Air France comfort takes off
AIR FRANCE has begun a massive revamp of its fleet, starting with new seats in economy class.
Briefing reporters on the eve of Top Resa, the annual French tourism expo in Paris last week, the airline’s long- haul chief officer, Bruno Matheu, says it’s all part of its “Best and Beyond” strategy and premised on three legs: comfort, attention and pleasure.
Starting from June, economy seats are being replaced by new designs that are bigger, with more leg room, than any other airline in its class. At the back of each seat will be a 12-inch touch screen using an iPad-like interface providing access to 1 000 hours of in-flight entertainment, comprising 300 films, 250 hours of TV shows and 700 music albums – all of which will be available from embarkation to disembarkation.
There are USB ports and sockets to recharge electronic devices, and a jack allowing you to use your own headphones. The tray tables are bigger and the armrests can retract, allowing you to stretch out if you have an empty seat next to you.
As far as meals are concerned, Air France will dish up another hot meal if the flight is longer than 8.3 hours, and add an ice cream if the flight goes over 10. The airline, boasts Matheu, remains the only one to offer all passengers Champagne on embarkation.
It’s also the first airline to introduce premium economy, a bridging class just below business – with 40 percent more space than economy. Introduced four years ago, it amounts to 8 percent of the air- line’s revenue. This class, too, will undergo a revamp, getting foot rests, softer cushions, stainless steel cutlery and glass glasses. Each passenger will receive a towel, fleece blanket, headphones and an eye mask on their seat. There’s also a little culinary treat that’s theirs to take home after the main meal.
Children are also a key part of the revamp, getting airplaneshaped plastic cutlery, and up to three organic products for babies and young children, who will always be served before everyone else in the cabin. There are also special games kits for toddlers, kids between five and eight, and the nine to 12 age group.
The planning of the revamp took a year and involved 2 500 passengers on the Moscow and New York long-haul routes out of Paris, but it’s underpinned by what Mattheu calls the “software” – a change in attitude among all 19 000 staff, a culture of putting the customer first – from calling them by their name and looking them in the eye on first meeting to acting proactively to deal with problems before they develop.
“It’s a hands-on approach on a day-to-day basis,” he says, citing as examples the airline’s recognition of the need to put more chicken on the African line menus or letting passengers, especially younger ones, get straight into the in-flight entertainment the moment they sit down.
Passengers can already register and print their own boarding cards; soon they’ll be able to check in their bags and prints their own tags.
“We want to show that ‘Best and Beyond’ is for everyone. Lots of other airlines just talk. We’ve always been the first to innovate and do,” says Matheu.
COMFORT: New Air France seats for economy class passengers.