Air France com­fort takes off


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - KEVIN RITCHIE

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.

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