Air France Ventures Out

The Paris-based airliner debuts new service from LAX

By: By Kathy Bryant

Air France business class seat // (c) 2008
Air France 777 business class seating
This spring, an Air France Boeing 777-200 left London’s Heathrow Airport on its inaugural voyage to Los Angeles as part of a joint venture with Delta Air Lines and the Open Skies agreement. This was the first time an Air France flight didn’t begin or end at a French airport. Luckily for the passengers, this flight left from Heathrow Terminal 2, not the infamous Terminal 5, with a 75 percent full capacity. But the question remains. Was this the right time to start another flight from Heathrow?

“Delta Air Lines is enthusiastic about this venture, even in this economy,” said Glen W. Hauenstein, Executive Vice President of Delta, at a press conference in London. “Delta has been 80 percent domestic and now, in three years, we’ve doubled our international offerings.” Heathrow-North America is the richest market for airlines, and accounts for nearly half of all transatlantic traffic in Europe.

This Air France/Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) agreement has the two airlines sharing revenues and costs on flights operated by both carriers between London-Heathrow and the U.S., as well as on flights between Air France’s Paris–CDG and Lyon hubs and Delta’s Atlanta, New York-JFK, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City hubs.

“Thanks to the open skies agreement, our ambition in the years to come is to rank among the leading world players on this market,” said Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, Deputy CEO of Air France-KLM.

The open skies agreement allows 27 European countries and the U.S. to fly to any point in Europe to the US. For example, Air Berlin now flies from Germany to LAX, a service that also began this spring.

The benefits to the consumer seem to be mainly in convenience, not in lowered fares. That may change as more airlines enter this lucrative market, but not for now. However, if a traveler wishes to visit both London and Paris on the same trip, it is now possible to do so without multiple flights. For example, you can fly into Paris, spend time there, take the Eurostar to the new St. Pancras Station in London (and the world’s longest champagne bar) and then leave from London.

“We hope to raise both and the quality and the quantity of flights,” said Gourgeon. “We’re starting with one flight a day, Heathrow to LAX, but we’ll increase the number if the traffic demands it. For now, one is a good start.”