The world’s oldest airline took to the sky on 17 May 1920 flying from London to Amsterdam. The Dutch carrier grew swiftly (for the times) and by 1929 they were flying the world’s longest route, to Indonesia, then a Dutch colony. Services to America began when a route to Curacao in the Caribbean was launched in 1934. In WWII KLM continued flying Caribbean services from Dutch colonies in the Antilles while the Germans overran Holland and the Japanese controlled Indonesia. KLM aircraft operated the Lisbon – London route under British colours during the war. Following peace, KLM bounced back quickly and in 1946 launched flights to New York. In 1958 KLM commenced flights to Tokyo. By 1980 the Dutch flag carrier was one of the great airlines in aviation flying to all continents and investing heavily in the newest jets. In 1986 KLM and America’s Northwest formed an alliance which coordinated operations as a measure to remain competitive and in 1995 KLM purchased a major slice of Kenya Airways. Competition resulting from deregulation, together with no-frill operators on one side and luxury carriers on the other, began to chip away at KLM’s market share in the 1990’s so in 2003 they merged with Air France. The airline has maintained the same stylish logo since 1961 and was involved in the world’s worst aviation incident in 1977.
KLM’s flight attendants are usually middle aged multi lingual and have seen it all. They are dressed in a pleasantly sophisticated uniform and perform their tasks with a degree of familiarity that makes them appear born into the job. KLM’s crew are the type you might want around in an emergency but they are not exactly the friendliest of staff. Crew maintain an aloofness and sometimes a superiority complex over the passengers. However a flight is a pleasant experience and if you meet crew in the galley they are chatty and happy to advise.
KLM was truly one of aviations greatest airlines in its 1970’s heyday but has retreated from unprofitable routes. However with their partner Air France they have now re-established dominance, especially in Europe, North America and Africa. KLM, through its subsidiaries can often provide the best links. KLM’s services to many smaller UK and European cities mean flying from Norwich in England to Chicago or Sydney is best by KLM, for example. KLM also cooperate with Malaysia Airlines to cover the Asia/Pacific region more comprehensively. Transiting through Amsterdam’s super efficient airport is a pleasant experience. You can rest assure your baggage will arrive, which cannot be said for London or New York.
KLM is a mid priced airline. They are unable and unwilling to match the unreliable discount carriers of Europe but provide a far superior service so they do represent reasonable value. However, on many long distance legs they compete against new Arab airlines which represent better overall value.
European and American passengers accustomed to opening their wallet to buy junk snacks on board will be pleasantly relieved when their nicely presented KLM meal is served to them by a smiling flight attendant. Short flights include hot drinks, juice and snacks while long distance flights service generously sized TV style dinners which will satisfy, served with alcohol. Meals have a ‘mass-made’ look and taste about them, but are quite OK as is their coffee.
KLM has always tried to appeal to a global market, not just Holland’s. Its entertainment system, which includes individual video on demand seat back units in all larger jets, is varied and multi-lingual. The emphasis is on European languages but Asian languages are covered too on Asian routes. The airline’s in-flight magazine, Holland-Herald, is one the best in the sky and well worth keeping for its professional journalism, interesting articles and outstanding photography. It can also be read on-line. Premium classes enjoy bigger TV screens with better resolution.
KLM provides profession ground services. Wherever possible they steer passengers towards their self service kiosks which dot European airports while their check-in counters are generally efficient and impersonal. Baggage allowances can be strictly enforced but most check-in agents turn a blind eye to a few extra kilo’s of luggage. Passengers transiting to smaller European destinations will be glad they booked KLM when they arrive with their bags in good condition at their final destination without the hassle of extra ‘security’ messages in-between. Travel Insurance should be considered as an option rather than a necessity on KLM.
KLM’s premium product is designed for business people who travel frequently. It is not luxurious, it is just a better level of standard. KLM has World Business Class on long haul flights with lie flat beds while short distance routes have Europe Business Class with less trappings. Essentially it is Economy with a spare seat in the middle and it barely seems worth it. KLM’s meal service in Business Class can be disappointing especially when compared to Arab or Asian airlines. Although nice, meals still feel like they have come from an industrial sized kitchen, rather than a restaurant. The airline’s Crown Lounges are pleasant but are often crowded and resemble an up-market hotel foyer.
KLM’s main European competitors are no-frills carriers while long haul routes they challenge other legacy airlines, which they are comparable to. Cabin interiors are cool, service is fine, meals are adequate, baggage allowance standard, but the airline is efficient. If anything goes wrong KLM will take care of you where others will leave you stranded. KLM is worth paying extra for, for this reason.
KLM belongs to one of the world’s best frequent flyer programs; Flying Blue. This loyalty scheme covers several airlines, including Air France, Kenya Airways, Aircalin and is also recognised by numerous other carriers, hotels and travel industry service providers. Flying Blue points can be earned in many ways and also redeemed for much more than upgrades. Flying Blue is the most useful frequent flying card for SkyTeam’s many airlines and will come in handy the world over.
KLM is an efficiently run company without delusions of grandeur and operates in a very socially minded environment where corruption and conflict are unacceptable. However KLM’s management have chosen to be involved in illegal price fixing cartels with negative consequences for the company. Dutch employees are typically highly intelligent and don’t respond well to being told what to do by bosses who seldom have more experience than the staff. KLM’s corporate structure is flatter than other airlines and does not seem to have multiple layers of middle management doing nothing useful.
Unsurprisingly the world’s oldest airline also has a long list of aviation incidents, including the history’s worst accident in the Canary Islands, but rarely can any blame be laid at the foot of KLM’s door. KLM has a history of maintaining their aircraft to the highest of standards and employing top notch pilots and crew. Famous Dutch thrift does not stretch to cutting maintenance budgets.
The world’s oldest airline doing a good job at meeting the challenges of competition by providing good service at a reasonable price.
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