Tried & Tested

Flight review: Joon A340-300 business class

12 Apr 2018 by Tom Otley
Joon-tailfin

Background

Joon is the new airline from Air France.

Air France launched Joon because it needed what the CEO of the airline called a “new tool for the group” by which he means “a highly competitive cost structure in order to sustain the most difficult routes for Air France.”

The aim is for Joon is to support Air France in growing its network to and from Paris Charles de Gaulle and also to act as a real innovation lab for Air France, hence the early talk of it being an airline for millennials, which seems to have been quietly dropped from the marketing.

In fact, at a press conference I attended in Cape Town the day after this flight, the CEO Jean-Michel Mathieu said the “Differentiation is more on the product than the customer.”

Joon has a raft of short haul, medium haul and now long-haul routes, with this being the inaugural flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Cape Town. The aircraft being used are reconfigured Air France aircraft.

As of July 2018, Joon will have a fleet of seven Airbus A320s, four A321s and four A340s. By summer 2019 this will have increased to 18 Airbus A320 and A321 with the long-haul fleet staying at four A340 aircraft but with the prospect of an A350 joining in Autumn 2019.

Joon isn’t a low-cost airline, as demonstrated by the prices to travellers. Instead it seems to be Air France’s attempt to strip out some costs behind the scenes while at the same time marketing “choice” to travellers, as all airlines are now attempting.

The airline is positioned as something completely new, which is difficult to do at the moment on long-haul with an ageing fleet, something that was obvious on this inaugural flight.

As far as costs are concerned, Air France isn’t saying, but reports suggest that the pilots are paid the same as Air France pilots, but the cabins attendants are paid less than the Air France flight attendants. Presumably this helps make these routes potentially more profitable, as does the marketing of the airline to a potential new customer base, or at least one more likely to be responsive to a new brand rather than the core Air France one.

This inaugural flight to Cape Town is three times weekly during the summer, rising to five times weekly in the winter. It was previously operated by Air France with an A330.

Joon-cabin-A340

First impressions

I was transferring from an early morning flight from London Heathrow for my 0940 departure on AF0864 to Cape Town. Only those who have attempted a short connection time at Charles de Gaulle will know how stressful it is, but in the event, I managed to make the flight with ten minutes to spare. The flight boarded on time and we were quickly away without any fuss. We boarded at Gate L22.

the-seat_Samantha-Reinders_27

The seat:

The business class cabin has a total of 30 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, with four rows AC, six centre rows of DH and then five rows of KJ.

The seat is one of the old-style Air France business class seats, though with new upholstery. It is lie-flat rather than full flat, with a recline of 175 degrees and a bed width of 61 cm and a length of 2 metres. There is one USB socket for each seat and also an electric socket, though note that you need an adaptor for that if you have a UK plug (it fits US and EU ones without a problem).

There is a storage compartment for magazines between each seat, although things tend to fly out of here on take-off so you would be wise to follow the advice and not use it for stowage at take-off since your iPad won’t thank you. There is also a slot for your shoes. The side table slides out and upwards from the arm of the chair.

The seats have a new inflight entertainment system (IFE) which was going through teething problems. I found my screen needed to be reset a few times (three in total).

IFE-screens

In addition, one innovation is that before you fly, you download the Joon app and then can use the wifi onboard to stream entertainment to your device from the onboard server.

This is different entertainment to the offering on the IFE because Joon is mainly a medium-haul airline at present, and so it allows you a wide range of content to be streamed from the server on board the aircraft. On long haul this gets a little confusing, since you have the normal IFE, and then this new content, but on medium haul it would be more obvious since the IFE wouldn’t be an option, but streaming would.

So, as you can see below, there was Game of Thrones as an option for streaming, but this was not on the IFE system.

One point I should make is that Air France (and Joon) thinks of short haul as flying domestically, medium haul as flying from, say France to the UK, and long haul as flying to Cairo from Paris.

Getting back to the IFE, you do, however, need to have downloaded the app, otherwise while some content such as news can be viewed, the main menu and series such as Game of Thrones, Fargo and Taboo are not available.

IFE capture

Best seat

I’d avoid seats 1AC because they are close to the front galley, and also the two centre seats of row 6 for the same reason for the rear galley. The configuration of 2-2-2 means you have a choice of climbing over the person on the aisle if you are in a window seat or being climbed over. Personally, I’d go for the window seat, but then I’m just about young enough to risk stepping over someone in the middle of the night.

Joon_Samantha-Reinders_34

The flight

Once at my seat I was offered champagne, juice or water. There was a sheet/duvet at the seat, along with a shoe bag containing blue slippers, blue flight socks and some covers for the headphones. Flight attendants offered an amenity bag which contained a small Clarins moisturiser, a pillow mister, eye mask, ear plugs and toothbrush and toothpaste.

Joon Amenity-bag

There is no washroom at the front for passengers’ use, and at the back there are only two.

This won’t apply to every flight, or at least I hope not, but unfortunately for our flight, one of the washrooms was broken, so I was thankful that the business class cabin was only about two thirds full. I walked back to use the economy toilet on a couple of occasions and there was no problem in doing so because the aircraft was about two thirds full in those cabins as well.

In addition, there were no menus loaded, and obviously this will not be the process in the future.  I asked for a look at the one the crew were using so I could give an idea of what is available on board and since then have been sent a picture of it which I reproduce below.

I’ve come across the option of pre-booking your food (Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook, for instance), but the Joon model seems to be slightly different, though it was difficult to know how much this was because this was an inaugural service and so things were slightly uncertain or how much the uncertainty was in my own mind and I should have looked before travelling and pre-booked what I wanted to eat.

Menu-with-wine

The website says there us a choice of four hot courses with another six courses available for pre-booking at no extra cost, so I can only assume that by the time they got to the last row (row 5) where I was sitting, they had run out of most of the choices so I was given the option of pork or something with squid. If there is a greater incentive to pre-book I can’t think of it.

The menu was as follows:

Mise en bouche

  • Shrimp and grapefruit jelly with a “Aerotail” cocktail of Red martini, Campari, champagne and ice

Starter

  • Poultry terrine with a strawberry and cranberry chutney, spelt salad with baby vegetables

Dish

  • Chicken in a lemon and chive sauce accompanied by Dauphine ravioles
  • Risotto with saffron and basil cream
  • Orecchiette pasta with squid
  • Confit pork loin with sesame in an orange and vinegar sauce and a variation of carrots

“Or your preferred dish”. This must refer to the pre-booked food.

Cheese

  • Goat’s cheese, Cantal PDO

Hunt [sic] of freshness

  • Canele cake, exotic fruit dome, crisp milk chocolate bite
Joon-main-meal

The drinks were Taittinger brut reserve champagne, a St Emilion Grand Classe Chateau Jean Faure 2013 Bordeaux, a 2015 Gerard Betrand Chateau de la Soujeole from the Languedoc, a Laroche Chablis 2017 and a Joseph Mellor 2016 Sancerre La Chatellenie. There was also a Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Chartreuse Verte, and Eau-de-Vivre as well as Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, Jack Daniels, Campari, Graham’s Tawny 10- year-old.

Joon-logo_Samantha-Reinders_29

As with other long haul Air France flights I have taken, we experienced moderate turbulence without the flight crew ever communicating to the passengers other than the seatbelt sign coming on. Other airlines would have stopped the cabin service but the attendants carried on serving drinks, which I certainly admired, while at the same time covering myself with the blue blanket supplied in case of spillage.

During the flight it was possible to go up to the rear galley to get a drink or snack.

Joon Galley bar

It was a day flight but the cabin lights were dimmed for a few hours and I reclined the seat to sleep. It’s a comfortable seat, though when fully reclined there isn’t really enough room for your feet so you have to sleep sideways. It felt odd to be on an aircraft which had clearly been through a refit and which looked and felt fresh, yet to have a seat I recognised from more than a decade ago, albeit with a larger IFE screen. Old wine in new skins.

Joon Footwell 1

About two hours out of Cape Town there was a second meal service and the options on the menu were chicken and mushroom flan in a creamy onion and carrot sauce; chicken fillet in a green curry and tomato sauce, bulgar wheat risotto; grated potato cake with thyme and smoked cream, asparagus and porcini mushrooms; smoked salmon fillet and mint pesto with fregola pasta salade; caramelized apple compote.

I had the chicken fillet, which wasn’t in a green curry and was cold, so I left it. The flight attendant offered to warm it up again but I declined. The Sancerre was welcome, though.

The flight was smooth for the final few hours.

Arrival

We arrived at Cape Town on time and were quickly off the aircraft. There was a queue at immigration because we had arrived at the same time as the KLM flight.

Joon_Samantha-Reinders_17

Verdict

In business class there isn’t much to choose between Air France and Joon, which is probably how the airline wants it. There were a few teething problems with the IFE and food, but nothing dramatic and they will be sorted out. For passengers the improvements are likely to be in economy and premium economy with the new seating. It will be interesting to see how these long haul routes do with the new Joon branding.

Joon long haul
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