On October 7th we will celebrate a century of Royal Dutch Airlines. A great moment to look back and ahead. What have we achieved in the last 100 years? And above all, what great things does the future hold? For now, we start at the beginning. The first steward, the first jet, the first passenger… there is a first time for everything. Things that are now everyday events had to start somewhere. These are 8 first-timers for KLM.
1. The First Steward and Stewardess
In 1935 KLM formalised the position of steward. The first “attendant” (using the genteel Dutch word hofmeester) to fill the position at KLM was Theo Boyeng, who had experience in the international hotel world and, later, in shipping. Boyeng applied for the job at KLM in 1935. He was one of three attendants to be employed that year at KLM, alongside four stewardesses.
One of the first “air hostesses,” as the function was then known, was Nel de Vrieze. “No fewer than 300 people were invited to apply,” she said in an interview. Following the first selection, there were twenty candidates left. “During a flight in a Fokker, we were tested for our ability to respond to different situations. Later, on the ground, we were subject to another psychological test.”
2. The First KLM Flight
The first KLM flight ever actually didn’t depart from our home base Amsterdam but flew from London to Schiphol in a leased aircraft. On 17 May 1920 English pilot H. “Jerry” Shaw landed the De Havilland DH.16 G-EALU at Schiphol.
3. The First Dutch Passenger
The return flight from Schiphol to London carried cargo and newspapers as well as two journalists and a letter from Amsterdam’s Mayor Tellegen to his counterpart in London. One was M.J. van den Biggelaar of De Maasbode, published in Rotterdam, who wrote an extensive account of the event.
4. The First KLM Jet
Late in the 1950s, civil aviation stood on the eve of an unparalleled age. The advent of the jet engine allowed aircraft to increase in size and speed. KLM’s first jet aircraft was the DC-8 which was introduced on the Amsterdam-New York route in 1960.
Compared to the DC-7 and Super Constellation, the Boeing 707 and DC-8 were able to carry almost twice as many passengers and twice as much cargo while reducing travel time on the North Atlantic route by half.
5. The First Wide-Body Aircraft
Shortly after the new Schiphol airport opened in April 1967, KLM decided to acquire the Boeing 747 to cater for all the travellers it expected to transport to their destinations in the 1970s. On 31 January 1971, KLM took delivery of PH-BUA, dubbed the Mississippi.
The 747 was an exceptional aircraft for its day with space for 353 passengers. In the KLM fleet, it was a huge leap forward compared to the largest aircraft KLM was operating at that time. It had a variety of consequences for handling, crew, maintenance and catering. Schiphol Airport also had to adjust. All in all, it took several years to prepare for the arrival of the 747.
6. The First KLM Head Office
It consisted of just three rooms in a building at number 13 Herengracht in The Hague. The administrative director, Albert Plesman, moved in with a staff of three on 1 November 1919.
KLM maintained its Herengracht offices until 1925, by which time it had expanded so much that it needed new premises, which it found on the Hofweg, also in The Hague. KLM only moved into its hypermodern offices in March of 1971, shortly after celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. It is continues to be KLM’s headquarters up to the present day.
7. The First Transatlantic Flight
On 15 December 1934 a very special flight departed from Schiphol. At ten minutes past midnight, the triple-engine Fokker F-XVIII Snip, registration PH-AIS, took off with a four-man crew. Their final destination was the Antillean island of Aruba. To get there they would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They would be the first KLM crew to do so, opening transatlantic service to the Dutch colonies in “the West”. The journey was a true adventure, not least because the last and longest leg of the voyage went over sea. It was thrilling endeavour, which had taken several years to prepare for.
8. The First Designer
Since the 1940s and ’50s KLM has made a tradition of seeking out renowned designers and making use of their talents and insights. The first was glass designer Andries Copier. In the late 1940s, plastic utensils were not as popular as they are now. In fact, Bakelite was the only form of plastic in common use. It was most popular for telephones and light switches. In 1948, when KLM came out with a new line of tableware, they put a new form of plastic, Melamine, to use. The tableware was designed by Copier, once chief of the design studio of Royal Leerdam Crystal.