132 Edinburgh-Amsterdam (KLM): Normally when I travel to Finland, (which I do a lot), I fly with either SAS or Norwegian, with a stop in Stockholm or Copenhagen en route. But I’d been getting a little tired of flying the same airlines and stopping in the same airports, so I opted to go via Amsterdam with KLM, partly as a change, and partly as it was the cheapest fare when I booked it. I had a slightly sentimental attachment to the Dutch carrier, as they had been the first airline to whisk me away nearly thirteen years ago on that first trip to Australia. I’d never flown them since, so it would be interesting to see how well I remembered both them and Schipol, (if at all).
The Amsterdam flight is one of the first to depart Edinburgh each day at six am. Unfortunately for me, this meant getting up at the same time and being on the exact same bus as I normally would do if I was starting work at the airport at five, so it didn’t feel like much of a holiday to start with. And after boarding had been completed, we were told by the captain that our departure would be delayed by up to forty-five minutes due to heavy fog at Schipol, though obviously we would leave sooner if we got clearance.
So we taxied off to a quiet corner of the apron, to wait for permission to depart. Naturally, many of the passengers, (including myself), were worried about making onward connections from Amsterdam, and began quizzing the cabin crew about whether they would be able to make this or that flight. Eventually the purser made an announcement to the cabin, reassuring everyone that they knew who was connecting onto what flight, they would let them know as soon as they received the information from Amsterdam etc. For my part, I knew that, with KLM being part of a huge airline alliance, I would almost certainly be arriving in Helsinki one way or another today. My only concern was that it might be too late for that night’s hockey game which I had bought tickets for. But I also knew that the fog delaying our arrival would also likely be delaying the departure of my connecting flight, (and so it proved), so I was never particularly troubled by the hold-up.
Having sat by the runway and watched countless aircraft pass us by and take off, we finally departed around forty minutes behind schedule. And once we were in the air, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how relaxed, friendly and professional the cabin crew were. I had already seen how well they had dealt with all the relentless questioning over our delay, but they came across as being much more personable and ‘human’ than many cabin crew I’d seen over the years. Too often, it seems as if crew are so thoroughly trained to say and do the right things all the time, you suspect they’ve lost any personality or individuality as a result. Not so with KLM, with the famously laid-back Dutch attitude to life shining through as they served our simple but tasty cheese sandwiches and complimentary drinks. In fact, I’d flown with so many budget carriers in recent years, I’d forgotten that there were still airlines who fed and watered you, even on short legs like this. And as we descended into Amsterdam, the purser, just as he promised, gave everyone the information they needed about their onward journeys. Nobody was going to miss their connections, and I would be in Kaisiniemi Park for the hockey tonight after all. They weren’t kidding about the fog though; on descent, I thought we were still a few thousand feet up when the ‘clouds’ suddenly parted and we were about ten metres above the runway. Wish I’d filmed it.
133 Amsterdam-Helsinki (KLM): As I had suspected, my onward connection to Helsinki had been delayed by the same fog that had delayed my arrival, so there was plenty of time to re-acquaint myself with Schipol Airport after nearly thirteen years. To be honest, it was completely different to what I remembered; if anything, it seemed to be even bigger. Where was the little bar I’d had a beer in next to my gate before departing to Kuala Lumpur? Where was the electronics store that I’d bought that Star Wars soundtrack cd in? Delay or not, I didn’t have a great deal of time to explore, (that would come on my return leg).
Having found my gate, I sat and watched as our aircraft was fueled and catered on the tarmac below us, and I found that the friendly attitude of KLM staff was not confined to the cabin. The ground handling agent at the gate was also very personable and chatty, keeping us up to date on the status of the aircraft, when she expected us to be boarding etc (unlike those chavvy Swissport robots at Edinburgh, who preferred to completely ignore all the passengers as the delay in boarding dragged on and on). The flight itself was as enjoyable as the last, with a hot cheese omelette in a panini, a very tasty little cake and a couple of Heinekens to pass the time. I also thought I had a full row to myself, (on what seemed to be a full flight), but I was joined not long after take off by a very tall businessman who obviously needed to stretch out a little.
134 Helsinki-Oulu (Norwegian): Second day of my trip, and up super early again for another flight, it didn’t feel like much of a holiday. Although this one was at seven-thirty, the two-hour time difference meant it was still pretty much getting up for work time for my body clock. The distinct lack of sleep the night before didn’t help; I’d stayed at the Forenom Vantaa, (as I always do when arriving late/departing early at Helsinki), but my stay had been ruined by a group of noisy Russians drinking and partying in the lobby.
Still, today was a minor milestone, as I was taking my first Finnish domestic flight. Normally I’m happy to take the train around and enjoy the views, but Oulu was a lot further north than I’d been before, and it would have wasted most of a day. I was still keen to enjoy the views though, and made sure I paid extra for my usual window seat. What exactly I expected to see out the window at seven-thirty on a December morning in Finland is a mystery. In fact, as I was flying north, it might actually be even darker when I arrived than when I departed. Actually, the views on arrival were tantalizingly good, with the glow of the sunrise just starting to appear on the horizon, and glimpses of the frozen Gulf of Bothnia below. A half hour or so later and I reckon it would have been spectacular.
As for the actual flight, it was fairly routine. I always enjoy flying Norwegian; the only blip on this occasion was that the inflight wi-fi wasn’t working. But what would I have done with it anyway, take a picture of the ‘view’ and post it on Instagram?
135 Helsinki-Amsterdam (KLM): No delays on this occasion, as the only thing waiting for us in Amsterdam was heavy rain. I’d spent most of the morning debating whether to take advantage of my lengthy stop over, (seven hours), to take a trip into the city, tick another country off the list. I could even go out to Haarlem on a pilgrimage to Hannie Schaft’s hometown, (everybody’s favourite ginger resistance fighter). But the miserable weather made up my mind for me; I would stay in Schipol and explore its delights.
There was definitely far more shops than the last time I had visited, though I soon discovered they were all selling the exact same things at the same prices. But there were plenty of other attractions beside. The famous Rijksmuseum has a small annexe at Schipol, with a collection by some of the Dutch masters displayed behind what is undoubtedly very heavy-duty glass. As I was still carrying a few Euros, I purchased a Van Gogh teatowel for my mother, carefully wrapped and bagged by the nice old man at the till, who also popped a wee postcard in there gratis. I don’t remember the library from last time, but this was another nice touch; a quiet seated area, with a few bookshelves of uncontroversial titles, (mostly Dutch history and travel based). Still, seven hours is a long time to kill in any airport, so I was happy to be at my gate, (laden with Speculoos and Stroopwaffels), ready for the last leg of my trip home.
136 Amsterdam-Helsinki (KLM): Since I started working at the airport eighteen months ago, (with all the five am starts that go with it), I seem determined to give myself as little sleep as possible when returning from my travels; Stuttgart (twice), Reykjavik (twice), and Paris had all been relatively late evening arrivals. And quite a few of them had been delayed too, (even though I’d seldom experienced any kind of flight delay on any of the previous hundred or so flights before working at LSG Alpha). Tonight was no exception, with a minor delay prompting all the usual concerns about getting into town quickly enough to catch a bus home, and getting at least four or five hours sleep. It wouldn’t be so bad if Edinburgh Airport wasn’t so legendarily bad at getting you off the aircraft and through the border. Tonight’s queue was as epic as ever, but at least I didn’t have to wait for a checked bag this time. I had regretted not being able to take home more Finnish groceries and goodies, but I soon forgot about that as I hurried out the door a mere thirty minutes after landing.