KLM encourages passengers to take the train to cut emissions

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KLM’s chief executive has encouraged passengers to take the train rather than fly on some short-haul journeys to help cut carbon emissions, saying the airline sector should stop viewing rail as a competitor.

“If [you] have a good alternative you should really use it,” Marjan Rintel told the Financial Times in an interview. “If you’re serious on reaching your sustainability goals, the train is not a competitor. We need to work together.”

She also said she used the train when she travelled from Amsterdam, where KLM is based, to the Paris headquarters of parent company Air France-KLM.

National governments in Europe have been taking action to get people on to high-speed trains instead of short-haul flights and cut the carbon cost of flying.

Air France, the French carrier which comes under the same holding company as KLM, stopped flying domestic routes where there are rail or coach alternatives taking under two and a half hours in 2020, as part of measures it agreed to with the French government in exchange for aid during the Covid-19 pandemic.

French parliamentarians later passed a bill formalising the ban on short term flights, a measure approved by the EU last week. Effectively, however, the changes only affect three routes from Paris, with connecting flights for instance exempted. 

In June, the Dutch government announced plans to slash flights from Schiphol airport by more than 10 per cent to 440,000 a year. The move is likely to lead to a sharp reduction in short-haul flights from the airport and could put a brake on national flag carrier KLM’s future growth.

Rintel said KLM had already block-booked seats on the train service linking Amsterdam to Brussels and Paris in response, and she had urged the business “to develop the relationships with the Dutch railways, to see what we can do at short notice to motivate our customers to go by train to Brussels or Paris”.

KLM was also looking at making it easier to buy flight and train tickets in a single booking and was in discussions with rail companies in the Netherlands and France about making transfers easier, Rintel said.

Baggage services could be integrated, allowing customers to drop off luggage at an airport and collect it at the end of a train journey, for example. “As a customer you always look at the final destination . . . so you must offer a product like this,” she said.

Rintel worked for six years for Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Netherlands’ state-owned train operator, and was chief executive of the group for nearly two years before leaving for KLM in July this year.

However, she expressed no interest in becoming directly involved in running train services and said the airline would work with NS and the Eurostar Group, owner of the cross-Channel Eurostar service and of the Thalys service linking France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Rintel took over as chief after a period of strained relations between KLM and its parent company. Varying performances between the airlines had caused tensions as group chief executive Ben Smith sought to squeeze benefits from closer co-operation. The strains culminated in the Dutch government’s decision to take a 14 per cent stake in Air France-KLM in 2019 to protect KLM’s interests.

Rintel said stability of operations was her priority after airport chaos this summer forced airlines to substantially cut the number of flights to cope with long delays.

“Next to that, building relationships” with stakeholders, including the Dutch government, was a priority. “The enemy is not in the group. There will be consolidation all over Europe. We will be in new exceptional times and we need to be strong together,” she said.

The airline has threatened to take legal action over the Schiphol cuts but Rintel said this was not yet decided. “We have claims on the table. My first objective is Schiphol delivering the capacity we need.”

Source: Financial Times


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