With the United States government’s new policy for international travel starting November 8, we talked with French Bee President Marc Rochet about how that airline will be handling the changes, as well as how they’ve been managing their operations during the pandemic.
“In light of the recent travel ban lift announcement, we will be resuming our flight operations in San Francisco, which connect passengers to Paris-Orly and Tahiti, in November. During the pandemic, we shifted operations to fly through Vancouver and then Toronto to continue the route. We plan to relaunch this popular route three times per week beginning on November 10,” Rochet said.
French Bee had originally planned to launch its New York to Paris route in 2020, but put it on hold during the height of the pandemic. Instead, they launched the route to coincide with Bastille Day on July 14, 2021.
“We are very happy to see the U.S. traffic open to French passengers and are ready to put more demand on the Paris to New York route. We will fly at least three times per week from Paris-Orly to Newark. We are preparing to fly at least four times per week in December for Paris-Orly to Newark, and then planning three times per week from SFO to Tahiti,” he said, adding that if there is high demand, they can add more flights.
Asked about current consumer travel behavior for international travel bookings, especially to France, Rochet said that, “at this time, only American residents have been able to travel to Europe. Even with these restrictions, we have made a load factor of 60-62% by the end of September, which was really good. We achieved this by arranging cargo flights from Europe.”
Travel rules have been changing frequently over the course of the pandemic. “People are not entirely clear on the travel restrictions yet so there is some hesitancy in booking international trips right now. There’s a lot of clarity missing, but once we have a better understanding from the U.S. administration, we believe we will see a big demand to travel again,” he said.
Looking ahead, Rochet said he “thinks we need to add new Airbus airplanes to our fleet each year because we do anticipate a big demand at the end of the pandemic. We anticipate that business traffic will be low. We expect bookings to increase with families traveling back and forth, as well as students and travelers.”
Asked about how has the pandemic affected marketing efforts, especially when trying to get brand recognition in the U.S., he explained that “When we outlined the Newark to Orly launch plans, we knew we were taking a risk despite the restrictions in place. Since July 2021, we were surprised we have seen so much response from the U.S. market as we are not very well known and new. Our low-fares are important to our customers, so we are satisfied. Most of our travelers were coming to Paris perhaps for family reasons to Paris or the other provinces.”
As many airlines have been doing, French Bee has arranged more cargo flights from Europe using its Airbus A350s, and Rochet said it has provided “a strong avenue for us to continue our flight operations and remain at viable costs.”
“To be specific,” he continued, “the cargo side is quite good one-way (ORY-EWR). For instance, we recently had a flight from Orly to Newark with 12 tons of cargo on board. We have the capacity to carry up to 15-16 tons of cargo but we have a volume constraint. We typically focus on 10-12 tons of cargo at a time. The general trend we are seeing is where the cargo is more volume instead of weight because there is a big demand in e-commerce. To be clear we did not break even or make money. But when you look at the viable costs we are positive (fuel, maintenance, crew), this means we are not losing cash.”
Lastly, when discussing which measures French bee has put in place to ensure customer confidence, Rochet said “We want customers to trust that their safety and health are a top priority at French bee airline every step of their journey. All of our tickets are 100 percent changeable and refundable for all bookings made for travel through March 31, 2022. Additionally, COVID assistance is offered for all trips booked through December 31, 2021. We are also heavily focused on recommending that our airline crew and staff are vaccinated. Today, more than 90 percent of French bee’s crew and staff are already vaccinated.”