KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Just Turned 100

Eric Rosen

This month marked a major milestone in aviation: the 100th anniversary of the world’s oldest airline, KLM. Well, the world’s oldest airline still operating under its original name, if you want to get technical.

British Airways celebrated its 100th anniversary in August, though that occasion actually marked the launch of a tiny outfit called Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited that later merged to become British Airways over the last century.

Likewise, Australian carrier Qantas lays claim to being the world’s oldest continuously operating airline in the world thanks to the fact that it kept flying during World War II, and will begin celebrating its centennial next month.

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No matter the qualifications to its title, hitting 100 is still quite an achievement for any business. To mark the occasion, KLM threw a huge party in Hangar 10 at its home hub of Amsterdam Schipol.

History and (Tiny) Houses

Courtesy of KLM

Dubbed, “The KLM Experience,” the airline installed interactive exhibits and booths showcasing KLM’s history, some of its partnerships, including with footwear brand Asics and liquor house Bols Genever, as well as virtual-reality flight and safety demos to celebrate the anniversary. Thousands of the airline’s staff visited the hangar over the course of several days to take part in the festivities.

There was even a large model of the Flying-V, a conceptual, energy-efficient aircraft KLM is helping Delft University of Technology design in an effort to make the airline industry more sustainable.

The anniversary party itself was capped off by the unveiling of the airline’s hundredth miniature Delft Blue House to a crowd of KLM aficionados. Like the others in the airline’s collection, this beautiful souvenir was modeled on an actual historical building in the Netherlands – the Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague. It was built in the 17th century, and is the residence of King Willem-Alexander and his family today.

Much of the event, including question-and-answer sessions with Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith and KLM CEO Pieter Elbers, were a look toward the airline’s future. However, the celebration was also a proud reflection on the company’s storied past and its distinctly Dutch heritage. The airline even released a new book Welcome Aboard – 100 years of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines showcasing milestones from the past century.

Fun Flight Facts

KLM stands for “Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij,” which means “Royal Aviation Company” in Dutch. The airline gets the royal treatment because although it was first incorporated on October 7, 1919, it was actually granted a royal designation a month earlier by Queen Wilhelmina.

The airline was originally funded by a group of Dutch businessmen who raised 1.2 million Dutch guilders, the equivalent of around $500,000 today.

KLM’s first flight took place May 17, 1920, from London to Amsterdam in a modified De Havilland DH-9B World War I bomber.

Courtesy of KLM

Only four years later, the airline launched its first intercontinental route – from Amsterdam to Jakarta – on a Fokker VII plane with just three passengers aboard. The journey took a total of 55 days including 21 stops — making long layovers today seem like a breeze.

In 1935, KLM began employing flight attendants – both male and female – to assist with passenger safety and service.

KLM’s operations were interrupted by World War II, but it was the first European airline to relaunch flights from Europe to the U.S. with service from Amsterdam to New York that began on May 21, 1946, a route that still continues to this day.

KLM was the first airline to create an in-flight magazine, the Holland Herald, back in 1966, long before the days of in-flight entertainment systems.

Courtesy of KLM

The airline truly remains a royal company since King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has been a KLM pilot for over 20 years. He is currently certified on Boeing 737s. He flies about twice a month and has been spotted in the cockpit on a flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul.

Although the airline industry has recently come under increasing fire for its environmental impact, KLM has launched several sustainability initiatives over the years. During its 100th anniversary celebrations, the carrier announced it would invest in the construction of a new sustainable aviation fuel plant in the city of Delfzijl that is expected to be operational by 2022. Next time you fly, be sure to look more closely at the cabin carpeting in business class – it was made from recycled flight attendant uniforms.

Today, the airline has a fleet of over 200 planes. It carried 34 million passengers last year, just about half the folks that passed through the Netherlands via air.

Want to see more about KLM’s 100-year history? You can check out the site the airline created specifically to celebrate the milestone.