KLM 737-900 (PH-BXT) at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, ready to take us to Prague, with a 737-700 (PH-BGW) taxiing behind
Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij is not exactly a household name in most of the world, but its initials “KLM” and sky blue branding and livery are easily recognizable. I had a quick visit to Amsterdam before moving on to Prague this past spring, so flying on the national carrier of The Netherlands out of its homebase was the most obvious choice.
As I’ve pointed out numerous times, the European concept of business class (some better service, but the same seat as in economy, just with the middle seat blocked) is never worth it on personal trips, especially for a short flight blocked for 90 minutes gate-to-gate. Addtionally, flying KLM (being a member of SkyTeam) meant flying outside my alliance, so no priority anything nor lounge access.
What could possibly go wrong?!
If you tallied up the number of flight reviews on this site, you will notice that the majority of them are for business and first class. It turns out that premium cabins are just more interesting than economy, with all the fancy lie-flat suites, and butler service in your private bedroom. More often than not, economy is, well….boring. But sometimes it can be pretty exciting — depending on what kind of plane you are flying.
That’s the position I found myself in recently when I flew back to the 1990s on board KLM’s Fokker 70 and Boeing 747-400 “combi.” Both aircraft types have become exceedingly rare, and I jumped at a chance to fly them between Hamburg, Germany and New York, via Amsterdam.
PH-KCE (Audrey Hepburn) arriving at gate A55 after a water cannon salute – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
In October of 1934, KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) took delivery of their first Douglas aircraft: a DC-2. This DC-2 was entered into an air race from London to Melbourne. It placed second. Not only did it place second, but it did so carrying a full passenger load. Fast forward to 1993. KLM took delivery of their last, now, McDonnell Douglas aircraft type – the MD-11. Unfortunately for us enthusiasts, October 25th (when KLM’s summer timetable ended) would not only mark the end of the MD-11, but the end of KLM’s eighty-year history of commercially operating McDonnell Douglas aircraft.
All of KLM’s MD-11s were named after women renown for their charitable or humanitarian efforts. The aircraft I was to fly on, PH-KCE, is named after Audrey Hepburn.
Naturally, I had to be a part of the final flight.
KLM’s last MD-11 to Montreal at the gate – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
KLM and Aeroports Du Montreal were also very aware that this was the last MD-11 commercial passenger service, ever. They had prepared quite a party at the gate. There was an impressive stack of cupcakes; some bearing a chocolate saying “KLM 95” – along with a soft drinks bar and a photo booth to get your photo taken with an MD-11.
The MD-11 was probably a bad idea. McAir came up with the aircraft because it was a bigger, meaner, DC-10. So much DC-10 that there originally was not going to be an MD-11, but a DC-10 stretch. There were two attempts at this aircraft: a DC-10-10 stretched by 40 feet, and a DC-10-30 stretched by 30 feet. Concurrently, McDonnell Douglas (McAir) was concerned about the range of the 747-SP and began work on an ultra-long-range DC-10 Global.
This research lead to an aircraft series called the DC-10 Super 60. The DC-10 Super 60 was going to be a series. A simple stretch, an ultra-long-range variant, and an aircraft optimized for both range and capacity. Unfortunately for McDonnell Douglas, the American Airlines 191 crash happened – summarily executing the DC-10 program. It did not help that there was economic malaise going on at the time, either.
Many MD-11s have been converted to cargo duty. An example arriving at Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney. Photo – Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
Being the kings of iteration that they were, in 1981 they decided to revive the large trijet research. Leasing a DC-10-10 from Continental, they studied various winglet configurations in conjunction with NASA. For reasons of marketing, this project would be designated the MD-100. This was an interesting project as it actually offered more engine options than the final MD-11, in the form of the Rolls Royce RB.211. By November 1983, it was clear there was no interest in the MD-100. The board shuttered it.