The world’s oldest airline? That’s from the Netherlands, of course

You’ve probably seen their bright blue aeroplanes sitting at a terminal (especially if you’ve ever been to the Netherlands), but did you know that KLM is in fact the world’s oldest airline?

Well, it is. It’s been operating continuously since 1919, and it now has flights to about 135 airports around the globe.

I’ve had plenty of fresh cheese sandwiches served to me by smiling flight attendants in blue, but it hasn’t always been that way. Haven’t you ever wondered how it began?

But wait! A quick note: Of course, with a pandemic in the air, KLM isn’t taking to the skies much anymore, and has had to resort to contentious government bailouts. In the meantime, let’s reminisce back to the days when we could hop on a plane and take a look at this iconic Dutch airline.

Wait, what does KLM stand for?

Before we get any further, we should clear up this whole acronym situation. After all, what does KLM stand for? As any Dutch person could tell you, those are the first three letters of Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which obviously means Royal Aviation Company. The ability to be called royal is thanks to Queen Wilhelmina, and she gave this title nearly a month before the airline was actually created. Always the forward thinker.

In my humble opinion, using the letters instead of the full name was a wise decision. I can’t really imagine becoming the world’s oldest airline with that tongue twister of a title.

Not the first, just the oldest

To be clear, KLM is the world’s oldest airline, but it wasn’t the first company offering commercial air travel. There were multiple others (operating airplanes and Zeppelins), but none of them were able to stand the test of time. Except for KLM, of course.

Foundation of these flying Dutchmen

It started to become obvious that flight was the transport of the future, and an aviation exhibition in Amsterdam spurred some Dutch businessmen to pool their money together and start an airline. They officially registered the company on October 7, 1919, but the inaugural flight didn’t take off until May 17, 1920. This was only a short trip from London, but it proved successful enough to launch their first intercontinental flight to Jakarta in 1924.

If you want to get a visual explanation of their history, go through the decades with this series of videos by KLM.

KLM in 1964. KLM bestaat 100 jaar! Op 7 oktober 1919 werd de Nederlandse luchtvaartmaatschappij KLM opgericht. KLM is daarmee de oudste internationale luchtvaartmaatschappij ter wereld die nog opereert onder haar eigen naam.#KLM100jaar #NLtrots

Geplaatst door Oud Amsterdam op Zondag 6 oktober 2019


KLM Merger with Air France

After 70 years of flying solo, KLM decided they were a little lonely hopping around above the clouds. Fortunately, their friendly neighbours to the south felt the same way, and KLM merged with Air France. This little example of European collaboration has allowed for both airlines to remain successful in an extremely competitive industry.

The World’s Oldest Airline KLM planes sitting at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam
Image: Alex Hoskinson

Dutch tradition in the clouds

It’s been hundreds of years since the Dutch made a name for themselves by sailing around the world and conducting business, so is it really surprising that they took to the skies so successfully? This sort of thing is in their blood.

Are you a KLM fan? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image: KLM/Supplied
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2016, but was fully updated in October 2020 for your reading pleasure. 



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