I left for Amsterdam last Monday on a KLM flight from Toronto. All I can say is, I never knew just how much I love Air Canada. I’ve flown almost exclusively AC, and I’ve generally been very happy with my flights, even the really long ones to Asia. KLM is terrible, and that’s putting it mildly. I’m not sure I would even fly with them again for a free flight. It was THAT bad. Let’s see what went wrong:
1) Don’t use their mobile check-in/boarding pass feature. They send you an e-mail telling you to be environmentally-friendly. Great, I think. Along with the fact that I don’t actually own a printer, I enjoy all the apps on my phone that allow me to carry it and only it. Except every KLM staff that I encountered didn’t know what to do with it. They had never seen an electronic boarding pass before, let alone have the scanners to actually use my boarding pass QR code. I’m surprised my luggage made it to the same place I did.
2) Beware the random seat downgrade at the gate! Half an hour before the anticipated boarding time, I was called to the gate via PA. I’ve always wondered what those names being called were about, so I was excited to go up to the counter. It’s not a good thing. They had randomly changed me from my seat (that I had spent half an hour choosing) to another one that was “the same” and I had no choice in the matter. I quote that phrase because I was told several times that it was “the same” seat when I questioned why I was being moved and what the new seat was like. Here’s what “the same” means to KLM:
-moving from a comfortable, 2-seat row with slightly larger chairs to a cramped, 4-seat row with the smallest chairs I’ve ever experienced. I am a tiny person with short legs and I barely fit in it (the headrest of my chair to the back of the person in front of me’s upright seat was three hand spans, and I don’t have big hands)
Me making as much room as possible in my chair
-notice also that they moved me to a seat that had a bulkhead at my feet, so that my carry-on actually spent the trip seven rows ahead, where I didn’t have access to the things I had planned on using during the flight
-moving from near a window to the middle of the cabin. For someone who makes it through the take-off and landing by staring out the window and willing the plane to transition from ground to air and vice versa smoothly? Not okay.
-being far away from the engines to directly behind the wing. Anyone else sensitive to noise?
-being far away from the toilets to directly in front of them. This meant that my seat didn’t recline (wonderful when the person in front of me reclined and turned my three hands spans of space into two), I was constantly being nudged by people waiting for the washrooms, the door hit my chair every time it opened or closed, and I spent the whole overnight flight listening to the constant sound of flushing. Not to mention I don’t think they’d cleaned it since the last flight. Gotta love the smell of stale urine for eight hours.
And I didn’t even blame KLM for the crying baby just in front of me or the very large man who took up his own seat plus half of the ones on either side of him who encroached on my personal space the whole trip. Neither of whom would have been anywhere near my original seat fifteen rows back.
3) Daylight and the night sky are not the same. Does that sound obvious to you? Every overnight flight I’ve been on has had extremely dim lighting so people can sleep. Makes sense to me. So when it was 2:00 a.m., I finally called a flight attendant to ask when they were planning on dimming the cabin lights. To which she responded that the 60-watt bulbs spaced a foot apart all up and down the plane was already night lighting. To give her credit, she did offer to sell me an eye mask, and then gave me a complimentary one when I said that it was ridiculous for them to have it so bright and then try to charge people for something they shouldn’t have needed in the first place.
4) 10:30 =/= 10:50, nor does 11:35 = 12:15. Everyone remembers those math sheets where you had to write what time the analog clock face displayed. Someone clearly failed. We were rushed to board our plane at 9:45, even though we weren’t scheduled to leave until 10:50. The cabin was hot and stifling and they were playing static-y music on the radio, which we endured for 45 minutes. We ended up leaving twenty minutes early (how does flight control even manage that? Aren’t there a lot of planes out of Pearson?) and then getting a good tail wind and arriving even earlier in Amsterdam. Which might be good for some business people (who are randomly arriving in the middle of the workday?). For those of us who had made time specific plans to be picked up because we didn’t have phones that would necessarily work in Europe, I suddenly wondered what to do for 45 minutes. And why I’d had to rush through dinner before the flight when I’d thought I had half an hour before we were even supposed to start boarding.
5) Dinner generally happens in the evening, sleeping tends to happens at night, and breakfast is that first meal of the day. Drinks. Drinks are fantastic on a plane, because it tends to be really dry. Love drinks. Alcohol? Also fun. Though dehydrating. Alcohol as the only drink option with dinner? Think of the children, people! Dinner at 2:00 a.m. Toronto time/8:00 a.m. Amsterdam time? Not going to help my body adjust to jet lag. That said, this was the first time I’ve ever had airplane food that had a ton of flavour. Horseradish and raw onions are definitely Flavour (note the capital F)! Breakfast was served at 5:00 a.m. Toronto time/11:00 a.m. Amsterdam time. Maybe on Sundays. I do like a good sleep in. If I’d slept at all. The drink cart came by again in between those meals.
This was meant to be a warning blog of Do’s and Don’ts (or really just one big “Do NOT fly with KLM), not a complaint. I already filed one of those with KLM. I only bother to fill out those surveys when things are either really fantastic or truly terrible. If you’re just mediocre, I can’t be bothered to spend my time telling you so.
So, we’re now in Amsterdam at hour 30 of no sleep (or more if you factor in the fact that I only slept five hours Sunday night. I arrive at the airport and the bus is surprisingly easy to navigate into the city centre. I meet up with Boy’s roommate at the appointed time and place and we make it to the apartment. Woohoo! I get settled in (after making it up the incredibly steep and windy staircase that is normal for Amsterdam) and am planning on taking a nap after double checking everything for my train ride that is set to happen in a few hours.
Stairs in Amsterdam were not made for short people like me. Eight of them equals my height. Luckily Boy’s roommate helped me get my suitcase up the stairs.
I make sure that my hasty packing in Toronto didn’t mean that I forgot something for Montpellier and then proceed to look up where the ticket counter is at the train station to pick up my tickets. At which point I freak out. Because the confirmation e-mail said that I could pick up my boarding tickets at the station… in Belgium! What?!? Excuse me? Why would I go to Belgium to pick up tickets for a train from Amsterdam to Paris? I try to go to the website to prove that the e-mail is just misinformed and find that I can “only” pick up my tickets at thirty or so approved stations… still in Belgium. I have no phone to call SNCB, plus I disagree with the 0€30/minute fee for calling in for help anyway. I try looking up Centraal station information, since I’m sure this is ridiculous and stupid that I would somehow have to get to Belgium (by train? But the tickets can only be picked up at my destination) to get my boarding passes. But I can only find information on local or regional trains. Remember I’ve had no sleep for a while. I message Boy, who assures me that I can just print them from the e-mail. Because apparently when he’s booked tickets, he’s been given the option to have e-tickets. I did not. When I booked mine, I had to pick them up at THE station. Which any normal person would assume would be the station of departure. He doesn’t know if there’s an SNCB booth at Centraal and then tells me that he thinks the ticket booths are closed already. Thanks, Boy. That’s really helping to calm me down.
So I go old school. I walk to the station and go in search of a real person who can help me out. Because there’s no way I’m getting to Belgium and back before my train leaves in an hour. I stand in various lines, and keep getting redirected to another queue (I’m not just standing in the wrong line for no reason – the signs are all in Dutch and I’m just looking for a person behind a counter). I finally find the right service centre, for international trains, and I am given a number to wait in line when I notice these little self-service kiosks that speak English (and any number of languages other than Dutch that I do speak!) Win! I poke a few buttons and out prints all my train tickets for the whole return trip to and from Montpellier. Holy crap, that was easy. Why in the world would you tell me I could “only” get my tickets in Belgium when I could print them out myself from a self-service kiosk at Centraal? I still don’t get it, SNCB. Why?
Now that the panic attack is over, I explore Centraal station, which is actually pretty cool. It’s full of little shops and restaurants. It even has a mini Albert Heijn (a grocery store chain). I get on my platform after a lot of searching (my train leaves from Track 15A. There’s a Track 15 and a Track 15B, but no 15A) and get on my train.
I meet up with a friend in Paris, crash at his place for a couple of hours, expertly navigating the way from Gare du Nord to his place and then to Gare de Lyon very early the next morning with no incidents (and not even following the instructions from the transit website because that night bus didn’t show) and get some breakfast at the station. Maison Paul. Gourmandise. Deliciousness.
I arrive in Montpellier, get to my hostel (which took a little bit of finding because it was in an alleyway behind some garbage bins), lock up my luggage in a locker and go out. Because I’ve made it! In spite of the craziness and a total of 52 consecutive hours of no sleep, I’m in the south of France! Awesome.