History of KLM
On 7 October 1919, the Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij voor Nederland en Koloniën (Royal Dutch Airlines for the Netherlands and Colonies) was founded by 8 investors from the business and banking sectors. And so, the “Flying Dutchman” – once a legend – became a reality. Albert Plesman was asked to take charge of the new company’s management and was appointed KLM’s administrator. He ultimately became KLM’s first President in 1946. Before its establishment, Queen Wilhelmina had already granted the predicate “Royal” to the company, confirming the growing importance of civil aviation for the Netherlands.
KLM operated its inaugural flight on 17 May 1920, marking the start of scheduled service between London and Amsterdam. Pilot Jerry Shaw flew a leased De Havilland DH-16 from London to Schiphol. On board were 2 journalists, a letter from the Mayor of London to his counterpart in Amsterdam, and a stack of newspapers.
KLM welcomed the first Fokker aircraft to its fleet, marking the start of longstanding ties with the Dutch aircraft manufacturer, which would be maintained for almost 100 years.
KLM also established its own maintenance department in 1921. Engineering & Maintenance would become one of the world’s largest aircraft, engines, and components maintenance companies.
On the initiative of the Comité Vliegtocht Nederland-Indië (Flight Committee for the Dutch East Indies), KLM operated its first intercontinental test flight from Amsterdam to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) with a single-engine Fokker F-VII, demonstrating that Europe and Asia could be safely connected by air.
Also, in 1924, KLM safely transported a valuable stud bull to France, marking the start of specialised animal transport services.
KLM launched a scheduled service between Amsterdam and Batavia. Before WWII, this was the world’s longest scheduled air service. By making Asia accessible, KLM could spread its wings across this part of the world.
KLM introduced its first full-metal aircraft, the Douglas DC-2, setting a new standard for its fleet. This aircraft, registered as PH-AJU Uiver (Stork), won the renowned London-to-Melbourne air race in the handicap category, carrying passengers and cargo.
Also, in 1934, KLM began operating flights between the Netherlands and the Caribbean, flying from Amsterdam to Curaçao, with a series of technical stops along the way. This first transatlantic flight was intended to station an aircraft on Curaçao. KLM’s new “West Indies Company” connected the region with the Americas from this hub.
KLM welcomed its first cabin crew. These stewards and later stewardesses were mainly responsible for safety on board, but they also looked after passengers.
The Netherlands was occupied during World War II, making it impossible for KLM to operate flights out of Amsterdam. Much of the airline’s fleet and equipment were destroyed during the war. However, KLM’s West Indies Company remained operational. KLM crew also used one of the few remaining aircraft to operate the Bristol–Lisbon service under contract to the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).
After the Netherlands was liberated, KLM rapidly restored its domestic network and resumed service to destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
With the advent of aircraft that could cover far greater distances, transatlantic routes became a more feasible option. KLM was the first airline to begin operating scheduled service to New York from mainland Europe, laying the foundation for its transatlantic network. Services to Central and South America soon followed.
Under the umbrella of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), KLM introduced a more affordable Tourist Class alongside First Class, thereby making flying accessible for more people. KLM began presenting Delftware miniature houses – initially filled with liqueur and later Dutch gin – to its First Class passengers. Even today, the miniatures are presented to KLM’s World Business Class passengers, with a new house added to the collection every year on KLM’s anniversary, 7 October, so that the house number matches KLM’s age.
KLM introduced Economy Class, making flying accessible to an even larger group of people.
KLM carried more than a million passengers annually for the first time in its history.
KLM welcomed its first Douglas DC-8 aircraft, marking the start of the Jet Age, with new jet-powered aircraft gradually replacing propellor-driven aircraft. Combining greater speed and operating range with fewer stopovers, vastly reduced flight time, making air travel more convenient for passengers. KLM continued to expand its network, connecting the Netherlands with more and more international destinations.
KLM established the Nederlandse Luchtvaart Maatschappij (Netherlands Airline Company, NLM) -later renamed NLM Cityhopper -which breathed new life into KLM’s domestic network.
KLM began operating out of its new home base, with a central terminal and runways several kilometres from the “old Schiphol”. Renamed Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, this larger hub was designed to accommodate the increase in air traffic and the growing number of larger aircraft, with a system of multiple tangential runways that took into account the notoriously shifting winds over the Netherlands.
With the arrival of the Boeing 747, KLM introduced widebody aircraft to its fleet. This aircraft was twice the size of its narrowbody predecessor, the Douglas DC-8, and could carry up to 350 passengers.
KLM introduced the Boeing 747 Combi concept, improving its competitive edge by ensuring flexible fleet capacity and shifting partition between the passenger and cargo cabins on board.
KLM’s quest for a strong American partner, capable of building a globe-spanning network, led to a partnership with Northwest Airlines (NWA), which later became part of Delta Air Lines. The partners Air France, Delta Air Lines and KLM went on to establish a successful transatlantic joint venture.
KLM Cityhopper was founded through a merger between the Dutch airlines Netherlines and NLM Cityhopper. This subsidiary became a feeder airline for KLM, bringing passengers from Europe to Schiphol and making the airport an increasingly important hub.
KLM became the first airline in mainland Europe to launch a customer loyalty programme. In 2005, this Flying Dutchman programme was incorporated into the Flying Blue programme that KLM and Air France jointly offer passengers today.
The Netherlands signed an Open Skies Treaty with the United States, allowing KLM to operate flights to whichever US destinations it deems feasible.
After the Open Skies Treaty was signed, the US Department of Transportation granted antitrust immunity to Northwest Airlines and KLM, clearing the way for more intensive cooperation that led to a successful strategic partnership with NWA.
KLM and NWA jointly introduced World Business Class (WBC) on intercontinental flights. Supplementing Economy Class, WBC soon evolved into a hypermodern comfort class. KLM discontinued First or Royal Class.
With the start of scheduled service to Beijing, KLM expanded its network to Asia. As many new destinations in China were added in subsequent years, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol became “China’s Gateway to Europe”.
KLM and Air France undertook the merger of all mergers, forming AIR FRANCE KLM, the world’s largest airline partnership. KLM joined SkyTeam, 1 of the 3 global airline alliances.
AIR FRANCE KLM headed the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the first time and would hold this position consecutively until 2016. In later years, AIR FRANCE KLM continued to play a pioneering role in its pursuit of sustainability.
Martinair Holland N.V. became a wholly owned KLM subsidiary. The airline’s passenger services were eventually discontinued, but the cargo service became part of Air France KLM MARTINAIR Cargo.
In its quest for alternatives to fossil fuels, KLM operated its first flight from Amsterdam to Paris, powered partly by biokerosene. Via its subsidiary SkyNRG, KLM has teamed up with various partners to research alternatives, guided by the principle that these should have no negative impact on nature or the food chain.
KLM said farewell to its last Fokker F70 aircraft, ending its almost century-long ties with its manufacturer Fokker. With the introduction of Embraer aircraft, KLM standardised the KLM Cityhopper fleet.
KLM celebrated its 100th anniversary, retaining its status as the world’s oldest airline still operating under its original name.
KLM transported more than 35 million passengers that year, a new record.
The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a global crisis for the airline industry. KLM was forced to drastically cut back the number of flights, suffering severe losses.
When travel restrictions were withdrawn, passenger figures increased exponentially.
KLM introduced Premium Comfort Class, a new travel class designed based on extensive customer research.
KLM and Air France jointly announced their intention to invest extensively in fleet renewal in the coming years. From the summer of 2024, Boeing 737 aircraft will be replaced with new Airbus A351neo aircraft for short and medium-haul flights. The Airbus A350 will replace our Boeing 777s and A330s from 2026. These new aircraft are much cleaner, quieter and more efficient than previous generations.