Last week, I mentioned how the good people at Hahn Air asked me to be the first passenger to fly on a reservation ticketed via blockchain. Unfortunately, this turned into a giant mess. I suppose I could try to blame KLM for the delay or my children for passing on their sickness, but ultimately, it falls on me. I just couldn’t push myself hard enough to make the trip, and I felt awful about it. Still, this makes for an interesting post not only because of my attempt to fly the increasingly rare KLM 747-400 Combi but also my first (positive) experience using rideshare to leave LAX.
[Disclosure: Hahn Air paid for my flights, but that money is being refunded since I didn’t fly.]
My flight plan for this trip was rather fantastic. My return was going to be in First Class on Lufthansa. Going out, I opted for a ride on the KLM 747-400 Combi even if it was only in Economy Comfort (extra legroom coach). These airplanes will be retired soon, and they leave Los Angeles after the winter, so this was likely my last shot to fly the airplane.
A week before travel, I woke up with a cold. No matter, I figured. I’d be fine by the time the trip came around. I was wrong. I ended up feeling slightly better midweek, but by week-end, I had taken a turn for the worse. I had a bad cough, a stuffed up head, a runny nose, and I was very low on energy. Despite that, I was still determined to make this trip.
On Saturday, I loaded up with drugs and left for the airport at noon. Upon arriving, I was surprised on two counts. First, traffic was moving very smoothly. This whole “move rideshare and taxi out of the terminal area” thing seems to be working. Second, I realized that they were basically pulling down large chunks of the facade at the Bradley Terminal. That meant I could be dropped off only at the southern half of the curb, and that made it very busy. On the inside, however, that Bradley ticketing hall felt just like it did when I was a kid.
My ticket was on a Delta codeshare, and I had checked in on Delta.com the day prior. I had no idea they were this integrated, but I got my Delta boarding pass and never had to touch KLM’s technology. That meant I could skip the ticket counter.
It was then that I realized I didn’t have Precheck on my boarding pass which was a bummer. The south checkpoint is now only for those with Precheck, so I had to trudge up to the north end to join the regular people. Lines weren’t long, but things were moving very slowly since people were confused about what to do. I had to put my stuff in three separate bins, and the guy who was helping people was not very effective, spreading out the bins making it more difficult on the other side for everyone to gather their stuff.
Once through, I went and bought a big bottle of water and then slowly made my way down to the last gate at the southern end of Bradley — 159 — where our big, beautiful 747 was waiting in the sun. I had the gate agents check my passport (as noted on my boarding pass), and I was good to go.
KLM puts out banners with zone numbers on them, so that people can line up behind each one. I just sat down and didn’t care. I was just trying to let the DayQuil kick in. The way they boarded each group was to walk up, pick up the sign, and have everyone follow them.
Once everyone in line had boarded, I followed behind. KLM uses two jet bridges, and both Business and Economy Comfort get to use the forward one, so I turned left.
November 16, 2019
KLM 602 Lv Los Angeles 155p Arr Amsterdam 905a (on 17NOV)
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 159, Runway… didn’t get that far, Depart 5m early the first time, but then there was a 4 hour delay and I gave up
PH-BFT, Boeing 747-406M, 2014 Curved Cheatline colors, ~99% Full
Seat 10A, Economy Comfort
There is just nothing in the world like a 747. Walking onboard at the first door, I couldn’t help but be transported back to my youth. That giant beast just feels so… massive. The near-vertical sidewalls on the lower deck along with the big windows make it seem so special and different. There will never be another airplane like this one.
KLM has added to the airplane’s uniqueness by giving it a very quirky layout. Business Class is in the nose and upstairs. Economy Comfort sits very far forward in the first 8 rows behind Business, but they are half rows in a 3-2 configuration on the port side. The starboard side of the airplane in that area is a giant galley that stretches front to back.
It’s actually quite smart. The galley can be used from the front to serve the business class passengers without anyone else being near. Then from the rear, they can serve economy, or at least parts of it. (From a space utilization standpoint, I have no idea if this makes any sense.)
I took my seat and moved aside the pillow and blanket. There was ample legroom in Economy Comfort, and the seats were old-school comfortable.
The inflight entertainment system looked older, but the screen was plenty large.
We pushed back 5 minutes early as I steeled myself for the 10 hour flight ahead. After we made it on to the taxiway, we stopped. I couldn’t hear much from the PA from my seat, but the captain came on and then I heard groans in the cabin. Uh oh.
The guy next to me was Dutch but lives in San Diego, and he said something had broken. He seemed unsurprised, saying this was his third flight on the 747 in recent times that has had a lengthy maintenance delay. He relayed that we had to go back to the gate.
I saw someone from line maintenance walk up to the airplane holding tools, but then I also saw the rampers come out with their sticks to guide us back in… or so I thought. They were actually there to guide an Asiana 777 into our gate. We were pushed back further into the taxiway, and we waited.
The Captain again came on and said that we were going to have to go to a another area to have the maintenance work done. He was very specific in telling us that there was a problem with the starter for engine number four. They had hoped to fix the issue quickly, but they couldn’t. The problematic part had to be replaced.
My spirits sunk. Here I was barely feeling capable of taking a 10 hour flight, and it was now going to turn into something longer. As we taxied, I received a notice that the airline had posted a 4pm departure, 2 hours late. The guy next to me laughed, and I agreed. There was no way it was going to happen that fast.
We made it down to the remote gates at the west end of LAX. Those are the ones that actually have jet bridges attached to indoor concrete ramps. The jet bridge moved up, the door opened, and I figured we were getting off. I was wrong.
The captain explained it would be a minimum of two hours to do the work and get us ready to fly. He asked that we close the window shades so it didn’t get too hot. I shuddered. We had already been out for over half an hour, so I wasn’t surprised when the update rolled in pushing us to an optimistic 4:30pm departure which again my seatmate and I didn’t believe.
Once we were parked, seatbelts came off and a group a few rows back gathered. They weren’t speaking English, but they seemed to be having a great time. People got up, walked around, and used the lavs. The flight attendants came through handing out water, stroopwafels, and ultimately, headphones. It seemed clear there was a protocol for how to handle this.
I couldn’t sit still, so I took the opportunity to walk into the nose just two rows ahead of me so I could get a glimpse of the Business Class cabin. It was a nice setup even if the seats aren’t the most current generation. Behind that cabin on the port side, there was a curtain blocking Business from Economy Comfort. On the starboard side, there was access to a lav and the galley. Another curtain blocked that from being used by us riff-raff.
I walked further back into the short coach cabin. Since it’s a combi, there’s a big bulkhead behind that separates the self-loading cargo from the actual cargo. I couldn’t make it back through the mess of people. I stopped at door 2L where the purser was standing.
I was fading fast, and the cabin was getting warmer. I was not feeling well, and I made the decision. I asked the purser if I could get off the flight. I had no bags and didn’t need to be reaccommodated. She said no, it was too complicated. I went back to the front and hung around the empty flight attendant jumpseat where there was more room to breathe. I had been on my phone updating people when I realized that I had to conserve energy. There is no power outside of Business Class on KLM’s 747s.
More people started crowding around the jumpseat, so I walked back and forth trying to find a quiet corner where I could be alone, but that wasn’t to be. Everyone was crawling around all over the airplane. I passed the door with the purser again and she motioned to me. She said I could get off if I wanted to, but I couldn’t get back on. Even though I had made my decision, I hesitated for a second knowing that I’d be letting Hahn Air down, but I just couldn’t muster the strength to stick it out. I walked to my seat, grabbed my bag, congratulated my seatmate on now having a window with an empty middle, and walked off the airplane.
They made us sit in the waiting area for awhile while they figured out the bus situation. There were others who joined me in getting off the airplane at this point. We eventually were dumped off back at Bradley. Then I had to find my way home.
My wife had already dropped me off a few hours earlier, and she couldn’t come back to get me, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to try out the new rideshare situation which they call LAX-it (pronounced L-A-exit). Everyone has to take a bus to a remote lot next to Terminal 1. This arrangement started out rocky, but it appears to be working quite well now.
On the arrivals level, the lanes between the two curbs on the inside are now only for buses. I walked on the LAX-it bus, and we waited a few minutes until the next bus showed up. Then we went straight to the lot… there was no stopping at every terminal. It did not take long at all.
At the lot, I had requested my Lyft. It gave me a code, so I just had to get in the non-existent Lyft line and wait for any car to show up. I gave the driver my code, and he instantly had my route and was ready to go.
He said he had done this multiple times since it opened, and it’s getting much better. They used to have every car enter through the same place, but now they’ve spread it out to help the flow. And getting out wasn’t an issue either.
I made it home just as the next delay rolled in on my phone, pushing the flight back to a 5:45pm departure. It turns out that actually held, and the airplane did leave about 4 hours late. I, on the other hand, collapsed in bed. I slept for 11 hours, and could barely move the following morning.
I still feel terrible for not being able to live up to my commitment on this, but sometimes, as a friend said, you just gotta take the sign.