Welcome to the KLM Pop-Up – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Welcome to the KLM Pop-Up – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

KLM: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … radio station, maybe? Actually you were right the second time. But despite its proud 97-year history in aviation, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines isn’t a recognizable brand name for some Americans (AvGeeks excluded, of course).

To fix that issue, the folks at KLM were excited to spread the word about their airline’s onboard product and customer service ethic. The result – a “pop-up” that just made an appearance in downtown San Francisco – featured seat demos, interactive displays, a chance to win flight tickets, and even a dose of virtual reality. What more could any aviation enthusiast ask for?

Join AirlineReporter as we count down our top five favorite parts of the KLM San Francisco Pop-Up.

Don't forget to grab a Dutch stroopwafel on the way in – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Don’t forget to grab a Dutch stroopwafel on the way in – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Welkom! – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Welkom! – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

5. Interactive fun for everyone

KLM’s upbeat culture was on full display at the pop-up. Right from the front door, with its bright blue balloons and waving staff, everyone got a warm welcome. Each guest received a wristband that they could tag at each display, entering them for a chance to win round-trip tickets to Amsterdam. There was something at the pop-up for everyone: espresso drinks for the coffeeholics, Dutch stroopwafels for the snackers, displays about KLM’s sustainability initiatives for the eco-conscious, and even a play space for kids.

A play space for the kids – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A play space for the kids – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

4. They’re AvGeeks too

KLM currently operates a mix of brand-new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and more venerable 747-400s between SFO and its Amsterdam Schiphol hub. From the current timetable, it looks like the 787-9 will soon take over all the daily flights once the summer schedule ends. The 747 is slated to return next summer, with a push up to a 10x weekly frequency.

BONUSParty Like It’s 1999 – Flying on KLM’s Fokker 70 & 747 Combi

A representative at the pop-up wistfully noted that the airline plans to retire its 747 fleet, which has served the airline well for decades. However, whatever sentimentality KLM has about retiring its 747s is dwarfed by the airline’s enthusiasm for its new Dreamliners. There were images of 787-9s all over the place at the pop-up, plus a sleek miniature model.

It was great to see the pride that KLM takes in its fleet.

Isn't she lovely? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Isn’t she lovely? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

3. Air travel, meet #socialmedia

The intersection of air travel and social media usually amounts to angry Facebook posts about flight delays, and not much else. But the self-branded “world’s most helpful airline” has taken a remarkably proactive stance in the world of smartphones and apps.

For example, KLM is the first airline to fully integrate with Facebook Messenger, using the mobile platform to deliver booking confirmations, boarding passes, and flight updates. If you have any questions for the airline or need a hand with your reservation, just reply on Messenger and you’ll often hear back within the hour.

Don’t use Messenger? Not a problem: KLM is also active on Twitter and LinkedIn, and can respond to inquiries in any one of twelve global languages.

Social media HQ – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Social media HQ – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

2. Taking World Business Class seats for a test drive

KLM unveiled its updated World Business Class in 2013, and the product can now be found across its long-haul fleet. I got to sample the version found in KLM’s 777s (in a 2-2-2-across configuration) and its 747s (in a 2-2 configuration on the upper deck).

World Business Class, not a bad place to catch some ZZZZs – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

World Business Class, not a bad place to catch some ZZZZs – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The seat dimensions were generous, with substantial elbow room and an enormous footwell. A metal screen between paired seats helped with privacy. The entertainment screen was huge at 16-to-17 inches. There are also some nice touches on the soft product, including custom Dutch tableware and a parting gift given to every World Business passenger.

Custom Dutch tableware – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Custom Dutch tableware – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Every World Business Class passenger gets a parting gift – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Every World Business Class passenger gets one of these, along with Dutch gin – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

One downside is that window seats in the 747 and 777 cabins do not have direct aisle access. To address that issue, KLM wisely opted for a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration in its newer 787s so that all seats get direct aisle access.

I liked the cabin’s bright blue color palette, though the seats’ plastic finishes are a little utilitarian. The amenity kit is also on the basic side.

The World Business Class amenity kit – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The World Business Class amenity kit – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

On the whole I thought that KLM’s World Business Class seats stacked up favorably against many of the other business class products flying between Europe and California, though some airlines (like Swiss and SAS) have also upped their game recently.

1. Mind-blowing virtual reality

The virtual reality (VR) simulation of the passenger experience onboard KLM’s Dreamliners was incredible. It’s one thing to hear someone describe an airline’s inflight product. But the immersive environment you enter when you put on the VR headset and headphones lets you really live the experience.

Clearly I'm having way too much fun with this – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Clearly I’m having way too much fun with this – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

You can take a look at the visuals on this YouTube video, although the 2D format doesn’t really do it justice. I appreciated that KLM made the experience interactive by letting people locate each of the Dreamliner cabin’s unique features.

I’m excited to see the ways airlines use VR to appeal to customers in the future. Pardon my use of a phrase that’s clichéd in the Bay Area startup scene, but I think VR is a real game changer for the airline industry.


So what’s next for KLM’s Pop-Up? The San Francisco location has closed up shop, and there are no public plans yet for where – or if – it may make a reappearance. However, it seemed like a real hit with the San Francisco crowd, so here’s hoping the Pop-Up pops up in your neighborhood some time soon.

Do you have any recent experiences flying KLM? Did you come by the Pop-Up? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu got his private pilot license in high school, setting the tone for his interest in all things aviation. He earned his frequent flyer credentials working as a journalist, and is now a medical resident in New York City. He enjoys writing about air travel from a millennial's perspective.

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16 Comments

Something seems missing on that 787…. Hmmm, not sure what, thoughts?

Who really needs pitch control anyways?
(good catch, though!)

MV-
Great article! As an avid airline memorabilia collector your photos were a feast for the eyes!

The blue used in KLM’s livery sings to my soul. Fifteen+ years ago I flew them from PDX to A’DAM a couple times, truly fine trips. Another time I was spotting during the worst storm I’D ever seen in PDX. Winds required use of the x-wind RWY, by far the shortest. Approach over the river, DIVE over the levy and… I don’t recall the AC type, but large wide-body twin or tri-jet. Crew made THREE excellent approaches but could not plant it fast enough to get it stopped on the short, wet RWY. (No camera in that weather, but I had a radio.) They went around x2; after #3, pilots clearly heard cussing on radio as they pulled out again and diverted to SEA. If anyone cares, that RWY has a difficult GA procedure requiring a sharp, 90-deg turn right almost instantly – to avoid terrain. IMO, excellent flying!

Sounds like a wild experience, Cook

Thank you for sharing. I love KLM and anytime I need to fly east, I take any detour I need to get a DL flight operated by KLM. Doing that in a few weeks to CPT from MCO. KLM’s Economy Comfort experience is better than most domestic first class, even on my beloved DL. Flying first class on the upper deck of their 747 Combi, “City of Mexico” PH-BFM. I flew her just a few months before she was stored last year in October. Truly was the best treat of my aviation life.

The pop-up showcased business class more than any other class of service, so I’d be interested to learn more about their economy comfort product. And I’ve always wanted to fly on a combi, though that’s harder and harder to do these days since they’re getting phased out.

Manu, their EC product in my opinion is wonderful. The only thing they could do to improve it is change out seats to the ones with the leg rests that raise (not the old school drop down from seat in front). Thing AF Premium Economy product. But I’ve flown KLM from JFK – AMS several times and once AMS – DOH. Also 3 times to AMS – JNB. I am looking forward to AMS to CPT in a couple of weeks. All of these except for one have been on their 777-200/300 product. The IFE is great, legroom is fine. However what sets the experience apart is the cabin service. It seems just about any time you look up, someone is there checking on you. They treat you like you are the most important person on board. I’ve had that feeling each time I’ve flown and in my opinion that is the best compliment I can offer and airline.

Michael Restivo

I checked the pop up in San Francisco too and it was a great experience.

I’m utterly surprised to note that people in the US are not aware that KLM is the national airline of the Dutch. It is the oldest airline in the world and has a close partnership with a US major Delta, how can they still not know klm? I hope someday I’ll get to fly on board klm.

Fabio Jacob

Hello. I visited the pop up store and it was a nice experience. I also flew the 787 in November from SFO to AMS, very quiet plane. But the service was very confusing (both ways), not what I expected.
KLM has not been able to provide a list of the sweepstake winners for some reason. I contacted several ways like FB and email and still no answer.
Any suggestions?

No suggestions in particular, but it’s unfortunate that you haven’t heard back, especially since KLM promotes its quick response times to customer questions via social media. Let us know if you hear back — I’m curious too about the sweepstakes winners. Also I’m curious, in what ways was the service you experienced confusing?

Fabio Jacob

Hello Manu. From SFO to AMS, the flight attendant was not friendly at all, reminded me of the US flight attendants. Service was rushed and not as good as AF. Coming back even worse. They ran out of food options, even though I was seated closer to the business class. They forgot to pass certain items on one side (I was in the center isle) and she told me to write to KLM. No one to say hello or good bye on the way out. I’ll go back to AF after this. If they are promoting this aircraft and spent money with the pop up shop they should pay more attention to the customers.Fabio

Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

I like the detective work. One thing to keep in mind is that KLM’s pop-ups happen for only a small part of the year. The team that worked on the pop-up seemed very enthusiastic and responsive, but they are all back at their regular year-round jobs, so the turnaround time for pop-up-related questions may be a bit slower — especially around the holidays. If you hear back, let us know!

Fabio Jacob

Still not a concrete response from KLM. Now they’re telling me the list of sweepstake winners was provided upon request only. I thought this is what I want doing for the past month. I’ll keep trying but I wish there was another place to contact.
Regards, Fábio

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