By Britney Hope
When I fly overseas, I usually like to use the flagship airline of the city I’m preparing to visit. It may sound like a small thing (air travel is air travel, right?), but I find stepping onto a plane where the service and style has been designed to represent the destination I’m traveling to can really add to the experience.
Thus, when I decided to fly from Toronto to Amsterdam this winter, I booked my ticket with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
The carrier of choice in The Netherlands, KLM has been widely recognized for its impressively eco-friendly efforts, from improving its fuel efficiency to promoting animal rights through its in-flight catering. In fact, it recently topped the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) as the world’s most sustainable airline, for the 11th year in a row.
With that in mind, I was curious to see how KLM put its mission statement of providing a “service-oriented operation with a proactive focus on sustainability” into action.
After boarding and climbing the stairs (which is a small source of childlike excitement that never gets boring) to the upper deck, I was greeted by a beaming flight attendant in a bright and functional blue uniform. She took my coat and bag (the overhead bins in the upper deck are better suited for purses and hats) to be hung in the closet.
KLM’s World Business Class is made up of about 30 fully reclining seats, with privacy partitions, plenty of legroom and little cubbies for storing odds and ends. The TVs are nice and big, and a remote control attached to the seat lets you kick back without having to lean forward and touch the screen.
My seat came with a pillow, blanket and noise-cancelling headphones, as well as an amenity kit containing earplugs, a sleeping mask, cozy socks and a toothbrush. Even for a seven-hour flight, the airline and its staff go to great lengths to make sure its customers are comfortable – including offering hand lotion and spritzing deodorant in its cabin restrooms.
After settling into my seat, I was offered a welcome drink of sparkling water, juice or champagne served in stout little glasses. When I fly economy, I will typically ask for as many beverages as will fit on my tray, as I’m a painfully thirsty flier. No need in KLM’s business class; the beverage cart came round frequently, and the intimate nature of the upper deck meant very attentive service at all times.
Once we were up in the air, I decided it would be best to charge my computer and phone for when I landed, which was made easy by my seat’s power outlet and USB port.
Soon after takeoff, little dishes of mixed nuts were delivered to my seat, along with a broader range of beverages. I chose a Heineken, and was left to explore KLM’s entertainment system, which included a large selection of new films and television shows, as well as a eclectic music and audio book library and games.
As this was an overnight flight, the meal orders were placed at the start of the flight, and dinner service was prompt. Using the bilingual menu cards provided, I chose the pea soup, which came with salad and a hot (and it must be said, extremely delicious) ciabatta bun, and the chicken with risotto.
When researching my upcoming flight, I had discovered that KLM has very high standards for its catering practices, sourcing only organically prepared grains, egg and meat products that have been approved by animal protection societies (it won the Good Egg Award at Expo Milano in 2015), and local cheeses (from North Holland) made in accordance with traditional methods.
My main course followed, which I paired with a pinot noir as per the flight attendant’s suggestion, and more excellent bread. Nearly everything during the meal is served on reusable tableware, contributing to KLM’s efforts to reduce waste on board. Rather than serving condiments in plastic wrappers, elaborately decorated (and recyclable) cardboard boxes are used instead.
Dessert consisted of a cheddar and Oka cheese plate, fruit, blackberry panna cotta, chocolate truffles, and the option of tea or KLM’s UTZ-certified sustainable coffee, which I enjoyed in a considerably reclined position while watching Infinitely Polar Bear, an indie flick that is only recommended if you’re fond of weeping in front of total strangers.
Around 11 pm or so, the lights went out to help guests sleep better, leaving the cabin almost entirely dark. TV screens could be turned off while still playing, so I, equipped with a sleeping mask and noise-cancelling headphones, was able to completely disengage and drift off to quiet classical music after directing my seat into the ‘lie-flat’ position.
Although I didn’t actually sleep much during the flight (it was my first time to Amsterdam and I was excited), I did doze off for several hours, which is a credit to the space and comfort of the seats. Simply put, lying flat makes all the difference when it comes to in-flight snoozing.
When I peeled off my sleeping mask a few hours before landing, an attendant promptly offered me a hot towel and a tray of freshly-squeezed orange juice, along with a breakfast menu. I chose the vegetable egg frittata, which came with a side of smoked salmon, fruit served on porcelain plates, and a blissfully flaky croissant that tasted bakery-fresh to a deceptive degree.
Just prior to landing, the attendants made one final visit, this time to have guests select a Delft Blue miniature Dutch house to commemorate their flight. There are 96 collectibles to choose from (although admittedly, not all 96 were available) and they come filled with genever, or gin, accessible through a wax seal in the chimney. These gifts have apparently been a tradition since the 1950s, and was a particularly nice touch; mine is currently sitting on my shelf at home.
After that, it wasn’t too long before we had arrived at Schiphol Airport, the vastly-evolving European hub where KLM has introduced a number of social initiatives, such as noise pollution reduction through the improvement of operational logistics, and community events within the Schiphol area.
Collecting my coat, bag and little Delft Blue house, I said goodbye to KLM’s World Business Class with a heavy heart. Overall, the airline succeeded in creating a very hospitable and enjoyable flight experiences, with plenty of little ‘Dutch’ touches that served as a great precursor to my upcoming Amsterdam adventure.
Even more noteworthy, I think, was the unobtrusive way KLM managed to implement its ambitious and progressive initiatives (recyclable materials, minimal use of water, the importance of biofuels) in a practical manner without drastically influencing the passenger experience.
It says that if one major airline can commit to improving the travel industry’s impact on the world – and succeed with style and integrity – so to, may others.
Learn more about KLM’s sustainability efforts at klmtakescare.com.
Editor’s Note: KLM has not endorsed this article; the above is a sole reflection of the writer’s personal experience, which she obtained at her own expense.
Britney Hope is a freelance writer who technically lives in Canada, but can usually be found just about anywhere else.
She is best known for her journalism work covering the Canadian travel industry, where she specializes in trade news, executive features and sustainable tourism practices.
Britney’s work has been published on Wisebread.com, PAXnews.com, in PAX magazine and in Post City Magazine. She’s the author of a travel guide for San Francisco through Unanchor.com, and was a literary short story winner in the 80th Annual Writer's Digest writing competition.
You can check out Britney’s work on her website, and follow her adventures on Twitter.