Operating under the name KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, was founded on 7 October 1919 by Albert Plesman, making KLM the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name.
Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. is the original name given, which roughly translated to English, means Royal Airline Company.
In 1919, a young aviator lieutenant named Albert Plesman sponsored the ELTA aviation exhibition in Amsterdam. Over half a million people attended the exhibition and when the event was closed, several Dutch companies nominated Plesman to establish a Dutch airline.
In September 1919, Queen Wilhelmina awarded the yet-to-be-founded KLM its “Royal” predicate. A few weeks later in October, eight Dutch businessmen, founded KLM as one of the first commercial airline companies in the world. Plesman was appointed administrator and director.
The first KLM flight took place on 17 May 1920, when KLM’s first pilot, Henry (Jerry) Shaw, flew from London’s Croydon Airport to Amsterdam, carrying two British journalists and a number of newspapers. The aircraft was a leased De Havilland DH-16, registration G-EALU, named “Arras”.
In the first year of operations, KLM carried 440 passengers and 22 tons of freight. In 1921 KLM started scheduled services. Aircraft were predominately Fokker F.II and F.III models.
KLM’s first intercontinental flight took off on 1 October 1924, final destination being Jakarta, Java in the Dutch East Indies, using a Fokker F.VII.
During the Second World War, KLM was restricted operating over France and Germany and many of its aircraft were painted in overall orange to limit the potential for confusion with military aircraft. Operations were still carried out in the Dutch Antilles, Caribbean.
During the war, KLM flew scheduled passenger flights between Bristol and Lisbon under BOAC flight numbers and registrations. KLM lost two DC-3’s to enemy fire, one by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, and the other to the German Luftwaffe.
After the war, in August 1945, KLM immediately started to rebuild its network, using two engine DC-3’s and four engine DC-4s. On 21 May 1946, KLM was the first continental European airline to start scheduled transatlantic flights between Amsterdam and New York City.
The four-engine turboprop Vickers Viscount 800 was introduced on European routes in 1957. In September 1959, KLM introduced the four-engine Lockheed L-188 turboprop onto some of its European and Middle Eastern routes.
The first jet service was introduced in March 1960, using a Douglas DC-8. As part of its development of a worldwide network, KLM acquired a 20% stake in Northwest Airlines in July 1989.
On 30 September 2003, Air France and KLM agreed to a merger plan. Both airlines would retain their own brands, the key difference being both Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport becoming major hubs. In April 2004, an exchange offer in which KLM shareholders exchanged their KLM shares for Air France shares took place. Since 5 May 2004, Air France–KLM has been listed on the Euronext stock exchanges in Paris, Amsterdam and New York.
In 2019, KLM celebrated its centennial, as it was founded in 1919. Since it is the oldest airline still operating under its original name, it was the first airline to achieve this feat.
As of September 2018, KLM’s fleet included 120 airliners, mostly Boeing aircraft, with approximately 32 000 employees. In 2021, KLM had 35 488 staff members. The fleet was reduced to 110 aircraft, excluding subsidiaries.
The two year COVID-19 pandemic heavily affected KLM, forcing the airline to cut at least 6 000 jobs in total.
Unfortunately, history also remembers KLM for the world’s worst airline accident at Los Rodeos Airport, Tenerife. On 27 March 1977, 583 people died when a KLM Boeing 747-200B attempted to take off without proper clearance and collided with a taxiing PanAm Boeing 747-100. The accident is still recorded as the highest number of airliner passenger fatalities ever.
KLM is headquartered in Amstelveen, with its hub at nearby Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport,
operating scheduled passenger and cargo services to 145 destinations.