© Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR

Comfort

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Comfort throughout history

The growing adventure of air travel

The first passengers participated however they wanted to in the growing adventure of air travel: they would put gloves on before boarding, sometimes even helmets. In the planes, which were often retrofitted former bombers, everything cracked and shook, starting with the wicker seats that were more or less attached to the floor. The noise of the engines was deafening, the wind cut through clothing, and the oil gave off a strong smell.

Comfort and safety were two priorities for the airline at its beginnings: amenities included baggage nets, individual fans, heating, and the highly appreciated service of a bartender. For the pilots, direction finding made it possible to fly in reduced-visibility conditions. It was cutting edge for the time.

On 2 January 1935, the Air France Breguet 530 Saigon F-AMSV, dubbed the "Algérie", made its first Marseille-Algiers flight in a time of 3:45 at 209 km/h. Air France had two of these planes. The F-AMSX "Tunisie", delivered in April 1936, had three classes: 2nd class in the front with 11 seats, 1st class in the middle with 6 seats, and a luxury cabin in the rear for 2 or 3 passengers.

At the end of the 1940s, with pressurised cabins, planes flew higher, away from turbulence. Cabins got larger. "Tourist Class" was created in 1950. First Class got reclining seats, and even actual beds in small personal suites aboard Super Constellations. At the time, a Paris-New York flight lasted more than 20 hours.

Aviation slowly became a part of life for people. Cabins became cosier, and took on some of the comfort of rail compartments, with Pullman seats, metal luggage racks, and sliding windows. Sometimes they even had individual fans and heating. The first Lockheed Constellation came on the scene in 1947.

  • Inside the cabin of a Farman Goliath F-60 - 1920s © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR
  • Two passengers having a coffee on board a Constellation in the fifties © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR
  • A girl and her mother in the sleeping compartment of the Lockheed L.1049 Super Constellation "Parisien spécial" © Collection Air France.DR / Collection Musée Air France.DR

More and more confort

Starting in 1951, all the planes on routes between Europe and North America (New York, Boston, Montreal) were equipped with 34 "berth seats," with the exception of those on charter services, which were equipped with 44 normal seats.

Tourist Class was extended to long-haul flights from the French Union and North Atlantic routes, and the Constellations were retrofitted in the summer of 1952 to increase the number of seats. The Research Department in the Technical Division and the Orly Research Office worked to find the best compromise between density, comfort, and weight economy requirements. The seats could recline, and were 3 cm wider than those of foreign airlines. While the commonly used distance between seats was 91.5 cm, Air France technicians increased this to 99 cm to improve passenger comfort. The suspension was a new type, and the seats were covered in a brick-red wool cloth, for a presentation similar to that on luxury services. Each seat had an individual horizontal tray that could be adjusted in distance, as well as an ashtray. All of the seats were mounted on rails, to enable a quick change of the tourist seats to luxury mode, and vice versa. A curtain originally separated Tourist Class and First Class inside the Constellation. It was replaced by a movable rigid partition wall for better comfort and visual appeal in 1954.

  • A view of Lockheed L.1049 Super Constellation seats © Collection Musée Air France
  • Concorde : interior refit for presidential flights © Collection Musée Air France
  • "L'espace Affaires" seats, Boeing 747-400 - 2000 © Collection Musée Air France

In the jet age, standards of comfort change

The time saved was already luxurious. New York was only eight hours from Paris. Space was saved, and efforts were made on seats, decoration, and entertainment. Bars helped contribute to a fun atmosphere. When the Boeing 747 arrived in 1970, it meant that nearly 3 times as many passengers could be transported than in the Boeing 707, with better comfort in First Class, including a bar and lounge upstairs, and artist-created decorations. On the B707 and B727, passengers had a wide array of compartments provided above their seats to store their hand luggage, which had previously been placed under the seats. This had been done as a precautionary measure, after in-flight incidents that had taken place during turbulence.

Business Class was inaugurated in 1978 on the Paris-New York and Nice-New York routes. The services offered focused on fast check-in and a pleasant flying experience in comfortable seats.

Over time, new passenger cabins were designed, including new layout ideas, with softer, more natural materials like leather and wool. Seats became more ergonomic and sometimes became truly intimate spaces.

 

Technology at the service of customers

Starting in 1981, there was a new service and new reclining seats in First Class on all 747s (with the exception of mixed B747s). These seats were fully designed and produced by the Air France Equipment Division. 24 reclining seats, with a distance of 132 cm (52 inches) between them, were installed on the main level. Eight additional reclining seats, with a distance of 147 cm (58 inches) between them, replaced 16 economy class seats on the upper level that had been placed there previously. This new First Class cabin located on the upper level was different from the main level because of its quieter atmosphere, thanks to the limited number of seats, the absence of a cinema, and the fact that it was reserved for non-smoking passengers. Numerous service improvements were made on the ground and in the air. On the ground, First Class passengers could check in at a special counter giving them priority treatment. Before departure, they were greeted in a First Class lounge that was calm and comfortable, designed for maximum relaxation. In flight, Air France gave its First Class passengers a new type of highly sensitive electromagnetic headphones, particularly pleasant to use, that generated high-fidelity stereo sound. Cabin crew gave a glass of champagne and a comfort kit to all First Class passengers when they boarded, along with a rose to female passengers. Meals were of high quality, and all drinks were free throughout the flight. Four flight attendants were assigned to the 24-passenger First Class cabin.

Starting in the 1990s, Air France set itself apart from its competitors with numerous technological innovations, including a revolutionary seat that was the only one in the world to turn into an actual bed. This was the beginning of a new dimension of air travel, with new comfort that was both physical and psychological. Passengers could manage their time better, choose the time of their meals, and decide how long they would sleep. Thought was given to children as well. There was a designated space for them in the "Tempo" cabin, with a wide variety of entertainment options, including video games.

In the early 2000s, Air France presented a new range of products and services, investing more than Fr.1 billion (over £100,000,000). The goal was to bring passengers greater comfort, personalised and simplified services, individual video in every long-haul class, an improved dining offer, new loyalty programmes (the Fréquence Jeune card) and new applications available on the Internet. First Class, Business Class, Tempo... these products, endlessly refreshed and redesigned, put Air France at the cutting edge of innovation, with strategic projects fully devoted to customer satisfaction.

La Première Suite, 777-300 - 2014 © Ronan Guillou

The move upmarket

On 30 October 2009, the A380, a true giant of the air, joined the Air France fleet. Air France became the first European airline to offer flights aboard this very wide-body jet (538 seats) and the first airline in the world to offer transatlantic flights in the A380 between Europe and United States. The first A380 took off for New York on 23 November 2009.

In recent years, new standards have emerged in the airline industry. Air France's commercial strategy depends on upgrading its quality, its best advantage to win passengers back. Projects undertaken since 2013 are part of the Transform 2015 plan, whose goal is to position Air France among the best in terms of products and services.

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