K is for Kafkaesque: KLM Cityhopper Bergen to Amsterdam and train connection

This is part 9 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta.  You can read an overview of the trip here.

KLM Cityhopper Flt. 1186 Bergen to Amsterdam, ERJ-190
Sch. Dep. 10:45am   Sch. Arr. 12:30pm
Act. Dep. 11:45am   Act. Arr. 1:20pm

As always, you should expect one travel day on a long trip to go poorly. Well, my one day was when I went from Bergen to the Netherlands.  I got to my destination about 2 hours late, but after a lot of unnecessary stress and a commitment to go out of my way not to fly KLM ever again.

Flying over Bergen

My original plan was to fly from Bergen to Amsterdam and then take a train south towards Belgium.  Nonstop tickets on KLM were extremely expensive, though – about $280 –  about 4 times the cost of connecting through Oslo on SAS.   I accidentally discovered, though, that it was only $210 if I booked with the flight from Bergen to Amsterdam with an onward train connection on a codeshare to Antwerp.  That seemed good.

Six weeks or so before my trip I noticed a schedule change that would limit my connection to 1 hour and 5 minutes.  With checked baggage, that seemed tight.  Sure enough, from looking up published minimum connection times, from what I could tell, that was an illegal connection.  There’s a train every hour, though, so I figured perhaps I could me moved to that one.  KLM purports to offer assistance via Twitter, but this began what ended up being an entirely Kafkaesque experience throughout my travel – do not ever buy a KLM ticket that includes a train segment.

My request on twitter started simply enough – what is the minimum connection time from Schengen flights to trains?  The answer “You need to pick up your rail ticket 30 minutes prior to departure.”  Motion to strike as nonresponsive.  Though, in that case, 35 minutes with a checked bag is very tight.  Via DMs, KLM eventually said that I “should” be able to make it, but that they could change to the later train if I’d like.  Sure, I said.  Okay, they said.  That will be 70 EUR plus the difference in fare.  Um, no.  1Idiotic, because I had a feeling they’d end up having to make the change for free.  I was right.

Like many airlines, KLM offers a 10 EUR discount if you buy your checked luggage in advance online.  Unfortunately, that was “not available” for my reservation, either before or after check-in.  So I prepared to pay a full 35 EUR at the airport. (Interestingly, at check-in, I was offered the ability to upgrade to economy comfort for about $10 and to business for $100.  If the upgrade to business had given me free baggage, I would’ve done it, but alas it didn’t.)

It was about a 2-minute walk from my Airbnb to the Flybussen stop, and I waited only about a minute for the bus, which runs every 10 minutes.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and by 8:25 I was on my way to the airport on a pretty empty bus, and got to the Bergen Airport at 8:50.  There’s a huge new terminal that actually opened about two days ago, but I was at the old terminal (with no lounge) so any stuff I say about the airport itself is outdated.

New Bergen Airport terminal on the left

Arriving at the airport, I saw huge lines for BH Air (a Bulgarian carrier) and Swiss, and a smaller line for KLM that was not moving.  There was one line for Skypriority, and one line for everything else.  Eventually they opened a third line for baggage drop, but there was no signage, so lots of confusing. Since the kiosk wouldn’t let me buy baggage either, I made it to the counter in 25 minutes.  The agent was very confused that my reservation had a train ticket, and said that I had to go to the ticket office and pay for my bag and come back.  Seriously.

Off to the ticket office I went, where I got stuck behind a woman with VAT refund paperwork for about 25 Chinese tourists.  While waiting, I saw that my flight was delayed by 55 minutes.  So I asked the woman at the counter if she could just rebook my connecting train.  She understood, at least, but said that since it was a train connection, her system could not access that.  She also couldn’t figure out how I could pay for my baggage so just told me not to worry about it, and go back to the other counter for my bag to be tagged and dropped.  I made it to security at 9:40 – 50 minutes after arriving at the airport. #paxex

Perhaps the KLM Twitter team could rebook my connection, since they could make the change 6 weeks ago for a fee.  The Kafka-isms continued, in tweets and DMs where KLM acknowledged I was delayed, and that I would be rebooked for free, but wouldn’t do so because there was “a chance” I would make the train.  There was no chance I would make the train.  It was nearly an hour past scheduled departure at this time, and I was still in Norway.  Given I had only 35 minutes to de-plane, get my luggage, go to the train station, and get my ticket to start with, there was no humanly possible way I could make the train.  Moreover, if I had to first wait in line at Schiphol to get rebooked, I’d very likely miss the next train as well.

The international area of the old terminal is pretty small, with access only to duty free and a single restaurant.  With no lounge, I got a good breakfast sandwich for 90 NOK (~11.50 USD) and a bottomless cup of coffee for 48 NOK (~6 USD), and waited.  On the plus side, a Norwegian soccer team was delayed as well, oh, and there was wifi and outlets.

Waiting

Finally at 11am, boarding began – 65 minutes late.  There was no enforcement of Skypriority or pre-boarding for families with small children. It was an Embraer 190 “Cityhopper” plane, and I was glad I didn’t pay extra for Business, as it was 2×2 across, with the same seats as the rest of the plane. The plane had very small overhead bins, but the seats themselves were fairly comfortable – better than the Austrian slimline one.

Boarding insanity, BGO-AMS

KLM Cityhopper ERJ-190

It was a full flight, but there was still a significant delay after boarding complete, which was annoying because the plane was very warm. Wheels were finally up at 11:45. There was a loud family of unknown origin who stood in the aisle as soon as we were airborne.  Even as passengers tried to get by, and the FAs came through with the cart, she still remained standing for 15 minutes.

Cool planespotting, Atlantic Airways – airline of the Faroe Islands

Farewell Bergen

About 20 minutes into flight, the beverage cart reached me.  KLM does offer free food and beverage in economy even on European flights (without even a buy-on-board option).  The nature of the food varies based on flight length and time of day.  Given the time of day we actually flew, it would have been a sandwich, but my guess is it was catered with the breakfast snack – an attractive box with a piece of pound cake and a cup of water.  There was beer and wine free as well, but I stuck with a Coke Light, which was served in a tiny 20 mL can.  A man across the aisle from me wanted multiple beers at once, which they wouldn’t give him, but he managed to ring the call button and obtain refills multiple times on the short flight.

Morning Snack, KLM Economy, BGO-AMS

Approaching the Dutch coast

We were on the ground around 1:20pm at a bus gate, the Captain apologized for the delay and said to see a representative meeting the flight for connection/rebooking.  Well, I was on the second bus to the terminal, and of course there was no representative.  There were some kiosks for “automatic connection assistance,” but they just gave me error messages.  So it was 1:30pm, and it seemed my options were to head to the main departures area or towards baggage.

On the ground at Schiphol

By the baggage area, there was a big counter with a sign KLM Customer Assistance. There were about 5 women chit-chatting and finally one acknowledged my presence. I tried to explain the situation, and she directed me to the train ticket machine by baggage belt 12. So, not helpful.  At this point I was expecting to just buy a new ticket since no one from KLM was willing to help.  No one was apologetic for the delay, no one was being remotely empathetic.  I went to wait by the baggage belt and the women were yelling at me I was going to the wrong place. (I wasn’t.)

And here’s where things got INSANE.  As I waited for my luggage, I snapped a picture of the sign saying “KLM Customer Assistance.”  About 5 minutes later, a brusque man in a KLM outfit came out from a side office and told me and said he needed to know why I was taking pictures because he was calling security.  Part of me wanted him to call security because he was so nasty and I did nothing wrong. Finally, after several minutes haranguing me he said he would have me arrested unless I delete the picture.  Now, if there is some rule about not taking pictures, this is how he should have handled it:

“Sir, I’m sorry, but we have a policy against photography in the airport.  Would you please delete the photograph?’

I would’ve been annoyed, but complied.  Instead, he threatened me, and said I could go upstairs to make a complaint, and that his customer service office wasn’t there to help with connections, but I had to go upstairs to ticketing.

After that oh-so-pleasant encounter, at around 1:50pm, my bag finally arrived.  It had somehow been partially unzipped with clothes coming out and dragging on the belt.  I had calmed down a bit so I went back to the customer service office where the gentleman was chit-chatting with a colleague.  I asked for his name so I could make a complaint.  He responded “We don’t do names.”  And then proceeded to argue with me, saying I had been rude and asked for directions to the train station.  I did not ask for directions to the train station.  Rude is in the eye of the beholder, but I’d give you exasperated and frustrated by KLM’s delay.

I made my way to the train station, and tried to buy a new ticket, but the machines don’t take US credit cards or Euro bills.  Finally, I went to the international train service desk and plead my case for the man to give me a new ticket.  He was nice, made some calls to KLM to confirm the misconnect, and got me a new ticket.  Of course, that new train was delayed, and ended up breaking down twice.  I ended up at Rotterdam Central at 3:45pm, about 2 hours late, emotionally and physically exhausted.

Train

 

 

 

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