Sunday 22 September 2019

Craft beer and VR in business as millennials get their own airline

Joon's ceo Jean Michel Mathieu poses with cabin crew at the airline's launch in Paris Photo: Reuters
Joon's ceo Jean Michel Mathieu poses with cabin crew at the airline's launch in Paris Photo: Reuters

Mark Evans

The French do things differently, and national carrier Air France has a few surprises up its well-tailored sleeves for some business travellers.

It's the first major airline to aggressively target the vital millennial market - the business movers and shakers of tomorrow - and it's done so not with a shake-up of its own services, but by creating a new airline, Joon.

The Sunday Independent was the only Irish national newspaper on the guest list as Air France ceo Franck Terner unveiled Joon to European media at a small convention centre looking over the sprawling skyline of the City of Light.

Conceived and created in just nine months, Joon is being branded as an innovative disruptor - and business class will never be the same again.

Short haul will see its Airbus A320 fleet replacing Air France mainline from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Berlin, Barcelona, Porto and Lisbon.

The biggest culture shock is the look of the cabin crew - out go uniforms and in come casual jackets, polo shirts or sailor tops - 60pc recycled from plastic bottles and Le Coq Sportif runners, not shoes. It's a sort of Jean-Paul Gaultier meets Hollister.

And the young and hip look extends to other millennial lifestyle choices - gourmet organic free-trade coffee, tapas plates for sharing, craft beer and French food supplied by artisan startups and small producers. Food is a major push and Joon ceo Jean Michel Mathieu boasted: "We are French after all."

The airline's portal will allow in-flight streaming of shows like Game of Thrones, while on long haul (Brazil and Seychelles for now, starting next year) business class travellers will be given Joon's own new virtual reality goggles for "immersive" experiences.

In a further nod to millennials, Joon has teamed up with other digital suppliers, possibly most controversially Airbnb, to offer lodgings and experiences at destinations. Interestingly, a hook-up with TravelCar means passengers can allow their cars to be rented to others while they're parked at airports.

So will the business traveller embrace the va va voom, or hanker back for auld decency? The Portuguese media at the event feels it's 50-50 and the Iberian business traveller tends to like formality. The focus behind Joon is to push more traffic onwards from European destinations and feed Air France's massive Charles de Gaulle hub, which is a big ask. Joon's not low-cost, but fares will be competitive, with one-way economy from €39 on the Paris-Barcelona route, for instance.

Mathieu told this column that Dublin could be a contender if Joon does take off, and the casual focus could even be extended to Air France itself, with Joon acting as a guinea pig with its own innovation test centre.

÷ AIR France itself is shaking up its operations at Dublin Airport. From October 29, it'll be operating its own aircraft on the Dublin to Charles de Gaulle route. That service is currently operated by codeshare partner CityJet, but for the winter season two of the four daily flights will be operated by Air France using A318 aircraft, one by its regional carrier HOP using an Embraer 190 aircraft and one by CityJet using an Avroliner AR8.

The airline said the move is because of big demand into and out of Dublin, with the small AR8 planes often full to capacity. Sister airline KLM, which goes to five-daily on Dublin to Amsterdam from October 29, may increase that service even further on a route challenging Aer Lingus and Ryanair.

÷ QATAR Airways is now offering "premium global chauffeur service" for passengers in all classes. Unlike the rival Emirates' option, you'll have to pay for the luxury, and it's bookable online with Qatar.

Passengers get a choice of high-end vehicles, from supplier Blacklane, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac to take them to and from their chosen airport.

The new chauffeur-driven service is available at more than 85 Qatar Airways destinations around the world, including Dublin. Blacklane is also available in more than 500 airports worldwide.

I checked pricing one-way from Dublin Airport to The Shelbourne in St Stephen's Green and it was just shy of €70 - but less if the routes are reversed. It's pricey but there are advantages, with free 60-minutes wait time for airport pickups, a meet-and-greet service, free cancellation up until an hour before pickup and payments are only made, by credit card, when the journey is over.

Sunday Indo Business

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