As a native Curacao, Dutch Antillean, born ‘Aviation Photographer’ I have visited Curacao several times in the past for our annual summer holidays. This time I re-visited Curacao for a much needed winter break.
My first ever flight to Curacao was back in 1978, when I fly with KLM Douglas DC-10-30 tri-jet from Amsterdam to Curacao "Hato" airport, via Lisbon (Portugal), Port of Spain (Trinidad) and returned via Madrid (Spain) and Zurich (Swiss). Those were exciting times and I enjoyed the short lay-over’s checking out the different airports. My next visit was 13 years later (1991), when we travelled as a family to Curacao onboard yet again KLM McDonnell DC-10-30 (KL731/732). The following year we traveled yet again to Curacao for another annual summer holiday, onboard KLM DC-10-30 Amsterdam, via the Island of Bonaire.
My next flight to Curacao was in August 2004 with KLM B747-400 as flight KL735 and return KL736. Again this was a family summer holiday with both of my daughters. Then in November 2008 I was ordered to take a holiday break from work and decided to visit my native Island again escaping the cold winter weather in Holland. Due to the KLM "World-Deal" ticket offers, I got a good price and boarded KLM MD-11 KL735 for a nine hour flight to Hato Airport.
Then the year 2020 arrived and KLM announced that the Boeing B747-400, the "Flagship" of the fleet was going to be retired from the fleet, with the last flight in the spring of 2021. Only a handful of destinations such as Mexico, Surinam, LAX, New York was going to be served by the iconic B747 "Jumbo Jet". Curacao International Airport was also listed to being served until the spring of 2020. Once I received the news about the retirement of the "Queen" of the Skies, I booked a return ticket to Curacao KL735 during the 2nd week of Feb…thus escaping the cold & dull winter days once more. Never realizing that this would be my last passenger flight onboard KLM B747 and turned out to be my personal farewell flight, of the "Queen".
The morning of my flight turned out to crisp and clear. I checked myself in on aisle seat 22C, which is located in front of the left wing and next to the stairs leading up to the business class. Departure time was at 10.40 local and arrival was scheduled at Curacao 15.30 local. The middle seat was not occupied and gave me some extra comfort during the smooth 9 hours flight. The outdated B747 interior reminded me off the old-days back in the 1980s when I regularly flew cheap flights across the Atlantic to New York City. I addition the inflight entertainment was poor and was not always working. But then again the old lady was going to retire in a couple of months so why bother with a major High-Tec upgrade.
The friendly crew had mixed emotions of the retirement of their "Queen" and they were OK with my taking pictures of the cabin in order to preserve the moment. KLM B747s featured a special crew communication and work booth which was on the RH forward side of the cabin. Also the forward RH side galley station was placed between the right-side door 11 and 12. The World business Class seats were situated in the nose of the aircraft and the upper-deck.
After a smooth 8,5 hours flight our B747 was starting its long descent to the Island of Curacao. My fellow passenger sitting at the window offered to exchange places, so I could film and photograph the landing. Seat 21 and 22 are the best seat’s to capture the massive and the giant General Electric CF6-80C2B5F turbofan engines.
Coming in from the North during the final approach Hato airport should be visible while crossing the coast line before lining up for runway 11-29. This time while I was looking out over the dark blue Caribbean water I could not see the airport; instead our blue and white B747 was passing over the coast in a straight line, flying over Hato airport. We continued onwards overflying the old Isla Oil Refinery and made a slight turn overhead the city of Willemstad. I could see numerous checkered yellow and orange "Unesco" World Heritage buildings of Punda, Willemstad. We then made a big turn towards the West flying along the coast-line called near Bullenbaai. As we turned north again we flew over the rugged and deserted Hato plains in order for our final-approach. As usually and with the greatest of ease our massive B747 Jumbo Jet landed smoothly on Hato Airport 3,410m runway. We back tracked to the terminal and as the engines stopped and the passenger door opened, I felt the hot tropical air rushing in….yes I was back in the tropics.
(ps: thank to Captain Michael van Rossum and his cabin crew for the excellent service and cockpit visit in order to capture a memorable moment onboard the final moments of KLM B747s during its 49 years" service with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.)
Photo Feature: The KLM 747 at Schiphol – The Early Years.