Seventy years ago yesterday on May 29, 1949, members of the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crew boarded a Lockheed Constellation 749 to welcome passengers on the first ever Amsterdam-Montreal flight.
The “Batavia” touched down at Dorval airport on May 30, after two stopovers.
The Batavia passenger list included Prince Bernhard of Holland, the husband of Queen Juliana, and Albert Plesman, president of KLM. Two of the three pilots on the inaugural flight were Canadian as, at the time, 50 of KLM’s 400 pilots were from Canada. As the flight approached, it was preceded by three Vampire jet fighters from the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The distinguished visitors were welcomed at 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 since 1945. On a more personal note, he 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, Nfld. and Prestwick, Scotland, and opened the way for KLM in Canada,” said Vincent 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 (2015).”