Why On Earth Was A Northwest DC-10 Painted In A Part KLM Livery?

The aviation world has seen a host of very interesting liveries. Some may remember the Southwest Airlines Sports Illustrated plane or EVA’s Hello Kitty Plane as some brand and non-aviation related imaging. However, some special liveries a little more functional. Northwest Airlines and KLM were two airlines that pioneered major international airline partnerships. To commemorate that, a DC-10 was painted in a hybrid KLM-Northwest “Alliance Plane” livery.

Northwest KLM DC-10
Northwest Airlines had a DC-10 painted in a joint KLM/NW hybrid livery. Here’s why. Photo: Paul Spijkers via Wikimedia Commons

How the plane came to be

In 1989, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and others became the owners of Northwest Airlines, owning around 20% of the airline. This was the initial impetus for starting a close alliance between the two carriers. In 1991, the airlines launched a pioneering airline alliance, with the carriers starting to fly between Minneapolis/St. Paul– where Northwest Airlines was headquartered– to Amsterdam.

However, at the time, Northwest Airlines was in some rough straits and was staring down the barrel of bankruptcy. This, however, was averted but was not without its own problems.

Northwest KLM Getty
Northwest Airlines and KLM were co-located at many airports and offered passengers extensive itineraries. Photo: Getty Images

Nevertheless, in 1993, the Northwest-KLM cooperation and integration agreement received antitrust immunity from the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), the first-of-its-kind agreement between a major US airline and a European airline in creating a unified airline system with smoother connections both in the United States in hubs like Detroit and Minneapolis and Europe, where KLM has a hub in Amsterdam.

Northwest and KLM continued to integrate their operations, expand codesharing, coordinated frequent flier plans, offered a joint international business class product, and so much more. Over the years, the airlines also grew their transatlantic operations between hubs.

Why On Earth Was A Northwest DC-10 Painted In A Part KLM Livery?
The joint livery symbolized the deep partnership the two carriers had. Photograph provided courtesy of Northwest Airlines History Center

In 1997, Northwest and KLM signed a 10-year “Global Joint Venture” Agreement. This saw the two airlines expand their cooperation to include scheduling, inventory management, passenger processing, and so much more. Each airline also gained a seat on the other’s Board of Directors. In 1998, Air Transport World named Northwest and KLM “Airline of the Year”– a sign of the deep cooperation between the two.

At this point, Northwest had also completed its KLM stock repurchase and had grown its marketing agreements with KLM. Then, in November of 1998, The “Alliance Plane” debuted. A DC-10 owned by Northwest Airlines was painted in the joint liveries of the two airlines and represented the deep cooperation between Northwest Airlines and KLM.

NW-KLM Livery
On one side, the fuselage is primarily KLM, and the tail is Northwest. On the other, the fuselage is primarily Northwest with a KLM tail. Photograph provided courtesy of Northwest Airlines History Center

The aircraft itself

The DC-10, registered as N237NW, flew with the dual colors for only two years, from 1998 until 2000, according to data from Planespotters.net. The DC-10 was one of the backbones of Northwest’s fleet before the Airbus A330s came along.

Northwest DC-10
The same DC-10 painted in Northwest’s standard livery. Photo: Bram Steeman via Wikimedia Commons

The Northwest Airlines History Center states that the DC-10 flew for a longer period of time at Northwest Airlines than any other US carrier. In fact, Northwest was the last major passenger airline in the world to operate the DC-10 when it finally retired the type in 2007. Domestic routes flown by the DC-10 would be replaced with Boeing 757-300s.

Northwest DC-10
Northwest Airlines flew the DC-10 for a long time, finally retiring the type in 2007. Photo: Bram Steeman via Wikimedia Commons

The alliance pressed on

Northwest Airlines merged with Delta in 2008, with a single air operator’s certificate coming in late 2009, at which point the former ceased to exist. The full brand, however, was retired in January of 2010.

Delta and KLM continue to have an extensive partnership. As members of the SkyTeam alliance, the two also have a joint venture that includes KLM’s sister, Air France, and Virgin Atlantic in the United Kingdom.

delta with klm
Delta continues to have a strong relationship with KLM. Photo: Getty Images

Delta’s KLM and Air France alliance is one of the most important transatlantic alliances. The Northwest-KLM tie-up paved the way for Delta to pursue the strong relationship it has with these airlines.

While Delta and KLM no longer have any planes painted in a hybrid livery, the two carriers still have deep ties, all thanks to Northwest Airlines.

Have you flown on the hybrid livery DC-10? Let us know in the comments!