Meet Martin, Our Man in Mexico

Carrying a thermos full of coffee – “You never know when you’ll find time around here” – station manager Martin van de Pol strides through the airport, giving a high-five to a gate agent here, shaking hands with a lounge manager there. Join him on a tour of one of the most dynamic destinations in the Air France KLM network: Mexico.

Martin vd Pol station manager Mexico

Our plane was struck by lightning as we were coming in. Does that happen often?

The rainy season in Mexico runs from May to November. Thunderstorms are heaviest in the late afternoon, which is precisely when the KLM and Air France flights land here. So it’s not uncommon for flights to be struck by lightning on the way in. It’s not a problem and not at all dangerous, but protocol dictates that the aircraft should undergo a visual inspection during daylight hours. A ground engineer looks for the spots where the lightning entered and exited the aircraft. He’s actually looking for tiny holes and, because it’s almost dark, he has to hurry, otherwise the aircraft has to be grounded. So he’s under a bit of pressure.

What makes the airport here special?

Apart from the fact that the weather can play a major role, the airport is located at an altitude of 2,300 metres and is flanked by high mountain ranges and an active volcano, Mount Popocatepetl. The Boeing 747, with its four engines, is the ideal aircraft for this destination. The air is thinner at this altitude, so an aircraft fully loaded with passengers and cargo needs quite a bit of power to take off; you need to pick up a lot of speed in a short time. This makes the Boeing 747 the ideal option.

Other aircraft like the Boeing 777 and 787 are perfectly capable of doing this, of course, but they are slightly more vulnerable at this airport’s altitude, because they have only two engines.

We already have to do a bit of puzzling when we’re loading the 747, and sometimes we decide to leave a pallet behind because the take-off weight is too heavy.

arrival KLM mexico airport

Leave cargo behind because the plane might be too heavy? How exactly does that work?

When temperatures cool, the density factor of fuel decreases, which means it gets lighter. One degree cooler means we can carry 1.5 tonnes more cargo. But the converse also applies: if it gets 2 degrees warmer than predicted, we have to take pallets out of the belly.

The trick is to make sure we don’t take on too much cargo and allow for a bigger margin, so that we can take temperature fluctuations into account. It’s better to depart on time than to have to offload cargo, but it’s always a question of finding the right balance.

Martin is a jack-of-all-trades. In the morning, he’ll be consulting with airport management about the construction of a gate, while the afternoon will see him rushing off to an electronics shop to buy a cable for the iPad on board. A varied job, to say the least.

What’s the most important part of your job?

As station manager, I need to ensure the best possible conditions for my people to do their work well. You could see it as an inverted pyramid. The people at the top are in contact with customers most, and I’m somewhere down at the bottom, trying to solve day-to-day problems, but also seeking to implement long-term solutions.

Martin vd Pol explaining something

Could you give us some idea of the dynamics?

It’s as if I’ve bought a ticket for a roller coaster than never stops. It drives my wife crazy sometimes. I don’t really have any time off. My schedule might say it’s my day off, but the phone doesn’t stop ringing.

Apart from my operational duties, I also have to do quite a lot of lobbying. If you don’t maintain good ties with the airport authorities, for instance, or with the lounge manager or local media, you won’t get very far here. The results are less important than maintaining those relationships. So I spend a lot of time meeting and visiting people, having lunches here and there, or chatting on Skype.

It must be pretty difficult for a Dutchman to get his foot in the door here in Mexico.

It was quite a challenge in the beginning, because I didn’t speak Spanish very well. But I did a five-day crash course and I’d spent a year in Havana, so I had a broad idea of what was going on in meetings and I could make a point if I’d prepared it properly. People listened carefully and spoke more slowly if they asked me a question, but that’s not very useful when you’re dealing with more complicated issues. It took me a year and a half to master the language.

Martin and his team in Mexico

Staff briefing and celebrating ‘Día de la Madre’ (Mothers Day). 

Do you work with station managers from the other airlines?

Commercially, we’re competitors, of course, and there’s a lot of rivalry when it comes to pricing. Sometimes the European airlines will team up to approach the authorities or airport management, because we’re stronger that way. And we assist each other operationally. I recently lent Lufthansa a spare wheel, for example. That meant their flight wasn’t grounded for the night. The great thing is that next time round, I can call on them if I need help. That’s the way it works.

People think it’s pretty romantic, working abroad. But is that so?

I can understand that. You’re an expat, living an adventurous life, which is true to a certain extent, but you also have to make sacrifices. We’ve had to give up quite a bit in terms of social contacts and freedoms. My two kids – I have a 14-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter – can’t just walk outside to go and play with friends. And our whole life revolves around my job. I’m always on duty, because everything is my responsibility.”

You’re responsible for handling 18 flights a week. Passenger flights operated by KLM and Air France, as well as cargo flight to Guadalajara. You’re in charge of 51-strong team that serves KLM as well as Air France.

Some say that Mexico is a classic example of Air France-KLM integration. Why is that?

Martin's team

Prior to the arrival of every flight, this team inspects the platform for tiny objects, much like a human vacuum cleaner. They need to be removed because they can get sucked into the engines.

Air France has been serving Mexico City since 1952, which is longer than any other European carrier. KLM has been flying to Mexico almost as long, and we integrated with Air France here in 2009. In the beginning, a lot of Air France staff saw KLM as a “different company”, whereas we wanted to display a sense of unity, particularly towards the passengers. I managed to speed up the unification process by giving all our staff an Air France uniform, as well as a KLM uniform. You are what you wear, after all! My team now display the Air France-KLM identity, which has now found its way into their mindset. I also taught our staff some handy Dutch words, such as goedendag, welkom and goede reis (good day, welcome and enjoy your flight). All in the interests of bridging differences.

Arrival A380 AIRFRANCE

It takes 110 people to handle the Air France A380.

How are Air France and KLM regarded in Mexico?

Air France used to serve Mexico with Concorde and is seen as a pioneer, chic and sophisticated. Because there are strong similarities between French and Mexican culture, they have a powerful brand reputation here.

KLM is also a well-known brand, partly because of last year’s “Adios Amigos” Facebook post and Tweet. That really helped put our name on everyone’s lips, though “helped” isn’t the right word…

That KLM post sparked a lot of uproar in Mexico, didn’t it? Could you tell us what happened?

That post went viral throughout Latin America, but in a negative way, as you know. At the time, I was in a café with my family, fully kitted out in orange, watching the football match between Mexico and Holland. Once word about the post started getting around, we didn’t dare go out in the street anymore. Our office got threats, we had KLM crews transported to and from the airport in busses with tinted windows, accompanied by extra security, who were also on hand at the hotel.

Locals sometimes still tell me: “No era penal” – that wasn’t a penalty. The post rubbed salt in that wound and the impact was huge. We apologised in a press release, but there was fallout from the incident for weeks afterwards.

Checking cargo Mexico airport

You refer to the airport as “a friendly hell”. What do you mean by that?

The people are incredibly friendly and helpful. That’s something you’ll experience when travelling in Mexico. But the airport is old and bursting at the seams. There’s no air-conditioning, for instance, and there’s actually too little capacity to handle the volume of passengers arriving and departing. That presents all sorts of problems.

The arrival of the Air France A380 was quite a challenge. How did that go?

Ha! I could write a book about that! We spent five years lobbying here to get landing rights for A380. We knew Air France was planning to phase out its Boeing 747s and that the A380 was the logical successor, because it has four engines.

Air France has 10 A380s, but they can’t just land anywhere. The airport has to be equipped to handle such a large, heavy aircraft. You need a runway that is wide enough, jetways that can connect to the doors on the upper and lower levels of the plane, and sufficient capacity to handle a sudden surge of passengers, because the plane has 516 seats.

Invest millions

In short, there was a lot to do. The government had to invest millions of dollars in the airport, even though it was just for one A380 flight a day. Things were complicated by the fact that a new airport is being built, which is scheduled to open in 2020. So there were doubts as to whether they should invest in an “aging” airport. And there are plenty of other things the money could be spent on, of course.

A national symbol of progress

You can imagine how thrilled we were when – after Mexican President Peña Nieto visited France on 14 July 2015 – we heard that the A380 was welcome in Mexico City. The president has vowed to make real progress in the areas of education, energy and the investment climate, so the A380 has become a national symbol of progress and growth in the Mexican economy.

Mexico really wanted to be the first Latin American country to welcome the A380. And it was. We had five months to resurface 140,000 square metres of taxiways and build two gates with double jetways.

Some people had their doubts, but when the president says “let’s do it”, everyone moves heaven and earth to get it done. And we succeeded. The first A380 landed on Mexican soil on 14 January. And it was One. Big. Party!

Arrival air france A380

Sounds great. How was the A380 welcomed?

It was a madhouse. There was a media grandstand for 150 journalists on the apron; five TV stations broadcast the arrival live; the president tweeted “It has landed”; there was a major government delegation at the airport and thousands of people lined the roads to get a glimpse of this giant aircraft. In publicity terms, that first flight was worth millions of dollars.

Check-in airport Mexico

What is the added value for customers to have you here in Mexico?

By lobbying and negotiating, I try to organise things behind the scenes as best I can. This ranges from handling baggage as quickly as possible, to finding a more suitable diversion airport. That’s actually quite an interesting story.

Our standard diversion airports were Guadalajara or Acapulco, which are about two flight hours from here. But these airports aren’t really equipped for an A380 or a 747 Combi.

Diversion airport

I’d heard of an airport called Queretaro, about a half-hour flight from Mexico City, which mainly handled smaller aircraft and sometimes a larger aircraft coming in for maintenance, because Delta Air Lines and Aeroméxico have engineering centres there. So I drove out there with Captain Joost Veenendaal  and Flight Support Manager Vincent Hilligers to inspect the airport. It looked like an option on paper, but we needed to check whether that was the case in reality. Fortunately, we weren’t disappointed, so we added Queretaro as a diversion airport.

Last year, KLM became the first European airline to use this airport. Recently, we also made some adjustments so that the Air France A380 could also land there. And even more recently we made the front pages of local papers when our A380 actually had to land there! What an event!

The main advantage is that we don’t have far to go. We can refuel quickly and then fly on to Mexico City without passengers having to leave the plane. This is to everyone’s advantage.

In a month’s time, they’ll be parking a container at your front door and your stint in Mexico will be over. What will you miss?

The people, without a doubt. They have a saying here: “You cry when you get here, but your cry even harder when you leave.” And that’s the truth. The people are so friendly and have to work so hard to earn a living. I’ll also definitely miss Mexican cooking – the fresh ingredients, the food stalls, the colourful markets.

What I won’t miss is the administrative burden. There’s so much bureaucracy and so many people working in it. I’ll be glad to leave that behind.

Martin’s Mexico City tips

  • Go to a real local market. You’ll find good food and great, colourful handmade items.
  • Visit Xochimilco with its many canals and floating gardens.
  • If you’re interested in the arts, then you should visit one of the many museums. The collections are superb!
  • The Paseo de la Reforma is closed to traffic on Sundays, making this broad avenue at the heart of the city a haven for cyclists, pedestrians and roller skaters.
  • Late October: the annual migration of the Monarch butterfly, which fly about 4,000 kilometres every year to reach the woods of central western Mexico. They arrive in their millions and cover the trees in a magnificent browny-orange blanket.

Photography: Rogier Reker

Join the conversation Show comments

Rene ten Have

Top gedaan Martin.

Groet,

René ten Have.

Martin

Dankjewel René!

Roeminah

Dear Martin,
How do you know if an aircraft is too havy to take off? Is there a scale under the ground or soemething like that?

Martin

Dear Roeminah,

Thank you for your nice question!

Putting scales under the aircraft’s 16 large wheels could perhaps ‘do the trick’ but in practice it works differently.
The take off weight of the aircraft is actually a sum up of all the things that we put on board the aircraft plus the weight of the aircraft itself when it is completely empty.
We measure the weight of the fuel needed for the flight, all the baggage that is checked in, the cargo, the amount of water in the tanks and of course the number of passengers checked-in for the flight, just to name a few. For passengers and their hand luggage we use average weights as, naturally, we don’t want to ask our passengers to place themselves on a scale at the check-in counter ;-).

So we know the weight of the empty aircraft, which is fixed, and we add the weights of all the other variable items we place on board. This results in quite an accurate take off weight. To ensure that the aircraft will become airborne at the end of the runway, safety margins are added to make sure we are never overweight.

Roeminah

Funny, maybe it’s a good idea to have scales at the check-in counters :)
Thank you for your reply Martin.

Frank de Koning

Precies zoals ik je ken Martin. Top!

Martin

Some people never change, Frank!

Terry Bowater

Excellent article and a great insight to an airportthat I have used with you a lot.

Martin

Hi Terry,

Sounds you have been an experienced traveler at MEX airport.

If possible, you should try to hop to MEX again soon to try out our Big Bird A380 to Paris or our new business class on board our Blue Angel B744 to Amsterdam!
Also our VIP lounge has had some radical renovation recently and is now ‘state of the art’.

We keep on investing in our products and services. Hope to meet you one day!

Best,
Martin

Best,
Martin

Brian Gross

Great article! I enjoyed reading it. Best regards from the E-Commerce team here at your SkyTeam partner Aeroméxico!

Martin

Espero verte muy pronto!

Un abrazo,

Martin

Jennifer

Geniaal atikel!! Is altijd mijn droombaan geweest, bedankt dus voor het ‘kijkje in de keuken’!

Martin

Hallo Jennifer,

Het is inderdaad een fantastische baan met elke dag ‘een nieuw recept’ om te ontdekken!

Groet!
Martin

Amberly

Superbly ililumnating data here, thanks!

Philippe Felleman

Erg leuk artikel Mart. Wat een Job!

Martin

Thank you, Philipp! Never a dull moment indeed!

Best,
Martin

Mr. Grumbert

Thank you for this well written and very interesting article! Next time I’m in Mexico I’ll surely wonder where Martin might be in that moment :-) #grumbertthinks KLM blog is one of my favourite airline blogs on the web. Actually I’m tinking of your blog everytime I see a running airline engine, which is quite often. This article about “what is that comma thing doing in that engine?” really stuck with me ;-)

Regards, Mr Grumbert from @grumberts.world

Martin

Dear Mr. Grumbert,

Next time you’re in Mexico, I hope I’ll be in the check-in area or at the gate so I will be able to meet you!

Best,
Martin

Diana

Great job, Martin! Thank you!

Marilee

Hi Kate,These waffles look delicious with the bright red strawberries! I’ve never had a waffle before but one of these with yoghurt sounds really nice for brl..fastakloveey photos.

Martin

Thank you, Diana.

I am very proud of the accomplishments we have made so far here in Mexico City. Although the article is about me, nothing would have been possible without the contributions and hard work of my fellow Air France KLM airport team members.

Best,
Martin

Andres

Really nice and interesting article. Im Mexican but live in Amsterdam and originally from Queretaro. I could really relate to it! I fly KLM when I go back home and Its nice to see how much teamwork there is behind your operations in Mexico City. Congratulations!

Martin

Hi Andres,

Thank you!

I love your beautiful city of Queretaro! It is a pearl.

Saludos,
Martin

Johnathan

I love flying to Mexico city with KLM, and do so regularly. Despite its capacity it’s the best airport I travel to for how quick the security queues are. I also like their approach to diversity. I used to love the lounge, especially after it was refurbished last year. Then I was so disappointed when I was told a few visits ago this is now for airfrance only and KLM have a new, smaller, (and not fit for purpose and you’d be lucky to get a seat compared to the platinum area I used to have in the old lounge!!!). I am aware how “first world problems” this post is, but the new KLM lounge is such a downgrade from the previous that I now sometimes don’t bother. But, I still love flying to Mexico with KLM and hope they don’t retire the 747s too soon!!!

Martin

Dear Johnathan,

Thank you for your comments.

I’m sorry to hear that the new lounge didn’t meet your expectation. I don’t know how long ago you have last visited our lounge(s), but recently the lounge space has been extended further and in near future the ‘old’ lounge, which has been completely remodeled, will even have more capacity.

We constantly are looking at ways to optimize our ground product together with our lounge provider.

And by the way, you are welcome in both lounge spaces whether you fly Air France or KLM.

Hope you will enjoy your stay better next time!

Best,

Martin

De Loodgieter

Tjemig de Pemig !! Op naar de UK. En in de tussentijd in een warm bad ;-)

John Pot

Hoi Martin,

Wat een bijzonder leuk en interessant artikel. Ik had het voorrecht om anderhalf jaar geleden een dagje met je mee te mogen lopen. Daaraan heb ik nog steeds erg goede herinneringen. Je zegt dat je altijd bereikbaar bent en daar is geen woord van gelogen; wij kunnen 24/7 een beroep op je doen. Momenteel zit ik even ‘opgesloten’ in het back office, maar vanaf september hoop ik weer zaken met je te doen. We spreken elkaar later. Het ga je goed.

Groet,

Félix Maltchinski

Do Aeromexico handle the KLM flights to and from Mexico city?

Martin

Hi Felix,

Good question and a logical thought!

Although Aeromexico is our close and appreciated SkyTeam partner, they do not handle our flights or passengers here in Mexico City.

The passenger handling agents are contracted by ourselves and our handling agent on the ramp (taking care of baggage handling, loading of the aircraft, cleaning, etc.) is done by Aerocharter de Mexico SA de CV (ACM)..

Best,

Martin

Lon

Prachtig verhaal over jouw werk daar Martin, top!

Martin

Vind ik ook, Lon!

Groetjes,
Martin

Gabriel

Hi Martin,

I loved your post. I’m from Mexico and both my dad and I are av geeks. We really love your airline since we have had the opportunity to fly within Europe in Air France-KLM fleet and the service has always been superb. We are planning a trip to Europe in which we leave Mexico City in the AF A380 and return in the KLM B747 and can’t wait to do it since I’ve never traveled in any of those aircrafts.

It’s been really nice to know a little bit more about operations in Mexico City Airport, my home town, since its a field of study in which I want to develop my career. Thank you for showing us some of the “backstage” of this really crowded airport. Makes you realise the amount of people that works everyday in order to get the airport up and running.

Regards,
Gabriel

Martin

Dear Gabriel,

Indeed, a lot is happening ‘behind the scene’ every day to make it our customers as comfortable as possible. Although the article is a bit focused on me as a person, I can tell you that it is all about team work to make it happen.
Glad to hear you are a KLM and Air France fan (so am I, working for over thirty years for our beautiful brands).

Hope to see you on your dates of travel!

Best,

Martin

Karen Ponne van Geffen

Wat super leuk om dit te lezen Martin!!
Groetjes, Karen Ponne van Geffen

Martin

Hi Karen,

Leuk om weer van je te horen via dit medium!
Hoop dat alles goed met je gaat.

Groeten uit Mexico,

Martin

Pedro Campanella

Love the story, I am a huge fan of KLM I had the opportunity to fly many times to Europe, and for me its the best airline by far, also love Ámsterdam and Schipol AirPort is Simply amazing!!!
Good luck where ever You Landa Martín!! Cheers

Martin

Dear Pedro,

Thank you so much for your reaction! Of course great to hear that you are such a big fan (spread the word ;-).
We strive to deliver the best available each on each single flight as an airline on board our flights and thanks to our good cooperation with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol also pays off, delivering the most advanced technologies and services, on the ground. Makes traveling as smooth as a whistle.

Best,

Martin

Ingeborg Bosgraaf

Hee Polletje, wat leuk dit artikel! Jullie gaan binnenkort dus verhuizen, wat wordt de volgende stop?
Groetjes, Ingeborg

Ingeborg

Hee Polletje, wat een leuk artikel! Jullie gaan dus binnenkort verhuizen, wat wordt de volgende stop?
Groetjes, Ingeborg

Martin

Hi Ingeborg,

Per 01 oktober begin ik in LHR als Regional Station Manager voor de UK en Ireland. Erg veel zin in!!
Leuk om weer eens wat van je te horen en hoop dat het goed met je gaat!

Groetjes uit Mexico,

Martin

Liza

I’d ventrue that this article has saved me more time than any other.

Eduardo

Hi Martin thanks for this great article, KLM is one of the best airlines in the world. You’re right when saying that you won’t miss the administrative burden and that there’s so much bureaucracy and so many people working in it. You really will be glad to leave that behind.

Thomas Fruin

Great blog post, a joy to read. I really enjoy these longer articles on the KLM blog (hint, hint)

Martin

Thank you Thomas! Indeed these ‘in depth’ articles are a nice read giving some back ground information about ‘what keeps us moving’ on the outstations, namely ‘you’ as our customer! Not always visible, but always working hard to deliver the best!

Best,

Martin

Jan ten Have Jr

Hè die Martin, helemaal in Mexico. . .. Wat een top prestatie. Wat een geweldig verhaal. We hebben aktijd lekker samen gewerkt. Ik ben trots dat ik je collega mocht zijn. “Keep up the good work”. Groetjes Jan.

Martin

Hey Jan,

Jahaa, deze appel is iets verder van de boom gevallen. Dank voor je compliment.
Ik denk nog graag terug aan de mooie tijd op Schiphol en die trots….die is geheel wederzijds natuurlijk.

Groeten uit Mexico,

Martin

KLM-kindje

I loved reading this blog. Our family lived in Mexico DF in the ’90’s as my father was the KLM station manager at the time. Martin’s experiences are so similar to my father’s stories and description of his work. Nice to put such a unique and essential role in the spotlight, to create an idea on what it takes to manage a station!

Martin

Dear “KLM-kindje”,

I understand you come from a ‘KLM blue’ family too! So do I, with my both my grand parents and parents (and other family members!) having a working history within KLM. Makes me feel proud!

I would like to hear from your father to compare our experiences (what has and what hasn’t in all these years)! Could be interesting.

Best,

Martin

KLM - kindje

Dear Martin,

My father has sent you a LinkedIn invite .

Ruth aka KLM-kindje

Tal

Hi,

I NEED YOUR URGENT HELP

Please call me URGENTLY about those two kids which are in Mexico City, (Benito Juarez Intl) Airport
They got SMS from Air France that their flight was delayed in 24 hours and they don’t have place to sleep.

1. Please pick them up from the gate of flight Aeromexico AM 594 lands in 19:07 in Mexico City as they don’t know what to do and they don’t speak English so good
Daniel Bresler +972525561113
Yuvalyosef Shemtov +972548056443
E-ticket AF 057-2259897892 for Daniel Bresler
E-ticket AF 057-2259897893 for Yuvalyosef Shemtov

2. Please arrange them hotel + transportation + three meals before they arrive and help them to get the hotel as they don’t speak English so good

3. Please take care for their compensation for the delayed flight

4. Please keep me updated.

5. What is the mobile phone of the station manager in Mexico City? Can you please contact him/her directly?

Regards,
Tal

raxel

No era penal!! :p

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