SAN FRANCISCO — Growing up in a major metropolitan area, I was fortunate to have lived in the city center near many airline ticket offices. Strolling by, I always asked my parents to stop at the window so I can admire the models and posters on display inside.

I did not realize it at the time, but it was an indoctrination to the industry that we all love. Malaysian Airlines (MAS) and Korean Air (KAL) – they were not meaningless letters; I looked on a map and learned they flew to Malaysia and Korea.  They were an educational insight to the world outside of my own.

The ability to purchase airline tickets from the comfort of one’s home computer rendered city ticket offices useless.  With their demise also ended the de facto free publicity associated with it.  With the Internet’s constant bombardment of advertising, it is difficult to standout and be recognized in a crowded market.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has a problem.  In a brand study, a lot of American consumers do not know what KLM is.  Most think that the acronym of the Dutch flag carrier is a radio station!  This is a determent for the world’s oldest airline that still operates with its original name.

Eric Caron, Vice President and General Manager USA for Air France-KLM exclaimed, “it is very scary for us.”  Even in New York and San Francisco “the brand is not as known as one could expect.” Investment had to be made at strategic cities.

To build brand awareness, KLM created a fun online campaign called  Via a microsite and a four-part video, the campaign “states the obvious” as the humor vehicle to make the brand memorable.  Thoroughly funny (especially the “It’s a Flight Attendant” episode) and American market-centric, KLM staff noted that their Europeans colleagues really do not get the humor.

Focusing on growing both the New York and San Francisco markets, KLM opened their second “pop up shop” this week in San Francisco near Union Square, a high-end, high-foot-traffic shopping district in the city.  The airline hopes to continue the success of their first pop up in New York, opened for three days in June in Downtown Manhattan.

The mission of the pop up is to raise awareness, to showcase the airline’s service and amenities, allowing visitors to experience them first hand.  It is something a billboard or a visit to the website cannot accomplish.  The idea is once the consumer knows the brand, they will love the product, and can then become loyal to the airline.

KLM created different focus areas in the pop up: product, network, kids, social media, and sustainability.  After checking in, visitors receive a RFID bracelet and they are encouraged to tap their bracelet at every area for a chance to win a pair of roundtrip tickets to Amsterdam on KLM.

In the product area, visitors can experience a virtual reality tour of the 787 Dreamliner as well a trying out a World Business Class seat.  At 6 feet 9 inches long – the airline claims it is one of the longest lie-flat seats in the industry – in order to accommodate the Dutch, who are generally tall people.

An airline is more than its product.  Mr. Caron emphasized a goal of the pop up is to show the airlines’ embodiment of friendliness:  the feeling of “at home” across all touchpoints while on travel: at the airport, on board, and while using social media.

KLM is the first airline to use Facebook Messenger for customer service support.  There are more than 230 agents available 24/7 worldwide answering requests in 13 languages.  Pieter Elbers, KLM President and CEO said, “we believe we should be where our customers are and therefore Messenger and KLM are a good fit.”  By using a platform customers are more comfortable with, KLM saw a 40% increase in customer support cases last year after they activated Messenger on their Facebook page.

KLM is proud to say they are performing concrete actions for environmental sustainability.  At the pop up, visitors can see a fascinating display where used uniforms are recycled into aircraft carpeting.  Air France-KLM won Dow Jones Sustainability Index in the airline category for 12 years in a row.

In September, KLM, biofuel refinery AltAir, and fuel supplier SkyNRG signed a three-year agreement to provide biofuel on all flights between Los Angeles and Amsterdam. The indoctrination of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner – with its reduced fuel consumption and reduction of emissions – is also part of the airline’s commitment to sustainability.

KLM is expanding its reach throughout the United States from its hub in Amsterdam.  This year, the airline increased capacity at Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).  Flights to Salt Lake City (SLC) started in May, supplementing existing service with Skyteam partner Delta Air Lines.  KLM will launch Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP) in March next year, again supplementing existing service on Delta.  The airline is also restarting flights to Miami (MIA) at the end of this month.

Visiting the Pop Up

The KLM Pop Up in San Francisco is open through Saturday, October 22.  Hours are 11 am to 5 pm.  It is located at 445A Sutter Street, one block away from Union Square.  Pre-registration at is not required though it will make the check-in process faster.

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