If you’re looking to fly to Paris on a brand-new airplane at a fair price, French bee might just have a seat for you. The little sister of Air Caraïbes has been flying a fleet of Airbus A350s since 2018; last month it added LA and this week it begin selling tickets to Miami, for flights beginning in December.
It’s not a low-cost airline; it’s a “smart-cost airline,” Thomas Renault, Head of Sales USA at French bee, told TRO in an interview last week. The airline delivers “a beautiful new plane and great service at the best value for the money across the Atlantic.” Thanks to the fuel efficiency of the A350s that cuts costs by 25%, the configuration of the planes with no business class, and the a la carte pricing model that allows customers to pay only for what they need, fares from Newark to Orly can run as little as $200.
There is the option to add everything from meals by a double Michelin-starred chef (about $25 for dinner, or included in basic+ fares) to airport lounge access. But especially on the red-eye New-York-to-Paris route, for example, the leisure travelers who make up the passenger list are not really looking to eat.
What they do want is reliability—and those new planes, plus the back-up of sister airline Air Caribes in case of trouble, help assure that travelers get where they need to go.
Growing in long-haul markets
With its fleet of big planes, French bee flies only long-haul routes from big markets, mostly to Paris. But, it also flies San Francisco to Tahiti, and its code-shares with Alaska Airlines and the French SNCF railway connect it to 100 entry points and 25 destinations in France. A passenger could fly from Seattle with Alaska, then LA to Orly, and then take the train across France on a single booking. And while there is no frequency program, the cash savings more than make up for the lost points, he said.
French bee’s big sister, Air Caraibes, has been serving the French market for 30 years. It began flying to islands that French families typically visit, added Tahiti to San Francisco and NY to Orly in 2018. There is no immediate plan to expand beyond LA and Miami; “we want to be cautious about our growth and we will stick with this for the time being,” Renault said. “We’re in a very good position.”
Every 20 years or so has brought “a big jump in airplane technology—and these new planes are incredibly improved and very fuel-efficient,” Renault said. “That’s a huge saving we can transfer to the customer.”
The current configuration on the planes is 376 seats in economy and 35 in premium, with no first class, and a 100% leisure travel base. Customers can buy seat assignments, priority access to the plane, bag check, lounge access in Paris, and champagne service if they like.
And looking to travel advisors
While the majority of customers book direct, about 30% use a travel advisor—and that’s a number French bee would love to grow. “We absolutely encourage all travelers to book through travel advisors, especially in the LA market, where we are a new player; it’s a win-win for everyone. And we encourage travel advisors who are interested in our product to inquire.”
When an airline enters a new market it traditionally relies heavily on data—but “we have really lost that advantage during the pandemic; the pandemic has reshuffled everything. Every airline has to relearn how passengers are consuming their product. So it’s a little harder for us so to learn new markets, and more work to get people to know us. In the US there are always airlines that think they can do without the trade–but we think it’s not possible. It’s really important for travel advisors to understand what we are, and to manage expectations so there is no surprise when customers board and realize there’s no business class or dinner. We say ‘Fly Different’– passengers are usually very pleasantly surprised when they get on board and realize the planes are beautiful, the food is great, and the service is amazing.”
In case of issues, there’s a sales team to back you up in New York and an American-staffed call center in Florida.
Curious to see for yourself? French bee is planning fam trips on the NY-to-Paris route and the inaugural Miami-to-Paris in the fall.
TRO is hosting a webinar with French bee Airline on June 28th at 1 pm EDT. Sign up here.