Air France CEO Anne Rigail on the carrier's U.S. airlift

Air France recently introduced its newest business-class seat, launching the product on its Paris-New York JFK route in January. The French carrier has also brought its U.S. seat capacity up to 2019 levels but with more flight frequencies on smaller aircraft. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke recently with CEO Anne Rigail to discuss those and other topics.

Anne Rigail

Q: How does your new business class improve upon your older offering?

A: The difference is really the sliding door that provides more intimacy for our customers. We have refurbished three Boeing 777-300s out of 12 that will be refurbished this year. This seat will also equip our future Airbus 350s. We are bringing 41 Airbus 350s into our fleet globally, and the 21st is arriving in June. All the others will have this product with the sliding door. What is also new is that if you travel with someone, the seats in the center have a central panel that you can lower so that can combine your space with your travel partner’s.

Q: How quickly will we see more of these planes on U.S. routes?

A: We don’t have all the plans in place at the moment, but 12 777s will be refurbished this year. We are receiving seven 350s this year. Clearly the U.S. has the most dynamic markets. So, we’re definitely focused on the North Atlantic markets at the moment.

Q: Air France recently began charging for business-class seat selection, but not yet on transatlantic routes. Is that something that is coming?

A: That’s not defined for the moment.

Q: This summer from Paris, you’re scheduled to fly 14 routes to the U.S. and approximately the same number of seats you flew in 2019, but on 14% more flights. Going forward, what can we expect in the U.S. market in terms of service offerings?

A: In New York, we will have six flights daily from JFK and two from our partner Delta. And we will have one flight per day from Newark, where we are quite new. So that’s nine flights per day, which makes quite a shuttle between Charles de Gaulle and New York. We are really focusing on these routes. We recently added Denver and a lot of flights to Los Angeles. Between Air France and KLM, we have six flights daily to Los Angeles. We also fly heavily to San Francisco. By the way, we are investing heavily in our lounges. We refurbished the JFK lounge in 2018, and soon we will have new lounges in San Francisco and Los Angeles. We really are curating our product for our U.S. customers.

Q: Air France has been one of the earlier NDC adopters. Do you offer NDC-enabled bookings in the big three GDSs for U.S. point of sale?

A: Only Amadeus and Travelport. Not on Sabre. NDC is part of our strategy. Our goal is to display our product in better ways — our ancillaries, our service. At the moment, one Air France third-party booking out of four is sold via NDC. Our goal is to go to 95% by 2027. In the U.S. we have worked with a few OTAs, including Hopper, and we have ongoing conversations with a few others, like Priceline or Expedia.

Q: You’ve been Air France CEO since late 2018. Has the environment been improving significantly for women in leadership at airlines? What has it been like for you as a CEO?

A: I was always pushed forward by men, and I never had to struggle against anyone. But I know it can be a challenge. Especially, we are trying to push diversity in jobs like pilots, and it’s difficult because you need female candidates, and we don’t have enough. We are not yet at 50/50 in terms of the women in all jobs. But globally at Air France, we have 46% women, 40% in management, and we are fighting to increase those numbers. 

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