Trip Report: From Vienna to Amsterdam to Helsinki to Turku: KLM and my first lost bag experience

KLM Flt. 1838, Boeing 737, Europe Business Class
Dep. VIE 6:55 am ,  Arr. AMS 8:50 am
KLM Flt. 1167, Boeing 737, Europe Business Class
Dep. AMS 9:40am, Arr. HEL 1:05pm

Starting this trip, there was a flight with a tight connection I was worried about missing, and there was a concern about flying an airline with a record of spotty service.   Those flights (on Aeroflot on the return trip), alas, went fine, and it was a relatively simple KLM connection that caused some major stress on our trip.

We woke up at the Courtyard Vienna Messe at the entirely uncivilized hour of 4:30am, and headed on an easy drive to Vienna’s Schwechat airport, dropped off our car at Sixt, and took a loooong walk to the actual check-in area, involving lots of elevators and stairs.

Austria and Finland aren’t a natural pairing, and although Finnair does fly twice daily nonstop, codeshared with Austrian, there is no Sky Team option.  Our options were thus to either buy coach tickets nonstop, or take a connecting flight on KLM in business for free as part of our main mileage redemption.   We opted for the latter, as the nonstop flights were pretty pricey, and the total travel time on KLM via Amsterdam wasn’t too bad.

Check-in at VIE

Check-in at VIE

Although there was a long check-in line for KLM, and a long security line, we zipped through both rather easily using the Sky Priority lanes.  Once in the “C” concourse, I couldn’t find any lounge, although the Sky Team website said there was one.  All there was was a shuttered Austrian Airlines lounge, which didn’t do me any good.  I didn’t feel like buying an overpriced pastry at one of the cafes in the terminal, and I figured whatever was on the plane would be good enough, so I just got a decent 1 euro mélange from a machine.

Niki, Air Berlin's budget affiliate, planes lined up at VIE

Niki, Air Berlin’s budget affiliate, planes lined up at VIE

Boarding began right on time for our ride on a 737, close to identical to our ride down from Amsterdam, but a little newer.  Just like our incoming flight, lots of Americans in business class seemed confused by the empty middle seats, which seemed stranger on a route from Vienna to Amsterdam, as it would seem to be a return flight for anyone flying KLM to/from the US.

The flight was on one of KLM’s newer 737s, so dropdown TVs had been displaying our route the entire time, and had connecting gate info as we started our descent.  There were only 8 of 12 seats filled in business for our short 1.5 hours in the air.  Despite the short flight time, the purser and her colleague stood out as particularly warm and friendly.  Shortly after take off, a perfectly palatable cold breakfast was served, consisting of 2 slices of bologna, some cheese, yogurt, fruit, and a few passes of a bread basket.  After breakfast, I promptly fell asleep for the remainder of the flight, to find myself being gently awoken to return my seat upright.

Breakfast, KLM Business, VIE-AMS

Breakfast, KLM Business, VIE-AMS

We ended up arriving about 30 minutes early, meaning we had a full 1 hour 20 minutes for our connection, not tight at all given we were arriving and departing from Schiphol’s Schengen-area D gates.  It also worked out well since my boyfriend had slept through breakfast on our flight, and we had time to swing through the lounge (the same we had stopped at on the way to Vienna) for a light bite and coffee.  The lounge was significantly more crowded at 8:30 than it had been at 10 am, but otherwise it was pretty much the same.

The gate area for the Helsinki flight was really crowded, and by the time we got there, it seemed they were boarding the whole plane, though the announcement was only for Sky Priority  — elites, business, and economy comfort.  There were multiple announcements as to how full the flight would be, and sure enough there was a bit of a backup on the jetway.  But we made it on, and were two of seven passengers in the twelve seat business cabin.

I unintentionally slept through the meal service (a third breakfast), but when I woke, the purser asked if I’d like to eat.  My boyfriend woke up around then too, and was asked the same.   We said yes and I was wondering what was taking awhile, before she came out with two hot trays, explaining she only had one left each of waffles and eggs.  I am not sure how KLM caters its planes, but I thought it would be odd that in a half-full cabin they would only have exactly enough meals.  It wasn’t a big deal anyway, and we shared the main dishes.  The purser had likely heated all the meals for the main service, and then reheated them when we woke up, so there were some temperature/texture issues with the waffles and croissants, but otherwise it was an impressive breakfast on a 2.5 hour flight, with the main dishes accompanied by a goat cheese and tomato salad, yogurt, and bread.  After breakfast, it was time for a little blogging, then back to sleep.

Waffles, KLM business class breakfast, AMS-HEL

Waffles, KLM business class breakfast, AMS-HEL

Our three intra-European flights were my boyfriend’s first on KLM, and he described it as reminding him of Delta.  I asked for elaboration, and he explained that everything was pleasant, with nothing standing out in either a good or a bad way.   I think that was a decent encapsulation of the three flights, although I did find the AMS-HEL meal better than I expected, and found the in-seat power to be a major plus.

Alas, after I typed these words, we had a problem.  We were all prepared to make the once-hourly bus to Turku, west of Helsinki, with about 45 minutes to get our luggage and pick up some sandwiches for the trip.  We got to baggage claim, and when our bags didn’t make the first belt, I started sensing something was wrong.  Then the second group came out, and none had Sky Priority tags.  Then the screen on the carousel said “Last Bags.”  And ours were not there.  I left my boyfriend at the carousel in case of a miracle, and then dashed over to the Baggage Services area, where there was no one manning the KLM-contracted Servisair desk.  The one agent appeared after a few minutes, handed me a form, and disappeared again.  Finally, he came back, and confirmed our bags were indeed “left behind” in Amsterdam and would be on the flight arriving at 5:30pm.  In a normal situation, this wouldn’t be a huge deal, except we were getting on a three hour bus journey to Turku, where we would only spend one night.  The agent said we would likely be able to get our bags in Turku later that night, but gave us amenity kits (which included a small laundry detergent and a size XXL t-shirt) “in case.”  There was no information about compensation and he told us to go to the KLM website to track the bags.  I asked if there was a number we could call, and he said no, just check the website.  We’d assumed we’d missed our bus, but miraculously, it was still boarding, and began the journey to Turku.

En route, we discovered, surprisingly, that the EU does not provide any real protections for delayed baggage, except we could submit receipts for necessaries we purchased and see if they’d get approved.   I had toiletries and medicine, as well as a clean t-shirt, socks, and underwear in my carry-on, so I had the basics covered.  But my plan had been to go to the gym, and I had no shorts, and I was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, inappropriate for the nice evening dinner we had planned.  So we had to do a little clothing shopping in the department stores of Finland – not the cheapest place to pick up clothes.

Shock of shocks, our bags were not at our hotel when we got back from dinner.  So, I started an exasperating twitter/e-mail conversation with KLM.  They could not provide us any information, first.  Then, after I went to bed, they said that they decided it was too late to get us our bags in Turku, so we would just have to pick them up four days later at the Helsinki airport.  There were of course several problems with this, the biggest being (1) five days without luggage is absurd; and (2) we were not flying out of Helsinki, but rather taking a ferry to Tallinn.  I tweeted back this was unacceptable, and couldn’t they just please deliver the bags to our Helsinki hotel where we would be for 3 nights – which was recorded on our baggage claim request form.  The Twitter team said they would look into it, and then responded that the Airport baggage office would contact me.  I explained we needed to figure out what was going on so we didn’t have to plan our whole vacation around luggage coming or not coming, and KLM said it had no control but we would be contacted by the airport baggage services shortly.

Four hours later, we had still heard nothing from the airport baggage services, and were trying to figure out whether to get on a train to Helsinki or keep waiting around in Turku.  I sent off a brusque message to KLM, asking for a phone number in Finland so I could contact them myself, since KLM clearly wasn’t succeeding in getting them to contact me.   Meanwhile, we resorted to Google, and just called a number we found for lost baggage – Servisair, on the Helsinki Airport website.  Somehow, my boyfriend got routed to a KLM customer service rep in France who agreed to make the calls for us to the right people, and said she would call us back.  Twenty minutes later, she called back to tell us our luggage would be delivered to the Radisson in Helsinki by 5pm.  She said they would just put the bags in a taxi rather than making us wait for the evening delivery.  Why the Twitter team couldn’t do this and insisted that KLM could do nothing, I don’t know.  Why our bags did not make the plane, or make it Turku on the first night, equal mysteries.

Sure enough, when we got to Helsinki (Turku will be covered in a separate post), our bags were waiting at the check-in desk.  But the zipper on the outer compartment of my suitcase had been completely yanked off – though remarkably the contents had stayed put.  This was a pretty sturdy Samsonite bag which had made it all over Asia and Europe in February without a hitch, so I was peeved.   I submitted claims for the modest replacement clothing we had to buy for the 28 hours missing luggage, as well as for the broken suitcase, which to my surprise were fully approved (still waiting for the checks though).   Oddly, the emails approving the claims were signed by a French man on behalf of Delta, who apparently handles KLM baggage claims for American residents.

Not priority enough...

Not priority enough…

This was my first time having my bags lost, and it was a horrendous experience which led to a lot of stress and significantly ruined my short time in Turku. No one from KLM ever explained what happened, or apologized, which definitely made the experience even more frustrating.  I had previously thought AMS was a super-easy place to connect, but if bags marked Sky Priority can’t make an 80 minute connection, I have some concerns.

One thought on “Trip Report: From Vienna to Amsterdam to Helsinki to Turku: KLM and my first lost bag experience

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