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Farewell Fokker 70

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Old Nov 19, 17, 2:25 pm
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Farewell Fokker 70




As usual, an alternate version of this report is available on my blog. That version is shorter and prettier; here I go into more extensive detail. Take your pick!

I have come to realise that what I look for in a trip - and a trip report - is not luxury, but novelty. Some modest success at the miles and points game - and then a job in aviation - have seen me sitting further forward than my budget would otherwise allow... but realistically I'll never be adding to the collection of round-the-world-in-first experiences that grace this forum. Truth be told, though, those tend to blur together for me - a simpler tale aboard an unfamiliar airline to a destination off my radar is much more likely to grab my attention. I've a weakness for the logs of the collectors amongst us; but what I enjoy most of all are the improbable itineraries for which the author’s best justification is an either an elaborate travel hack, or a curiosity-driven ‘because it's possible’.

As the story of a day spent travelling from Bristol, England, to … Bristol, England, this report must be placed firmly in that camp (so feel free to bail out now if that isn't your cup of tea). If conversely you’re a long term fan (hello to both of you), the real action - o.k., a history lesson about KLM and some Fokker fun facts - kicks off in the next post.

Still here, and hoping for an actual explanation of this expedition? Very well. I pitched my previous report - in which my best man and I turned up at Heathrow airport with my staff travel perks instead of tickets, and picked a destination by rolling a die - as a last chance at some aviation recklessness before getting married. What I knew then - but couldn't post - was that this would probably be my last chance to use those perks, as I would be giving BA my notice shortly before the wedding.

Said wedding was in Rotterdam in May, after which we (that is, my now-wife and I, not the best man again) set off on a two week trip across Europe on trains, on boats, and on trains on boats. (If you're unlucky, I'll eventually get around to posting about our route through five countries.) With notice also given by my wife, and our flat rental not renewed, we returned to the UK mid-June with neither jobs nor accommodation in place for mid-August. We did, however, have a destination in mind- Bristol (Very long term readers- oh, who am I kidding? - may recall that my adventures used to start from there) Although it's been a few years since I lived in the west country we have good friends there, and it's familiar territory whilst we wait to see what shape Brexit takes.

Fortunately, the gamble paid off nicely - my wife found an excellent flat in July and we secured interesting jobs too. In my case, I left BA’s waterside HQ for the last time on a Friday, and started a new role at Bristol airport on the Monday. Although that was a temporary arrangement which has since come to an end, let's ignore that narrative inconvenience and summarise the trajectory of my year as ‘London, specifically LHR, to Bristol, specifically BRS, via some excitement in Holland.’ OK? Hold that thought.

My prediction that the mystery trip would be the last hurrah for my staff travel account turned out to be accurate. This despite the fact that - to make up for a lower than usual cash element - BA sweetened the bonus pot by issuing everyone an 'ABC', or annual bookable concession. These can get be used up to Club, yet have no fare component, offer elevated priority, and often get confirmed in advance of travel. However, whilst in principle valid for a year, mine would expire on my final day of employment. To use it, I'd be competing against not just all the school holiday travellers, but all my fellow newly-minted ABC holders too. Worse, having burnt all my leave (and then some, through salary sacrifice) for the honeymoon, I would need to fit a trip into a weekend - and be sure I would be back in the office on a Monday.

Under these tight constraints I nonetheless came up with all manner of ambitious possibilities: a weekend in Vegas to watch an overnight TV show taping; a back to back to anywhere operated by 787s to claim the one Club World cabin I've not yet flown; a trip to Luxembourg to go to Schengen and claim several countries in a day; a flight to anywhere where the Qatar wet leases were covering the Mixed Fleet strike. If you're wondering why none of those reports have appeared, it's because none ever made it to the airport; come leaving-day, my ABC expired as advertised. Not something I would have believed during my earlier avios-chasing days, but there you go.

Meanwhile, over in the world of SkyTeam, I had a complicated compensation offer burning a hole in my pocket. Received after a quick hop to Amsterdam was scuppered - on less than 24 hours notice - by strike action, this could be claimed as €250 cash- or €350 flight credit with KLM, Air France or Delta. Given that the original disrupted leg cost less than €100 and I still made it to Holland (albeit in a middle seat on a city jet Avro 85; not recommended), I considered this free money - but still felt honour-bound to use it to the fullest extent by flying. This option, though, also came with an expiry date - November this time - but other than briefly entertaining air France's 787 launch between London and Paris, I hadn’t come up with an exciting use in nearly a year.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that by September I found myself very happily married and comfortably settled, but with an itch to scratch with regards to some form of flying-for-the-love-of-flying trip. By chance, a post on
caught my eye - a last-of-a-kind KLM Fokker 70 would be taking its final flight to Amsterdam at the end of the summer schedule. Specifically, an extra addition to the schedule: KL1070, departing October 28th, origin Heathrow. Having never flown any flavour of Fokker, this ‘last’ would also be a first for me, which was a pleasing bit of symmetry. Plus I very much enjoyed the (staff-only) send off that BA gave its last 737 http://travel.straylight.co.uk/?p=486. A quick check of KLM’s website confirmed that my compensation would more than suffice for a return ticket. Departing on a Saturday evening wouldn't require any time off work…but a weekend trip with a late Saturday arrival didn't quite appeal. Lingering at AMS would be an expensive exercise, but there didn't seem enough time to head into Amsterdam proper either. An immediate turnaround felt more in keeping, but would just displace the overnight stay to LHR, and I'd already spent a week living out of a variety of its hotels during my final days as BA staff.


But then inspiration struck. Why return to London, given that KLM fly to Bristol? Some more tapping away confirmed that I could take KL1070 and get home the same evening by making a one-way LHR-BRS booking with a swift - but legal - turnaround in AMS. London to Bristol, via some excitement in Amsterdam. Sound familiar? Sold.

Last edited by TheFlyingDoctor; Nov 28, 17 at 3:26 pm
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Old Nov 19, 17, 2:36 pm
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Founded in 1919, the Dutch flag carrier KLM has the longest history of any airline still operating. For 97 of those 98 years, this history has been interwoven with that of another central protagonist of Dutch aviation: the aircraft manufacturer Fokker. This track record is all the more impressive given that Fokker ceased production over 20 years ago… Inevitably, since then their presence in the fleet has dwindled, with only a handful of Fokker 70s remaining by 2017. These, though, were aircraft fit for royalty - the Netherlands’ King Willem-Alexander holds a type rating for them, and for decades has been taking a break from the duties of the throne by trading it for the co-pilot seat on domestic KLM CityHopper flights!

Flight 1070 was not the only way in which KLM set about honouring this connection. The aircraft that would be operating the service, PH-KZU, received a custom ‘thank you’ livery (featuring a portrait of founder and Dutch aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker on the tail) earlier in the year. Thus equipped, a special film and photography flight to immortalise it in action followed. So too did a history book: Dutch at Heart, was compiled from the archives of both companies, with a special emphasis on the Fokker 70. This year's Delft blue house - miniature depictions of real Dutch houses, filled with gin and given out as gifts to KLM’s longhaul business class passengers - replicates Anthony Fokker's childhood home.

(King Willem-Alexander, meanwhile, has learnt how to fly 737s.)

Heathrow was chosen as KL1070’s starting point in a nod to another part of KLM’s history: their first ever flight was from London (well, Croydon). That flight to Amsterdam had a British pilot and used a British plane; whilst on this occasion the hardware would be Dutch, an English captain would again be at the controls (and at least the Fokker 70’s Rolls Royce engines are British, for another tangential connection).

~


One of the nice features of flying KLM is their flight guide, which offers information on everything from weather at your destination, to how to decipher cabin crew uniforms. Of course, there's plenty of airplane trivia too, so rather than retype it all, here's a slightly rearranged version of the page I was presented with regarding the Fokker 70:

And whilst we’re at it, here’s a diminutive seatmap. Seat pitch is 32” in the first six rows and 31” for the rest - not only generous for short haul economy, but more than I’d get in BA’s densified Club Europe…





Some further digging around on Wikipedia revealed that KLM was the sole remaining operator of Fokker 70s in Europe (although some of the manufacturer’s older types can be found in other fleets). Thus, with no North American operators either, this could well be my only chance to fly on one: less than fifty were ever made; many were for private rather than commercial use; and most examples seem to be in either Australia or niche locations that make sense only with some awareness of Dutch colonial history. My ‘first and last’ tagline may turn out to be more appropriate than I thought!
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Old Nov 19, 17, 2:59 pm
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Although I would be starting in Bristol, with KL1070 scheduled for an early evening departure I could make my way at a leisurely pace to Heathrow that afternoon. Travelling into London proper is actually an overshoot, and typically comes at a financial penalty too. Having lived locally - and shuttled back and forth regularly over the summer - I conjured up various alternative routings via such glamorous intermediaries as Reading, Slough, West Drayton, and Hayes & Harlington. But if you’re going to spend most of a day travelling in an international circle, you’d be well advised to keep the logistics as simple and comfortable as possible. Thus I ended up booking the obvious combo - a direct train to Paddington, then doubling back with the Heathrow Express.

This had the potential to be outrageously expensive, but advance booking is the saviour of the British rail traveller. An on-the-day standard class ticket from Bristol to London is £33; but by committing well ahead, I was able to get first class for £35 (rather than the eye-watering £177 for same day purchase). Similarly, although the £25 asking price for the Heathrow Express makes it (by both £/mile or £/minute) one of the priciest bits of track you’ll ever ride, the very specific ‘30 day advance express saver weekend’ fare carves that down to less than £9.

The bulk of the trip, then, would be on an InterCity 125. For this part of the country at least, these slam-door icons should also be headed for the history books. But modernisation of the Great Western Railway has not gone well; a plan to electrify the route has been indefinitely delayed as costs spiralled, and the gaps in coverage mean that the replacement trains have had to be swapped for bimodal Diesel/Electric units. Those finally started to operate a few services earlier in October, but the launch was not exactly a success: departing late, springing a leak, and collecting further delays suspiciously close to the diesel/electric switch-over point.

In the meantime, then, the existing diesel kit has been getting a makeover, and although externally this train still sported the previous blue rather than recently-rebranded GWR’s latest dark green theme, the interior looked pretty good:


GWR First Class interior on Intercity service



Seat L6




At-seat power options



My assigned seat, L6, turned out to be one of the few solo seats with a table, plus forward facing and at the very front of the first carriage in direction of travel. With only two other passengers in the car, both quiet and out of sight, it felt like I had the whole place to myself - pretty much the jackpot for public transport. (Meanwhile, from the train conductor’s announcements it was apparently so crowded back in standard that he was threatening to charge an extra ticket for anyone obnoxious enough to fill a seat with their baggage).

GWR’s service overview both over- and under-sells the weekend experience; although the small print only claims at-seat service for weekday services, there was one in effect; but the offering falls short of the promised menu, with no sign of the sandwiches. The first trolley run was almost immediate, but after an up-and-down of the carriages, it was parked in the vestibule ahead of me. Fortunately I felt no shame in revisiting it to maintain a steady supply of water and ‘jam stars’... But anyone who had joined the service after Bristol would have missed out on refreshments until a second run was performed shortly before our arrival in London.


First class snacking



Since I had built in a comfortable cushion for disruption, all of course went well - we actually reached Paddington ahead of schedule. From my privileged position I’m first off, and spot a HEX waiting an untaxing two platforms along. Soon enough that was underway, and although accessing Terminal 4 requires a change of train at Central, that all went smoothly too. Security would have been a breeze given the (lack of) queues, except my preference for chunky boots added a few minutes of hopping from one foot to the other. All told, from departing Temple Meads to airside at Heathrow required a little over two and a half hours, at a level of comfort I’d have no qualms about repeating in future.


Arrived at London Paddington



Aboard the Heathrow Express


Put another way, I still had nearly two hours until scheduled departure…. So I made my way to the Plaza Premium lounge. These have slowly been spreading across Heathrow, and from my status-less perspective are a welcome addition. The T4 setup didn’t seem as good as T2’s, and was too crowded during my visit to get many photos. But there is some natural light, a variety of seating areas - including a honeycomb of solo spaces - and the food is always good.










Having cobbled together an early dinner / late lunch / confused travel fuel / lounge kleptomania course of Keralan curry, rice, quiche and potato wedges, I set off in advance of the official boarding call in an attempt to locate a likely gate .

Last edited by TheFlyingDoctor; Nov 19, 17 at 2:59 pm Reason: grappling with the new editor
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Old Nov 19, 17, 3:23 pm
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Despite having never flown out of Terminal 4 before, my airport instincts proved good: having headed up to the high-numbered gates based on the destinations and size of aircraft at others, I reached gate 16 just as gate 17 was declared for our departure. This did not seem a promising outcome from a photography perspective, but located one gate along was something I hadn't previously known about: the View Heathrow observation deck.

Given the crowds I clearly wasn't the first to think of it; and based on all the conversations in Dutch, everyone present was hoping for the same sight: the incoming Fokker 70. Of course, being Dutch they were all much taller than me, which (along with a lack of long lenses) made getting shots difficult...
Once our plane had reached the stand I returned to the boarding area, where I quickly discovered that for once I was far from the geekiest passenger in attendance. From the volume of cameras being wielded, travellers on other flights might mistake us for paparazzi waiting to ambush a major celebrity - except many of our number were decked out in 'Farewell Fokker 70' t-shirts (seemingly hand made, in at least three designs) or otherwise toting aviation memorabilia. I hadn't found much discussion of this event here on Flyertalk (nor the Dutch-language InsideFlyer), but clearly there's a community out there somewhere!

Their level of devotion to all things KLM also placed me very much at the bottom of the ladder when it came to status, so I took the time to enjoy the sunset views across the runways whilst almost everyone else joined the SkyPriority line. Despite a scheduled departure time of 18:10, there were still plenty of us boarding then; the process no doubt slowed down by the pair of windows on the jet-bridge walkway which offered a better view of our coveted plane than the glare-ridden ones near the gate.
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Old Nov 19, 17, 3:33 pm
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On board, I found my way to 11D: by the time I booked all the windows had long since been claimed, but I was able to grab a place on the exit row. Not only did this offer all the leg room you'd expect, but, thanks to the lopsided 2-3 arrangement, the D seats are clear of the luggage bins and thus offer plenty of headroom too.


Fokker 70 exit row leg-room


This position also afforded a great view along the aisle of proceedings up front, where the captain emerged to make his pre-flight announcements in person; immediately summoning that paparazzi-barrage of camera lenses again...
Captain Richard Galloway has flown this type of aircraft - and only this type of aircraft - for twenty-five years, and twenty-five days; and thus, as he quipped, he "knows almost where all of the buttons are now". Given this unusual history (and unlike King Willem-Alexander), he would be retiring alongside the plane after this final flight. Only 45 minutes of flying were expected, but he promised to try and make it a beautiful 45 minutes, and hoped that we would enjoy it as much as he was going to.

Pushback was at 18:23, and ten minutes later, we were aloft! Catering followed soon after - KLM has not moved to buy-on-board yet, and squeezed three trolley runs into our short flight. First pass was for a snack box promising a tasty - albeit tiny - sandwich, plus a stroopkoekje (small caramel cake - like all things stroop-based, highly recommended!)

Next along was a drinks run, offering tea/coffee, soft drinks or wine. The third, though, was just for our flight: a gift bag of mementos, with a custom "Farewell Fokker 70" decal. To be found within were a Fokker "remove before flight" tag; a keyring with wooden klompen (clogs); pens from Rolls Royce and Fokker; a second "Farewell" sticker; and a cake. This last item had an expiry date which suggested it was only good for a week, but since it also mentioned the last flight on the packaging, I fear some people will keep them forever! More fool them, though: I ate mine the next day, and it turned out to be another example of gooey caramel excellence. (Much better than e-baying it come the centenary...)
Despite our advertised 45 minute flight time, the Captain let us know that we would be on a deliberate go-slow, so that we could arrive on the dot of half past for the awaiting media - apparently we were all celebrities now, and passengers in the window seats should fix up their hair for the cameras! Normally I fly with noise-cancelling headphones in and music on, but on this occasion I felt it better to just soak in the atmosphere. And atmospheric it certainly was: cabin lights were dimmed at ten past, and the Fokker turns out to be particularly dark once this is done. For twenty minutes, then, I immersed myself in just the white noise of those rear-mounted engines, glimpses of clouds whipping past the windows and across the wings, and snippets of muted conversation in a language I can only follow fragments of. It was genuinely a pleasure to be on a flight simply for the sake of flying, as our Captain lead the plane through a lazy loop around the city.
We arrived in Amsterdam with what he described as "literally the worst landing I've done this year", a very definite return to solid ground for which we were all given permission to laugh. (Strangely, the landing on the BA 737 farewell was similarly rough - and received a similar response.)

The taxi to the terminal is notoriously long at Schiphol, but we were slowed down even further by a mass escort of airport ground vehicles, as we paraded through a corridor of lights from others parked alongside, past workers keen for one last glimpse.

Despite an open invitation to explore the cockpit, as I had barely half an hour until my onward flight back to the UK, I knew I couldn't linger long. Nonetheless, once down the steps I and several other passengers still had to be ushered away from the stand and onto the bus to the terminal - a trip, clearly, that none of us was quite ready to make.
Farewell, Fokker 70.
nequine and bitterproffit like this.
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Old Nov 19, 17, 3:38 pm
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So, should we mourn its passing? This depends, of course, on the replacement. Shorthaul 737s on mainline KLM offer less generous leg-room, and pack 140-190 passengers in with a 3-3 config. However, the Fokker’s successors on CityHopper routes are much more agreeable Embraer 190 and 175s, arranged with 2-2 seating. Being longer than the Fokker 70, it’s generally a roomier experience despite an extra 20 passengers: most rows in economy have 31” pitch (but beware 8/9/10, which are squeezed together by the row 11 exit). Better still, the first seven rows expand that to 33”, and although some at the front will be required for business class, the rest are made available at a modest extra charge to economy passengers as ‘Economy Comfort’. Still flush with compensation cash, I’d opted to do just that, securing window seat 6F for £11.


As I returned to the land of data I received a gate notification for my next flight - D6F (confusingly similar to my seat assignment). This turned out to be an extremely easy transfer, as after trundling around Schiphol for a bit the bus delivered us to the lower level of gate D3. From there I ascended to the concourse level of D pier, which marked the furthest extent of my travels - as of now I’d be in reverse gear, unravelling my progress for the day. Descending on the opposite side to D6 (of which D6F is one of a series of gates), I settled in for a short wait before boarding another bus to another remote stand.

After another magical tour of the airport estate I was first out, and thus first up the steps at 21:30. After a quick check with the still-busy cabin crew to confirm that they were a) ready for us and b) intending to travel to Bristol, I made my way to the aforementioned 6F. This would have been an excellent opportunity for an empty plane shot, but for some reason I’d packed away my camera kit during the bus ride to the terminal, and not reversed that step during the ride from the terminal. So instead here’s the obligatory legroom shot, and a glance across the aisle:




Embraer 190 Economy Comfort leg-room




Embraer 190 seating

We were ready to go ten minutes later, but since that was earlier than planned, ATC decided to hold us until the scheduled 21:45, at which point we pushed back. With an estimate of 55 minutes flying time, we should therefore be comfortably on time at Bristol. And so it unfolded... the only event to note was the catering run: a single pass this time, half an hour into the flight. Our tiny box traded ‘tasty sandwich’ for ‘tasty wrap’, but was lacking the cookie and thus had me eyeing up the cake in my gift bag. Since I hadn’t yet got a proper photo of all the loot, I bravely held out in the interests of journalism.




Tasty Wrap (geen stroopkoekje)


We swept into Bristol ten minutes early, passing my (now former, but then current) office in the old terminal building before parking up at the current one. BRS has an unusual status in my flying history On the one hand, it’s my third most-used airport, the origin of my first BA flight, and one end of my two most flown routes (13 counts of BRS-EDI, and 12 of EDI-BRS). On the other hand, shuttling to and from Edinburgh is all I’d ever used it for, and it had been over three and a half years since I last passed through. This arrival therefore marked the first international leg, no doubt the first of many as my Dutch ties outweigh my Scottish ones these days.

Although steadily growing, Bristol is still a light refreshment compared to my more regular diet of Heathrow and Schiphol. We may also have been the last arrival of the night, so from wheels down to landside took all of 13 minutes, and I was boarding the bus home 5 minutes after scheduled landing. The Airport Flyer is more Crawler during my daily commute, but at this time of day it soon delivered me to central Bristol, leaving just a short walk home to complete my trip to nowhere.

Thanks to those of you who stuck this rambling account through to the end! If you have tales of the Fokker 70, please do share them in the comments.
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Old Nov 19, 17, 8:54 pm
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Thank you for sharing, TheFlyingDoctor! Superb report and nice SWAG too

While certainly not the most glamorous flights, KLM has a special place in my heart. When I did my study-abroad year at Oxford way back when, we used KLM ex-LHR all the time because you could book ridiculously inexpensive fares through NW's website and connecting through AMS was all too easy. KLM was also my first long-haul 787 flight. I've never had a bad crew with them.

Thanks again.
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Old Nov 20, 17, 3:49 am
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+1 for the swag, some cool souvenirs to remember the flight with.

Thanks for the great TR, TheFlyingDoctor.
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Old Nov 20, 17, 4:56 am
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Thanks! Nearly everything has better seatpitch than BA Club Europe
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Old Nov 20, 17, 6:56 am
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Thanks for this lovely report. I have fond memories of flying the Fokkers to and from BRS - it's four years almost to the day since I last did. Whilst the Embraers are a little more roomy, they're just not quite the same.

I was actually on AF1281 LHR-CDG that day and we taxied right past PH-KZU whilst it was at the gate. A poignant moment. I'm not sure if I've ever flown with Captain Galloway, but it's not the first time I've seen one of the pilots come into the cabin to make their announcements, a thing I don't recall seeing on any other type
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Old Nov 28, 17, 3:39 pm
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Originally Posted by CHOPCHOP767 View Post
Thank you for sharing, TheFlyingDoctor! Superb report and nice SWAG too

While certainly not the most glamorous flights, KLM has a special place in my heart. When I did my study-abroad year at Oxford way back when, we used KLM ex-LHR all the time because you could book ridiculously inexpensive fares through NW's website and connecting through AMS was all too easy. KLM was also my first long-haul 787 flight. I've never had a bad crew with them.

Thanks again.
Thanks! It's strange - from what I've seen so far I'm happy with KLM's hard product, crew, website... but I'd never got that excited about them because Flying Blue looked so worthless. Here's hoping things get more interesting with the Virgin tie-up next year... but even if not, as they're coming to symbolise my connection between the UK and Holland no doubt they'll reserve a spot in my affections too.


Originally Posted by offerendum View Post
Thanks! Nearly everything has better seatpitch than BA Club Europe
Sadly true... I've no problem with economy cabins shrinking to respond to commercial realities (better a 30" seat on BA that will actually be flown, than a roomier one on Monarch / Air Berlin / Alitalia that doesn't). But there has to be an alternative for those willing to pay for it. World Traveller Plus is probably my target for long haul; but other than finding a stray widebody in the schedule there's just no way to buy your way into more space even in Club Europe.

Originally Posted by Weean View Post
Thanks for this lovely report. I have fond memories of flying the Fokkers to and from BRS - it's four years almost to the day since I last did. Whilst the Embraers are a little more roomy, they're just not quite the same.

I was actually on AF1281 LHR-CDG that day and we taxied right past PH-KZU whilst it was at the gate. A poignant moment. I'm not sure if I've ever flown with Captain Galloway, but it's not the first time I've seen one of the pilots come into the cabin to make their announcements, a thing I don't recall seeing on any other type
We'd have loved to have had some external shots from adjacent planes!
Watching all the small jets - and even some ATR / Bombardier props - come and go from my view across the apron was a highlight of my few months working at BRS; it's a shame I never got the chance to see a Fokker amongst them.
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Old Nov 28, 17, 3:43 pm
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Originally Posted by TheFlyingDoctor View Post
Sadly true... I've no problem with economy cabins shrinking to respond to commercial realities (better a 30" seat on BA that will actually be flown, than a roomier one on Monarch / Air Berlin / Alitalia that doesn't). But there has to be an alternative for those willing to pay for it. World Traveller Plus is probably my target for long haul; but other than finding a stray widebody in the schedule there's just no way to buy your way into more space even in Club Europe.
Agree 100%!
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Old Nov 29, 17, 10:45 am
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I find this statement from one of the KLM's official graphics funny:
"In 1911, Anthony Fokker (aged 21) was the first to fly over the city of Haarlem with a Fokker 70, named 'De Spin'."
when I'm fairly certain that the Fokker 70 didn't exist in 1911.
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Old Nov 29, 17, 12:28 pm
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Cool trip report! Thanks for sharing
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Old Nov 29, 17, 7:08 pm
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Great post!
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