History of KLM
KLM is the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name. Want to learn something about the airline’s history? Here, you’ll find all the answers.
12 September 1919
Queen Wilhelmina bestows the predicate “Royal” upon the fledgling company, thereby confirming the growing importance of the civil aviation industry soon after the First World War. It is unique for an organisation to be designated “Royal” immediately upon opening.
7 October 1919
Establishment of the “Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij voor Nederland en Koloniën” (Royal Dutch Airlines for the Netherlands and Colonies). The founders are a consortium of investors: Cornelis van Aalst, President of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij, Frits Fentener van Vlissingen of Unitas, Anton Kröller of the Rotterdam-based ore trading and shipping company Wm. H. Muller & Co, Jean Marie Telders of the Twentsche Bank, Willem Westerman of the Rotterdamsche Bank Vereniging, Nicolaas van Wijk of the Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij, Edgar Fuld signed on behalf of bankers Lippmann, Rosenthal & Co, and Hendrik Colijn of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Vereniging voor Luchtvaart (KNVVL). Van den Bergh van Heemstede signed on behalf of the latter. Albert Plesman is asked to assume day-to-day management of the new company and is appointed KLM’s administrator.
17 May 1920
First KLM flight operated. Pilot Jerry Shaw flies a leased De Havilland DH-16 from London to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. On board are 2 journalists, a letter from the Mayor of London to his Amsterdam counterpart, and a stack of newspapers.
4 April 1921
After a winter break, KLM resumes service with its own pilots and 2 aircraft, a Fokker F-II and F-III. The purchase of these aircraft marks the beginning of longstanding ties between KLM and Fokker, which will continue (with some gaps) until 2017, when the last Fokker 70 left the KLM fleet.
9 May 1921
Opening of the first KLM ticket office on Leidseplein in Amsterdam, the first of its kind in the world. From this office, passengers travel by omnibus to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. What remains of KLM’s presence at this location is the advertisement on the roof of the building at the corner of Leidseplein and Leidsestraat.
The first animal transport. The young stud bull Nico V is the first of many animals to be transported by KLM.
1 October 1924
Departure of the first intercontinental (test) flight from Amsterdam to Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Operated by a Fokker F-VII, registered H-NACC. One of KLM’s main objectives is to make the Dutch colonies more accessible, as indicated in the airline’s full name: Royal Dutch Airlines for the Netherlands and Colonies.
25 September 1930
Start of regular service between Amsterdam and Batavia. Before the Second World War, this was the world’s longest scheduled air service. Service was expanded steadily from once a week to 3 times a week.
20-24 October 1934
The Douglas DC-2 Uiver (Stork) wins first prize in the handicap category (carrying passengers and cargo) of the London-to-Melbourne air race. Captain Koene Dirk Parmentier, co-pilot Jan Moll, flight engineer Bouwe Prins, and flight telegraph operator Cornelis van Brugge fly to Australia in 3 days, 18 hours and 17 minutes, carrying 3 passengers and 191 kilos of mail on board. The Uiver, KLM’s first all-metal aircraft, joined the fleet shortly before the race.
15 December 1934
KLM operates its first transatlantic flight with the legendary Fokker F-XVIII Snip (Snipe) from Amsterdam to Curacao and onward to Aruba. The purpose of the flight is to bring equipment to the Caribbean to set up KLM’s “Dutch West Indies Company.” The aircraft is stripped of its interior to accommodate extra fuel tanks.
Technically, it is not yet possible to make a crossing of this distance with a normal configuration and passengers. Captain J.J. Hondong, co-pilot J.J. van Balkom, radio operator and second navigator S. van der Molen, and flight engineer L.D. Stolk complete the journey in 7 days, 19 hours and 20 minutes. On 19 January, the aircraft is ready begin operating regular service between Aruba and Curacao, marking the official launch of KLM’s West Indies Company.
Cabin crew make an entrance. At first, KLM employs men only as stewards, but they soon followed by a group of women, the stewardesses. Cabin crew replaces the flight engineer, who had previously combined passenger care with his customary tasks. Cabin crew are primarily responsible for safety on board, but also look after the passengers, of course. This has remained unchanged to date.
KLM resumes operations after the Second World War, starting with domestic routes, but adding several European destinations later that year. On 28 November, KLM reopens the line between Amsterdam and Indonesia, with multiple stops in the Near and Far East along the way.
21 May 1946
KLM initiates service between Amsterdam and New York, with the Douglas DC-4 Rotterdam. This marks the start of a shift in network focus away from the east towards new destinations in the west. This is largely driven by economic factors in combination with the increasing operating range of new aircraft. Even today, KLM’s transatlantic network is of major importance. Back in 1946, KLM was the first European airline to operate flights between the European Continent and America.
1 April 1958
KLM introduces Economy Class based on IATA guidelines. This class is a more austere version of Tourist Class, but here too KLM aims to ensure the highest possible standard of service. This step makes flying accessible for an even larger group of people. Within 3 months, passenger figures increase by 27%.
1 November 1958
Opening of the Amsterdam-Tokyo line via the North Pole, operated by the Douglas DC-7 Caraïbische Zee (Caribbean Sea). This polar route is a lot shorter than the route over land to Tokyo, first operated in December 1951. Crew are specially trained to work on this route and special provisions are made, including polar survival suits.
25 March 1960
The dawn of the Jet Age at KLM, with the arrival of the Douglas DC-8, PH-DCA Albert Plesman at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. This narrow-body aircraft, powered by 4 jet engines, substantially reduces flying time as well as the number of intermediate landings required. This new development leads to a major change in civil aviation. It now takes hours to reach a destination, instead of days. The new aircraft is deployed on the New York route, which means flying time is reduced by half.
12 September 1966
The Nederlandse Luchtvaart Maatschappij (NLM, Netherlands Airline Company) is established and later renamed NLM Cityhopper, breathing new life into KLM’s domestic network, which briefly reopened after the war and later closed once more. The focus is on rapidly ferrying business passengers to and from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The new airline also operates airborne excursions to familiarise people with flying, hoping to attract new passengers.
28 April 1967
KLM starts operating out of its new home base at Schiphol-Centrum. The airport’s original design, with its characteristic tangential runways, is conceived by “stationmaster” Jan Dellaert. The aim of this design is to ensure that flights can always land, despite the notoriously shifting winds over the Netherlands. Passenger and ground handling are separated from one another, with passengers leaving the aircraft via the aviobridge, while ground handling takes place down below.
31 January 1971
KLM’s first Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUA Mississippi, arrives at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, marking the advent of the wide-body age at KLM. This aircraft can carry 353 passengers, which is a whole lot more than KLM’s biggest aircraft at the time, the DC-8, which could carry between 130 and 175 passengers. Ground operations are adjusted accordingly and the pier is altered to accommodate this large aircraft. KLM cabin crew are specially trained to ensure that they can serve all passengers during the course of a flight. On 14 February 1971, the PH-BUA operates its first commercial flight to New York.
16 October 1975
The first Boeing 747-306B Combi joins the KLM fleet, marking an important milestone KLM’s cargo operations. In the preceding years, overcapacity was a problem in the air cargo market and this new arrival ensured greater flexibility, improving KLM’s competitive edge.
KLM acquires a 20% share in the US carrier Northwest Airlines. This is seen as an important step towards developing a globe-spanning network in partnership with Northwest Airlines.
The US Department of Transport grants KLM and Northwest Airlines antitrust immunity, allowing them to intensify cooperation. This marks the start of a strategic partnership that has been perpetuated with Air France and Delta Air Lines, which purchased Northwest.
All KLM and Northwest Airlines flights between Europe and the US are operated as part of the joint venture.
1 April 1991
The new regional airline KLM Cityhopper is established by merging NLM Cityhopper and NetherLines.
KLM doubles its stake in charter airline Transavia from 40% to 80%.
1 January 1992
KLM launched the Flying Dutchman customer loyalty programme, the first of its kind on the European mainland. Nowadays the programme is called “Flying Blue”, but the magazine is still called Flying Dutchman.
KLM and Northwest Airlines introduce “World Business Class” (WBC), a new class targeting business travellers on intercontinental flights. In terms of comfort and service, WBC struck a balance between Economy Class and Royal Class.
29 June 1996
KLM’s first flight to Beijing. This is the first step towards serving a number of destinations in China, as well as forging partnerships with Chinese airlines. China is to become one of KLM’s most important markets.
Air UK becomes a wholly-owned KLM subsidiary.
KLM and Northwest Airlines sign a long-term commercial and operational partnership. KLM simultaneously sells back its stake in Northwest to its partner.
25 October 2003
KLM’s first Boeing 777-200R touches down at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and begins operating flights to Cape Town, Nairobi and New York. The aircraft has the same capacity as a Boeing 747, but flies on 2 engines instead of 4. It is also significantly less noisy and more fuel efficient.
5 May 2004
Official establishment of the Air France-KLM Group. On this day, Air France redeems the terms of its share offer, thus completing the merger between Air France and KLM. The airlines decided to join forces more than 7 months earlier, in September 2003.
KLM, Northwest and Continental join SkyTeam, an international alliance of airlines that includes Air France, Delta Air Lines, Alitalia, Korean Air, CSA Czech Airlines and Aéro Mexico as new members. By 2018, SkyTeam has 19 members worldwide, with its own lounges and check-in lanes for premium passengers at 1,000 airports.
Air France-KLM introduces its new joint loyalty programme for frequent flyers called “Flying Blue”. This is the first time in history that 2 European airlines combine their loyalty programmes – exclusive service packages aimed at loyal customers.
25 August 2005
Aircraft manufacturer Airbus delivers the first A330 to KLM, effectively replacing the Boeing 767, which is subsequently phased out.
Air France-KLM is listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the first time, maintaining a leading position until 2016. The index was first established in 1999 and assesses listed companies based on their sustainability, policy and financial performance.
Sustainability has been an official component of KLM’s policy since 1996. The first sustainability report was published for the 1996/1997 financial year. Initially known as the environmental report, it became the sustainability report in 2002/2003, focusing on a far broader range of issues. Sustainability policy not only addresses emissions and noise nuisance, but also reviews the airline’s position in society and good employment practices.
KLM becomes the world’s first airline to introduce the self-service transfer kiosk, enabling passengers transferring at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to swiftly and simply print new boarding passes.
KLM enters into a new partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the Netherlands to reach concrete agreements on reducing CO2 emissions, as well as joining forces to spread the word that business – including airline operations – can be conducted differently. This partnership is seen as the crown on KLM’s previous efforts in the field of sustainability, earning KLM the status of best-in-class in energy-efficient flight across all major international airlines.
30 March 2008
The Open Skies Agreement takes effect. For the first time, airlines can fly from anywhere in Europe to the US and vice versa. KLM has always been in favour of an agreement of this kind.
23 May 2008
The US Department of Transport grants KLM, Air France, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines antitrust immunity, which means the 4 airlines can streamline their transatlantic operations and tailor them to meet the needs of their customers. This enables the partners to more effectively utilise the benefits of the Open Skies Agreement.
2 June 2008
KLM issues its last paper ticket. From then on, KLM will issue e-tickets only. This initiative is driven by the need to cut back on paper and achieve efficiency gains.
31 December 2008
KLM assumed full ownership of Martinair, which operates its last passenger flight for special guests and staff on 31 October 2011. This marks the end of 53 years of passenger operations for the airline. From this moment on, Martinair has focused solely on cargo transport in cooperation with KLM and Air France.
30 March 2010
KLM operates its last flight with a Fokker 50, bidding a fond farewell to its last turboprop aircraft.
30 June 2011
The first scheduled flight powered by biofuel is operated to Paris. In 2007, KLM joins hands a number of partners seeking alternatives to fossil fuel. Co-founded by KLM, SkyNRG conducts research in this field.
Over the years, various alternatives are considered, including biofuel from algae, Camelina (a plant), Jatropa oil (a nut extract) and, ultimately, used cooking oil. One of the preconditions for biofuel feedstock is that it should have no negative impact the food chain, nor should it negatively impact nature in any other way.
8 March 2013
KLM operates its first intercontinental flights powered by biofuel to New York.
29 May 2013
KLM operates its first test flight with WiFi on board.
30 April 2014
KLM Cityhopper welcomes the new Embraer E190 with modified livery. All aircraft types operated by KLM are subsequently given this livery
11 November 2015
KLM bids farewell to the remarkable McDonnell Douglas MD-11, after operating 3 special flights over the Netherlands for fans of this aircraft.
14 November 2015
KLM welcomes its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. This aircraft ushers in a new phase in KLM’s vigorous programme of fleet renewal. The Dreamliner’s fuselage consists largely of a composite material that is lighter than the usual aluminium sheet metal and less susceptible to damage. The aircraft comes with WiFi on board as a standard feature. What’s more, it boasts larger windows, lower cabin pressure and special LED lighting ensuring enhanced passenger comfort.
Powered by highly efficient engines, the Dreamliner uses up to 30% less fuel. All KLM Dreamliners are named after flowers, the very first Dreamliner is named Carnation.
29 October 2017
KLM operates the last commercial flight with a Fokker 70. The phasing out of the Fokker 70 marks the end of an era in which KLM operated planes produced by this Dutch manufacturer.
14 March 2019
Together with other aviation pioneers GKN Fokker and the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR), KLM celebrates the centenary of Dutch aviation at the EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam. At this location, precisely 100 years ago, the First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam (ELTA) was held. During the event, speakers looked back on 100 years of Dutch aviation and forward to a sustainable future. King Willem Alexander was on hand to mint a special commemorative coin, and the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management was presented with a special series of aviation postage stamps.