11 SEP 2018: A push on customer intimacy is one of the top priorities for Air France/KLM Group's new vice-president and general manager in Canada, Vincent Etchebehere. His goal is to understand customer needs and address them in a timely fashion by putting more emphasis on digital strategies like the use of social media networks and AI at the service of customer relations. The term 'intimacy' is tres Francais. Trade press gathered around snug intimate tables at the pop-up Parisian-style Bistro Air France which was available during TIFF's opening weekend for an informal meet and greet over bubbly and croissants.  

Bien sur, company business was also discussed.

Strike Talks


The affable 35-year-old flies into the new senior role as his parent company is undergoing heavy turbulence over lingering talks on a possible pilot strike.

But on the KLM front, he told Travel Industry Today the ink was now drying on a newly signed KLM- pilot agreement that has diverted labour disruptions for this legacy carrier. “Two days ago a new agreement was reached with the unions and KLM,” he says and adds, “The great news is the possible risk of a strike was totally diverted.”

For Air France, that contentious labour strike issue remains a hot ticket item for the airline group's new incoming CEO Benjamin Smith, whom Etchebehere notes is no stranger to settling airline labour disputes. Smith, who takes on the role by September 30 was most recently chief operating officer at Air Canada , which launched the low-cost Rouge in 2014.

Big Achievement


Etchebehere helped launch the daily Mexico City-Paris route as the general manager for Air France/KLM in Mexico during his 2.5-year stint. He arrived into this Latin American hub on board the inaugural flight of the largest aircraft in the world, the Dreamliner A380.   A big achievement... yes, seeing this route grew from three flights weekly to daily service based on its commercial success.

The other goal is to work closely with partners WestJet and Delta.  Etchebehere explains the alliance with partners provides travel agents with strong benefits and clarity: “More simplicity; instead of having three account managers, there is one contract.”

A codeshare agreement between WestJet gives clients more reasons to join the airline's loyalty programme to earn and burn miles. He mentions the WestJet and Air France/KLM partnership with its codeshare helps sell tickets on the 81 routes operated by WestJet mainly in Canada.

Agent Satisfaction


On agent satisfaction, Air France/KLM has a network open 24/7 for trade support to assist on various agent issues such as group bookings.   

Steven Larkin, director of sales in Canada for Delta Air Lines, elaborates how the joint venture with Delta Airlines offers trade one voice and one face, which make business easier. “Think of us as one extended family.”

Presently, Air France/KLM Group and Delta are waiting approval for a 15-year joint partnership extension scheduled to be effective April 1, 2019. For this major renewal, the companies are planning a consumer awareness campaign, which will be a key commercial strategy in Ontario.

“Today is a nice day to show our ambition to be present in terms of brand in Ontario, especially in Toronto,” says the dynamic Etchebehere. “It actually is our biggest sponsorship in Canada and we are very proud of it.”

#AFxTIFF


Cinema is ingrained in Air France's DNA as it has been an official sponsor at the Cannes Film Festival in France.  The company considers itself one of the biggest movie theatres on earth due to its individual screens on all long-haul seats. There are 38,000 seats equipped with individual video on demand flying several times per day.

“Cinema is part of our values; of comfort, of emotion, of pleasure to convey on board,” he notes, adding he has an eclectic film preference and enjoys films by directors Takeshi Kitano of Japan and Xavier Dolan of Canada to name two.  

Air France/KLM operate in five hubs including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.  Canadian travel professionals can expect big innovations in fleet and increased frequencies especially from YYZ. KLM outbound flights from YYZ have the New World Business Class seats which boasts the largest flat bed in the industry (2.09 metres long). The business class seats on Air France are based on the three “Fs.” (Full flat bed, full access to the corridor, and full privacy).

Next month KLM will have nine weekly non-stop YYZ-Amsterdam service for the winter season and Air France will increase its YYZ-Paris seat offers by 10 percent.

Air France carries on the tradition of complimentary champagne service to all its passengers and Delta has added this service to its Transatlantic Delta flights.

Air France/KLM future


For the incoming general manager who smiles when the year of his birth is mentioned (1983), Travel Industry Today relayed how so many national carriers ruled the sky back then. Think Hungary's Malev, Switzerland's Swissair, Belgium's Sabena and Lithuania's flyLAL which all cease to exist.

“Do you think Air France will go down the same route?”

Etchebehere notes in today's competitive market, a global presence working with partners like WestJet and Delta in key markets is significant.

“The potential and the big industry demand to Africa is developing at a strong growth rate,” he observes. In 2018 year-to-date the airline company reports industry demand from Canada to Africa has grown by more than 7 percent.

Do we see any direct air service on the horizon from Canada to these growing hubs? Time will tell.

Ilona-KLM

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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