French bee launched flights to New York this summer, kicking off a new chapter for the low-cost carrier. With the year coming to an end, Simple Flying spoke with the Paris Orly-based airline’s CEO, Marc Rochet, to look back at the progress of the route.
The time is now
Rochet shares that when an airline is launching a route, they can always express that it’s not a good time due to the season, the response from customers, or other external conditions. This factor has been prevalent during the global health crisis, with carriers being subject to travel restrictions and drops in demand. However, French bee took the leap and decided to commence its flights to Newark Liberty International Airport in July. With fares for the four weekly flights starting at $139 one-way, the carrier offered a low-cost alternative to the Big Apple.
French bee’s leadership took the step as they anticipated that the United States travel ban on general European visitors would end during the summer. Yet, we now know that the lift wouldn’t occur until November. Regardless, the carrier learned several crucial lessons by getting the ball rolling, helping it have greater control on operations when demand would rise later in the year.
Primarily, the operator noticed a strong response on the US side of the market. Passengers from France could not fly to the US apart from some very few exceptions, but the company was still seeing a cumulative load factor of 56% between August and October. This figure is impressive as French bee was mostly selling to only one side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The airline was also able to work on making its operations to New York as seamless as possible. Some catering and timing issues had to be dealt with, which the firm managed to handle before the big rush.
One of the key segments that helped support the route during the initial months is cargo. Rochet highlights that the Airbus A350 is a great passenger aircraft, and it also has another advantage with its big belly. Air cargo is thriving due to aspects such as the e-commerce boom and the need for medical supplies. So, French bee has been reporting excellent freight loads between France and the US. The company managed to jump on the cargo momentum between the two countries, and this is a market that it will continue to explore in the next chapter.
Navigating the competition
Overall, there had been challenges launching the New York route, but the payoff is worth it. There are plenty of rivals in this sector. Still, French bee is keen to differentiate itself and offer an alternative option. In practice, the airline isn’t the only A350 operator flying between Europe and the US. However, it is the only low-cost commercial carrier to do so. The operator’s management believes this aspect gives it an edge over its competitors.
“Opening New York is not a simple story. So, we need to optimize a lot of things. We need to be in the right place, and we need to be there for the market. And we have done all that. Also, we were optimistic from day one. Because if you look at the competition on the North Atlantic, there are big players – American, Delta, Air France, British Airways, and such, but they have cut capacity,” Rochet told Simple Flying.
“Leading into the reopening in November, Air France’s total capacity to the US was a bit more than 50% of the number of seats they put in the market in 2019. For instance, they had two Airbus A380s flying a day in 2019. Now, they have them in storage. So, there is a restriction on the total seats offered by airlines overall. Therefore, we are coming into the market at a good moment. It’s time to start now and to improve what we have done from July and since we reopened in November.”
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After French bee started selling on both the US and French sides, bookings had been rising because many people in France have been striving to fly across the pond for around 1.5 years. New York is one of the biggest routes across the North Atlantic, not only for airlines from France but for US, English, and German outfits. Unless prospective restrictions hinder long-term market growth, French bee looks forward to additional success in the new year.
Notably, the New York route is laying great foundations for the launch of Los Angeles flights next spring. The carrier will initially deploy its A350s to Southern California four times a week before increasing the frequency to six flights a week from July.
The relaunch of San Fransico flights, the commencement of New York operations, and the launch of Los Angeles operations will give French bee a balanced network on both coasts of the United States. There will undoubtedly be plans for further expansions throughout the decade. The A350-1000 has also joined the fold, boosting the capacity on the widebody services to 488 seats. The airline won’t have much trouble filling in the cabins if the progressive patterns continue in the coming years.
What are your thoughts about French Bee’s launch of operations to New York from Paris? Are you looking to fly with the carrier to the US soon? Also, what do you make of the competition on the route? Let us know what you think of the airline and its plans in the comment section.