Exclusive: Air France announces premium economy class

30 Apr 2008 by Mark Caswell

Air France is to launch a premium-economy style seat across its long-haul fleet, with the first plane due to see the new product in around 15 months' time.

The exclusive announcement was made by the airline’s executive vice-president of marketing and network, Bruno Matheu, onboard Air France’s “ferry flight” between Seattle (where the carrier took delivery of its 50th Boeing 777-300ER – full report to follow in a forthcoming edition of Business Traveller) and Paris.

The new class has been codenamed C38 – the “C” referring to the fare code usually reserved for business class, and the “38” to the pitch of the new seat in inches. Matheu said the offering will be aimed at the SME market, and at leisure passengers in economy “looking for more”.

The seats will be retrofitted to all of Air France’s long-haul fleet with the exception of the 747 aircraft, which are due to be phased out by 2012. It will also be installed on new aircraft, including the forthcoming A380, although passengers will have to wait for the seventh delivery of the superjumbo before they will see it onboard from the outset (the first six will be retrofitted at a later date).

Air France will make space for the new seating by removing four rows in economy and replacing them with three rows of the C38 product, in a 2-4-2 configuration (22-28 seats in total depending on the aircraft). The new offering will be divided from both the economy and business cabins by wall partitions rather than curtains, and the seats will be enclosed in a fixed shell so that passengers can recline without encroaching on the row behind them.

Matheu said that Air France would be able to retrofit the fleet relatively quickly as there would be no need to change the configuration of the business class offering, or indeed to move economy seats (other than those being taken out).

Features of the new offering will include a sliding recline mechanism, a larger TV screen than economy, individual seat power and reading lights, as well as on-the-ground benefits such as priority check-in, and “possibly lounge access”. However, Matheu said that while there would be four seating products on the planes – Tempo (economy), the C38, Classe Affaires (business) and Classe Premiere (first) – service would remain in three classes, with the C38 seats being attended to by economy crew.

Matheu added that the 38-inch pitch offering is equivalent to Air France’s business class seat 15 years ago, and said that while the seat will more nearly resemble the current business class product than the economy seat, it will be priced closer to the latter. Air France does in fact already offer a premium economy class which goes by the name of Alize, but this is only available on certain leisure routes to the French overseas territories in the Caribbean and French Guiana.

The premium economy concept has risen in popularity in recent years, with carriers such as Air New Zealand, Virgin and Japan Airlines all introducing their own versions – for an in-depth look at the premium economy phenomenon, see Alex McWhirter’s report in the February 2008 edition of Business Traveller.

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Report by Mark Caswell

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