KLM Royal Dutch Airlines officially inaugurated a new class of service for its long-haul flights on Wednesday, and USA TODAY was able to join the festivities as a guest of the airline.
The new Premium Comfort class is a midpoint between KLM’s standard economy cabin and its cocoon-like business class seats, and brings the airline up to par with some of its biggest international partners. Air France, which is part of the same company as KLM, has offered a premium economy cabin for years, as has Sky Team partner Virgin Atlantic. Delta Air Lines, which is in a joint venture partnership with both Virgin and Air France-KLM is also working on rolling out the Premium Select option across its widebody fleet.
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“We were a little bit late in this product development,” Boet Kreiken, KLM’s executive vice president of customer experience admitted in an interview during the flight. He said it’s become clear to the airline in recent years that there’s strong demand for a middle ground between economy and business class, and KLM has seen its partners have success with a similar product.
Here’s what flying Premium Comfort on KLM is like.
The upgrade over economy starts right at the check-in hall, a Premium Comfort passengers have access to Sky Priority check-in. That meant a shorter line at Amsterdam Schiphol and other airports to get a boarding pass and drop off bags.
Sky Priority passengers also have access to a priority security lane, which can make for a shorter wait to get to the gate area. In Europe, travelers don’t typically need to take off their shoes or remove liquids or electronics from their luggage.
At boarding time, Sky Priority also gets you early access to the plane, just after business class passengers. Though, with extra at-seat storage compared to economy, and two free checked bags, there may not be as much competition for overhead bin space in Premium Comfort.
KLM’s Premium Comfort cabin is the latest entry in the growing long-haul premium economy market segment. Many international carriers and all three major U.S. airlines (American, United and Delta) have similar options, and despite “economy” being in the name this product has come to be known by, it’s really a class all its own on long-haul flights.
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While domestic single-aisle planes might have economy seats with a little extra leg room, cabins like Premium Comfort typically have larger seats more akin to domestic first class in the U.S., as well as upgraded onboard service and other perks like a bigger checked baggage allowance and priority boarding – all of which KLM offers for Premium Comfort passengers.
The feature that will arguably draw most passengers to KLM’s Premium Comfort cabin initially is the ability to get more space onboard without having to spring for a business class ticket.
And the seat is definitely comfortable. It’s noticeably wider than a standard economy seat, with much more legroom. It reclines further, too, and every seat has a leg rest, footrest, adjustable headrest and over-the-shoulder reading light. There was also a pillow and a wrapped blanket at every seat when we boarded, as well as a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
KLM modified a stock seat to its own specifications, and little details like extra storage space, including a water bottle holder, were added based on feedback from customers and crew.
This 5’7″ reporter appreciated the addition of a little step tucked into the seat’s armrest (seen in the bottom right of this section’s first photo), which helps us short people access the overhead bins.
The airline also put an emphasis on accessibility in the seat’s design. The aisle armrests can all be lowered, which can make it easier for those with mobility difficulties to get in and out of the seat.
The tray table was wide and sturdy, and included a flip-out stand to balance phones or tablets on for passengers who choose not to use the built-in seatback screens for entertainment. Although, those screens were generously-sized and had good picture quality.
One thing travelers seemed confused about in KLM’s Premium Comfort layout was the location of the bathrooms. Passengers share the standard economy bathrooms, which are behind the Premium Comfort cabin and separated by a curtain. Only one small sign at the front of the cabin indicated where the facilities were located, and many passengers tried to go through the forward curtains to access the business class lavatories instead. You may not even see the sign in the photo below, but it’s there!
If you buy a Premium Comfort ticket, be prepared to board your flight hungry because a lot of food is included in the price of your ticket.
Just before taking off on our 8-hour flight to New York JFK from Amsterdam Schiphol airport, flight attendants passed out a printed menu to let us know what food would be offered onboard.
We also received the new Premium Comfort amenity kit made from recycled ocean plastics. It included an eye mask, ear plugs, a pen, toothbrush and toothpaste pellets.
Soon after getting in the air, flight attendants passed out water bottles and a sanitary kit.
Just after that was the first drink service, which came with a bag of nuts …
… and then the lunch service. Premium Comfort meals are served on plastic trays with metal cutlery. This reporter chose the chicken dish for lunch and was offered a warm bread roll.
Paul Terstegge, KLM’s executive vice president of inflight services said in an interview during the flight that our lunch service perhaps unexpectedly highlights the airline’s commitment to sustainability.
For one, he said, metal cutlery’s ability to be reused can be more eco-friendly than disposable forks and knives in addition to contributing to a more premium feel.
Hedwig Sietsma, KLM’s director of climate policy told USA TODAY ahead of the flight that the airline closely evaluates the overall climate impact of everything it brings aboard. She said that in the economy cabin especially, plastic cutlery is actually more environmentally-friendly than heavier reusable options, because the lightweight plastic means planes burn less fuel than they would otherwise.
Similarly, Terstegge said, the plastic trays in Premium Comfort are reusable and recyclable. They are washed and reused until they show signs of wear, he said, and then they are broken down into pellets and re-molded into new trays.
After lunch, we were offered more beverages and stroopwafel ice cream while the executive interviews took place.
And then, about an hour before landing, we had another light meal that included a beet and goat cheese salad, falafel bites and a pastry.
One of the flight attendants onboard said the Premium Comfort service flow is more involved than the one in economy, so will take crews some getting used to. But, he said, they’re happy with how the first service went.
Premium Comfort passengers are also offered free alcoholic beverages throughout the flight. Choices on the inaugural service included red and white wines, an espresso martini, cava, a selection of liquors and Heineken beer.
Premium Comfort is first being installed on the airline’s 787-10 fleet, followed by the 787-9s. By the end of next year, the airline’s Boeing 777s will also have the new cabin. Those older aircraft will also be outfitted with new business class seats, which all offer direct aisle access.
There’s no plan yet to retrofit KLM’s remaining Airbus A330s, which executives said are due to be phased out in the near future.
To start, Premium Comfort is going to be available on certain flights to New York and then will expand to other North American markets as more planes are retrofitted.
Executives said the goal is to consistently offer Premium Comfort on the same flights as the rollout begins, but added that operational issues can lead to aircraft being reassigned.
For now, North American markets are the priority. They said there’s the most demand for the new cabin on those routes. It will be expanded to other long-haul markets in Asia and Africa further into the rollout.
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Premium Comfort is typically a few hundred dollars more than a regular economy ticket, and a few thousand dollars less than business class.
Here are sample round-trip fares for comparison, using the lowest tier of ticket available in each cabin:
New York (JFK) – Amsterdam (AMS) Nov. 12-19
New York (JFK) – Amsterdam (AMS) Dec. 18 – Jan. 2
New York (JFK) – Amsterdam (AMS) March 8-15
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