Everyone is raving in the US about United Airlines Economy Plus yet, Air France has been flying 3 classes planes in Europe with the Tempo Challenge being the full fare economy class. If there is no change with seat pitch, the cabin has a curtain divider and food service with free drinks and Champagne, use of the Business Class Lounges.
Following is a report from the Business Traveller Magazine.
Cheap but cheerful
As business class passengers gravitate towards cheaper economy class seats, airlines are offering preferential treatment to encourage their custom, writes Alex McWhirter
Travelling economy class within Europe needn’t be as hard as flying long haul. On many airlines, there isn’t a great difference in comfort, provided the next seat is kept free, compared to flying business class. Furthermore, economy fare travellers canny enough to choose a one-class flight will find they receive the same service as those who have paid a business tariff.
For these reasons, the big airlines are having a hard time trying to stop their increasingly cost-conscious passengers from defecting to the back cabins. According to Vagn Sorensen, senior vice-president at Scandinavian airline SAS, all European airlines are now battling with intense price competition. "We have seen a clear drop in sales of business class seats from last July onwards," he said. "There is now a general tendency for corporate travellers to go to the back of the bus at cheaper rates."
The drift to the back would be greater still were it not for the tariff quirks obliging travellers on most inter-European routes to fork out a business class fare if they need flexible travel arrangements. Most economy fares come with various restrictions of one sort or another. Nevertheless, travellers seem increasingly prepared to meet these rules. After all, if they are mid- to high-ranking loyalty cardholders, they still qualify for benefits such as expedited check-in and use of airport lounges.
At the same time the airlines are realising that even if business people do desert business for economy, the price they pay still represents a decent yield. So Air France now offers a third class called Tempo Challenge offering many business class benefits for those paying full fare.
"Many companies have a policy for staff to fly only in economy class," says an Air France spokesperson, "but then complain because, although they’re buying full-fare tickets, executives still sit among leisure travellers in the back." So Tempo Challenge passengers are accommodated in a separate cabin on Air France’s B737 and A320 flights. You get a light meal with free drinks including champagne and perks such as use of the executive lounge (where available), faster check-in, booking flexibility and priority disembarkation.
No other carrier has emulated Air France, so far. But others are covertly blocking off the best economy seats for their higher fare or loyalty cardholders. So you may be allocated a seat in the front rows where, depending on how the business/economy class divider is positioned, you could even be able to spread out in a business class seat. You may also find that, wherever possible, the middle seat of three is kept free, giving you more sideways space for your working papers and hand baggage. The best service of all is available when you fly a one-class carrier (see the checks for British Regional Airlines and Lufthansa CityLine) where everyone gets the same treatment on board.