KLM’s royal Dutch hypocrisy

April 23, 2018

IMG_0838As the flight from Toronto taxied towards the arrival gate at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, a video popped up, unbeckoned, on passengers’ monitors. The video depicted a flight attendant in the trademark blue uniform, who walked through the cabin of an aircraft and picked up discarded newspapers. Speaking English, she talked about all the newspapers that passengers cast off during a typical flight.
By the end of the video she stands amid collosal, teetering towers of newspapers. She talks about how KLM has made a commitment towards the environment: the airline no longer hands out free newspapers in economy class. Instead, she says cheerfully, passengers can now download 30 or so newspapers using a new KLM app.
There’s something cynical about this ad. KLM has eliminated newspapers for three reasons:
1. It reduces the workload of flight attendants
2. It reduces costs, since KLM need not buy newspapers nor dispose of them
3. It reduces the weight of the aircraft.
There is some environmental benefit to the move, I guess, although all newspapers get recycled and find new life anyway.
I miss the newspapers. I’m certainly not the only one who likes to hold a newspaper, enjoy the editors’ decisions about what to put on the front page, turn the page, and view photos at a size where you can enjoy them, not on my tiny 5X8 cm smartphone screen.
IMG_0837But something else has changed since I last flew on KLM. In the past, the airline distributed supper on china plates (later reusable plastic tubs). Passengers ate with stainless steel utensils and drank from rewashable plastic coffee cups.
Today the cutlery on KLM is plastic. The chicken came in a cardboard box with a plastic lid, all suitable for landfill. The wine came in a plastic bottle with a plastic glass. Where once flight attendants had gathered the dishware on the trays for reuse, now a trolly dolly walks by, wearing blue latex gloves as though she is handling toxic waste, and gathers copious quantities of cardboard, paper and plastic, soiled with food remnants, all ready for incineration or disposal.
When KLM distributed newspapers, only some passengers took one. Just about everyone takes the free meals on transAtlantic flights. KLM should come clean. Have we really become environmentally enlightened? By the evidence, it appears that, when it comes to sustainability, KLM is heading in the wrong direction. And that leaves me feeling a little blue.