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100 years of KLM

The flight that changed everything

It is now one hundred years since KLM operated its very first flight. In a special edition of the podcast ‘The Journey’, this adventurous trip is reconstructed down to the very last detail, a flight that almost didn’t take place...

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Revolutionary idea

It is now more than one hundred years since Albert Plesman dreamed of transporting people by air. This was a revolutionary idea that would ultimately lead to the establishment of KLM. But before this could happen, Plesman had a difficult challenge to overcome: organising KLM’s very first flight.

KLM is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. For the occasion, the KLM podcast ‘The Journey’ is presenting a special episode on ‘the flight that changed everything’. It is a nod to the theme of the podcast, in which everyday travellers tell about life-changing journeys: ‘the trip that changed everything’. With this flight, KLM wrote world history and stood at the forefront of commercial aviation.

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Albert Plesman first witnessed an aircraft demonstration back in 1909. From that moment on, he fantasised about the tremendous opportunities of aviation. This gave him pioneering vision: the general public was completely uninterested in flying, as it was considered unsafe and life-threatening.

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To get people enthusiastic about this new means of transport, he organised the First Aviation Expedition Amsterdam, abbreviated as ELTA. He was the driving force behind the largest event held in Amsterdam North in the summer of 1919. It was a resounding success with more than half a million visitors. A few thousand of them went on a sightseeing flight over Amsterdam for the price of 40 guilders – half a month’s salary at the time.

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1.2 million guilders

Enthusiasm for this new form of transport resulted in the establishment of the Dutch Royal Airlines for the Netherlands and its Colonies (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij voor Nederland en Koloniën) on 7 October 1919. Eight Dutch entrepreneurs pooled 1.2 million guilders in start-up capital. Albert Plesman was asked to head the new airline. It took another six months before KLM was able to operate its first flight – in May 1920 – from London to Amsterdam and back again.

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A heart-racing experience

‘I got in, my heart racing. We waved a final greeting and taxied over the terrain. We turned into the wind and the engine increased its speed. The machine bounced once and then came away from the ground. We were flying!’

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These were the words of the very first Dutch passenger on board the KLM aircraft: M.J. van den Biggelaar, a journalist for a Dutch newspaper. He wrote a report on his experience, describing the flight from Amsterdam to London in detail. The voice of this passenger is brought to life in the podcast. At the time, the first flight can perhaps best be compared to space travel today: a hair-raising event reserved for the lucky few. It was an amazing sensation to travel to another place in the world in only a couple hours.

So put on your headphones, close your eyes and experience this historic journey together with the very first passengers.

More episodes of ‘The Journey’

Apart from the special anniversary episode, you can also listen to other episodes of The Journey. Hear true-life travel stories told by the people who experienced them. People for whom a trip was a turning point in their lives. In ‘The Journey’ they take you as a listener on this voyage.

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‘The Journey’ is available for free via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all the other usual channels. Don’t want to miss a single episode? Subscribe to the channel for free.

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