Lonely Planet Writer

Have you flown with KLM? The Dutch king may have been your secret pilot

Not all royalty flies by private jet or first class. The king of the Netherlands has revealed he’s been piloting KLM flights for more than two decades.

King Willem-Alexander opens renovated Martiem and Logistics College De Ruyter and Multraship Toage.
The Dutch king could be piloting your next flight. Image by Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images

King Willem-Alexander told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf he has been secretly working as a KLM co-pilot for 21 years. He flies just twice a month on the airline’s short Cityhopper service around European destinations and has continued his regular flights with the airline despite acceding to the Dutch throne in 2013 and assuming more royal duties.

It was public knowledge that Willem-Alexander held a pilot’s licence and was previously involved in volunteer service for the Kenya Wildlife Service and a medical research foundation. However, few members of the public were aware of his secret double life as a pilot.

The monarch revealed that he rarely gets recognised in his KLM uniform. His role as a co-pilot meant that he could talk over the intercom to passengers and introduce the pilot and staff without revealing his own name. In modern flights there is almost no chance at interaction with between pilots and passengers due to security measures, making it even easier to disguise his identity.

KLM Boeing 777-300 at Schiphol
King Willem-Alexander could be flying this new Boeing from Schilpol soon. Image by KLM

Not everyone was fooled all the time however. The king said there had been a couple of incidents where passengers recognised his voice, though it seems they kept his secret under wraps. The Dutch monarch is currently licensed to fly Fokker aircrafts but now he’s stepping up to the challenge of training with the larger Boeing 737s because he wants to fly longer distances with more passengers.

A Boeing pilot would have been Willem-Alexander’s first career choice had he not been born into the royal family. Now though, it is a way of relaxation for the monarch. “You have a plane, passengers and crew and you are responsible for them. You can’t take your problems with you off the ground. You can completely switch off for a while and focus on something else.”