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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Mixed reaction to Air France's new airline

Some question whether Joon marketing message targeting younger passengers will simply be confusing

The logo of Air France's new Joon lower-cost airline is pictured on a model in Paris, France. Charles Platiau/Reuters
The logo of Air France's new Joon lower-cost airline is pictured on a model in Paris, France. Charles Platiau/Reuters

Although Air France is presenting its new airline Joon as an innovative development bridging the gap between low cost and tradition air travel, no-frills and fewer frills options have become a feature of flying.

An absence of free in-flight catering, in addition to baggage restrictions or charges, fees for basic seat reservations and an often rudimentary experience of air transport are no longer the preserve of low-cost operators. The major airlines have steadily followed their example in seeking to cut costs in difficult times for the industry.

And the bigger players in cheaper air travel are increasingly under pressure from upstarts such as Norwegian, previously Norwegian Air Shuffle, and Iceland’s Wow.

Indeed, the Norwegian carrier – now Scandinavia’s leading airline and Europe’s third-largest low-cost operator after Ryanair and easyJet – figured during the recent crisis caused by Ryanair’s sudden cancellation of thousands of lights.

Although the Irish airline eventually admitted to internal failings on pilots’ holiday schedules, having previously blamed air traffic control delays, strikes and weather disruption, defections of its flight deck crew to Norwegian - reportedly 140 in a year - are widely believed to have played a part.

Amid rumours of disgruntled flight and cabin crew plotting industrial action, Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary has caused a storm with a claim that Norwegian was running out of cash, “scrabbling around daily” and would probably go under.

Norwegian retorted with a glowing self-appraisal, describing itself as ambitious and growing with substantial aircraft orders - 30 Airbus 321 long-range jets scheduled for delivery in 2019-2021, underpinning future expansion of both long and short-haul services. Its 2016 annual report showed profits up nearly five-fold on a year to €128 million (Dh523m) with numbers of passengers, routes and aircraft maintaining the steady rise of recent years.

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Where does Joon fit into this? Air France has had serious problems of its own although fears about the impact of uncertainty arising from elections in Europe have been eased by the victory of the centre-right Emmanuel Macron in France and the re-election of the German chancellor Angela Merkel in her country’s general election.

The Dutch part of the Air France-KLM partnership has been the more successful of the two in improving efficiency but the group as a whole reported earnings 35 per cent up in 2016 despite serious pressure from Middle East carriers, including Etihad and Emirates, as well as budget airlines.

Lower fuel costs and KLM’s productivity achievements enabled the group to report operating profits up from €780m in 2015 to €1.05 billion in 2016. But Air France had to weather strikes by pilots and other staff.

Against this background, Joon’s launch has unsurprisingly received a mixed response. The French marketing and communication agency La Réclame raised eyebrows at the gimmickry, likened the new airline to an unidentified flying object and said: “Let us hope this unexpected, even avant-garde positioning is not ultimately confusing for its audience.”

Bernie Leighton, a US aviation specialist, is scathing in Airways magazine despite being a champion of Joon’s parent airline. He mocks the declared aim of appealing to “millennials” as an attempt to “target the hollowest, shallowest, fakest, demographic that no one understands”.

“Airlines within airlines never work," he writes.

“You know what Joon really is? Joon is a labour negotiation. You see, the major Air France unions all had to agree to the carve-out for lower pay for the flight and cabin crew to be part of Joon. They’re not lowering the unit cost on the passenger side that much, this is a ploy to lower labour costs.”

Still, with all the youthful optimism of a start-up, Joon says it will prove such critics wrong.