Review: A Delightful Throwback, KLM Economy Comfort On A Boeing 747

by John Harper

Of the 200-or-so classic Boeing 747s still in passenger service around the world, perhaps none are more recognizable from afar than KLM’s 11 big blue jumbo jets.

KLM Boeing 747 JFK airport

The KLM 747-400 used on my New York JFK to Amsterdam Schipol flight. Image by John Harper

The Dutch flag carrier, which for four decades has relied on jumbo jets as the workforce of its massive transatlantic fleet, is set to retire the remainder of its 747 fleet in the next 18 months. This plane should be missed, particularly by the masses who fly in economy class. Unlike the jets that succeed her, KLM’s 747 features wide, plush economy seats in a well laid out cabin.

I had the chance to fly on one of the airline’s five 747-400s on a recent work trip from New York Kennedy (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS). These five true passenger 747s hold 408 passengers. The airline also flies six 747 Combi jets, which contain a smaller economy cabin ahead of a full-sized cargo bay.

Booking The KLM Flight

KLM makes it easy to find and choose 747s through an impeccably well-designed website interface. Alongside price and schedule, the airline prominently lists aircraft type, and in my experience, KLM rarely makes last minute fleet deviations.

I paid an incredible $447 for my return airfare. The ticket was technically a basic economy fare, though unlike many carriers KLM extends full elite benefits to basic economy ticketholders, meaning I could still sit in Economy Comfort seats free of charge.

I paid for this KLM economy comfort flight using my American Express Platinum Card, which netted 2,235 Membership Rewards points at 5x points per dollar spent through the airline website. If booking through an online travel agency or other travel service, I’d have been better served with my Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns 3 points on all travel purchases.

I’d earn 1,821 SkyMiles on this ticket, at a measly 25 percent of miles flown, but full Medallion Qualification Miles, even on the basic economy fare.

Finding KLM Boeing 747 flights

KLM’s web interface is one of the best designed I’ve seen, and makes it easy to identify desirable aircraft like the 747 or 787.

KLM 747 Economy Comfort seating chart

As a Delta Platinum Medallion, I was able to select Economy Comfort seats right in the web interface.

On my eastbound overnight flight, I could choose between an early 747 departure and a later service operated by a Boeing 777.

The 747 is vastly preferable, as I’d confirm on my return one week later. While KLM has standardized armrest-to-armrest seat width across its fleet at 17.5-inches, the armrests and margins on the 777 are noticeably narrower, and KLM now avoids seat padding like its going out of style.

KLM is very welcoming to Delta Medallion frequent flyers. Once a SkyMiles number is added into a reservation, Platinum and Diamond medallions can select any seat — including KLM Economy Comfort seating — for free using the online seat map. Silver and Gold medallions can pick standard seats for free and enjoy a discount on extra legroom and Economy Comfort seating.

Check-In

When flights depart JFK, KLM shares resources with joint venture partner Delta Air Lines, including check-in. While there is a dedicated check-in counter with KLM branding in the departure hall, all desks are staffed by Delta reservations agents, and KLM passengers can use any Delta check-in, including the SkyPriority lounge.

I was in the mood for something different, so I gave the SkyPriority line at the KLM quarter a try. That ended up being a mistake.

KLM Sky Priority JFK

The KLM SkyPriority Check-in at JFK Terminal Four was wide open about two hours before my flight.

 

There was one unfortunate hiccup that threatened my trip, the source of which I’m still trying to track down, though I believe it was the rather short and clueless agent I was unlucky to get at this counter. My SkyMiles number, which had been included when I purchased the tickets and was on the digital boarding pass Delta sent me 24 hours before departure, was supplanted by a KLM Flying Blue number that I had never used. This mixup had the potential to cause significant problems.

Neither SkyPriority nor TSA Precheck were listed on my boarding pass. Fortunately, I still had the boarding pass with both labels on the FlyDelta app, so I was able to skirt through the airport.

The real trouble came days later, when I realized that KLM ended up crediting the flight to this mysterious Flying Blue number, rather than my SkyMiles number. It took a phone call to rectify the problem on my return flight, and a letter to the Delta technical support team was promptly answered with a promise to credit the miles for the outbound flight in 7 to 10 business days.

I’ll write more on this as it unfolds.

Boarding

I spent some time at the Delta SkyClub Terminal 4 in JFK, which has been covered extensively and which is almost always too crowded to admire much, anyway. Thus, onward.

Why Delta chose a gate in the narrow middle of Terminal 4 to board a 747 is beyond me, but it was apparent to anyone trying to get past gate B24 that a huge aircraft was outside and that it needed to move as quickly as possible.

KLM Boarding Area JFK

The boarding area for our KLM Boeing 747 was a bit much.

The boarding line stretched as far as I could see, at least to the next bend in the terminal building. That said, once boarding began the process unfurled fairly predictably, in a slightly modified rendition of the five zone procession that Delta uses for its own flights.

Down the gangway and onboard the 747 was the first place I encountered any KLM staff, easily recognizable in (very) Royal Blue naval-style uniforms.

Boarding was through the second door, into the foyer with the 747’s grand staircase.

Cabin and Seating

The KLM Economy Comfort cabin on the 747 is a left turn out of the second door. The cabin is entirely private from the rest of the economy cabin, a real treat.

KLM Economy Comfort Cabin Boeing 747

The private Economy Comfort cabin on the 747.

Even World Business Class passengers wouldn’t pass through, as used a passage on the other side of the aircraft. The dedicated flight attendant gave the mini-cabin a very premium feel.

Unique to KLM, the main galley is located ahead of the staircase. On almost any other 747 configuration, business class would be here and would stretch the entire width of the aircraft. In its place, a large galley takes up one side of the aircraft, and a unique 3-2 mini-cabin houses all the 747 KLM Economy Comfort seating.

Economy comfort cabin privacy KLM 747

The economy comfort cabin was practically as private as the World Business cabin ahead.

When I first saw this seating configuration, I couldn’t imagine sitting next to the interior galley wall. In practice, the setup is very well executed. There’s enough space between the second seat and the wall to create a small passage, wide enough for most people to use as aisle access.

KLM’s 747 fleet was furbished in the late oughts, but the plane’s interior was no worse for the wear. The interior was spotless from floor to ceiling, and the carpet and seat fabric were complimentary blue and brown, with orange accents.
The seats themselves were wide, with full armrests, pitched 36 inches apart. Legroom was just enough so that my tall Dutch seat mate could pass without me having to stand.

KLM Economy Comfort seats on 747-400 legroom

KLM’s Economy Comfort seating on the Boeing 747-400. Image by John Harper

Those familiar with Delta’s Comfort+ cabin will find KLM’s version familiar. In addition to additional seat pitch, the seats recline about 50 percent more than standard economy seats. The recline was impressive, sufficient for me to doze off comfortably for a few undisturbed hours during the flight.

KLM Boeing 747-400 economy comfort seat recline legroom

Impressive recline on the economy comfort seats.

Seat padding was thick and breathable, a welcome respite from the sticky leatherette seat covers increasingly favored by U.S. carriers.

Onboard Service

The most consistently positive aspect of both KLM flights I took this month was the staff. I found KLM staff to be impeccably well trained, friendly and consistent in their service and general engagement.

I LOVE the blue naval coats with white lining and gold cuff rings. I also love the fact that the coat — the unifying component of the uniform — is worn by both men and women.

Flight attendants were always close at hand.

KLM economy headphones for free

All I received in the way of amenities were some decent headphones. There were no eye-shades, earplugs, or other sleeping essentials.

The amenities were the least impressive aspect of KLM’s transatlantic economy service. The cabin crew was extremely professional, the meals were good, but the whole experience seemed stripped down, sanitized and just stingy.

There would be no eyeshades handed out on this redeye flight. No chapstick. No socks. No earplugs.
All the perks one might expect on a daytime flight from New York to Portland, Oregon were dubiously and curiously absent from this otherwise exceptional Economy Comfort cabin.

Pillow and blanket, Economy Comfort KLM

KLM provided standard issue pillows and blankets in all economy seats.

Lavatories were kept clean throughout the flight but were bare bones 747. No lotion, cosmetics, dental kits or any other long-haul amenities were provided. The soap was nice, though.

Lavatory KLM Boeing 747-400

Beyond the upgraded soap, KLM’s 747 economy comfort lavatories were clean and basic.

Entertainment

The entertainment screens on this 747 were of an older generation, but they were sufficiently bright and large.
These screens weren’t responsive to touch. Rather, entertainment options were controlled using a standard remote control.

The entertainment selection was fair, but nothing impressive. There were a few summer releases on offer and a decent selection of Dutch movies.

Entertainment economy KLM 747

The entertainment screens on KLM’s 747-400 were dated but worked well enough.

Entertainmet system economy KLM 747

The entertainment system required the use of a remote control. No touch screen was installed.

One amenity that did impress was the complimentary headphones. Unlike most in-ear airplane headphones I’m used to using, these were comfortable and produced fairly good sound while blocking out a decent amount of ambient noise.
As with the vast majority of KLM’s long-haul fleet, there was no Wi-Fi installed on our 747.

Meals

Like the amenities, meal service on this flight was one and done. There was one drink service, meals-in-cart, and a follow around with coffee and tea.

KLM beverage menu economy comfort New York Amsterdam

Our beverage selection.

Shortly after takeoff, flight attendants distributed moist towels. The towels KLM uses are nicer than most economy class wet wipes. There were also sizeable bottles of water. No printed menus were offered. Instead, a placard pushing duty free items. Yum.

Towel service economy class KLM

Nicer than most economy towels.

 

Chicken entree, economy comfort KLM New York Amsterdam

We were given water bottles and a small menu shortly after takeoff.

I’m not entirely sure what orange sauce my beef was swimming in, but it made up for all the terrible things that happen to an economy meal. Rolls were warm and soft, and wine was served by the bottle. Overall, all the food I was served was of quality. Portions were well controlled. This wasn’t the most memorable or delicious economy meal I’ve had — that award goes to Air France, ironically the same company — but it was among the better ones.

Previously: KLM Introduces New Economy Meal Service
Chicken entree, economy comfort KLM New York Amsterdam

The orange sauce that was poured over my chicken proved tasty. Still not sure what it was, though.

There wasn’t any more proactive cabin service until just over an hour before landing, when small sandwiches were passed out. I did venture out once to explore the nooks and crannies of the 747 and found water and juice waiting in one of the galleys.

The absence of a snack service, or even a second drink service in KLM economy comfort, was somewhat disappointing on such a long flight. It was even more troublesome on the 8-hour return flight I took on a more tightly packed 777.

Water onboard KLM 747

There were some flight attendants available to pour drinks in the galley, and there were these water stations positioned throughout the 747. I didn’t sample.

Consider that Delta provides snack basket service to Comfort+ customers on the same route. Flight attendants on Delta’s New York-Amsterdam flights come through with drink carts repeatedly, and the trip is broken up by snack sandwich and ice cream service.

KLM 747 economy cabin at night sleeping

The economy cabin was kept very dark.

Arrival

For such a heavily trafficked airport, I’m always surprised at the efficiency at Schipol airport.

Economy Comfort passengers disembarked immediately following World Business Class, meaning we were among the first 50 passengers up the jetway and into the terminal, making transfers a breeze.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t admitted into Lounge 52, the KLM Crown Lounge nearest my arrival gate. The agent was quite understanding and warm, however.

All-in it took about 10 minutes to transit passport control into the Schengen zone and made it to Lounge 25.

The Upshot

In a way, I felt like my KLM economy comfort flight was a bit old-fashioned. That’s not necessarily an insult or a bad thing.

KLM’s excellent staff and well kept 747 delivered in all the fundamental ways an airline should. The aircraft’s interior was impeccably maintained. The seats were wide and comfortable by economy standards, while the tall ceilings and abundant nooks and crannies made everything feel less taxing than the crammed-in economy passage we’re becoming more used to.

Exceptional service, cushy seats and the roomy 747 were tempered, though, by an otherwise stingy and slimmed-down service. Delta, United, and others provide greater amenities to economy passengers on the same route, including amenity kits, mid-flight snack service and reliable wi-fi.

KLM’s slimmed down service was just the basics, albeit done very well. If the venerable Dutch airline is positioning itself to compete with bare-bones economy products like Norwegian and British Airways, the carrier is in an excellent position. It seems to have mitigated costs, designed an efficient replacement fleet program for the 747 and maintained morale among employees. That’s not an easy task by any means.

At a similar price, I’d gladly choose KLM over the likes of British Airways or Norwegian, and most Air France jets. Where Delta, United or Lufthansa Group compete, KLM’s limited internet and slim onboard offerings fall a hair short.

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10 comments

Christian December 12, 2018 - 12:58 pm

Nice review. I adore the 747, although I don’t personally find the 17.5″ coach seats to be wide. Any suggestions on how to find saver space in business on KLM for one of the 747’s? I’ve heard that it’s tough to find, but I’d like to try them before these are all gone.

Reply
John Harper December 12, 2018 - 1:07 pm

KLM is a tricky one with award space. I often see them dump World Business seats in the last week or so before a flight, but there’s not a predictable enough pattern to give you solid advice. Best bet: pick a few dates and routes with relatively open J-class cabins and set an ExpertFlyer alert for KLM ‘O’ inventory.

Reply
Michael January 2, 2019 - 3:20 pm

Fantastic review – thanks for sharing. My son & l ‘picked up’ a beautiful KLM 747 in China on route from Auckland, NZ to Amsterdam. It was one of the highlights of my trip as I’ve always been a 747 fanatic! The service and comfort was second to none. Interesting to read your comments re the food/snack service as on our flight there was a dedicated ‘snack’ area where you could help yourself as often as you wanted. Thanks again for a great article.

Reply
John Harper January 7, 2019 - 10:39 am

Thanks for reading Michael!
No such snack service on the busy New York to Amsterdam route.

Reply
Tobi April 14, 2019 - 3:24 pm

Hi John,
I pretty much share your KLM experience – that’s why I also reached Gold level there (which is equivalent to Platinum at Delta). At KLM you start as Explorer, then earn Silver, then Gold and highest level is Platinum. However I was surprised about two facts: First you had free seating with DELTA Platinum, with my KLM Gold I have to pay. But strangely they did not let you into the lounge 52 with the same card, but with KLM Gold you have access.

The other thing you were mentioning was your deception about absent of mid flight service: This exactly is one of the main reasons why I love flying KLM: If I am bored or hungry I go to the kitchen and grap a juice, water or chocolate. That’s great, nobody is disturbed at night. I can tell you my most angry flight experience with Lufthansa from MEX-MUC, where after long hours I finally fall asleep. Suddenly cabin lights ON, noise, a flight attendent serving tea. I thought, “oh great, already home?” – a look on the screen made me wiser. We had just passed Goose Bay, it was 1:30am and I asked the guy why it’s necessary to wake up the entire cabin in the middle of the night. He said that “they are obliged to switch on light when serving tea”. No sorry, no excuse me, nothing. Just rude. And that’s wha I really love the decent, modest, silent service with the well filled self-service kitchen at KLM at nicht 🙂

Right now trying to reserve seats for next flight MEX-AMS, unfortunately all good seats gone and Premium Eco cost me (with the same level as yours) 62,50 EUR for me and another 62,50 EUR for my wife. That’s a little disappointing…

However thanks for the great article!
Best regards Tobi

PS: If you where missing the snack service, usually it’s located opposite side of Eco Premium in Boeing 747, in the kitchen.

Reply
John Harper April 17, 2019 - 12:40 pm

Hi Tobi,
Thanks so much for your comment! I have had a few experiences on KLM now and they are a remarkably consistent and professional bunch, that’s for sure. They maintain and clean their cabins like nobody’s business.
A few things here:
1) Delta Platinum is the third tier in Delta’s Medallion program, trailing Silver Medallion and Gold Medallion. This is roughly analogous to Flying Blue Platinum and the benefits are matched tit-for-tat. Diamond is actually a level above what most other SkyTeam airlines offer, and includes things like Private Jet upgrades, gate-to-gate transfers in private cars, and upgrades to DeltaOne on international flights.
2) Gold and Platinum medallions also have access to the KLM Crown Lounge. What I experienced was that you aren’t allowed to use the Crown Lounge in your arriving terminal, only in your departing terminal, which means changing terminals before visiting the lounge on a European connection. This is rather nitpicky and isn’t consistent with the experience in SkyTeam. Most SkyTeam members allow passengers to use any lounge they want on the days they are flying, regardless of arrival, departure or terminal.
3) I missed the snack bar. Perhaps they should mention it.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!
John

Reply
Ricardo Bacas August 23, 2019 - 8:50 am

On all the flights you can visit the pantry and get yourself snacks and drinks. It is true, a amenity kit would be nice. Many airlines give them on shorter and overnight flights. KLM service is good, but food could be much better.

Reply
Flieger September 14, 2019 - 4:51 pm

Been on KLMs 747 half a dozen time last year. The comfort economy section is just lovely and even if you have to pay for it worth the money. I do prefer KLM over basically every other economy class when crossing the Atlantic.

Reply
FLN September 14, 2019 - 5:07 pm

Great article. I’m inspired to try KLM on a TATL flight. I’m a Delta DM flying out of MSP so usually in Delta metal.

I flew the Delta 747 a few times, including the upper deck on an upgrade cert both ways on a trip to Asia. I’m curious how KLM’s business class would compare to that experience.

I had one question – how did you get 5x with your Amex plat – did you actually have KLM as your Amex-chosen airline for the bonus, or was it somehow transacted by Delta (assuming you’re a Delta flyer)?

Reply
Matthew September 14, 2019 - 6:29 pm

Nice review. Thai has the same galley set up on its 744s, though it is business not economy on the other side of the wall (with first class in the nose).

Reply

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