Trip Report: SAN-DTW-AMS-DTW-SAN on Northwest and KLM

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Check-in at SAN was a breeze…once I found the ticket counter. NW sure got the short end of the stick with having their ticket counter downstairs in terminal 1! It’s far away from everything, and very hard to find. But hey – it’s always fun to check in before a long haul international flight, as I always like to think what the person checking me in is thinking. Well, probably not much, considering they check hundreds of people in all day long. “Going to Amsterdam today?” “Yes. Yes I am.” I love it.

San Diego, CA (SAN) – Detroit, MI (DTW)
Thursday January 21, 1999
Northwest Airlines
Aircraft: A320

I didn’t even have to check the board to find out which gate my flight would be departing from, as there are only two gates belonging to NW at SAN. I was about 45 minutes early, so I found a seat just across from the ticket counter to do a little people watching. Nothing interesting, though there was an interesting young couple who looked like they had been arguing all morning.

The boarding was right on time, as was push back and departure. There were only a few flights ahead of us that morning, so we were soon in the air. There wasn’t much to report about this segment, as I was asleep for most of the flight. One minor complaint though…what is the deal with NW and the lack of in flight entertainment (in coach)? There’s nothing to do but sleep – or at least chat with a seat mate (which I don’t like doing).

I awoke as we were making our decent into DTW, and we were on the ground about ten minutes early. It’s been a long time since I’ve flown through DTW, so I was interested to see if the airport has improved any over the years. I wasn’t impressed. I don’t think it’s quite the war zone most people claim it to be, but then again I never did leave the NW terminals. My connection was at the end of terminal F, along with four other international flights all departing within the same hour of one another (or so it seemed). Chaos. Most of the flights in the terminal were scheduled to depart around the same time, so needless to say, things were a little cramped. I asked the woman at the ticket counter if the flight to AMS was full today, and I was happy to hear that it was going to be pretty open. Yes!

Detroit, MI (DTW) – Amsterdam (AMS)
Thursday January 21, 1999
Northwest Airlines
Aircraft: 747-400

This was a surprisingly empty flight for the end of the week. It was probably only one half full, and there was plenty of room to spread out. Again stuck in coach, I sat about halfway back in the main cabin next to a woman from St Louis on her way to a teaching confernece in Switzerland. Long story short, she had a hacking cough that nearly drove me away to find another seat. Luckily, she calmed down after a few minutes.

Right from the beginning, I was not impressed with the service on this international flight. First off, all announcements were made in English only. The flight attendants seemed bored and it didn’t really seem special enough to feel like a REAL international flight. Oh well, I just wanted to sleep anyway so I guess it wasn’t a really big deal.

Sleeping was a little difficult though, as the bulkhead row in front of us was occupied by three very loud Dutchmen who had lots of friends elsewhere on the plane. And guess where they all hung out during most of the flight? Quite annoying, actually, and needless to say I didn’t sleep very well.

The Arrival into AMS was the best part of the flight, as it was very dark and foggy when we arrived. Combined with the lights of the aircraft and airport terminal, it made for a really cool (and a little creepy) experience as we taxied into the gate.

Amsterdam (AMS) – Detroit, MI (DTW)
Monday January 25, 1999
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Aircraft: 747-300

My flight was scheduled to depart AMS at 14:00, but I was up early that morning in order to grab a good breakfast and one last stroll through the areas surrounding my hotel. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have the time to do as much exploring as I would have liked. Oh well, I know I’ll make it back someday.

I checked out of my hotel and made it to Central Station by 10:20, and caught a train just in time for AMS. Of all the airports I have been to around the world, I’d have to put AMS at the top of my list as one of the best. It’s clean, easy to get around, and there is shopping aplenty. Friendly people too, all eager to help out when asked. Once through check-in, I went to the gate to wait for the flight. It was a long wait, as a result of my incredibly smooth trip to the airport. No late trains, no waiting in line, nothing. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Weird.

Anyway, this was my first time with KLM. I actually chose this flight over some better-scheduled NW flights just to try a new airline, a type of experimentation has never let me down in the past. I guess it’s just a natural reaction for me now whenever I’m booking flights. It was scheduled for 7 hours (give or take), and we departed right on schedule. Our aircraft was, and I’m guessing here, about 3/4 full. Most people who wanted an empty seat next to them got it. Because of the rainy conditions at AMS at the time of departure, climb out was one of the most spectacular things I have seen in my life. There was a thick cloud layer over AMS, and it took a few minutes of bumpy climb before we pierced the last layer of clouds. God, what a sight. Bright sunshine casting strong shadows over a beautiful spread of clouds beneath. A kodak moment at its best, I pulled out my trusty Cannon Elph and captured the scene out the window.

klm 747-300 wing view

Departing AMS on a KLM 747-300

The flight didn’t seem that long to me as I was occupied the entire time with either food (some sort of beef product), movie (Ronin), or friendly chat with my seat mate (small business owner from Detroit). It was quite an enjoyable flight, though I did expect a little better service from KLM. No, I wasn’t disappointed, but I still had hoped for a few extra bells and whistles. None. Oh well. Time passed rather quickly and I was actually a little surprised when we started to make our initial decent into DTW. It’s always a good feeling when touching down on home soil after an international trip. Things suddenly become familiar again, and it’s a strange feeling to know exactly where to go and what to do to get to the connecting flight.

Unfortunately, we arrived in DTW right along with a BA 747 from LGW, so it was a little slow going through customs. Ah, customs at DTW. Never in my life have I been asked so many obscure questions: “What school did you go to?” “What do your parents do for a living?” Sheesh…just because I went to Amsterdam by myelf for a few days. Through customs with only a few bruises, and I was off to my connecting flight to SAN.

Detroit, MI (DTW) – San Diego, CA (SAN)
Monday January 25, 1999
Northwest Airlines
Aircraft: A320

We boarded right on time, quickly and easily. It was a very light load, probably only half full. As the plane was still boarding, a few general announcements were made, one indicating that the flight time would be a little over five hours. Yikes! Five hours? Must be some serious headwinds ahead. Luckily, the load was light enough that I had an entire row to myself in the second to last row of the plane. At least I could spread out and relax. It was a good flight…especially since it was headed home.

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