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Ciao, Combi! KLM Sends Its 747 Fleet Off Into the Sunset

Saying goodbye to any 747 is hard, but one that is unique, is harder.

Thanks to COVID, the majority of airlines have grounded their four-engine widebody planes. Most A380s, A340s, and 747-8s will see the skies again. But a return to flight isn’t as certain for many 747-400s, which were already long in the tooth.

The same KLM Boeing 747-200 now with a Stretched Upper Deck. Taken in August 2003.

The same KLM Boeing 747-200 now with a Stretched Upper Deck. Taken in August 2003.

The Dutch airline KLM was already working towards a 2021 retirement for its 747-400s, but thanks to COVID the fleet was retired a few weeks ago. And the AvGeek nostalgists that we are, we felt it was a departure worth commemorating. Especially because KLM operated the oddball passenger/freighter hybrid called the Combi, which included a cargo bay in the rear part of the main deck.

Read on for a quick farewell to the KLM Combi and the rest of its proud 747 fleet.

Update 4/18: It looks like KLM has brought back a small number of 747 Combi flights connecting Amsterdam and a few Asian industrial centers. Not sure how long that will last, but we’re happy the Combi has one final job to do with KLM. 

KLM took delivery of its first 747 (the -200 variant) in 1971 and also operated the -300 before taking delivery of its first 747-400 in 1989. The Queen was KLM’s long-haul flagship for more than 30 years.

This 747-200 joined the KLM fleet in 1971 – Photo: KLM

But the most unique member of KLM’s 747 fleet was undoubtedly the sub-fleet of 747-400 Combis. All 747s can carry cargo below the main passenger deck, but the Combi has another cargo compartment in the rear third of the main deck. In the photo below you can see the large main-deck cargo door

Looks like KLM will be retiring their 747-400 combis early :( - Photo: Kwok Ho Eddie Wong

Photo: Kwok Ho Eddie Wong

Essentially, the Combi is normal up front and weird in the back — the mullet of the skies!

Seating layout of the KLM 747-400M Combi.

BONUS: Something New, Something Blue — Flying KLM’s 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class

The rear bulkhead of the combi is lined with smoke hoods, while the galley stretches lengthwise down the cabin – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

But the main-deck cargo bay isn’t the only thing weird about KLM’s Combi. For some reason KLM arranged the main galley lengthwise along one side of the cabin. It gives the FAs plenty of space to work, but it means the cozy Economy Comfort cabin only has windows on the left side.

3-2 seating on a 747? Must be KLM! The long galley splits the aircraft down the middle, resulting in a weird windowless right sidewall – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Our frequent contributor Jason Rabinowitz reported on his 2016 flight on a KLM Combi, and shared some of his feelings of the experience:

The only on-board hint that something is different about this aircraft is the rear bulkhead. There are two doors leading to the cargo area, flanked with a whole bunch of smoke hoods. These hoods would be worn by the cabin crew in case a fire were to break out in the rear cargo section. Other than this small detail, there are virtually on-board no clues to the unique nature of this aircraft for the normal passenger.

I opted to purchase an Economy Comfort seat on this flight, which gives passengers a few inches of extra legroom. While not a feature unique to the combi, there is something weird about this mini-cabin on KLMs 747s. Almost all aircraft flying today are configured with galleys that stretch width-wise, or side to side. On its 747s, KLM opted for length-wise galleys. This has the benefit of proving extra work space for the cabin crew, but makes it so that the Economy Comfort cabin only has windows on the left side of the aircraft. The right side of the cabin is a bare wall. Absolutely bizarre.

The folks at KLM are clearly nostalgic about their years working with the 747, as you can tell from this touching KLM Blog post.

The job can offer some pretty good views - Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

Once things get back to normal after COVID, newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (including the -10 stretch variant) will take on the long-haul routes the 747 leaves behind. It’s sad that COVID stole our collective chance to plan a final flight on the KLM 747. Here’s hoping some members of the fleet may find second life somewhere! CYA, Combi —

Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading and share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT – SAN FRANCISCO, CA. Manu got his private pilot license in high school, setting the tone for his interest in all things aviation. He earned his frequent flyer credentials working as a journalist, and is now a medical resident in New York City. He enjoys writing about air travel from a millennial’s perspective.

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