What is the current strategy for Air France?
“The first priority was to regain peaceful dialogue within Air France. From the arrival of Ben Smith when he was interim CEO for Air France, we managed to have a good negotiation and dialogue with all the staff -cabin crew, pilots, ground crew, maintenance. This was the first priority because you can’t do a strategy if you don’t have the people with you. Then we decided to simplify the brands. Customers were a bit confused, so we removed two brands: Joon and Hop! [Hop! Became Air France Hop on regional fleet ). So now we have three strong brands in the group: Air France, KLM and Transavia.
Next there was the simplification of the customer experience and the network. We worked to have the same product on the same route, so if you propose La Premiere (first class) on a route, you must have it on every day, and the same for the fully flat business class offer. So that’s how the network was designed as from Summer 2019 and from the end of next year 80 percent of flights with business class will have the fully-flat bed.
We also worked on our operations so that the completion factor and punctuality improved, and that was with network planning to give maintenance the time to repair the aircraft. We will improve further this winter and next summer. To help this we added spare aircraft at the height of the summer to anticipate the disruptions that can happen in an airline whether weather, political or technical. So at the peak time from mid-July to the end of August we had four long haul aircraft as spare aircraft and it allowed us to have a very good completion factors. It allowed us to regain the trust of our customers after a very difficult year.
Next we are investing 1 billion euro in five years in the refurbishment of our aircraft to have a consistent experience with fully flat business class eats, more comfortable premier economy with high definition screens and wifi on board, which alone is Euro 100 million across the fleet.
We will also see biometrics on the ground to have a smoother experience on the ground and improved lounges. We renovated the New York and Washington lounges and will open a new lounge in Orly in mid-January for international flights and we will open Los Angeles before the end of the year And the Air France app is a companion on your trip and we are investing on the digitisation and also the personalisation of the experience.
We also have to simplify our fleet, so half will be renewed by 2025 and the A350 is a symbol of this as we receive a total of 28 of them. We will have 10 B787 Dreamliners (we already have nine) and we are renewing 60 Airbus A220 from September 2021 to 2025(to replace A318/19). Retiring the A340 and the A380 means that the common type rating for cockpits will be lower than today, so that will help with cabin crew training and it is easier for operations when you swop aircraft.
Finally, we also have to increase the profit margin of Air France to catch up with average margins in Europe and to pay for the investments we are making. So internally we have a big project of our operation to digitise our operations, to streamline the organisation and make quicker decisions, and we are trying to do this with the staff. So it is not the management thinking of it and then applying it top down, so working with the people who lead the process throughout the organisation to ensure we know the most efficient way of doing it. The cost part is a huge part and takes a lot of my time, because we can’t do the strategy without this.
How can you improve the morale of the Air France staff on board and so the service for customers?
In the last year we have negotiated a lot of agreements with everyone, with pilots, cabin crew and ground staff in a new spirit. It was Ben Smith who initiated it one year ago when he became CEO of Air France KLM and interim CEO of Air France. This new spirit is based on full trust, respect, confidentiality and transparency. And I think it works quite well. It is a new way of talking to each other. Very frankly, everything is on the table, but what we say is that what we negotiate has not to be in the newspaper the day afterwards.
With cabin crew we had to have a big negotiation to remove the Joon brand because the customers didn’t understand Joon. They didn’t know if it was low cost. They were buying an Air France ticket and so when they got to the airport they were saying what is this? So we decided to remove Joon and negotiated a new CLA with the staff in order to balance the cost. It was a success to do this and when we measure the employee net promoter score we now see a huge increase in it for Air France in one year, and all the customers tell me that the spirit on board is different. You can see in all the flights that people are a lot happier and proud of all the investments in product because they like to offer our customers the best product. In our strategies, customer experience is really key but also the operational experience. In terms of rankings in terms of European punctuality, we are now third in September and we are a lot in front of British Airways and Lufthansa. We still have a lot to do. We have regained trust with our employees and our customers. .
Internal industrial action harmed Air France, but also Air Traffic Control strikes
Yes, and to avoid strikes we have had to have longer flight plans increasing emissions by 10 percent just because of strikes. We are asking the government to accelerate the reforms of the unique European sky to avoid this. There are solutions that are available now.
And yes, we had strikes, but also a lot of difficulties with operational matters. The way we designed our new network and planning and the way we added spare aircraft at the peak was important So for example this summer we had four spare aircraft to help with cancellations. And you can see that with the New Promotor Score (NPS) which is the best level ever for Air France and which is still improving. It is nourished by the customer experience.
What have you done about improving the service and product?
We have pre-ordering in business class. We have started with three routes (Paris-Tokyo, Paris-Sao Paulo, Paris-New York), but will roll it out across all the flights next year. It means people get their choice of meal but it also means we don’t over overload the flight with food. In addition, we have personalised the service. You don’t see the trolley too much in business class. When crews serve you, they wait until you have finished your first course and then bring your main course when you are ready. We are also working on the choice of the cheese. We have improved our offer a lot this year. Our vegetarian offerings wasn’t the best, so it is signed by a star chef like the other items on the menu. We have a good wine list and we receive awards regularly on our wine and Champagne list in both business and first class.
Lastly, we want to offer the customer a consistent experience. Next year we will have 80 percent of our long haul which will have the best product, and by the end of 2022 it will have been completed in terms of having the best product, it’s a 1 billion euro investment in five years !
And then there’s the environmental push.And then there’s the environment. It has always been but we did not talk about it much. So we feel the necessity to communicate more about our action plan and decided to complete our road map and take new commitments.
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