The World’s Oldest Airline Is Getting Rid of Pilot Caps

Dec 11, 2017

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Airline pilots always appreciate a tip of the hat from passengers at the end of a successful flight, but starting in the new year, KLM pilots won’t be able to return the gesture.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, founded in 1919, is eliminating its age-old tradition of caps for pilots, ending nearly a century of formal headwear in the cockpit and outside of it.

“Pilots have worn caps since the earliest days of KLM’s existence,” the Amstelveen, Netherlands-based airline said in a statement last week. “Over the years, the style and look of the cap has changed to suit the fashion of the day. KLM no longer sees any added value in pilots wearing caps. Besides, the aim is to give pilots a more modern and accessible appearance.”

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KLM crew in front of their Douglas DC-2 in 1934. Image by SSPL/Getty Images.

The wardrobe change will affect both KLM and KLM Cityhopper pilots, and take effect Jan. 1. KLM pilots can keep their caps as souvenirs, but the airline is encouraging them to donate their soon-to-be obsolete headgear to the charity Stichting Hoogvliegers, which lets ill children act out their fantasies of being pilots for a day.

KLM didn’t immediately return requests for comment, and it’s not clear whether pilot’s caps will be forbidden or whether the airline is merely making them optional for now.

Though KLM is owned by Air France-KLM Group, Air France hasn’t signaled that it will follow suit. Still, the Dutch airline is actually behind the trend: American Airlines mussed the hair of decades of tradition in 2011 when it announced that wearing pilot caps would henceforth be up the individual employee. Like KLM, part of the reasoning was that hats had fallen out of favor as part of an everyday ensemble. Another justification was that it was getting to be too difficult to enforce rules requiring the cap, an AA chief pilot told NBC.

Around the world, an increasing number of airlines have permanently doffed their pilot caps, including Alaska, Southwest, Virgin America, Ryanair and easyJet, while British Airways, Lufthansa, Air Canada and Delta are making hat head an occupation hazard.

klm, uniform
Hats off! Image (including featured image) courtesy of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.




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