Farewell, Big Blue

I love KLM.

As an aviation historian, of course the Dutch flag carrier is near and dear to my heart — it’s the world’s oldest airline! KLM is special to me for reasons beyond its incredible 100-plus-year legacy, however…

A few years back, just after I had accepted a job with The Boeing Company, my dad and I took a trip to Europe. We had flown across the pond on a Delta A330, but our return flight was what I was most excited for… as my dad hade done everything he could to ensure I’d finally get to ride on a Boeing 747 — the legendary Queen of the Skies.

As the trip was winding down, my anticipation grew… and before I knew it, I was sitting in a port side window seat on a KLM 747-400 “combi” getting ready to depart Schiphol for Chicago O’Hare (which would become my new “home” airport just a month later).

The flight was magical, to say the least. Everything from first setting foot on the aircraft, to watching the General Electric CF6 engines power up, then ultimately lifting off the ground, sky-bound — it was such a wonderful experience.

Since my flight on the “City of Vancouver” (PH-BFV) in November 2017, I’ve loved seeing and photographing “Big Blue” — my collective nickname for the handful of 747s that KLM still flew over the past few years.

There were rumors circulating that KLM had accelerated the retirement of its 747 fleet. And lo and behold, those rumors rang true. The last revenue flight landed today at Schipol at 3:32 p.m. local time.

I’ll miss seeing you, “Big Blue” — and I’ll always cherish my many fond memories, both on the ground looking up, and in the sky looking out.

Note: I took all of the above photos, with the exception of the last one, which was taken by Ben Suskind. That was my flight coming into ORD from AMS on Nov. 7, 2017.

A trip long in the making, is finally here…

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KLM 747 courtesy of the KLM Blog

I am an only child. My parents divorced when I was five years old. Throughout my childhood and into young adulthood, aside from spending every other weekend together and going out to dinner once a week, my dad and I traveled – that was our thing.

We took the Empire Builder from St. Paul all the way out to Seattle, we went to Hawaii, we went to the 1996 Olympics in my hometown of Atlanta, we cruised, we drove… we did it all.

Into high school and throughout college, there was a bit of a hiatus… my dad was remarried to my dear stepmom Carolyn, and I… I mean – I was an adult! What more is there to say? We saw each other as often as we could, but we certainly weren’t vacationing together anymore. I was busy with school and my dad was (expectedly) traveling with his wife.

Upon graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2009, my dad told me that my graduation gift would be another trip. I was ecstatic! The following spring, we went to Germany, Austria and Italy. It was a different kind of trip – I was old enough to drink beer! Suddenly we weren’t just a dad and daughter duo, we were friends.

Just weeks after returning to the states, I met the second of the “two main men” in my life – my now husband Scott. My life changed forever… in the best possible way.

Just a year after meeting and upon finding my first job in journalism, Scott and I moved to Kansas City together. Ultimately, our journey brought us back to Minnesota just a couple years later. Once we got back to the Twin Cities, Scott decided to go back to school and after a few more years in television news, I decided to switch career paths and went into public relations and communications.

Scott and I got engaged in September 2013, and just months later in December, my stepmom Carolyn was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. It was devastating and it was scary. She and my dad lived in Nashville (she was from Tennessee and both of her children, along with her sister still live down there), though she and my dad had a second home in Florida. I didn’t see them as often as I’d have liked to, but we were fortunate enough to visit at least a couple times each year, whether it was in Tennessee, Florida or up here in Minnesota.

About a year and a half ago, I thought back to all the trips my dad and I had taken, and I went out on a limb – I asked him if we could take another trip together… we were both married, he was supporting Carolyn as she battled the beast that is cancer, and I was supporting Scott as he attended college full time and worked part time – a challenge in and of itself.

I was surprised, but now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised… just a week or so after my request, my dad told me he had booked a special trip for us. He told me that in October 2017 he and I would fly to Switzerland and take a cruise from Basel to Amsterdam on the Rhine River. I could not believe it. I was so, SO excited.

Throughout winter 2016-2017, the thought of that trip understandably took a backseat to my stepmom’s deteriorating health. It was a difficult time for our whole family. Scott and I flew down to celebrate her 70th birthday in March of this year – it was quite the occasion, but it was bittersweet as I feared it would be the last time I’d see her.

In June, she wasn’t doing too well. I told my dad I wanted to be down there with him and the rest of the family. He booked me a flight down to Nashville toward the end of June, but something inside me told me I needed to get down there sooner. My dad switched my ticket to the next day. I flew from Minneapolis to St. Louis, where I connected to Nashville.

I exited the airport in Tennessee and immediately saw my dad. He hugged me really tight and whispered in my ear, “Carolyn died.” My heart sank into my stomach. I hadn’t made it in time. I didn’t know what to think.

Needless to say, the months following her passing were difficult for everyone. There was sadness, there was frustration… but we all stuck together and supported one another. I was so happy to have been there for my dad in his greatest time of need. And, as October neared, I realized that this trip – a trip that I had at one time doubted would even happen – would not only happen, it needed to happen. This trip would be so meaningful for both my dad and for me… I felt more thankful than I ever had that this adventure was becoming a reality.

Tomorrow, my dad is flying into Minneapolis, and Thursday we’ll fly to Amsterdam together. From there we’ll head to Zurich, and ultimately Basel before embarking on a trip that will bring us through France, Germany and the Netherlands. I’ve been waiting for this trip for what feels like my whole life.

There is something else about this trip that is so incredibly special. When my dad booked our trip, I was just getting into aviation… photography, journalism, anything and everything flight. He knew how much I had dreamed of flying on a Boeing 747… the beautiful, iconic Queen of the Skies that undoubtedly would retire in the years to come.

Not only did my dad choose a flight back to the states simply because it was on a KLM 747 (a combi at that!), he even adjusted our schedule by jumping through a number of hoops when he found out our flight was switched and we would no longer be on the Queen – that just wasn’t acceptable to him! This trip means so much to me, but knowing that he wanted that experience so badly for me, makes it that much more special.

In just 48 hours my dad and I will be high in the sky, nearing the Atlantic where we will drift to sleep and wake up in Amsterdam. There, we’ll spend a half-day exploring Schipol Airport (a one-on-one behind-the-scenes tour a year in the making!). We will then fly to Zurich, spend the night, and take a train to Basel the next morning, where we’ll board our ship later that evening.

We’ll stop in various German, French and Dutch cities before ending back in Amsterdam, where we’ll spend an additional two days. A week from next Monday, we’ll board a KLM 747-400 mixed configuration aircraft (half passenger, half cargo) that will bring us to Chicago where we’ll catch our final flight back to Minnesota.

Honestly… this trip, and the memories that will be made, means the world to me. I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend this time with my dad, and I cannot wait to share the experience with you all through photos and through writing.

To blue skies and tailwinds… and smooth sailing!