The CEO of Air France’s offspring Joon takes care not to mention the M-word.
“Joon is for everyone, Joon is the next generation travel experience, it is to build an innovative product in what could be the travel of tomorrow,” Jean-Michel Mathieu tells airlineratings.com in Cape Town after Joon’s first long-haul flight from Paris
Joon, which positions itself not as a low-cost carrier (LCC) but a hybrid airline model, has been ridiculed, and probably deservedly, for originally positioning itself as the “millennial airline”.
This was dismissed by many in the industry as a marketing exercise of a carrier in distress which, as on-going strikes vividly illustrate, clearly is the case for Air France.
Air France is far behind the competition, both in Europe and worldwide, when it comes to cutting its high costs and becoming more efficient to face today’s tough marketplace. The most recent offers of pay rises to staff point to anything but actual cost-cutting.
In the current context, Joon might even become more important in acting as a kind of innovation lab for the behemoth mother airline.
“We test some new processes on aircraft turnarounds to increase utilization. For example, catering within Europe is only loaded every four flights on short haul, that drives significant cost reductions,” says Mathieu.
Innovations like these are the reason that Joon’s operating costs are 15-18 percent those at Air France (not counting fuel), according to its CEO.
This is slightly surprising as Joon has to make use of Air France pilots, so gets no cost saving there.
Only newly hired cabin crew, wearing their signature blue shirts made partially of recycled plastic bottles and white sneakers have different contracts with higher workloads and lower salaries than the mainline carrier.
There are currently 500 of them, growing to 1,100 by 2020, leading Mathieu to observe: “We are on track to deliver the desired cost reductions.”
Between its launch in December 2017, to the end of March, Joon carried half a million passengers on its initial eight short-haul European routes. It currently operates eleven narrow-bodies (four A321s and seven A320s) and soon will be flying four refurbished A340-300s, all taken from Air France.
Medium-haul operations to Cairo began in late March with long-haul services starting to Cape Town in April, taking over from Air France.
May will see the launch of new services for the group both to Mahé/Seychelles and the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, while in June Mumbai will be taken over from Air France.
Joon is very much operating within a fixed framework, as labor relations within Air France are so delicate management had to agree to a maximum size for its new offspring.
This means the airline can’t act as flexibly as a new airline normally would. There will be no further destinations for the time being, with just Budapest and Bergen (and one aircraft) added from late October.
The maximum fleet size is set in stone too.
It can grow to 28 aircraft, which will be reached in 2020. It will then comprise of 18 Airbus A320/321s (already flying in the European summer period in 2019) and ten long-haul aircraft, initially consisting of only four A340-300 this year, being complemented by new A350-900s delivered fresh from Toulouse from September, 2019.
Air France has a total order of 21 A350s, of which the first ten will go to Joon until 2021.
With these, Joon will be France’s second largest long-haul carrier, after Air France.
It flies under its own AOC, but uses the AF code, and operates very much in tandem with the mother, as 50 percent of Joon passengers connect to or from Air France in Paris.
Only when the A350s join the fleet next year, a fundamental flaw will be rectified.
Though positioned as a somehow young and innovative airline, the core feature is currently missing: onboard Wi-fi.
This has long been offered by competitors such as Norwegian but Air France/KLM in general –again- is far behind the competition. This seems particularly inexcusable for a product branded like Joon.
“It was not possible to retrofit on the A340s within a reasonable time, it would have taken two years – and in three years from now we will have an almost full A350 fleet,” explains Mathieu.
Joon’s most successful routes so far in Europe have been services from Paris both to Berlin and Rome, which it took over from Air France and increased frequencies to seven daily for both.
“The Berlin route is very positive with load factors over 90 percent, more than Air France had before,” enthuses Mathieu.
On the routes it serves, Joon saw double-digit increases in capacity (and experiences over 80 percent average loads) as it’s using bigger aircraft (A320/321s) than Air France (A318/319s).
Its somewhat random long-haul network is explained by the CEO: “We target a good mix of business and leisure traffic to cities where there is a high potential, but fierce competition, where we were in a defensive mood and now want to fight back.”
Examples are Tehran, Cairo or Mumbai.
“In India, the Gulf carriers are very strong, and one ambition of Joon is to be better able to fight back against Gulf carriers,” Mathieu adds.
Targeting Millennials or not, many in the industry are skeptical about Joon’s future.
“It’s too little, too late, much more fundamental changes at Air France are needed,” says Frenchman Sylvain Bosc, who worked in the airline’s management for 13 years and now is CCO of African LCC Fastjet.
At least Joon takes a fresh approach not tried yet by industry peers such as LEVEL, IAG’s long-haul LCC, or Lufthansa’s low-cost arm Eurowings.