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A royal surprise: The king of the Netherlands may be your next KLM pilot

Aug. 08, 2021
4 min read
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Many celebrities love flying airplanes — think John Travolta with a 707 parked at his house at a fly-in community in Florida. Or Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood.

Usually, these A-listers will follow an inconspicuous flight training program and fly their own private planes, keeping their hobbies out of the public eye.

However, if you fly with KLM often, there's a small chance you will encounter a famous First Officer you might not expect: King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

Training to be a pilot

Having had a passion for flying all his life, the then-prince Willem-Alexander first got his license in 1985. In 2001, he fulfilled a dream by obtaining his airline transport pilot license (ATPL), or the license you need to operate passenger aircraft in commercial service.

He also got the Fokker 70 type rating. This choice of type rating was not coincidental — there were many Fokker 70 in the KLM fleet at the time. Also, the government plane PH-KBX (named after the Dutch Queen in those years, Koningin Beatrix) was a Fokker 70, meaning the King was able to fly the Dutch delegation or his family on state visits, vacations and other occasions. He regularly did just that.

To hold on to the ATPL, a commercial pilot needs to perform regular passenger service for at least 150 hours per year. The King fulfilled that obligation by acting as a guest pilot for Dutch airline KLM, flying passenger aircraft. The King had been sighted on flights from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to Istanbul (IST), Athens (ATH) and Nice (NCE), among others. To be able to perform his duties back home, it would not be feasible to fly long-haul or to a destination that requires an overnight rest.

The switch to Boeing

With the replacement of Fokker 70 aircraft by Embraers at KLM in recent years, the opportunity to maintain the type rating disappeared. This prompted the King to retrain for a new type rating: Boeing 737.

On average, the King flies a passenger service 737 as a guest pilot for KLM twice monthly. There is no way to know if your First Officer is of royal stature beforehand, unfortunately. Just keep your ears open sharply for a recognizable voice. Don't expect announcements containing "Your Highness speaking" of sorts, the King likes to remain unrecognizable. He is glad to be able to welcome the passengers simply "On behalf of captain and crew," he mentioned in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf several years back.

King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands on his last Fokker 70 flight (Photo by Natascha Libbert/KLM)

A new government jet

The government Fokker 70 has been maintained by KLM. After the disappearance of Fokkers from its fleet, it was no longer cost-efficient to have the Fokker maintenance carried out by KLM crew. This meant a new government plane was needed, which coincidentally ended up being a 737 BBJ (Boeing Business Jet).

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This allows the King to fly his delegation or family to destinations once again.

King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands in the cockpit of the Dutch Government plane PH-GOV in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images)

TPG reached out to KLM and the Government Information Service of the Netherlands, but both declined to comment on the King in his role as a pilot.

Meanwhile, the 737 commercial services with the King as a guest pilot are believed to continue, so next time you're flying on a KLM 737, keep an ear out for a surprise royal pilot.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023