Since January, I have been pursuing a ride on the inaugural flight of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ first Boeing 787 Dreamliner. After many schedule changes and delays in the aircraft’s delivery, I was able to confirm my seat earlier this month. KL flight 437 departed Amsterdam on November 23, 2015.
I flew on Sunflower’s first three commercial flights: Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Bahrain and, finally, Bahrain back to Abu Dhabi. I flew in World Business Class on the first two segments, then tried out Economy Class on the last. I suspect I am the only person who has flown in both cabins!
As a wheelchair traveler, I’ll use this review to highlight the accessibility of one of the world’s newest jetliners. For many with disabilities, traveling for long periods of time is only possible in premium cabins with lay-flat seats. See my recent blog post, 3 Benefits Travelers with Disabilities Receive When Flying First Class. Since I was an aviation geek long before my disability, I’ve made sure to look at everything that could interest even the able-bodied traveler.
“Sunflower” was brought to gate F5. Fellow aviation lovers lined up along the terminal windows to snap photos. Many of the employees were just as excited as I was.
My disability finally brought me a special privilege, as I was the first passenger to board the aircraft! 🙂 The staff assisting me with boarding were very kind and helpful. I was able to gate-check my power wheelchair, which is uncommon for those needing wheelchair assistance at Amsterdam Airport. Here, I am pictured in an aisle chair, which allows those who cannot walk to board the aircraft. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but you’ll only have to sit in it for a couple of minutes.
World Business Class on the KLM 787
Seated in 2A, I asked the flight attendant to snap a photo before departing Amsterdam. It seemed fitting to celebrate the new aircraft with a glass of champagne before departure. The gentleman behind me was more concerned with getting some rest.
The Business Class seat was very nice, though it is not my favorite in the sky. The seat’s headrest is adjustable and very comfortable. It elevates just a bit, though not as much as those in the economy cabin (more below). The seat’s overall design is quite modern – not flashy. Everything was designed with a purpose in mind.
An ottoman or footrest is available, and is a great place to prop your feet. When the seat is fully reclined into lie-flat mode, the footrest becomes part of the bed surface. The space beneath the ottoman was too small to store my backpack. The space is best used for a pair of shoes.
The seat reclines 180-degrees, to a “lay flat” position. The controls, pictured here, are located on the armrest. In my case, being in seat 2A, the controls were to my left. On more than a few occasions, my resting arm activated the buttons, causing the seat to move. The buttons should have been placed elsewhere.
Interestingly enough, the button to control the overhead lights did not work on this or any other seat. One of the lights could still be activated, using the button on the handheld remote:
This remote can be used to control the entertainment system and the overhead light. It also contains a flight attendant call button. The entertainment system contains a wide array of games, which can be played using the handset’s control buttons.
Next to the armrest and seat controls is a mini storage area. Inside were a pair of headphones and a mirror. This is a great place to store loose charging cables, a mobile phone, wallet, or other small personal items.
Pictured here is the main entertainment screen/monitor. The system includes a dynamic flight map and airshow that tracks your flight journey. One of the included views mimics the heads-up display, or HUD, which is found in the Dreamliner’s cockpit.
The air show also includes an information screen, that displays information based on your choice of the Imperial (U.S. system) or Metric system of measurement.
Located just below the left armrest are a power and USB port. This allowed me to keep my iPhone and other devices charged during flight. The safety card and magazine pocket are also located here. I found this design to be poor, as my knee kept falling into this area while resting in the lay-flat mode.
I love the Dreamliner for its large windows. There is no traditional window shade, but instead a button that allows you to dim or darken the window. You won’t be able to make the window fully opaque, but it is still very useful. This picture was taken with the window set at medium transparency.
Above your seat, you’ll find two lights and two air vents. I was only able to activate the light on the right. The cabin crew were unable to figure out how to turn them both on. I suspect this has something to do with the inoperable light button on the seat controls.
As meal service began, we were offered a choice of cheese cubes or nuts. I selected the cheese cubes, and paired that with glasses of champagne and mineral water.
The meal would be served on the tray table, which is disappointingly small. The table folds out from beneath the armrest, and can be released with the press of a button. The table was easy to operate, but I wish it had been a bit larger.
The meal’s first course consisted of a choice between salmon and this pumpkin soup. The soup was delicious, and may have been the best part of the entire meal. The recipe for the soup was created by KLM crew member Colette Verdijk, winner of the 2015 KLM Crew Cook-off. A mixed salad with roasted pumpkin seeds and vinaigrette was served as well.
For the main course, I selected the beef and beetroot meatballs. From the menu:
Accompanied by herbed veal jus, smoked potato mousseline, cauliflower poached in Parmesan broth, and leeks.
I enjoyed the meatballs, but the remainder of the dish was just “OK.” The other entree choices were chicken thigh in green curry sauce, and a fillet of cod with a mustard and parsley topping.
I elected to forego dessert and the light meal that was offered before arrival. This was largely because the main course was not served until two hours, 30 minutes after departure from Amsterdam. The delays were likely caused by the crew’s lack of experience with the 787 galley. After the main course, I decided to catch a short nap.
Prior to arrival into Abu Dhabi, we were given a historic and collectible KLM Delft Blue House, or Huisje. They are each filled with Genever, a Dutch Gin. I had hoped to collect the newest house, #96, which was released last month. Since there were none available, I selected #24. Here, it is pictured alongside my pre-departure glass of champagne, with the Abu Dhabi airport seen through the window.
While I have only a handful, my friend Michael of TravelZork has a substantial collection of more than 25 Delft Blue Houses!
Economy Class on the KLM 787
Since I was moving from Business Class to Economy for the final segment of my journey with “Sunflower,” I was able to remain onboard during the layover in Bahrain. This allowed me to witness the inaugural flight crew hand off to a new crew, who were able to interact with the aircraft in a live environment for the first time. A test of the mood lighting system ensued:
The seats in economy class are arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration, broken up by two aisles. The seats themselves are quite comfortable and have a very appealing design.
For those with a tall build, the economy class headrest can be elevated a few inches, to ensure that your head receives the proper amount of support.
The economy class seats have a video monitor and entertainment system installed in the seatback. The touch-screen provides access to a generous selection of movies, games, music and the moving map/air show. The screen is also equipped with a built-in USB port for charging your personal electronic devices.
All economy class seats have a large space for bags below the seat. Power ports are located between the seats in front of you.
Wheelchair Accessible Lavatory
Midway through the Economy Class cabin, in the center, is a set of two lavatory stalls. The center dividing wall can be collapsed to make a larger bathroom. Passengers can be assisted to the bathroom using the onboard aisle chair, and there was space for an attendant to assist the passenger. Airline personnel cannot assist you inside the lavatory, but someone traveling with you can.
This was one of the larger accessible airplane lavatories I have seen. It’s still very small, but is one of the better offerings in the sky.
Although there was no real fanfare for this inaugural flight, I enjoyed the unique opportunity to accompany the new aircraft on its first three flights, and to test out both classes of service. Witnessing the enthusiasm of the KLM staff and crew is a reminder that the beauty of flight is something to be appreciated.
KLM has raised the bar with its new aircraft. The Dreamliner is now the jewel of the KLM fleet. As more 787s are delivered, they will expand to new destinations including Doha and Rio de Janeiro. Here’s hoping one makes its way to the United States soon. Beautiful Sunflower, long may she fly!
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