Vincent Etchebehere
General Manager
Air France-KLM Mexico
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View from the Top

Bridge Between Mexico and Europe

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 10:23

Q: What market strategies is Air France-KLM following to excel in Mexico?
A: The Mexican market has been displaying solid development in the past 10 years. The Air France-KLM group cannot expect to grow without considering Mexico as an important component in its investment strategy. The growing demand for intercontinental flights led us to inaugurate the Airbus A380 on the route from Mexico City to Paris. This development represents a milestone for the aviation industry in Mexico. Never before has the world’s largest aircraft been used on a route in Latin American countries. The introduction of this travel route is the culmination of combined efforts from Air France-KLM and Airbus, as well as Mexican and French authorities.
The direct route between the Mexican and French capitals has proven to be a commercial success, exceeding our expectations. Demand for routes between Mexico and Europe has enjoyed a solid expansion, showing average year-on-year growth rates of 6 percent. In April and May, Air France-KLM was responsible for almost 35 percent of the air traffic between Mexico and Europe, which is an outstanding market share for international airlines, becoming the No. 1 airline group traveling between Mexico and Europe. We are proud to say that in less than six months our market share has increased by almost 10 percentage points thanks to the commercial success of the Airbus 380. Also, we increased our seat offer by 10 percent between Mexico and Amsterdam through KLM to nine flights per week. KLM’s Mexico-Amsterdam route was one of the first to be equipped with World Business Class seats.
To date, our market share in First Class cabin to Europe exceeds 50 percent, placing Mexico among our top three most important markets for first-class ticket sales, just behind the U.S. and France. The Airbus A380 Business cabin increased ticket sales by more than 100 percent. Now that our expectations have been surpassed, we have to make this performance sustainable in the long term and we are confident that this is achievable in the Mexican market. In 2016, Air France-KLM available seat kilometres (ASK) increased globally by 3 percent and 10 percent in Mexico, showing how strategic this market is for the group. We have doubled the capacity of our lounge in Mexico City airport, and constantly increase the quality of food, beverages and service.
Q: What advantages does the Air France and KLM merger offer to its customers?
A: Air France and KLM are two experienced airlines that constantly innovate in products and services to meet clients’ needs. The merger can only bring benefits to our customers as our route options have increased. We are now able to provide our Mexican clients with more scheduling and pricing options, as well as more travel experiences.
The combination of our customer services will probably represent the lion’s share of advantages afforded by our alliance. KLM has always stood out as an airline that constantly innovates in customer service. For instance, it provides the most answers to enquiries posed through social media. Every week, KLM receives over 100,000 messages through its social networks. To provide adequate and immediate answers to every message, 250 analysts are responsible for providing assistance over social media with a response time of less than 30 minutes. Additionally, last year KLM launched a project that involves a robot called Spencer at Schiphol airport. Spencer helps passengers find their departure gates and provides them with boarding passes. Using robotics to improve passenger experience is part of a long-term strategy to offer exceptional service.
Improving operational services is also part of our combined benefits. Punctuality and client communication add value to our product. We are proud that KLM has recently been recognized as the most punctual airline in the world. However, due to the very nature of our business, which depends on weather conditions, disruptions can happen such as cancellations and delays, even if they are very rare. To offer the best service to our customers, our Air France-KLM Connect service informs passengers of any possible disruption as well as alternative solutions. As many of our passengers have connecting flights, we do everything we can to make sure they can reach their final destination in the fastest and most comfortable way.  
Q: What are the conditions in Mexico that could impact Air France-KLM operations?
A: Even though several external elements are having an impact on the Mexican economy, we do not believe our operations will be severely affected. For instance, the exchange rate between the Mexican peso and US dollar concerns us because it affects the purchasing power of our Mexican clients.
However, regardless of the currency exchange situation, flights between Mexico and Europe continue to register high demand and have not been affected. On the contrary, during the April-May period our company registered a 17 percent increase in demand for flights between Mexico and Europe.
It is important to keep in mind that for our routes to grow and become successful we need to guarantee a positive reception within the Mexican and the European markets. Depending on a single market to buy flight seats is not sustainable in the long run. Fortunately, our clients are not limited to a homogenous nationality profile. Tickets for the Cancun to Paris route are mostly bought by European citizens, bringing a high volume of tourists to Riviera Maya and contributing to the region’s economic growth. However, on flights linking Mexico City with Paris and Amsterdam enjoy more popularity among Mexican citizens. Mexicans buy more than half these seats.
While it does not necessarily affect us directly, we follow the progress of the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) between Mexico and the US. As an airline group, we have a favourable position within these agreements. When the passenger flow between countries is favoured by governments, everyone benefits, particularly citizens and the aviation industry. An agreement of this nature highlights the potential the Mexican market has to continue growing.
Q: What are Air France-KLM operation plans in Mexico for 2017?
A: Our priority for 2017 is to continue the successful trend we witnessed in 2016. The acceptance of the Airbus A380 has convinced us to add our new Air France inflight cabins named BEST, on the Boeing 777 we will operate between Paris and Mexico from October 2017 to April 2018.
The Airbus A380 cabin investment at the beginning of the year reinforced our leadership in travel comfort. The La Premiere and Business cabins offer comfort and privacy for our travelers, with fully reclining seats, improving our clients’ flying experience. Boeing’s BEST cabins will not disappoint Mexican customers and will set us apart as the best in the industry in terms of comfort. These cabins will comply with a standard that we call FFF. This means full flat seats, full access with no middle-seat that can disturb aisle passengers and full privacy. We are excited to present this innovation to the Mexican market.         
Our goal is to become the most customer-oriented airline. We will continue to work on passenger experience and punctuality, as well as new European routes for our Mexican customers. KLM will launch in summer 2017 seven new routes in Europe (Gdansk, Graz, Porto, Malaga, Split, Cagliari and Catania), which means more flying flexibility. We intend to become the preferred airline for intercontinental flights between Mexico and Europe. Cancun is also proving to be an increasingly popular destination, especially during the autumn and winter seasons, due to it being a destination that combines leisure and culture.