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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.