MIAMI – KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL) is celebrating its 101st birthday today. The flag carrier of the Netherlands is the world’s oldest airline still operating under its original name. It reached a significant milestone last year when it turned 100 years old.

Earlier this morning, KLM gave a ‘thanks’ to its customers and employees for their continuous support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline has had to cut thousands of jobs and is suffering from major financial loss. “Let’s weather this storm together and do not forget that, even above the darkest clouds, the sun still shines,” KLM reassures.

A Brief History

KLM was founded on October 7, 1919, by a group of investors. Queen Wilhelmina designated the airline as “royal” to confirm the growing importance of civil aviation after World War I (WWI). The first flight was operated by an Airco DH.16 biplane from London to Amsterdam on May 17, 1920. Jerry Shaw piloted the aircraft which carried two journalists as passengers.

In 1930, KLM went transatlantic when it sent a Fokker F.XVIII to the Caribbean. The aircraft departed Amsterdam, made a stop in Curaçao, and continued on to Aruba. Cabin Crew were introduced on flights five years later. Initially, only men were hired, but the airline later chose to also include women.

The commencement of World War II (WWII) put a pause on KLM’s operations until 1945. Routes to the United States and eventually Japan were opened after the war ended. By the late 1950s, the dawn of the Jet Age had arrived, and jet-powered airliners were taking to the skies. KLM took delivery of its first jetliner, a Douglas DC-8, on March 25, 1960.

The airline expanded to cargo operations in 1975 with the Boeing 747 Combi. It continued to grow its fleet and network throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Partnerships with other airlines were forming, a customer loyalty program was created, and subsidiary airlines were launching. At the turn of the century, KLM had become one of the most successful airlines in the world.

KLM’s first jet-powered aircraft, the Douglas DC-8. Photo: Kurt Finger via Wikimedia

The Future of KLM

Today, KLM employs over 35,000 people and operates over 100 aircraft to 145 different destinations. It has merged with Air France (AF) to create the Air France-KLM Group and is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and Amsterdam Airport Schipol (AMS) serve as its main hubs.

Despite its success, the future of KLM is in jeopardy. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the airline. If it does not continue to reduce costs, it will not be able to ensure its own survival. In addition to the job cuts, KLM (along with AF) has had to accelerate the retirement of its older and less efficient aircraft.

The airline recently submitted a restructuring plan to the Netherlands Ministry of Finance. This is an important step in its goal to obtain a loan from the government. KLM has described the pandemic as its “worst crisis” in its 101 years of operation.

Featured image: Liam Funnell