As I continue to review various airline wine experiences, I’m excited to mention that I recently had a very pleasant one. So often on airplanes, our palates find themselves a captive audience, a prisoner to the whims of whatever under-qualified executive has been charged with “food duty” amongst his many tasks. Often, I simply have a beer, or even a complimentary soda. Most recently, however, as I was traveling through Europe en route to Africa, I had a delightful experience. And like so many delightful experiences, this one, too, was courtesy of the Dutch.
Royal Dutch Airlines, or KLM, falls short in the stereotypes department (no orange planes, no tulip-shaped seats, no complimentary wooden clogs, not even a decorative windmill-looking propellor on the nose of the plane). In service, however, they’re top notch, and the food is pretty good for “air fare” as well. More importantly, at least to this audience, the wine they serve in coach/economy is better than many of their competitors. What they offer are blends, both red and white, titled “The Elements” by Julien Schaal. From South Africa, these wines are well-selected to please a variety of palates, and also pair relatively well with the food being served on the flight. The white blend was crisp, with nice mineral hints, no citrus, and the red was smooth, with mild tannins and fruits, no acid to speak of.
I was still somewhat disappointed in the limited selection, however, I soon learned that they are taking strides to improve. After a glass of white over fish and rice with dinner, I spotted a white on the cart other than that which I had been offered. I asked for it, and the flight attendant hesitantly obliged me, saying “It’s our old one — we don’t really serve it anymore. But, of course, you may have it if you like.” I insisted, and the swill she handed me was evidence that KLM is taking steps to upgrade their wine selection. The Julien Schaal wines are a much better offering.
As is wont to occur to the frequent traveler, the TSA wrecked havoc upon my luggage. They sliced what I’m sure was an ominous looking package of DVD’s for teachers in Rwanda up one side and down the other, in much the same manner that one might sloppily field-dress an informant to make a point, spilling fuzzy guts and packaging all over the contents of my luggage. The entire time I was in Rwanda, nearly two weeks, I did not wear a pair of socks to which was not stuck the fluff of that packaging in large amounts. Not to worry, however, because they left me one of those nice little “we searched your luggage” cards. Maybe they should invest in some “we all but destroyed your luggage” cards next time. Thank the good Lord I’d had a few nice glasses of wine prior to my arrival.
Worth mentioning, also, is that on the flight back from Amsterdam, I was on Delta, but because Delta and KLM are partners in this venture, the wine I was offered on Delta, though far from stellar, was both palatable and free. This does not coincide with similar experiences on United. Further, my last domestic Delta flight did not feature free wine, and the wine they offered at $7/glass was not as good as that which was offered from Amsterdam. Clearly, the Dutch are having a positive effect on their American partners.
With the pretty good wine, typically limited selection, and predictably pleasant service, I give KLM a “B” grade for a flying wine experience. I suppose if I want “A+” wine, I have to pony up the cash for first-class, eh? For now, as far as advice for the in-flight wine drinker, KLM is the best experience I’ve had to date. Also worth considering: where you’re going makes all the difference. For me, well, I landed in Rwanda, the Mille Collines, “Land of a Thousand Hills” — a tropical paradise. It would have taken more than bad wine or even the TSA to spoil that!