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Air France premium economy angers Aussie professor

June 20, 2017 Headline News 4 Comments Email Email

Air France’s premium economy class has failed to meet the expectations of an Australian professor and frequent flyer, who was surprised to find she couldn’t recline her seat – and who then encountered major difficultly in contacting the airline.

Dr Jennifer Gidley is President of the World Futures Studies Federation, a non-governmental organisation, the global peak body for the world’s leading futures scholars and researchers in 60 countries and a partner of UNESCO.

Dr Gidley flies exclusively with Air France, as does her partner, also a frequent flyer in his own right. On a recent long-haul flight, Professor Gidley tried the airline’s Premium Economy offering, and was startled to find that it had been equipped with seats that didn’t recline.

“So you sit bolt upright for all those hours, although to be fair you can stretch your legs a little, sitting at 90 degrees,” her partner wrote.

The professor said that on her flight several passengers moved from premium economy class to economy class, where the seats do recline. While that was happening, “upset and embarrassed” cabin staff were doing their best to placate irate customers by serving lots of Champagne.

“Whoever chose those rigid seats will obviously never have to sit in them for 15 hours,” Dr Gidley’s partner wrote.

Dr Gidley said she arrived in Paris utterly exhausted, unable to do the work she needed to do – and then had to travel to Norway for a global conference. Attempts to upgrade to business class using air miles proved fruitless.

Dr Gidley and her partner say they faced enormous difficulties trying to contact Air France directly.

“This is a Google-like walled city without an Australian address or phone number,” Gidley’s partner wrote.

“Once you had travel agencies, but I see that AF staff now have no agency. For repeat business, trust and loyalty are everything. Customers who lose trust will just walk, and that’s a big loss.”

Gidley’s partner, who works in a different field, is setting up an oceanic research base in France later this year, which he says will entail a lot of business class travel for himself and his core team. He needs to be in contact with Air France – and he’s a valuable customer. The experience has made him question how the KLM and Air France merger is working, in terms of Air France’s traditional friendly values.

Air France should be aware that they have competition from rival airlines, he said.

The couple tried to communicate with Air France KLM country sales manager Australia and New Zealand, Quentin Voss, who said in an email he was overseas until 19 June.  Dr Gidley was surprised Voss had no executive assistant who could take action.

“I can assure you that I have been working on this in the background – as have others to understand from your emails what has occurred,” Voss emailed.

“This is still being worked on and a proper and professional reply will be sent to Professor Jennifer Gidley, when all the facts are in.

“We note that there has been a successful upgrade for the Professor’s return journey completed.

“Please rest assured I will do take such feedback seriously and will be in contact with Professor Gidley with regard to the points raised very soon.”

The professor reports that she is still waiting for the reply. She alleges that Voss failed to contact either her or her partner, failed to deliver on earlier promises of air miles and direct support, and she feels she was basically abandoned by Air France.

She says “I’ve always travelled with Air France and love the great service in the air. I’m very sad to think that their values have apparently changed.”

The couple now consider Air France impossible to deal with and are considering a move to another airline that, in their view, “can be trusted to provide support when it really matters”.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. JANE HANSON says:

    “Once you had travel agencies”,…..I take exception to that comment – if Dr Gidley had used a Travel Agent – as many of us are still alive and kicking and our businesses are growing, the agent would have been her advocate in this situation and be able to follow up her complaints and grumbles with Air France.

  2. AgentGerko says:

    As Jane Hanson says, everyone wants to do things themselves, and then when there’s a problem they complain that there’s nobody to help them. I can assure the Prof that I, as an agent, have both phone and email contacts at AF, and had they used a good travel agent they might even been advised about the Premium Economy seating prior to travel.

  3. Geographer says:

    I think the central issue here is that AF key staff failed to honour promises. The uncomfortable Premium Economy seat that kept the Professor awake all night prompted a move to Business Class for the return flight. I understand that Voss offered her 3,000 miles as a standard birthday promotional offer. This would have given her a return flight in Business. But the offer turned out to be a dud, and no attempts to contact Voss or anyone else worked for several days. Eventually Voss replied, with more empty promises. From a customer loyalty perspective, it’s better to not make empty promises and ‘promotional offers’ to customers than to fail to deliver on them. As for the Air France style of Premium Economy seat, is it big mistake or actually designed to encourage customers to choose Business Class? By contrast, Singapore’s PE seating is excellent.

  4. Geographer says:

    To answer Jane and AgentGerko, the Professor did indeed use a travel agent for all the bookings. When AF staff failed to deliver, Dr Gidley was forced to accept that AF were useless and so she bought more miles and the brilliant agent fixed it all. What should have been an auto press-the-button ‘Thanks, send me those 3,000 birthday miles’ instead became hours on the phone, chasing AF call centre staff in five locations, who offered conflicting solutions. Had Voss simply honoured his email offer, no issue would have arisen. Could it be that he has no office, just an iPhone to enable him to be a roving Country Sales Manager Australia New Zealand? Take note KLM, 75% of business mergers are disasters, because they’re driven by cost-cutting accountants who ignore the value of established corporate cultures. Air France had one of the best.

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