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How foreign airlines deepen stake on long-haul travels

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Airlines itching for the international market now have more than aeropolitics’ hurdle to scale. A new vigour of investments in aircraft upgrades for elegance and comfort may have swayed the souk more to the West. WOLE OYEBADE writes on what Air France and KLM are doing differently on one of their largest markets.
Commercial air travel has undergone several developmental phases since jet engine was discovered in the 1930s. But none envisaged the grandiose comfort and a total package that are now possible on long-haul flights.

For an average rate ticket in the business class cabins, travelers can now get serenade to the best of local cuisine and bar services just before boarding. Onboard services now compete with those of private luxury apartments, in comfort, elegance and style a la carte.

But that is not all. Even passengers on transit now have options of shower spaces, business zones, private sleep cabins, and even a hotel room in the airport with priority boarding and embarkation. Welcome to a new age of five-star services at 30,000ft above the sea level!

Every customer counts
An airline is only as good as its services, response-ability to customers’ needs and perception of its larger audience. The erstwhile negligible details of what passengers want – in-flight catering, crew services, cabin and lounge comfort, onboard Wi-Fi connections, on-time departure, among others – and meeting them, are now the new x-factors in the air travel business that is as highly expensive as it is competitive.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in the 2018 Global Passenger Survey (GPS) revealed that passengers are looking to new technology to give them more control, information and improve efficiency when they travel.

A closer look at the findings showed that passengers want real time journey information delivered to their personal devices, biometric identification to facilitate their travel processes, automation of more airport processes, waiting time of less than 10 minutes at security/immigration, their bags tracked throughout their journey, and a human touch especially when things go wrong.

But beyond a general survey by IATA, modern airlines are not left out of the customer close-up. In fact, it is one of the trade secrets of Air France, and its Royal Dutch partner, KLM, to know what the customers want per time and use same in deploying the customer-centric products at every stage of the travel experience.

The Country Manager of Air France/KLM in Nigeria, Michel Colleau, said besides the personal touch and closeness to passengers, the Net Promoter Scores (NPS) survey avails the airline good dose of wants and expectations of the customers and “we keep improving our services to meet these needs.”

Taste is everything
A recent visit to the refurbished Business Class lounge of Air France/KLM at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) radiated new tastes, with new sets of comfortable seats for relaxation, local meals and a bar of exotic drinks that sate appetites and ease-off stress.

The lounge ambience was actually a prelude to the atmosphere on the newly refurbished KLM Airbus 330-300 aircraft. In addition to the new design, the cabin boasts a full-flat seats and a new inflight entertainment system for all World Business Class passengers to enjoy.

The seat with more room for privacy is a full-flat seat, reclining 180 degree and 206 cm long. To go with it is brand-new personal entertainment system with an 18” screen, HD quality films and a touchscreen navigation menu in 12 languages. A330-300 with the new refurbished seat flies daily out of Lagos to Amsterdam and other parts of the world.
The experience is not any different on Air France A330s. On each plane are 36 business seats, 21 premium economy, and 167 economy seats.

At over 30,000ft above sea level, the business cabin seat converts into a lie-flat bed that is 2m long and 57.1 cm wide for jet lag-free flying across time zones. Whether travelling alone or with a companion, the new seat adapts to every need. Customers can choose to enjoy greater proximity when they’re travelling with someone or total privacy thanks to a sliding panel separating the seats.

The ambient lighting emphasises the details of the new Business cabin’s decor where leather and the Air France brand’s symbolic accent have pride of place.A brand new, extra-wide HD touch-screen measuring over 18.5 inches offers Business customers over 1,400 hours of entertainment. Its intuitive interface comes with a new more user-friendly handset. The toilets, inspired from the cosmetics universe, and the self-service bar in a blue and Champagne colour scheme have also been redesigned with customers’ well-being and comfort in mind.Air France plans to completely redesign 15 aircraft by 2020 – thanks to a global investment of 140 million euros.

As above, so below
Head of Long-haul Customer Experience, Air France, Sandra Ottavi, said recently in Paris that the airline spares no expense at meeting the needs of customers as well as bringing the French tradition on board.

“The entire aircraft has been redesigned from the entrance, the toilets, the dinning and the self-service bar which is being completely redesigned. We are very proud to offer these to our customers in 2019.

“It is really the French touch and new service implemented on board. You will be able to enjoy the cocktail experience. The menu also has been redesigned. This is the attention we want to give to our customers so that it is not only about travelling, it is also about redesigning the cabin, so that you really feel welcomed as a special guest,” Ottavi said.

The beauty of it all is that the onboard elegance is commensurate with lounge services at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Holland, and Paris-Charles De Gaulle Airport, France.The Schiphol airport, about the fifth largest in Europe, is working out “a one-stop solution lounges” with the two modern Crown lounges set to be completed this year. The Schengen area lounge currently receives about 7000 transit passengers daily.

Unit Manager, Special Services KLM, Roel Van Leeuwen, said the aim was to make passengers feel at home in Schiphol and wanting to come again, with more private spaces for leisure and business, shower and sleep cabins for three or four-hour hire.

Similar services had gone a notch higher at the CDG airport that processes 900 flights daily. Public Relations, Paris-CDG, Bettina Vitureau, recalled that Air France in 2018 inaugurated its 3,200sq.m. business lounge in Terminal 2E, Hall L to offer one of the largest well-being areas with private saunas, Clarins treatment rooms, a dining area, hotel rooms for one or family, and a detox bar.

With these services for the comfort, pleasure and taste of all classes of passengers, should anyone still wonder why the airlines’ flights out of places like Lagos are always fully booked?


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