Everybody needs a hobby, a way to relax and unwind. For the King of the Netherlands, this means taking to the skies. He may be busy being a monarch for over 17 million Dutch citizens and father to 3 children, but when he needs a time-out, King Willem-Alexander is a guest pilot for commercial airline KLM and has been for over 20 years.
It is well-known that King Willem-Alexander was presented with his military pilot’s license as a member of the Royal Netherlands Air Force in 1994. However, many do not know that the king also has his Private Pilot’s Licence, Second Class, and his Commercial Pilot’s Licence (with an Instrument Rating).
The Dutch king qualified for his private flying license in 1985 and followed it two years later with his commercial license. In 1989 he obtained an additional license to fly multi-engine jet aircraft and earned his Airline Transport Pilot Licence in 2001.
Before flying commercial flights with KLM, the King flew cargo flights for Dutch airline Martinair.
A guest pilot for KLM
The official website for the Dutch monarchy explains that “In order to keep in practice, he occasionally flies as a guest pilot for KLM Cityhopper.” His majesty initially trained to fly Fokker 70 aircraft. When the airline began to phase out the Fokkers, the king retrained to pilot the newer Boeing 737 aircraft. He qualified in June 2017 and continues to fly the 737 as a guest pilot and co-pilot with the airline.
According to the king, his hobby is a perfect escape from royal duties, in an interview reported by the Guardian newspaper the king said,
“You have an aircraft, passengers and crew. You have responsibility for them, you can’t take your problems from the ground into the skies. You can completely disengage and concentrate on something else. That, for me, is the most relaxing part of flying.”
Have you been on one of his flights?
Is it possible that the king has captained one of the KLM flights you’ve been on? Well, perhaps! Until last year the King flew regularly for the airline, at least twice a month. His hobby had become more like a second job (as if being king was not enough).
As cockpits are no longer open to passengers since the tragic 9/11 events, it is very unlikely that the king would be recognized. On flights before 2001, the King said that anyone who did come into the cockpit didn’t recognize him anyway and those who did were “surprised that I was sitting there”.
In an interview reported by the Washington Post, the king made it clear that he did not mention his name when giving announcements; “I can always say that I wish everyone a heartfelt welcome in the name of the captain and the crew,” he said. “I don’t have to say my own name. But most of the people don’t listen anyway.”
So few people recognize him when he is in KLM uniform and cap that he also rarely gets recognized as he walks to the aircraft through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
Time to retire
Although the king announced he was retiring from his regular flights in 2017, there is a chance he is still flying. The new official government aircraft, a Boeing 737-700 business jet with the wings of a 737-800, was delivered in July of this year. The king is trained to fly the aircraft so perhaps he may be flying himself to his next state visit.