Air France is convinced it made the right choice in introducing a Premium Economy cabin to its long-haul services in 2009, and will continue to make improvements to the offering in a bid to stand out against its main European rivals in what it admits is “a very competitive market”.
Speaking to the APEX editor’s blog, Air France product manager for long-haul Premium Economy Eugénie Audebert said the carrier was “very satisfied” with the product and has “reached the objective we originally planned”.
“We’re very happy with the additional revenue it has generated for Air France – this is a crucial point for the company,” says Audebert. “We’ve had especially good results on the North American market. We compete here with [premium economy products on] Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, so this is a very competitive market.”
More than 1.5 million passengers have flown in Premium Economy with Air France since the product was launched in October 2009.
The cabin has been installed on 98 of the airline’s long-haul aircraft, with installation on the final two Airbus A380s in its existing fleet having concluded in December 2012. Two more A380s will be delivered this year with the Premium Economy cabin in place, and the remainder of its ordered A380s will arrive fully installed from 2015 onwards.
Air France says it is “too early to communicate” details relating to Premium Economy on the Airbus A350s that are scheduled to join its fleet from late 2017. The terms of the A350 order are still “being negotiated with Airbus and the engine manufacturer”.
In the fall of 2012 Airbus said it was eyeing a minimum seat width of 19 inches for the eight-abreast, premium economy-class seats that will be included in its A350 catalogue, and could reveal its selection of suppliers at the upcoming Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
As it stands, all of Air France’s long-haul aircraft offer a Premium Economy cabin, apart from seven Boeing 747s which had been destined to leave its fleet. Audebert says that “at the moment there are no plans” to offer the product on the 747s, adding that “it’s not decided yet” when the aircraft will be retired.
She declines to disclose a figure for Air France’s expenditure on Premium Economy, but says it was “a significant investment” and “based on the results, we’re sure it was a good choice”.
Air France believes its Premium Economy cabin stands out against competitors partly because of the fixed-shell seats, manufactured by B/E Aerospace, which offer more recline than economy class seats and 40% more leg room.
“We were the only European airline to propose this kind of seat in premium economy, and the main benefit is the privacy it offers passengers,” says Audebert. “Our customers are always looking for more comfort – this is the main reason [they choose to fly Premium Economy].”
To this end, Air France is working on adding seat cushions and footrests to the cabin. “These are already on some of our aircraft and we will maybe introduce this on other aircraft,” says Audebert.
The smallest Premium Economy cabin at Air France, on its Airbus A340s, has 21 seats, while its A380s have 38 Premium Economy seats on the upper deck. Audebert says the carrier will stick with this seating strategy because “it’s a good balance”.
Air France will be working on enhancing its Premium Economy product in 2013, with its aim being to “go further in the differentiation of our on-board offer”, says Audebert. Top of the carrier’s “wish list” is to “improve the welcome offer” to passengers and offer “more contact with crew”.
It also plans to extend the ‘a la carte’ menu option that was introduced in July 2012 for Premium Economy passengers flying from Paris Charles de Gaulle. “Our objective is to roll this out to our outstations this year and in 2014,” says Audebert. Under this option passengers can pre-order one of five menu options ranging in price from €12 to €28.
Meanwhile, Air France is poised to begin trialling Panasonic’s eXConnect inflight Internet system in March, and is looking at a broader roll-out from 2014.