Take a peek inside KLM’s new premium economy cabin on transatlantic flights
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines officially inaugurated a new class of service for its long-haul flights on Wednesday, and USA TODAY was able to attend the celebrations as the airline’s guest.
A hybrid between KLM’s standard Economy cabin and cocoon-like Business Class seats, the new Premium Comfort class puts the airline on par with some of its largest international partners. Air France, which belongs to the same company as KLM, has offered a premium economy cabin for years, as has Sky team partner Virgin Atlantic. Delta Air Lines, which has a joint venture partnership with Virgin and Air France-KLM, is also working to introduce the Premium Select option on its widebody fleet.
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“We were a bit late with this product development,” admitted Boet Kreiken, Executive Vice President of Customer Experience at KLM, in an in-flight interview. He said it had become clear to the airline in recent years that there was strong demand for a middle ground between economy and business class, and that KLM had seen its partners succeed with a similar product.
This is what flying with Premium Comfort looks like at KLM.
At the airport
The upgrade to Economy begins directly in the check-in hall, while Premium Comfort passengers have access to Sky Priority Check-in. That meant a shorter queue at Amsterdam Schiphol and other airports to get a boarding pass and drop off baggage.
Sky Priority passengers also have access to a priority security lane, which can reduce waiting time to the gate area. In Europe, travelers usually don’t need to remove their shoes or remove liquids or electronic devices from their luggage.
When boarding, Sky Priority also gives you early access to the aircraft, right after Business Class passengers. With additional in-seat storage compared to Economy class and two free checked bags, there may not be as much competition for overhead bins in Premium Comfort.
What is Premium Economy?
KLM’s Premium Comfort cabin is the latest entry in the growing premium economy market segment for long-haul flights. Many international airlines and all three major US airlines (American, United and Delta) have similar options, and while “Economy” is familiar in the name of this product, it’s really in a class of its own on long-haul flights.
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While domestic single-aisle aircraft may have economy seats with a bit more legroom, cabins like Premium Comfort typically have larger seats more akin to domestic first class in the US, plus improved inflight service and other perks like a larger baggage allowance and priority boarding – KLM offers all of this for Premium Comfort passengers.
The feature that will arguably initially lure most passengers into KLM’s Premium Comfort cabin is the ability to get more space on board without having to purchase a business class ticket.
And the seat is definitely comfortable. It is significantly wider than a normal economy seat and offers much more legroom. It also reclines further, and each seat has a legrest, a footrest, an adjustable headrest and a reading light over the shoulder. When we got in, there was also a pillow and wrapped blanket at each seat, as well as a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
KLM modified a production seat to their own specifications, and small details such as additional storage space, including a water bottle holder, were added based on customer and crew feedback.
This 5’7″ reporter appreciated the extra small step tucked into the seat’s armrest (seen in the first photo of this section, bottom right), which helps us short folks access the overhead bins.
The airline also attached great importance to accessibility when designing the seat. The aisle armrests can all be lowered, which can make it easier for people with limited mobility to get in and out.
The tray table was wide and sturdy, and included a fold-out stand to balance phones or tablets for passengers who didn’t want to use the built-in screens in the seatbacks for entertainment. However, these screens were generously sized and had good picture quality.
One thing that travelers in KLM’s Premium Comfort layout seemed confused about was the location of the bathrooms. Passengers share the Standard Economy bathrooms, located aft of the Premium Comfort cabin and separated by a curtain. Only a small sign at the front of the cabin indicated where the facilities were located, and many passengers attempted to go through the front curtains to access the Business Class lavatories instead. You may not even be able to see the sign in the photo below, but it’s there!
If you purchase a Premium Comfort ticket, be prepared to board the ship hungry, as many groceries are included in the price of your ticket.
Just before we departed for our 8-hour flight from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to New York JFK, the flight attendants passed out a printed menu to let us know what food would be served on board.
We also received the new Premium Comfort Amenity Kit which is made from recycled ocean plastics. It contain an eye mask, earplugs, a pen, a toothbrush and toothpaste pellets.
Shortly after getting airborne, the flight attendants handed out bottled water and a sanitary kit.
Right after that was the first drink service that 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 hot bun.
Paul Terstegge, KLM’s Executive Vice President of Inflight Services, said in an in-flight interview that perhaps unexpectedly, our lunch service underscores the airline’s commitment to sustainability.
On the one hand, the reusability of metal cutlery can be more environmentally friendly than disposable forks and knives and also contributes to a higher quality feeling.
Hedwig Sietsma, director of climate policy at KLM, told USA TODAY ahead of the flight that the airline closely assesses the overall climate impact of everything it brings on board. She said plastic cutlery is actually greener than heavier reusable options, especially in the economy cabin, because the lightweight plastic means planes use less fuel than usual.
Similarly, said Terstegge, the plastic bowls in Premium Comfort are reusable and recyclable. They’re washed and reused until they show signs of wear, he said, and then they’re broken down into pellets and formed into new shells.
After lunch, we were offered more drinks and Stroopwafel ice cream while the executive interviews took place.
And then, about an hour before landing, we had another light meal, which included a beet and goat cheese salad, falafel bites, and a pastry.
One of the flight attendants on board said that the Premium Comfort service process is more complicated than Economy class, so crews need some getting used to. But, he said, they are happy with how the first service went.
Premium Comfort passengers are also offered complimentary alcoholic beverages throughout the flight. Selections at the opening service included red and white wines, an espresso martini, cava, a selection of spirits and Heineken beer.
Rollout plans and sample fares from KLM
Premium Comfort will be installed first on the airline’s 787-10 fleet, followed by the 787-9s. The airline’s Boeing 777s should also have the new cabin by the end of next year. These older aircraft will also be fitted with new business class seats, all with direct aisle access.
There is no plan yet to retrofit KLM’s remaining Airbus A330s, which executives have said will be phased out in the near future.
Initially, Premium Comfort will be available on certain flights to New York and then expand to other North American markets as more aircraft are retrofitted.
Executives said the goal is to consistently offer Premium Comfort on the same flights that rollout begins, but added that operational issues could result in planes being reassigned.
For the time being, the North American markets are in the foreground. They said these routes have the greatest demand for the new cabin. It will be expanded to other long-haul markets in Asia and Africa as the rollout progresses.
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Premium Comfort typically costs a few hundred dollars more than a regular economy ticket and a few thousand dollars less than business class.
Here are example return fares for comparison, using the lowest ticket tier available in each cabin:
New York (JFK) – Amsterdam (AMS) 12.-19. November
- Economy: $806.17
- Premium Comfort: $1,240.17
- World Business Class: $5,456.17
New York (JFK) – Amsterdam (AMS) Dec 18 – Jan 2
- Economy: $1,026.17
- Premium Comfort: $1,585.17
- World Business Class: $3,506.17
New York (JFK) – Amsterdam (AMS) March 8-15
- Economy: $706.17
- Premium Comfort: $1,140.17
- World Business Class: $4,106.17
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