Dutch carrier KLM will this summer introduce a new feel to its business class short-haul product. But while there is new investment in terms of a reinvented in-flight meal service and the continued upgrade of its fleet with the last of its remaining Boeing 737-300/400s being phased out, the centre-piece of its new service is not an addition. Quite the opposite. The carrier will from this summer leave the middle-seat free in the business class cabins of its Boeing 737 and Fokker 70/100s, as it puts the emphasis on personal space.
“We will change the [six-abreast] 737s to get a four-abreast product. There will be a huge step forward in comfort,” explained KLM executive vice president commercial, Erik Varwijk at a press conference in Amsterdam. “We used to have five abreast on the 737s, but it was abolished after 9/11 when we felt many [business passengers] were focusing on price. The fact we are moving back to four-abreast reflects further our analysis of the market. We think there is a distinct need for personal space [in business].”
The Fokker 70/100s operated by KLM cityhopper
will similarly move from a five-abreast configuration to only three seats abreast in business class.
The move, which is also designed to better align its short-haul premium product to that of it and its SkyTeam partner long-haul flights, is accompanied by a brand change; shifting from le KLM Europe Select to the more emphasised KLM Europe Business Class.
KLM sees personal space key for business travellers
It ties with Air France-KLM’s more expansive mode following the tough last two years for the sector in general, and Europe in particular, as the carrier increases capacity this year. “Since last summer we see clearly a recovery of the market. We have an expansion plan to bring us back to a pre-crisis levels,” says Varwijk. “It is a clear illustration of the recovery we are going through. The recovery is there in both business and leisure markets.”
Varwijk says that while longer-haul has been more consistently strong, European markets have been more mixed. While some markets in Europe are slower against the backdrop of struggling economies, other such as the Nordic countries and the fast-rebounding Russian and Eastern Europe markets are strong.
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Read here for how another European carrier, British Midland, is revamping its short-haul business product
But while improved, Europe remains a difficult operating environment and the latest Air France-KLM financial results served as a reminder of the challenges
carriers continue to face. On top of the winter weather and strike disruption that hit services in the third quarter ending December 2010, Air France-KLM has seen more unrest in a number of its markets, including Tunisia and Egypt. which will again hit yields in the three months to March. Perhaps of more concern, it blames over-capacity from rival carriers this winter for affecting its unit revenues. Consequently it has warned that while still forecasting a full-year operating profit for this year, it will be below the €300 million it was targeting. But more optimistically, it does point to “good quality” forward bookings from mid-March onwards.