Top Picks For You

Dutch Court Rules KLM Misled Customers

The Dutch court ruled that multiple statements made by KLM about its sustainability practices were “misleading, and a prohibited commercial practice.”

An Amsterdam district court has ruled that Dutch flag carrier KLM violated Dutch consumer protection laws by advertising that “makes environmental claims based on vague and general statements about environmental benefits, thereby misleading consumers.” 

The suit was filed in 2022 by the Dutch climate action pressure group Fossielvrij NL (Fossil-free Netherlands). Nineteen advertising statements made by the airline that were included as part of the suit were no longer in use at the time the judgment was rendered, so the court did not order any action on the part of the airline. KLM must pay Fossielvrij NL’s legal fees, totaling just over €18,000. 

Thirteen of the advertising statements were part of KLM’s since-retired “Fly Responsibly” campaign, aimed at making consumers aware of the airline’s environmental efforts. An example of the statements is this one from a video on the airline’s website explaining the campaign: 

Fortunately, the way we travel is changing
And together we will move towards a more sustainable future
Because traveling more sustainably is our greatest adventure ever
Together on the road to more sustainable travel

Continue Reading Article After Our Video

Recommended Fodor’s Video

The court ruled that “This advertising is not sufficiently specific about what environmental benefit will be achieved and to what aspects of [flying with] KLM this relates. It also does not make it clear to the consumer what KLM specifically has in mind to achieve certain objectives. KLM states quite firmly that consumers are moving with it towards a more sustainable future, while it is not clear whether and, if so, how flying with KLM contributes to this.”

The court ruled this and another 14 statements were “misleading, and a prohibited commercial practice.” The court did not find fault with four of the statements in Fossielvrij’s complaint.

Other complaints concerned the airline’s language describing the “first” flight using synthetic kerosene when the flight was a one-off experiment, leading consumers to believe that more flights using the alternative fuel were forthcoming, and the naming of its carbon offset program CO2ZERO, claiming “with our CO2ZERO service you can reduce the impact of your flight on the environment”, when the direct carbon impacts for the individual flights were not actually reduced (carbon offsets are pooled). 

The court also rejected Fossielvrij’s request to prevent KLM from making similar statements in perpetuity, ruling that such a request would be too broad, and could have an unfair, disproportionate chilling effect on KLM’s promotional efforts. 

The climate group also requested the court to require KLM to issue explanatory apology letters to passengers who bought tickets while the advertisements were in use, publish the same letter in Dutch newspapers, pay a €100,000 penalty for each future violation, and publish notices on its website and social media accounts that “There is no such thing as ‘sustainable’ flying–flying must be reduced immediately to align with the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

The court also rejected these requests. 

KLM responded to the news of the ruling, “Our communication about sustainability must be honest and transparent. We have already taken important steps in this regard and have not used the 19 communications that were central to this case for some time now. We are pleased that the court has ruled that we can continue to communicate with our customers and partners about our approach to making aviation more sustainable. We are continuously learning how best to include them in this.”

Ben Smith, CEO of KLM parent Air France-KLM, told an industry panel at a Brussels aviation summit that the court’s ruling is “not a fair assessment”, saying that the airline’s significant expenditure on the purchase of more fuel-efficient aircraft is a “concrete example” of the airline’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. 

KLM is the world’s oldest airline, founded in 1919. It currently operates from Amsterdam to 92 cities in Europe and a further 70 destinations around the globe, including 14 cities in the United States.