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Air France to scale up flights, capacity

Puts Bangalore on new premium economy class from today.

Madhumathi D.S.

Bangalore, Aug. 16

Starting this Winter schedule in November, Air France plans to expand both the capacity and frequency of its India flights.

Bangalore alone will add a flight and go daily in November; the carrier will upgrade to bigger aircraft and add 200 seats to the present 600 seats on this sector. On a pan-India basis, Air France says that along with Dutch partner KLM it is working on increasing flights by 2-3 per cent on the Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore sectors where they operate.

Currently, the two European allies fly 34 flights a week between them to Paris and Amsterdam. KLM flies to only Bangalore and Delhi; Air France covers all three cities.

“Bangalore has a definite business element with its IT community. We are soon going to increase the frequency to daily flights from the present six flights a week. From November, we will increase capacity and put bigger planes,” possibly scale up from A333 to a Boeing 777, Mr Pieter De Man, General Manager, Indian Sub-Continent, Air France-KLM, told Business Line.

SPECIAL ECONOMY CLASS

On Tuesday, Bangalore joins Air France's 30 long-haul destinations that have a new “premium economy” class of seats; Mumbai got the in-between class in June. What the new “Premium Voyageur” (PV) class means is that these passengers have more leg room and elbow space, a reclining seat and about eight inches or 40 per cent more than Economy at less than half the cost of a Business class ticket. A Business class ticket otherwise costs almost four times the basic Economy fare. “This is a businessman's product,” he said.

Delhi would get into the loop in April 2011 along with rest of the global long-haul routes.

As global aviation crawls back to a pre-2008 status, Mr De Man said the new intermediate cabin will try to win back corporate customers who had scaled down to travel Economy class to cut costs during the economic slowdown these last two years. Or the cost-conscious small and mid-sized companies and the choosy leisure traveller.

“During the crisis, income per seat came down 15-20 per cent. We have not yet got back to 2008 levels but are now approaching it.”

Over 85 per cent of the Mumbai passengers who flew PV class have given the thumbs-up and it is getting popular globally, too, Mr De Man said. On the Bangalore route, the airline sold more than 75 per cent of the seats in the past 10 days.

Mr De Man said it occupies 10 per cent capacity versus 20 per cent on the first class. Air France has replaced 40 economy seats on the Bangalore A 330 with 22 PV seats of the “fixed-shell” kind – those that allow passengers to recline without the seat going back.

On the country scene, Mr De Man said, “We have two big plans: (to introduce) the Premium Voyageur for a growing Business class that (fell) with the economic crisis. India is bouncing back and we are starting with increasing flights, introducing bigger aircraft and we are also looking at a new [third] partner in India. With the KLM-Delta Airlines tie-up, we are also strong on the North American routes.” (Air France has domestic marketing tie-ups with Jet Airways and Kingfisher.)

As for the new PV cabin, with a promotional price until October 31 this year, a Bangalore-Paris round trip will cost around Rs 48,000 excluding taxes against Rs 22,000 [pre-tax] by Economy and Rs 1.1 lakh by Business class.

Apart from a small creature comfort, it comes with some privileges at check-ins, baggage delivery and additional baggage allowance, though the food remains Economy.

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