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Air France Finally Catches Up to Competitors With Lie-Flat Seats in Business Class

Feb 04, 2014 4:35 pm

Skift Take

Being this far behind its competitors has hurt Air France’s long-haul business. Will it be able to get flyers back with its new seats?

— Jason Clampet

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Air France-KLM Group is introducing business-class seats that each cost 50,000 euros ($68,000) to make and turn into fully-flat beds, more than a decade after competitors including British Airways pioneered the experience.

Europe’s largest airline is outfitting its 44 Boeing Co. 777 wide-body aircraft with the seats manufactured by Zodiac Aerospace in a roll-out that will take two years, the company said today. The upgrade, which incorporates 16-inch, high- resolution video screens, is limited to the Air France brand after KLM rejuvenated the front of its cabins a year ago.

Air France is a latecomer in the market for fully flat business berths that have become commonplace on carriers including Emirates and Singapore Airlines Ltd., whose products Air France said it studied closely during the four-year development phase of its new seats. The upgrade will cost the company 200 million euros, with an additional 50 million euros allocated toward a first-class improvement.

“This is something we had to do,” Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said at a press briefing. “We’re competing with big, powerful, global giants and we had to rise to the challenge.”

Major Revenue

Of the 15 million passengers traveling on Air-France long- haul flights last year, 1.6 million used business class, contributing one third of revenue, according to the company.

The first Boeing 777 equipped with the new seats will fly to New York from Paris in June, followed by a gradual rollout on routes to Shanghai and Tokyo. Air France will then start equipping other planes in the next two years, including its A380s double-decker and the smaller A330. Older models such as the Boeing 747 jumbo won’t receive an upgrade because they are nearing the end of their service life in the fleet.

The new seat, in a cocoon-like shell is installed in the cabin in a so-called reverse-herringbone layout that offers greater privacy than a forward-facing arrangement. A sliding partition can be removed for people traveling together.

One new option available for first-class passengers landing at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport will be individual flights on small business jets to destinations beyond the capital city. The four-seat Cessna planes operated by partner Wijet will cost 2,200 euros an hour, or 550 euros per person if flying full, the airline said.

Editors: Benedikt Kammel, Christopher Jasper. To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse at aerothman@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net. 

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