On This Day: World's oldest airline KLM founded

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: World's oldest airline KLM founded

OCTOBER 7, 1919: The world’s oldest airline KLM was founded on this day in 1919 – and the Dutch national flag carrier quickly established itself as an aviation pioneer.

Its initial flight from Amsterdam to London established the first scheduled route – and the service has continued at least once a week except during World War II.

In 1924 – three years before American Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic – KLM broke new ground by flying to the former Dutch colony of Indonesia.

Unlike today, when a direct flight to Jakarta takes 15 hours, the 7,000-mile trip then took a week and had to be completed in several stages.

Yet this soon-to-be-scheduled service still represented a tremendous advance on the three-week journey by sea.

The airline, founded by military flying ace Albert Plesman, also introduced to the world the concept of glamorous air hostesses.

A British Pathé newsreel from 1939 shows one of these elegant women, who today would be called flight attendants, arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

Among her tasks, she familiarised herself with that day’s currency exchange rates – which were important since most of the passengers were businessmen.

Wearing smart hat, skirt, jacket and tie, she and her colleagues then check the food on the plane, before ushering the travellers on board.

Scenes also show her serving coffee and providing blankets to passengers offering a glimpse of an adventure few then could even dream of.

Yet within a year of the newsreel being made, Europe was instead consumed by the nightmare of World War II.

When Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, KLM – whose Dutch initials stand for Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, or “Royal Aviation Society” in English – ceased operations.

Five planes, which were travelling either from or to the Far East at the time, instead flew to Britain, where the Dutch government and royal family also exiled themselves.

Yet despite the deadly occupation – in which 301,000 people were killed, including 100,000 of Holland’s 140,000 Jews - KLM was soon flying again afterwards.

[On This Day: Farnborough Air Show tragedy kills 29]

In September 1945, they resumed internal flights and in May 1946 they became the first European airline to begin a scheduled service to New York.

Since their pioneering early days, KLM – which merged with Air France to form a new parent company - has gone on to become one of the biggest names in aviation.

Today it carries 22million passengers a year – compared with just 345 in its first 12 months – and 650,000 tonnes of cargo, compared to 20 tonnes in 1919.