Review: KLM Business class – Narita (NRT) to Amsterdam (AMS)


KLM World Business class, 747-400 Combi – December 2013

KLM Business class

KLM Blue Delft House – kitsch, collectible and full of gin

Like many regular travellers to Tokyo, I’ve been scouring online forums and schedules for news of when the slick new KLM Business cabins were going to appear on the airline’s Narita to Schipol route. While my base is London, KLM’s and Air France’s price points, and swift connection times at Amsterdam and Paris respectively, make them among my most favoured airlines for long haul Business class flights. Despite much online chatter about this route being an early adopter of the Hella Jongerius-designed cabin, everything heading back to Europe the week I was leaving Japan was the clunky, well-worn  World Business class. Regardless, right up until I saw the seats and sighed, I had held out hope…

But still, there was a time – and very much in my adult lifetime – when these seats, with their fold out metal TVs that look like a 1960s robot’s extra limb – would have looked like the last word in luxury. And actually, for a long day flight – their swansong on this route, the new seats are all in place as of me writing – they’re pretty good. They may be far from box fresh, but as long as you aren’t trying to sleep (they aren’t true flat beds by any means), and you see them as flying armchairs in which to watch James Bond on a slightly fuzzy screen while someone ferries you often sensational wine (KLM had some pretty offbeat, rare and fine Château Rives-Blanques, Cuvée Occitania 2011 for a while last year), they’re fine. And if you’ve loaded up your iPad and you’ve got your Bose on, they’re doubly fine.

Boarding from Terminal 1’s North Wing (a retail desert compared to the main terminal) was civilised. The Air France Lounge had insubstantial snacks but premium wines, as well as (this being Japan) draft beer and a fridge full of Suntory. There were chilled glasses in the kitchen but no Toto electronic bidet toilets in the restrooms. You win some, you lose some.

Then there was the Delftware patterned floating egg timer that promised to “play a traditional Dutch tune” when my egg was ready, with a variation offered according to the firmness of the egg. I could kick myself right now for not getting one

I flew upstairs in the bubble, where there are 24 seats in a 2 x 2 formation. It felt luxuriously spacious; far more spacious than any bang up to date A380 upper deck Business cabin you could care to mention. The staff on board seemed to be in a smashing mood: my welcome flute of champagne after boarding was refilled, which was a first.

I marvelled at how bland KLM’s inflight magazine is. Holland Herald is a style and entertainment-free zone compared to the beauty of Air France’s print offering. Given KLM’s fixation with Dutch design – The Marcel Wanders swizzle sticks and tableware! The Viktor & Rolf amenity bags! – I would have thought that any magazine they’d put their name to would be a knock out. Still, it’s not without its SkyMall pleasures. I wonder if the Mast Brothers are familiar with Van der Burgh chocolatiers in the Netherlands, because Van der Burgh is clearly familiar with the Mast Brothers and their packaging. Intimately. Then there was the Delftware patterned floating egg timer that promised to “play a traditional Dutch tune” when my egg was ready, with a variation offered according to the firmness of the egg. I could kick myself right now for not getting one.

The flight was smooth, and comfortable, although – at what I consider to be a fairly average height of six foot – I had to rest my ankles on the side rear of the seat in front to fully stretch my legs out comfortable. This fast disappearing KLM Business seat still uses the extended footrest that, for years, across scores of airlines, was guaranteed to jut out directly into your lower calves, unless you’re a Leprechaun or managed to load it up with spare pillows.

KLM World Business class review

Swizzle sticks by Marcel Wanders for KLM

The in-flight menu included Japanese dishes from the Michelin starred restaurant at the Okura in Amsterdam (the sibling to the hotel of the same name in Tokyo – yes, the one with the fabulous classic Hitchcock lobby), but all the Japanese beef dishes had been snapped up by passengers downstairs, so I had the western alternative – a perfectly fine beef cheek in blackberry sauce. The reverse had happened with my choice of starter – the salmon had gone, so I had a selection of Japanese starters: prawn tempura, scallop, egg, tofu and crab. All were excellent. I tried a Dutch white – the 2012 De Kleine Schorre – which came with the flight attendant’s barbed, but as it turned out bang-on, recommendation: “It’s okay for a glass, but I wouldn’t put a whole bottle of it on the table if I was hosting dinner.”

I do love the Dutch sense of humour. It manifested itself again at the end of my flight, when another flight attendant appeared with the customary tray full of miniature ceramic Delft Blue Houses, offering each passenger one to take home, sealed in a plastic bag. They’ve been giving out a different House every year since the 1950s. The model of House changes on 7th October, and if you pass through the gigantic KLM lounge in Schipol, you can see a whole wall of them. There’s even a dedicated website, book, and a downloadable app for your iPhone, iPad or Android phone to help you keep track of your collection.

The first time I flew KLM Business class, I smiled and accepted a Delft Blue House, somewhat nonplussed. I took it home, put it on a shelf in the kitchen and threw it away after a few days unopened. I didn’t realise that it was actually full of gin.

Now, of course, I always take the House home. And on my next flight I’m going to get that musical egg timer too. C