70 years of service: KLM celebrates anniversary of first Netherlands-Canada flight

MONTREAL — Today marks the 70th anniversary of KLM’s inaugural flight between the Netherlands and Canada, a milestone occasion that the carrier marked with an official water salute by firefighters at Montréal-Trudeau airport.

The ceremonial salute was a touching reminder of how 70 years ago, on May 29, 1949, members of the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crew boarded a Lockheed Constellation 747 to welcome passengers on the first-ever Amsterdam-Montreal flight. The ‘Batavia’ touched down at Dorval airport on May 30, following two stopovers.

The passenger list for that inaugural flight included Prince Bernhard of Holland, the husband of Queen Juliana, and Albert Plesman, the president of KLM. Two of the three pilots onboard were Canadian as, at the time, 50 of KLM’s 400 pilots were from Canada.

As the inaugural flight approached, it was preceded by three Vampire jet fighters from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Passengers were welcomed at the Dorval airport with a 21-gun royal salute and a 100-man royal guard from the Royal 22nd Regiment, whose marching band performed the Dutch national anthem. Formal receptions were held at the Ritz Carlton and the Windsor hotel.

Prince Bernhard’s speech underlined the bond that existed between the two countries. He also confided his family had a special attachment to Canada, which hosted the Royal Family for a few years during World War II and was paramount in the liberation of the Netherlands.

“This inaugural flight marked the beginning of regular service between Montreal and Amsterdam twice weekly, with stops in Gander, Newfoundland and Prestwick, Scotland, and opened the way for KLM in Canada,” said Vicnent Etchebehere, Vice President and General Manager, Air France KLM Canada. “Since then, KLM has launched routes to Toronto (1974), Vancouver (1986), Calgary (2009) and Edmonton (2014).

This summer KLM will operate 36 weekly flights from Canada to Amsterdam: Montreal (7); Toronto (11); Calgary (7); Edmonton (4); and Vancouver (7). The airline also operates a daily shuttle service between Ottawa and Montreal. Its codeshare partnership with WestJet also gives access to KLM flights to residents in many other Canadian cities.