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Happy 100th Birthday to KLM!

Monday, October 7, 2019

This year marks the 100th anniversary of KLM, the oldest commercial airline in the world. The Dutch Royal airline has experienced many ups and downs within the past 100 years, having operated through one world war and countless years of political unrest within other countries.

KLM was entrusted with the ‘royal’ title appointed by Queen Wilhelmina herself. It was significant to have a royal airline for the Monarchy, even though they were one airline amongst many other competitors in the Dutch aviation market. The title could have been awarded to someone else but KLM proved itself within the emerging sector, consolidating itself as a reliable carrier against other smaller competitors.

A KLM century in a timeline

KLM turns 100 years in 2019

October 1919: The creation of the Royal Dutch Airline for the Netherlands and Colonies. The founders consisted of a group of investors who appointed Albert Plesman to manage the daily supervision of the business.

May 1920: The first KLM flight is operated by pilot Jerry Shaw in a DeHavilland DH-16, flying from London to Schiphol.

October 1924: Departure of the first intercontinental test flight between Amsterdam and Batavia. During this time, it was important for the Netherlands to connect to their colony in Indonesia.

1935: KLM introduced the first cabin crew, which consisted of male attendants only. This was later changed to a group of ladies, the ‘stewardesses’.

September 1945: After WW2, KLM resumes normal operations, first only on domestic routes and later also to European destinations.

May 1946: KLM connects a route from Amsterdam to New York and is the first airline to bridge mainland Europe to America, establishing the airline’s network in the West.

March 1960: KLM acquires its first jet engine, the Douglas DC-8. The aircraft has 4 jet engines, reducing the flight times from days to hours.

October 1975: KLM acquires the first Boeing 747-306B Combi, which is the only aircraft that transports both passengers and cargo. This gives KLM an advantage across the market and strengthens its economic position.

December 1991: KLM introduces its loyalty programme.

March 1994: The business class is introduced to KLM’s onboard service.

May 2004: The fusion of Air France and KLM is officially confirmed.

August 2005: Airbus delivers the first A330 to KLM.

Stories from 100 years of KLM

If you want to learn more about KLM, you can always head on to our blog post about the airline's figures, history and fun facts. Now, we'll tell you about some of the notable stories in which KLM has been involved in the last 100 years. It's work mentioning that KLM's main airport has always been Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, one of the oldest operating commercial airports in the world.

The first-ever steward and stewardess on a KLM flight

The first cabin crew were employed as early as 1935. Flight attendants had the key duties of looking after passengers, to remain attentive and to ensure passenger safety. Cabin crew were able to offer information about the route, aircraft and destination or simply were directed to entertain passengers, comforting them through this new way of travelling.

Especially for female flight attendants, a nursing background was seen as a great advantage and additional experience in hotel business improved the chances of the aspiring to become stewards at KLM.

At first, it was thought that KLM was the airline with the first-ever cabin crew onboard their aircraft. However, it was quickly discovered that several airlines in the US had stewardesses that operated onboard before 1935.

Where did the KLM Economy class come from and why it was created

The economy class used to be called the ‘tourist class’, whose name was adjusted in the aftermath of WW2. Flying was expensive after the war but aircraft were being constructed in a larger size, making flying more accessible to a lot of people. The so-called tourist class offered tickets costing 30% less of the original fare but was only accessible on the North-Atlantic route.

The tourist class was gaining popularity quickly, proving to be a success amongst many passengers. In the early 1950s, 340.000 passengers made the North-Atlantic journey from the Netherlands. By the late 1950s, the number of passengers flying tourist class with KLM had climbed to 770.000 passengers. KLM greatly profited from the new segment with ticket sales soaring to an increase of 67% in the first year. The tourist class was therefore extended to more routes.

The economy class was, similarly to the tourist class, designed to attract a new group of passengers with lower airfares. However, when introduced, the new class brought complications with certain standards and regulations. The sales of goods were not allowed in Economy class, which included newspapers and magazines as well as other luxurious goods such as cigarettes and liquor. Beverages such as coffee, tea, milk, and mineral water were free of charge, all within a limited amount of space for the passengers as well as the cabin crew.

In 1965, this was what you could eat if you were flying with KLM

At first, there were three permanent items for passengers to receive on-board of an aircraft. These included blankets, glasses and cutlery and some catering options depended on the number of passengers.

Meals for onboard service were cooked on the ground, chefs were in charge of producing thousands of meals for passengers on a day to day basis. KLM airline also provided meals for around 20 other airlines.

These were some of the meals prepared for passengers every day:

  • 3.000 dressed cold dishes
  • 250 roasted and filleted chickens
  • 500 kilos of boiled, roasted or stewed meat

KLM Today

Nowadays, KLM carries, on average, 34.1 million passengers and 621.000 tonnes of cargo per year. KLM and KLM Cityhopper connect 92 European and 70 intercontinental destinations with each other, offering a direct service to key economic centres all over the world. As a part of the SkyTeam Alliance, the Dutch airline offers passengers even more possibilities.

After merging with Air France in 2004, the new consortium decided to focus its business on these three pillars: values for passengers, cargo and engineering/maintenance.

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