In 1933 several financially troubled airlines merged to form Air France and today it is one of the world’s largest carriers. During WWII Air France was based in Morocco and in 1945 all French airlines were nationalised. In 1946 Air France had the world’s most extensive network and began its first trans-Atlantic flights to New York. In 1953 Air France joined the jet set by adding the Comet to its diverse fleet. During the 50’s and 60’s air travel regulations were relaxed and Air France faced mild competition. Air France was an early jet enthusiast, moving quickly to acquire the Caravelle, 707 and 747 in the 1960s and pioneered the Concorde in 1976. In 1986 competition intensified with the end of aviation regulation. Air France responded by merging with its two largest French rivals in 1990. In 2000 Air France was privatised and in 2004 it merged with KLM. In 2007 a profit sharing alliance was formed with Delta. In 2009 Air France bought 25% of Alitalia.
Air France is a functional transport company that provides a very standard service. So standard in fact, it can be described as mediocre and dull. Air France does not claim or aim to provide on-board cabaret shows or service that will have you updating your Facebook page about. Interiors are pleasant and tend to be formal and the crew are generally older experienced types in a formal uniform. The French language is naturally number one on Air France but other languages are well catered to. Business and First Class tend to be an improved version of Ordinary Service.
Air France as one of the world’s largest airlines covers a lot of places. Their domestic network is excellent, they connect France to the rest of Europe well and extend to cities all across the globe. However because of Air France’s agreements with KLM and Delta when booking a flight you may find yourself on one of their aircraft, so it’s best to read the fine print. Delta isn’t up to Air France’s standards, so where you have a choice pick Air France.
Air France offers very standard fares. Europe is swimming in discount airfares provided by no-frills rubbishy airlines. Air France’s can’t be compared to these; fares include meals, larger baggage allowance and good service. If something goes wrong you’re on your own with a budget carrier while Air France will look after you. On America bound flights Air France is comparable with practically everyone else, while flights to the Middle East, Asia, Oceania and parts of Africa; the prestigious Gulf carriers are better value with their far superior service.
Catering on Air France is unmistakable airline cuisine. Meal servings differ according to the length of the flight, class of travel and where they originate. The most obvious distinction is the bread rolls. Flights from France have delicious crispy rolls in all classes served with tongs from a basket, while rolls on US originating flights resemble polystyrene and are individually wrapped in cellophane. God knows how old they could be. Premium passengers are served a stylish French inspired selection with abundant wine while Economy passengers receive standard airline fare served on plastic with aluminium foil. Serving sizes differ according to the length of the flight. Crews generally offer drinks top-ups without a glare.
Clearly Air France is not concerned with Emirate’s ICE amazing entertainment system and have not tried to copy it. While Emirates passengers enjoy thousands of hours of film and TV from large screens, Air France have a modest selection of films and TV shows from small screens. Economy screens are actually very small while Business and First also have only moderately larger screens. Compared to luxury airlines Air France is disappointing. In economy if the passenger in front reclines their seat, it is extremely hard to see the screen at all. However French speakers will be thrilled at the selection and there are plenty of audio channels to while away the hours.
Air France promotes on-line check in which is great if you have no baggage. However others will experience an average service from often busy airports at peak times. Baggage is handled efficiently, but flights originating in America and the UK will undergo the same ordeal as everyone else’s from indifferent low paid handlers working within an incompetent system. French airports transfer baggage quite efficiently and US passengers may even be pleasantly surprised at their reliability. Korean and Middle Eastern passengers will find the system just acceptable.
Air France has quite a distinction between First and Business Class. First is aimed at those seeking luxury while Business is aimed at business travellers. Air France’s La Première First Class is very stylish, soothing and spacious, while Affaires Business cabin is spacious and quiet with plenty of room for laptops and meeting preparations. Air France does not grovel to premium passengers but is quietly respectful. Their Lounges are too understated to be glamorous and first time visitors may ask themselves whether France really is the Home of Fashion.
Air France’s Economy Class experience is good enough. Those hoping to enjoy a dash of Parisienne elegance will be disappointed as the overall feel is simply international rather than French. Seats are standards, meals are better than average, baggage allowance is reasonable to generous and fares are OK. There certainly are better deals available, but an Air France trip is far superior to discount rivals. Air France’s Premium Economy is excellent for larger passengers on long flights or businessmen on smaller marketing budgets.
Air France’s FlyingBlue frequent flyer scheme is one of the better ones in the sky today. It serves both Air France and KLM and is also the loyalty programme for several other airlines such as New Caledonia’s Aircalin, Air Europa, Kenya Airways and Romania’s Tarom. As well as member airline flights, points can be earned on all SkyTeam carriers, Hotels and financial institutions, so a FlyingBlue membership can be valuable the world over.
Making a profit from air travel is a big ask and management are tempted to cut corners. Air France together with household names like BA, JAL, Lufthansa and Qantas engineered an illegal price fixing cartel in the early 2000’s. The fallout is still damaging their reputations and their balance sheets with court cases continuing. Air France’s management participated if not helped engineer such crimes and management have not repented and few if any staff have been fired. While Air France’s management culture allows this type of action the airline has more respect for its unionised staff that other airlines like United, BA and Qantas whose management teams detest their unions and their members. However Air France corporate personnel do think they are superior to their staff which their performance and flexible ethics shows they are not.
Air France has been a popular target for hijackings, but fortunately for them, terrorists have turned their attention to US carriers of late. Air France has had at least 10 hijackings or attempts. The airline has also suffered numerous accidents over its long history, two fatal ones since the new Millennium; Concorde’s explosive takeoff in 2000 at Paris and the mysterious loss of the first Airbus A330 in 2009 en route from Brazil. However no blame has been cast on Air France over these or most other incidents and the airlines maintenance of aircraft is high. The professionalism of its pilots is first rate. Air France has had bad luck, but its safety record is excellent.
An efficient and reliable airline that provides reasonable value for money without the Red Carpet.
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