Update 18 Aug 2010: KLM contacted me after reading this post, see the end of the article
I have a love / hate relationship with KLM. I am happy with the many upgrades that they give me and with the way their Twitter team works. But there are also a lot of things that KLM needs to improve and that I complain about on Twitter when I encounter them (some examples: a website in China that is often not working because it seems to be hosted outside the Great Firewall, continuous problems with their customer service & call center in China, delays on every single daytime flight from Shanghai to Amsterdam, rude/non-service oriented flight attendants).
On Twitter I sometimes get the question why I still fly KLM. The answer is simply because they have the monopoly on the route Shanghai-Amsterdam, there are no other airlines with direct flights. If you fly regularly for short trips you don’t want to have the additional hassle (and time!) of stop-overs. Many of my Dutch business friends here feel exactly the same, the topic of frustration with KLM often comes up over dinner or a beer. There is so much KLM can learn from airlines like Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, but they seem not to care. The flights to Shanghai are always fully booked so they probably feel there is no need to improve their service.
Yesterday I encountered another typical example of why I have a problem with KLM. I dropped off my luggage for the delayed flight from Amsterdam to Shanghai. We had 4 suitcases: 2 small trolleys of around 10 kg, one bigger of 18 kg and one of 24.5 kg. Our total luggage allowance was 46 kg each for me and my wife, 23 kg for Scott and 10 kg for Elaine, so no problem at all I would say. No, not for KLM: The lady at the baggage drop off told me the 24.5 kg suitcase was too heavy and I would have to pay EUR 100 to check it in. The 46 kg allowance has to be split into 2 times 23 kg. Why? She had no idea, but those are the rules.
The maximum weight of a suitcase is 32 kg, just like at many other airlines. But if one of your suitcases is more than 23 kg, even if your allowance is much higher, KLM will charge you. This is ridiculous of course and I see it as one more way for the airline to make money off its customers. That they also scare their customers away is something they seem to forget.
To solve the problem we opened our suitcases at the check-in desk, took out 3 pairs of jeans and put them in another suitcase. Nothing changed in the total weight of the suitcases, so I felt it was a totally useless thing to do. But rules are rules at KLM, even if nobody knows why. Even if you are one of their best customers (I am a platinum elite member) and already paid a ridiculous EUR 3700 for 2 economy class tickets for 2 adults, plus a baby and a toddler.
The check-in lady then hoped we would have too much hand luggage and asked us to put those bags on the scale. Bad luck for her, because we were easily within the limits, so KLM could not charge or punish us for this. Not sure if this is a new KLM policy, but this is the first time ever that I am asked to weigh my hand luggage at check-in.
Many airlines are not so strict with weight, if you have 2-3 kilos extra they won’t balk, some even have policies that the first 5 kgs are no problem (I learned this on Twitter when I tweeted about this yesterday). But the lady at the KLM desk told me that she gets into trouble within 24 hours if she allows a suitcase that is above 23 kilo without an additional payment. Is that really the way KLM instructs its staff? Can a staff member not make some decisions on his or her own like in the past?
I will file a formal complaint with KLM about this. I would like to know if these are really their policies and would like to understand what the reasoning behind them is. I wonder if KLM management has any idea what the results of their policies are and how their regular customers perceive the airline. Maybe they will think about it and eventually change this rule. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but they also just reversed their new regulation to pay for check-in golf bags after customer complaints.
Update: KLM contacted me after reading this post. They explained that there are additional costs for suitcases of between 23 kg and 32 kg (32 kg is still the maximum weight) because of labor legislation, therefore the price increase. They suggest to book overweight in advance, then you get a 20% discount. I thanked them for their reply and told them to inform ground staff about this, that would solve a lot of problems. Also I said that you normally don’t know the weight of your suitcases until a few hours before departure, so booking overweight with a discount is not a solution. Personally I think that KLM should be more flexible for (at least) business class and for its Elite members, just like some other airlines do. KLM has to become more service oriented, not only on board but also on the ground.