Air France unveils new product to chase middle market

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In what appears to be a deliberate contrast to competitors who are starting to charge for previously-free services, Air France's new policy is to pursue the middle market, offering reduced fares in an attempt to boost market share.

The SkyTeam carrier has unveiled a new medium-haul product, during a briefing in Paris yesterday. It is particularly aimed at executives of small- or medium-sized companies who typically purchase fully-flexible economy fares. Air France defines medium-haul as all European non-domestic services served by narrowbody aircraft.

Air France executive vice-president for marketing Bruno Matheu says the airline has no intention of responding to the economic crisis by going down the low-cost carrier route.

"What's behind this plan is to recapture market share in the medium-haul market," he says.

Air France's European aircraft cabins are split into the economy-class 'Voyageur', premium-economy 'Tempo Challenge' and business class 'Affaires'.

But from April 2010 there will be just two classes - Voyageur and Premium - although the latter will accommodate both 'Premium Eco' and 'Premium Business' passengers.

Premium Business will be four-abreast, with flexible seating guaranteeing an empty seat between passengers for privacy. Premium Eco will be six-abreast.

There will be a simplified fares range, with price cuts across all classes. Premium Eco fares, for example, will be on average 20% lower than today's Premium Voyageur.

Among innovations will be a grace period during which, for a small fee, passengers can freeze a fare for up to seven days if their travel plans are not firm.

Matheu says the only negative change for business passengers will be the end of complimentary champagne. "Research has shown that this is not the first item on their priority list, especially at 10:00 in the morning," he says.