Well-known airlines such as Pan Am, TWA, US Airways and Virgin America are long gone. And in just the past two years more than two dozen other airlines went from soaring to shuttered.
So, it is noteworthy that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines turned 100 on October 7.
The Dutch flag carrier is not only one of the world’s oldest airlines, it is also the oldest airline still flying under its original name.
It’s also the only airline where the guest of honor at its annual birthday party is the newest version of the three-inch tall porcelain house gifted to business class passengers flying on the carrier’s intercontinental routes.
The history of the houses
Back in 1952, KLM began giving its first-class passengers a gift of a miniature Delft Blue pottery house portraying a historically or architecturally significant Dutch building.
Because there were rules and limits regarding the value of gifts to passengers, the airline filled the houses with gin so that they were technically not gifts but free cocktails that just happened to be served in souvenir containers.
New editions of the souvenir houses were created on and off for many years until 1994 – KLM’s 75th Anniversary – when the airline commissioned a bonus catch-up batch of miniature houses so that the number of souvenir houses in the series lined up with airline’s age.
Now one of the airline industry’s most sought-after complimentary inflight amenity, a new miniature Delft Blue porcelain houses filled with Bols Genever, a popular Dutch gin, is unveiled at the carrier’s birthday party each October 7. The new house is cycled into the assortment of miniature houses business class passengers can choose from on each flight.
A handy app helps passengers and collectors track the KLM houses they have, or still need. Swapping is popular and there’s a robust secondhand market in Amsterdam shops and online, with prices ranging from about $15 for the common houses to upwards of $550 for some of the rarer editions.
Over the years, KLM’s miniature houses have depicted everything from the home of Dutch exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari to the Anne Frank House and the Rembrandt House.
In 2014, KLM’s miniature house portrayed the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam.
Rotterdam’s Hotel New York, in the former headquarters of the Holland America line, was the featured house in 2016. And the home in Haarlem where Dutch aviation pioneer and aircraft manufacturer Anthony Fokker once lived was honored with a miniature gin-filled house in 2017.
KLM’s 100th anniversary house
KLM’s much-anticipated 100th Delftware miniature building was revealed at the carrier’s 100th birthday party, held in a hangar at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on October 7.
The event was attended by more the 3500 people, some of whom had flown in just to be among the first to get their hands on the newest miniature house.
The 100th house is a replica of Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague, the current home of the Netherland’s King Willem-Alexander and his family.
The palace was built in the mid-17th century for Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange and his wife Amalia van Solms and was chosen to be KLM’s 100th miniature house to honor the strong ties between the Dutch Royal Family and KLM since the airline’s early days.
The future of the KLM houses
While KLM’s Delftware miniatures are highly collectible and closely tied to the carrier’s branding, KLM is also committed to making aviation more sustainable.
To that end, the carrier uses electric baggage towing tractors, purchases carbon offsets, operates many flights using a biofuel mix and works to reduce waste and weight on flights.
But ditching the miniature porcelain houses to lighten loads has not been considered.
“There are things you should do and things which you shouldn’t do. Period,” said KLM’s President and CEO Pieter Elbers, “For sustainability, we are investing in lightweight containers, trolleys, cargo nets, bottles, glasses and many other things to reduce weight on our planes,” said Elbers, “But those houses, we won’t touch.”
(My story about KLM’s 100th Delft miniature house first appeared on CNBC.)