Shame on KLM

KLM like to regard themselves as masters of social media but they do have a habit of putting their clogs in it.

During the World Cup, they caused a storm on Twitter by making some childish/racially offensive posts (depending on your sensitivity) about the Dutch football team’s opponents. An airline from a small country depends even more than most on foreign customers and this was such an obvious no-no, they really should have known better.

Last week they promoted a video which became a huge Youtube hit showing their Beagle dog, Sherlock who is used to search aircraft for lost property. It was meant to be an example of the extra lengths KLM goes to in looking after its passengers. Except no data was produced to show that lost property is any safer with KLM than anyone other airline.

The video clip got a great deal of publicity in the US (where Beagles are a particularly popular breed). Several sensible travel writers used it as an example of an airline that was actually going the extra mile to look after its customers.

Just one problem. The whole thing was a fake. KLM do not have a fleet of Beagles to search their aircraft and Sherlock was hired for the day – and that is probably not his real name either.

Stand by for a lot of annoyance – no least from the travel writers who were taken in.

KLM’s social media gurus really need to learn there are two things people feel passionately about – football and dogs. Mess with either at your peril.

Do not fly KLM

Inside Traveller readers are used to our regular list of airlines to avoid where we highlight airlines that are having financial problems or have other issues which suggest they should not be used. We have never before put an airline on this list for reasons of bad attitude to customers but, in the case of KLM, we are happy to make an exception.

The EU is threatening KLM with legal action because it is currently only agreeing to pay the expenses of passengers who were delayed by the volcanic ash issue earlier this year for the first 24 hours of the delay. Many passengers were delayed for several days and KLM  refuses to pay.

We do have some sympathy with airlines on this point. The EU legislation on delays and cancelled flights is badly-drafted and imposes much stricter penalties on airlines than on any other form of public transport. We feel that airlines should protest and try to get back some of the compensation for this unique event from their governments. However, such a protest should be done at a much higher level, with all airlines involved. For one rather insignificant carrier to go its own way is stupid and puts its customers at a serious disadvantage. Nor can we understand why KLM is paying for the first 24 hours of the delay – they appear to be accepting the theory but then quibbling about the amount which makes their case look very shaky.

This shows KLM in a very poor light. They appear tight-fisted and arrogant. If all other European airlines can pay (even Ryanair has paid) why not the silly Dutch? Are they above the law?

Unfortunately, the volcanic ash issue will be forgotten in due course but we would urge you not to forget the attitude KLM has shown in this case. The only way we would ever be persuaded to book a ticket with them is if most of their Board resigned and they made a public apology. Their cheap, grubby behaviour deserves wide-spread publicity and we very much hope it rebounds on them.

Meanwhile, just remember, there are plenty of other, fairly honest, airlines so you can leave KLM well alone.

Missing destinations mystery?

Today Emirates announced another new service for 2010, a daily round-trip between Dubai and Prague, launching next July. About time too you might say. But consider other European cities not already in their network, with no imminent plans for connection:  Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen (or anywhere else Scandinavian), Geneva, Madrid, not to mention Berlin, Helsinki, etc etc. Amsterdam only comes on line with Emirates in May 2010. And yet the airline has been flying to six UK airports for some years, including Newcastle and Glasgow.  Conspiracy afoot? Probably not, as in all likelihood commercial considerations rather than bilateral agreements and other restrictive practices are governing Emirates’ choice of destination. The array of UK destinations is more a testament to the boom the country was experiencing up to 2008 rather than anything else.

This is perhaps not however the case of KLM and Dublin. Dublin Airport earlier this year played host to well over 70 airlines. KLM was not one of them and never has been. If you want to fly direct between Dublin and Amsterdam only Aer Lingus will take you. Why? Well who knows for sure, (let us know if you do), but it has been the case since the dawn of time that it’s commercially convenient for both KLM and Aer Lingus not to compete on this route, so they don’t, and stuff the travelling public.

Is First Class dead?

Not according to an informative article in the New York Times earlier this week. Despite well publicised plans by British Airways, Qantas and others to reduce first-class capacity on a number of routes, other airlines, such as Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, are opening new airport lounges exclusively devoted to first-class passengers in both Europe and the United States. And the imminent arrival of their first A380 superjumbos is likely to lead to more opportunities for first-class indulgence.

The bottom line: first-class remains a powerful marketing asset and keeps top customers loyal, so is likely to remain a feature of airline travel beyond the current downturn.