Passengers flying Air France are in for a big treat as it unveils its new and improved cabins, the Air France style. Following its launch in Shanghai in May and a connection in New York in June, the exhibition “Air France, France is in the Air” continues its world tour with a stop in Paris in September at Grand Palais, Paris. This special event took guests on a journey within the new Air France universe; where real and virtual experiences are combined with exciting events and entertainment to discover its new travel concept and its entire range of new long-haul cabins in a unique exhibition. Omolola Itayemi writes.
The posters were everywhere in Paris, from airports to train stations to the city streets, ‘Air France, France is in the Air’ exhibition stared you in the face. But nowhere was it more iconic than Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, known as the Grand Palais located at the Champs-Élysées in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, the venue of this hallmark event. The venue was no happenstance; it is one of the city’s most prestigious museums and an architectural treasure from the Belle Époque and represents everything French; artistic, sophisticated, historic and elegant. So, it’s not surprising that Air France in its 81st year of operation with its strong French culture picked it as the venue of choice to exhibit its unique, upscale products and services in this unprecedented “Air France, France is in the Air” exhibition spanning three continents.
Experience bliss in the air
The exhibition led us on a journey through real and virtual experiences where we savoured the new Air France universe with interactive animations. From the gradual metamorphosis of their crew fashion to burlesque-like advertisements over the years, some as far back as the 60’s. Nothing was sparred, as it gave us an opportunity to also immerse ourselves in history through the legendary collaborations that over the past 80 years have contributed to making Air France an iconic brand. The experience was breath taking starting from the new economy class cabins to Premiere (first class) cabins. From visual to auditory to sensory to touch, all the senses were stimulated. Air France left no stone unturned towards our experiencing its new products and French-style travel. I experienced first-hand the new Air France long-haul products. More legroom, a larger HD screen entertainment and a wider tray table in Economy class. Premium Economy has been enhanced with more comfortable seat cushions and a multi-position footrest. The new Business class features a fully lie-flat seat bed with direct aisle access for all passengers and a 16 inch HD screen. Finally, the new La Première cabin is composed of four private suites designed to provide absolute comfort and five-star service throughout the journey, including a real bed, a 24 inch HD screen and an extra seat to invite friends or members of your family to wine and dine with you in your cabin.
In addition, there were multitudes of activities for both children and adults. Thirsty? Indulge in a wine tasting Tour de France with sommelier Ida Rae Zapanta or stop by the Champagne and Ladurée macarons bar. In the mood for learning? The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) will offer fun language classes for all ages. The kids are bored? Bring them to kids’ lounge or have them participate in a fun workshop sponsored by Jacadi.
Each class of service has new perks and features, Bruno Matheu, Chief Officer, Long Haul told the group. The Economy cabin’s new seats are thinner and lighter than previous models (reducing up to 1,000 pounds on each plane), and each comes with a nine-inch personal flat-screen TV as well as an electrical socket for charging personal devices. The Premium Economy seats have hard shells as well as 40 per cent more space than the economy seats. They have 12-inch screens and footrests. The Business Class seats, which were unveiled in February, are set up in a 1-2-1 configuration so that they all have aisle access, as well as privacy screens. The seats fold out to become fully flat beds that are 77 inches long and 27 inches wide with real duvets. For entertainment, passengers get 16-inch screens and noise-cancelling headphones. Then there’s the new La Première suite, which was set to roll out on 19 Air France Boeing 777-300 planes September (September). It has seats that stretch out into a flatbed that is more than six feet long with a mattress installed by the flight attendants. Perhaps best of all and most classically French – all classes on board all international flights will get a glass of champagne and you can chat with fellow travellers in any cabin. The new cabins will be coming to Libreville, Gabon, Africa this December.
In total, 44 Boeing 777 planes will get almost 10,000 Economy seats, more than 1,100 Premium Economy seats and 2,102 new Business class seats. By the end of the year, the new cabins will be used on flights to Singapore, Jakarta, Tokyo-Haneda, Houston and Shanghai. Douala, Dubai and Sao Paulo will follow early 2015. The Group has reportedly invested 700 million euros in new cabins, including 500 million for Air France and 200 million for KLM, Juniac said at the conference, and expects to invest more than one billion euros by 2017 to upgrade both airlines’ Airbus A330 and Air France’s A380 planes. The new Air France cabins are being deployed on 44 Boeing 777 up to 2016. This summer, KLM is offering its new World Business Class on 22 Boeing 747. In September 2015, all of its Boeing 777-200 and 300 will offer this cabin. The group will add 100 Boeing 787 to its fleet at the end of 2015 and the first Airbus A350 in 2018. The aircraft will be equipped with completely new cabins.
According to Frank Legre, the Senior Vice President (Africa), Air France-KLM, who oversees the African continent, Air France-KLM, the total investment in this cabin upgrade is 500 million Euros. “I remember well, the total investment is about 500 million Euros on the three cabins for the 44 aircraft. I think 200 million Euros for the economy class; we are changing everything, the seats are very costly, the in- flight entertainment system. It is a huge investment,” he said. Much more than upgrades of cabin, Legre looks at the bigger picture of providing good and efficient seating to all customers. “What I really like is that we are not only looking at the high end customers; we also believe it is important to provide good, efficient seating to all customers including economy class. We are focusing on all customers, not only on the high end, but those travelling on economy and premium economy; you will also enjoy the new cabin on Air France-KLM,” he said.
Sometimes the grandeur of such exhibitions overshadows the essence and message behind why it took place in the first place. But not Air France going by what Legre revealed. He said, “what we are trying to show through this exhibition is that Air France is investing in the future, proud of its past, has a long tradition of high quality French taste and this exactly is the new motto of the new products. I believe also that it is important to insist that we are not only investing in First Class or Business Class, but all four cabins. Even if you are travelling in economy, we are happy to welcome you and show you that Air France is changing; Air France is giving the best of its quality, thanks to the seats but also thanks to the cabin crew and ground crew.”