Saying goodbye to any 747 is hard, but one that is unique, is harder.

Thanks to COVID, the majority of airlines have grounded their four-engine widebody planes. Most A380s, A340s, and 747-8s will see the skies again. But a return to flight isn’t as certain for many 747-400s, which were already long in the tooth.

The same KLM Boeing 747-200 now with a Stretched Upper Deck. Taken in August 2003.

The same KLM Boeing 747-200 now with a Stretched Upper Deck. Taken in August 2003.

The Dutch airline KLM was already working towards a 2021 retirement for its 747-400s, but thanks to COVID the fleet was retired a few weeks ago. And the AvGeek nostalgists that we are, we felt it was a departure worth commemorating. Especially because KLM operated the oddball passenger/freighter hybrid called the Combi, which included a cargo bay in the rear part of the main deck.

Read on for a quick farewell to the KLM Combi and the rest of its proud 747 fleet.

Update 4/18: It looks like KLM has brought back a small number of 747 Combi flights connecting Amsterdam and a few Asian industrial centers. Not sure how long that will last, but we’re happy the Combi has one final job to do with KLM. 

KLM took delivery of its first 747 (the -200 variant) in 1971 and also operated the -300 before taking delivery of its first 747-400 in 1989. The Queen was KLM’s long-haul flagship for more than 30 years.

This 747-200 joined the KLM fleet in 1971 – Photo: KLM

But the most unique member of KLM’s 747 fleet was undoubtedly the sub-fleet of 747-400 Combis. All 747s can carry cargo below the main passenger deck, but the Combi has another cargo compartment in the rear third of the main deck. In the photo below you can see the large main-deck cargo door

Looks like KLM will be retiring their 747-400 combis early :( - Photo: Kwok Ho Eddie Wong

Photo: Kwok Ho Eddie Wong

Essentially, the Combi is normal up front and weird in the back — the mullet of the skies!

Seating layout of the KLM 747-400M Combi.

BONUS: Something New, Something Blue — Flying KLM’s 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class

The rear bulkhead of the combi is lined with smoke hoods, while the galley stretches lengthwise down the cabin – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

But the main-deck cargo bay isn’t the only thing weird about KLM’s Combi. For some reason KLM arranged the main galley lengthwise along one side of the cabin. It gives the FAs plenty of space to work, but it means the cozy Economy Comfort cabin only has windows on the left side.

3-2 seating on a 747? Must be KLM! The long galley splits the aircraft down the middle, resulting in a weird windowless right sidewall – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Our frequent contributor Jason Rabinowitz reported on his 2016 flight on a KLM Combi, and shared some of his feelings of the experience:

The only on-board hint that something is different about this aircraft is the rear bulkhead. There are two doors leading to the cargo area, flanked with a whole bunch of smoke hoods. These hoods would be worn by the cabin crew in case a fire were to break out in the rear cargo section. Other than this small detail, there are virtually on-board no clues to the unique nature of this aircraft for the normal passenger.

I opted to purchase an Economy Comfort seat on this flight, which gives passengers a few inches of extra legroom. While not a feature unique to the combi, there is something weird about this mini-cabin on KLMs 747s. Almost all aircraft flying today are configured with galleys that stretch width-wise, or side to side. On its 747s, KLM opted for length-wise galleys. This has the benefit of proving extra work space for the cabin crew, but makes it so that the Economy Comfort cabin only has windows on the left side of the aircraft. The right side of the cabin is a bare wall. Absolutely bizarre.

The folks at KLM are clearly nostalgic about their years working with the 747, as you can tell from this touching KLM Blog post.

The job can offer some pretty good views - Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

Once things get back to normal after COVID, newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (including the -10 stretch variant) will take on the long-haul routes the 747 leaves behind. It’s sad that COVID stole our collective chance to plan a final flight on the KLM 747. Here’s hoping some members of the fleet may find second life somewhere! CYA, Combi —

Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading and share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - SAN FRANCISCO, CA. 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.

http://www.airlinereporter.com
3 AvGeeks. 2 Beechcraft 1900Ds. 1 Out of Country Adventure.
7 Comments

Hello to the Airline reporter team and to M. Venkat,

Thank you for the article, it has brought so many good and lasting memories of flights through the Atlantic during my childhood, this news sadness me because she was really the queen of the skies.
I have a question and I’ve been wondering…how could I take a flight in 2020 being sure of being flown on a 747 before all the fleets are retired? If you have any advises or tips it will be much appreciated.

I also wanted to thank you for also sharing with us your stories that make us flight with you.

best regards and keep the amazing work,

Alejandro

Maureen Allenza

Wonderful article. A lovely tribute to the Queen……….of the Skies! I am just a passenger, and one-time jetBlue employee, but have loved commercial aviation my whole life! It makes me sad that due to health issues, and Covid-19, I will never be on a 747 again! No other plane, not even the Concord, could rival her!

Valder Groeneveldt Peake

My dream was always to fly in a KLM 747 from St.Maarten to the Netherlands.

OLIVER S STUDER

Hi Manu,

Nice article!
Please check this info, but I read somewhere KLM is actually un-retiring the Combis for freight only flights.
It seems Covid pushed the retirement of at least these 747s out a bit…

As the last comment mentioned two days ago, this story is inaccurate. Why it hasn’t been edited with a correction by now implies that no one is paying attention to the comments.

Less than one minute of research on FlightRadar24 or FlightAware shows one KLM B744 Combi in the air right now and one scheduled to depart AMS in two hours. Come on, guys.

PH-BFW is currently operating KLM897 from ICN-PEK
PH-BFT will be departing AMS for ICN in two hours

https://flightaware.com/live/flight/PHBFW/history/20200417/1205Z/RKSI/ZBAA
https://flightaware.com/live/flight/PHBFT/history/20200417/1530Z/EHAM/RKSI

Hey Matt and Oliver, don’t worry we absolutely read the comments! We have day jobs elsewhere so sometimes it’s a day or two until we get caught up. Our story was pending for a week and in that time KLM brought a Combi skeleton service back. We’ve put a one-liner update into the story. Thanks for reading and pointing out the error in the story!

I last flew a KLM 747-400 on a flight to/from Amsterdam – Nairobi a few years ago and opted for the Economy Comfort cabin. I sat on the side without windows and it was indeed an odd experience. That “Queen of the Skies” was showing her age and, while I love KLM and always fly them once I cross the Atlantic, this was one of the most unpleasant flights on an aircraft that needed to be retired long ago. Rest well beautiful queen, there will never be anyone as beautiful as you crossing the skies!

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