From summer 2012 Air France will more than halve the number of flights it operates to the Thai capital. At the same time it will cut the number of business class seats it places on the market from 35 a day to 42 a week.
Right now the French flag-carrier operates a daily B777 between Paris CDG and Bangkok but starting on March 25 next year the number of flights will be cut to just three a week.
In effect Air France will downgrade Bangkok from a business to a holiday destination.
The carrier has become, perhaps, the first European airline to operate a leisure-configured plane on a scheduled route to a major Asian city.
The existing B777-200ER rostered for this route is fitted with 35 business, 24 premium economy and 250 economy class seats.
From the start of the summer 2012 timetable on March 25, Air France will operate a two-class B747 fitted with 40 business and 396 economy seats.
But starting on May 7, that plane is switched to a two-class B777-300ER accommodating 14 seats in business and an astonishing 458 seats in economy class. (At the time of writing, airfrance.com does not display a premium economy cabin for the route in summer 2012).
The B777-300ER features Air France’s “Loisirs” or leisure configuration with dense 10-across seating in economy class. The aircraft in question is normally rostered for the carrier’s holiday flights to the Caribbean and Indian Ocean.
Why the downgrade? Long distance flights to Asia are costly to operate unless you can obtain a profitable number of premium class passengers. Cutting flight frequency and switching to a high-density economy layout would suggest that Air France is losing market share to rivals.
The number of flights operated by the major European airlines has either declined or stagnated over the past decade even though passenger numbers have risen (see Route of the Month, February 2011).
One reason could be that the four main Gulf airlines (which operate indirect services via their hubs) have stolen a slice of the European carriers’ market. Consider that Emirates flies no fewer than four times a day between Dubai and Bangkok with one service operated by an A380. Qatar operates three times a day, Etihad twice daily while Oman Air has a single daily flight.
Air France has yet to comment officially on the move. But the carrier’s ex-CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon had previously blamed the Gulf carriers for stealing market share. Mr Gourgeon told Bloomberg last year that the European airlines may struggle to maintain efficient connections as Middle Eastern carriers lure more passengers away.
It would seem, in the case of Air France at least, that Mr Gourgeon’s prediction is coming true.
For more information visit airfrance.com.
Report by Alex McWhirter