Last week Air France took delivery of its first Airbus A350 at the Airbus delivery centre in Toulouse France. The first of 28 A350-900s which will arrive by 2025. The new aircraft is equipped with 324 seats, with 34 in a brand-new Business cabin, 24 in a new Premium Economy cabin and 266 in Economy.
Air France’s Airbus A350 will make its first commercial flight on October 7. It will be gradually deployed to 6 destinations across 2020.
Anne Rigail, CEO of Air France was proud of the arrival of the A350, “The arrival of a new aircraft is always a unique and highly emotional occasion in the life of an airline. Along with all Air France staff, we are extremely proud to welcome the Airbus A350, one of the world’s most efficient long-haul aircraft in terms of environmental, economic and operational performance.
The arrival of this first A350 marks a new phase in AirFrance’s fleet modernization strategy. Within 5 years, more than half of the company’s fleet will be made up of new-generation aircraft.” This means a lot to Air France, who is committed to reducing its environmental footprint, and has implemented a range of initiatives to reduce noise, fuel burn and environmental impact. In fact the A350 ferry flight between Toulouse and CDG was partly powered by biofuel.
This first Airbus A350 is the first AF aircraft in a while to be named after a French City. Dubbed “Toulouse” by Anne-Marie Couderc, Chair of Air France-KLM and Air France and the aircraft’s sponsor, it reflects the French capital of aviation. Toulouse is also the birthplace of this new aircraft that is joining the company’s fleet. Moreover, Air France has been serving Toulouse since the company’s creation in 1933.
On board however, is where passengers will really notice a difference. Of course, the A350 brings larger overhead bins, larger windows, better air pressure and humidity and mood lighting, all designed to give more comfort to passengers.
But the real differences can be seen in Business Class (Affaires) and Premium Economy where brand new seat concepts will create a somewhat different experience.
Air France has opted for a brand new seat in Business Class, yet another new seat after its latest A330 product which disappointingly offered a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration. Air France is well known for its new herringbone seats which offer comfort and space and all aisle access. However the carrier has opted for a slightly high density product, an emerging trend in carriers who are vying for profitability.
The screen is bigger, and a large 18.5-inch HD touchscreen gives the passenger access to Air France’s established and well stocked IFE system, with more than 1,400 hours of entertainment including movies, music, podcasts and more.
The cabin is now designed to reflect the bleisure trend, allowing premium passengers to chose whether to travel in private, or with a travel companion, but fundamentally its a question of improving LOPA with a retake of the traditional staggered forward facing business class seat concept. However, even if you end up travelling next to a stranger in the centre pair, the seat divider can be raised to increase privacy.
What is nice to see is the carrier has made a clear shift away from the Patriotic Red White and Blue cabins of the past, and has embraced a chic French approach to the colour and trim, reflecting Parisian and French culture as a whole with subtle pastel colours, elegant details and a calm, sophisticated neutral tonal palette.
Finally! (we can hear the screams of delight!) … in Premium Economy, there is a brand new “Recliner” seat which replaces the shell-type seat that exists in the rest of the seat, but features the same elegant fabric pattern.
The seat is 48cm wide and reclines to a deep 124 degrees. Customers enjoy a 96cm seat pitch to stretch out their legs and a large 13.3-inch HD touchscreen. Of course, this is Air France, so a pillow and a duvet are available for passengers as well as complimentary champagne (which is actually available in all classes!).
In Economy, the seat may look more familiar, but it has been redesigned for even more comfort, with a reinforced ergonomic seat cushion, a 118-degree seat recline, as well as a 79-cm seat pitch. Entertainment is delivered on a 11.6-inch HD touchscreen giving access to more than 1,400 hours of entertainment including movies, music, podcasts and more.
On board the Airbus A350, customers can also stay connected with Air France Connect, the carrier’s inflight Wi-Fi program with three different passes from free messaging to unlimited streaming at €30 for 10,000 mile journeys.
The new aircraft leaves us feeling mixed. While we enjoy the new cabin design, one of the nice things about travelling Air France was the feeling of space, and compared to its Dutch sister, the Business Class cabin was always preferable from a matter of space and comfort. The new seats, while elegant and perfectly suitable, are a higher density, meaning passengers might feel a little more ‘hemmed in’ compared to the older product.
That said, for United the same seat product was seen as a huge upgrade. So the product could be classed as a modern industry-standard product that will suit the carrier for many years to come. What isn’t clear is what the carrier will now do about the 4 different business class cabins that are offered, and managing expectations and standardisation.
The Air France Airbus A350 will gradually start operating to 6 destinations as of October 7th from Paris-Charles de Gaulle, including Abidjan, Bamako, Toronto, Cairo, Seoul and eventually Bangkok.