The tropical paradise island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean is a department (province) of France and is part of the European Union and uses the Euro. The island’s airline, Air Austral, first took to the sky in 1975 as Réunion Air Services (RAS) and changed its name to Air Réunion before becoming Air Austral in 1990 when the private company came under new management (46% local government). The airline started with small propellered aircraft serving regional airports but has grown rapidly to support the islands most important industry; tourism. In 2008 the airline made aviation history when it became the first carrier to order two’s Airbus A380 to be configured all-economy. When delivered in 2014 they will be biggest passenger carrying planes in the sky. The airline operates two ATR 72’s for island hopping flights, two Boeing 737 for short flight to exotic Madagascar and around and five Boeing 777’s fly the airlines many long distance flights.
Service levels onboard Air Austral can be accurately described as standard. Staff are efficient, attired in a sophisticated uniform, have nice tans, speak several languages, but are not exactly engaging or familiar. If you want to be left alone you’ll appreciate it, if you want to flirt or chat you may feel disappointed. Aircraft interiors are cheerful, in a relaxing coral and blue theme that exudes the tropics and the atmosphere on board is relaxed.
The airlines’ network is designed to help the island’s tourism industry, so they focus on their main tourism markets; France and the Indian Ocean islands, particularly Réunion and Mayotte. Air Austral have direct flights between Paris and Mayotte, another French territory. They also fly to Australia and New Caledonia, which they are ending on 31 March due to unprofitability. They fly to four destinations in Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoro Islands, Seychelles, Bangkok and South Africa as well. Amazingly they fly to six cities in France. Considering this, they should have done a better job at attracting passengers from regional French cities who could otherwise avoid flying through busy Charles de Gaulle airport.
Air Austral typically attract passengers through discounted airfares. For example France to New Caledonia via Réunion is inconveniently long but passengers are attracted by the cheaper fares. Similarly tickets to France are cheap to attract tourists. The airline also has innovative fares targeting young adults (12-25 year olds) and other promotions, but the airline is poor at promoting them.
Air Austral is a full service airline that includes meals in the airfares. Short flights to Mauritius consist of tea, coffee, juice and pretzels while long distance flights serve hot meals which compare to legacy airlines. Air Austral catering economizes in ingredients rather than size, so don’t expect smoked salmon in economy. Economy catering does not reflect local Réunion fare or French cuisine, but is general airline food. Premium passengers will enjoy delicious French delights.
Air Austral’s Boeing 777 aircraft have a modern and new video on demand entertainment system. Audio and video options include an extensive range of French options which match the airline’s target market. The airline equally provides English language options which often remind passengers the world is not exclusively English speaking. The airlines ‘Escales’ in-flight magazine (which means ‘Non-Stop Flight’ in French) is written in French language first with some English articles in second place.
Outside Réunion, Air Austral uses third party contractors for ground and baggage services which can vary but are usually pretty average. Service is usually quick and excess baggage is overlooked up to a few extra kilo’s. The airline deals with ticketing and baggage issues professionally. Service is functional rather than friendly. Reunion is fine, but flying into Africa is risky so travel Insurance is good idea.
Air Austral is a three class airline. Business class is called Club Austral and between this and economy is Classe Confort, their excellent premium economy. If passengers are flying a long distance and can afford it, Classe Confort, is worth it. The airline’s premium cabins are attractively appointed in a stylish and relaxing coral colour scheme and seats are spacious and comfortable. The airline’s own Club Austral lounge in Réunion feels like a sophisticated bar. Air Austral’s premium product is a skilful blend of holiday making fun with corporate sophistication.
Réunion is an exciting and exotic destination a little off the beaten track. Air Austral’s aims a middle income market who may not want to be surrounded by crowds of backpackers and football hooligans on package holidays. Air Austral’s Economy class called Classe Loisirs provides ample space, great entertainment, nice meals and the airline includes reasonable baggage allowances and efficient service. The airline is a great way to both explore the Indian Ocean islands and also transit between Australia and France or South Africa and Thailand. Air Austral is an exotic way to get from A to B on a budget.
Air Austral’s frequent flyer scheme, called Capricorn Fidelity is of instant benefit to members who receive an extra 5kg baggage allowance upon joining. Few other airline’s provide an instant reward the way Air Austral does, however the scheme will only really benefit passengers who intend making regular trips to or through Réunion. The scheme works like others – flights earn points which can be redeemed for upgrades etc. Air Austral is not part of any airline grouping and is of little use beyond flights. Premium members receive an extra 10kg baggage entitlement.
Air Austral is part owned by Réunion’s local governments who take a keen interest in the affairs of the airline. Compared to cut throat carriers like Ryanair, Southwest or Tiger Airways, Air Austral’s management are saints. Cooperation rather than conflict is their style. But the airline makes many poor choices. The airline invested considerable resources in developing long distance flights to Sydney and Nouméa without success and this is mostly due to poor planning and decision making. The airline should have succeeded. The airline’s station manager in Sydney for example, is an idiot and partly responsible for their failure.
Air Austral has operated without significant incident and maintains its aircraft to the highest of standards. Reunion is technically part of Africa and would surely be a candidate for Best Maintained Airline in Africa.
A value for money airline that provides a standard service with a degree of French style.
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