Air France is expanding operations at Southampton airport this summer. Two of its three daily flights to Paris CDG are getting extra capacity in the shape of 70-seater ATR turbo-props compared to the 50-seater Canadair jets used at present.
The carrier says the extra seats are to meet demand for passengers flying both to Paris and beyond. Air France offers connections at CDG for worldwide destinations and economy or business class fares are competitive compared to those offered from Heathrow. Some passengers living to the west and southwest of London prefer Southampton because of its ease of use, cheaper parking and good access by rail (Southampton Airport Parkway station adjoins the terminal) and road.
The BAA-owned airport is becoming the South Coast's main springboard for secondary cities in France. Whereas Air France concentrates on Paris, the budget carrier Flybe intends to operate 11 routes this summer including Avignon, Brest, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Rennes.
Air services to France from this part of England have a bright future. Rival train firm Eurostar will be less of a threat from 2007 when it transfers its London terminal from convenient Waterloo to less convenient St Pancras.
Last year Southampton handled 1.85 million passengers (a 20% rise over 2004). This year's total is expected to exceed 2 million.
Report by Alex McWhirter