Air France-KLM Launches Ludicrous New Airline To Attract Hipster Millennials

There’s a new budget airline serving Europe, and eventually long haul destinations from Paris, and its name is…Joon. That’s “riffing”, apparently, on the French word “jeune” which means young, and is meant to attract a clientele of millennials who can’t see past a very uncool airline conglomerate, Air France-KLM Group's, attempt at rebranding. According to Bloomberg.

What corporate France lacks in cost-cutting potential, it makes up for in style. That at least appears to be the recipe at Joon, the latest aviation brainchild of Air France-KLM Group, which starts operating this week. The pitch goes like this: tech-savvy and fashion-conscious flight attendants serve de rigueur staples from baobab juice to organic quinoa salad as millennials jet from Paris to Barcelona and Brazil at discount rates, streaming videos above the clouds.

Apparently, Joon is born out of some “hard-heading thinking” at Europe’s biggest airline, which aims to boost the groups profits by cutting costs more than the air fares. For those who’ve been paying attention, Air France-KLM doesn’t have the greatest track record in developing budget airlines. Indeed, the expansion of Transavia, the group’s existing low-cost brand, led to a strike by Air France pilots which cost hundreds of millions of Euros in 2014. This time, instead of aiming at pilot costs, Air France- KLM is targeting cabin crew, as Bloomberg explains.

Where the Transavia plan sought significant concessions from pilots, Joon will pay them as much as Air France does -- instead securing savings of 40 percent on cabin crew costs versus the mainline brand. That will reduce expenses by up to 18 percent overall.

Ticket prices won’t be in the bargain-basement range, with a one-way trip to Lisbon on Jan. 8 priced from 50 euros ($59), according to Joon’s website. That’s cheaper than previously charged by Air France, which will vacate routes that Joon takes up, but still 8.74 euros more than the same journey with EasyJet Plc, Europe’s second-biggest discount carrier and a major force in the French market, and 11 euros higher than charged by Transavia, which will duplicate some of the new carrier’s services.

Reading that, you might be forgiven for thinking that Joon might compete a bit too aggressively with other parts of the group, although we’re probably mistaken.

However, from the customer’s perspective, it’s all about how “cool” the new airline is going to be, beginning with the underpaid cabin crew.

Hence the focus on cool (cabin crew will wear electric-blue polo shirts and white sneakers that resemble Adidas AG’s popular Stan Smiths) as Joon seeks to woo a clientele that’s price sensitive but which also, it hopes, puts a high value on technology and lifestyle requirements.

Passengers will be able to stream movies and shows on their own devices, playing to the always-connected crowd while saving on the cost of screens. All seats will feature USB ports for charging and, from next year, free Wi-Fi.

Here’s a photo of some of the cabin crew, not sure who the old guy is…

…ahh, he’s the CEO of the Air France-KLM group. Free WiFi aside, Bloomberg cautions that everything else is going to cost.

Other perks will come at a price, among them checked luggage, programs from the Viceland and RedBullTV channels viewed via virtual-reality headsets, and the baobab juice. Joon will also offer a business-class service featuring extra space, as well as a premium-economy class on long-haul routes.

We are already underwhelmed and our confidence isn’t helped when Air France’s CEO acknowledges the new airline is a marketing experiment. The response on social media hasn’t been great either, as Bloomberg informs us.

Franck Terner, who heads Air France, describes the new carrier as a laboratory for experiments in marketing and pricing, comparing its launch to that of Richard Branson’s mold-breaking Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. in the 1980s. Yet the response to an ad campaign that likens Joon to a trendy rooftop bar and fashion designer -- before adding that it’s “also an airline” -- has been less than positive. Critics on social media and elsewhere have accused it of patronizing younger travelers and misinterpreting their basic needs.

“What we care about are the same things that old people care about: cheap, reliable flights that have got no hidden costs,” humorist Paul Taylor said on “What’s Up France,” his Canal Plus TV show. “Maybe instead of trying to create a new condescending airline, try to fix the ones you already got.”

Good point.

Our favourite review is from the Gizmodo website of which this is an extract.

According to a release from Joon, flyers will get a taste of that boutique lifestyle because Joon isn’t just an airline, it’s “a fashion brand, a rooftop bar, an entertainment channel, a personal assistant … and Joon does flying too!”

Let’s break this down:

  • Joon is a fashion brand because the flight attendants will wear an electric blue uniform that reflects a “chic sportswear look.” It’s kind of like the stylish and colorful uniforms worn by the attendants of PanAm in the 1960s.
  • It’s a “rooftop bar” because it will offer some food (20 percent organic options) and beverages (some of them infused with vitamins). The bar does not seem to be on the roof of the airplane, but the plane itself will fly above all roofs.
  • It’s an “entertainment channel” because you can stream movies and shows on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. It’s kind of like that weird screen in the back of the seat that airlines for old people usually have, but in this case, you bring your own screen. Don’t have your own screen? That’s where the AlloSky Virtual Reality Headset comes in.
  • Last, but not least, Joon is a “personal assistant” because it offers services like the option to rent out your car to strangers while you’re gone through TravelCar, get tourism advice from Airbnb operators, be forced into traveling to a random destination through Waynabox, and crowdfunding your airfare through Paper Plane, a service that hasn’t debuted yet.

As a millennial, I can report that this is all fine. It’s fine. I’ll probably get nauseous using VR on a plane. I would never use most of these services—I don’t care. And I can’t afford to hit any of Joon’s destinations anyway. If an airline really wants to appeal to millennials, they should offer frequent flyer miles for racking up student loan debt.

As always, there are some analysts who view new corporate strategies in positive terms. Bloomberg managed to find one.

“Air France needs to improve its cost performance relative to competitors in order to thrive in an environment that may not be as benign as the one we have today,” said Andrew Lobbenberg, an aviation analyst at HSBC Holdings Plc in London. “That’s what Joon is about.”

While it will be fascinating to watch how the newly launched airline performs, we doubt that the highly competitive conditions in the budget air travel space will get any easier. Indeed, as Bloomber explains, Paris is the new hub for IAG’s long haul budget plans, a market which Joon has yet to enter.

The challenge facing Joon took on a new dimension on Tuesday, when British Airways owner IAG SA revealed that it had chosen Paris as the second base for its Level discount arm. The carrier, which focuses on long-haul routes, will offer flights between the French capital and New York for 129 euros each way, and to Montreal, Guadeloupe and Martinique for 99 euros. IAG CEO Willie Walsh said Joon was a “hybrid” rather than “a very low-cost operation,” adding: “I’m not sure what Air France is doing there.”