service on this sector, which approaches 1000 miles, is more substantial, with two hot options for a plated meal available.
Lunch was beef and rice for me; a little heavy but very flavourful. The starter of pickled onions and salami (top left) was delicious!
KLM’s a very stylish and cute airline; check out the clog-themed salt and pepper!
Perhaps they could ask the stylists to check the route map, though – it’s crazy and unreadable!
Owing to a combination of bad weather factors producing freezing rain at Helsinki, which affected the braking capacity of landing aircraft, we diverted temporarily to Tallinn, only 60 miles away. Here, we waited for over 90 minutes for conditions to improve. KLM crew were understanding and again supplied us with drinks during the ground delay.
We eventually ended up in Helsinki about two hours late.
Overall an inauspicious start to a monster 20-leg itinerary to Australia and beyond, but KLM’s front line staff managed the delays well and I was happy to pick up a reasonably-priced upgrade on both legs of the trip. I’m not a terribly regular traveler in the Skyteam Alliance and am not too invested in Flying Blue, so I’m happy to pick up lower-priced fares where I can to road-test the experience.