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Air France-KLM: A comparison of a Continental Airline Consortium

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Air France and KLM. Both airlines are members of the Skyteam Alliance and both are flag carriers to their respective nations, France and the Netherlands.

 

KLM uses a fleet of Boeing 737-NG aircraft (-700/-800/-900) from its hub at Amsterdam Schipol for its European mainline network. Air France uses an Airbus fleet (A318/A319/A320/A321) for its European mainline network from Paris Charles DeGaulle.

 

In 2004, the two airlines merged to form a unified group. A trend that has been growing in Europe in the Post 9/11 World. Whilst both airlines are under one company “Air France-KLM Group” the airlines remain two seperate brands and are run independently. Some affiliates that also feature in the group include: HOP! (Regional operations by Air France after three of their Regional partners were consolidated into one airline), KLM Cityhopper (Regional jet services from Amsterdam by KLM), Transavia (Dutch charter airline, now has a French equivalent), Martinair (which operates on behalf of KLM Cargo) and Joon (a strange Millennial themed off-shoot of Air France).

Air France and KLM merged into the Air France-KLM Group in 2004, one of the first European Airline groups to be formed in the post 9/11 Aviation Industry.

 

Both airlines use the Air France Frequent Flyer scheme, FLYING BLUE, of which I’ve been a member since 2015 being an Ivory Member, until they rebranded with the Blue Explorer level in mid 2018. The system they use now works on the basis of giving award miles based on pricing rather than based on distance which was used prior. In 2015 when I joined, all economy class flyers on a one way London to Amsterdam route would get 150 award miles, but now- the airlines provides a basic 4 points for every Euro spent for those on basic Flying Blue Explorer. Which in some ways is a better system as its isn’t even ground to get 150 miles regardless if you spend £45 in advance then someone else who books last minute pays £150. The higher you pay- bigger the reward, which is fine! The airline does offer set XP point system which determines your status, 100XP points to upgrade to the Skyteam Silver level from the basic program. You can earn and redeem not just on KLM-Air France, but also on flights with Skyteam alliance members including: Delta Airlines, Xaimen Air, TAROM, Kenya Airways and Garuda Indonesia.

In this report, I am comparing London to Paris/Amsterdam experiences on the two airlines of the AF/KL group. KLM Boeing 737 vs. Air France Airbus A319.

So getting to the main part of this article, Let’s compare the services of the two airlines!

First some ground rules to maintain a consistent and fair comparison:

  • Both flights are London Heathrow originating serving to their respective hubs
  • Both flights will be based on mainline short haul aircraft
  • Both flights are reviewing economy class services

Are we all Game, Set and Match??? GOOD! Then lets begin!

Air France and KLM both use Terminal 4 at London Heathrow alongside various SKYTEAM partners.

 

Both flights are from London Heathrow (Terminal 4) to Amsterdam Schipol (KLM) and Paris Charles DeGaulle (Air France). Both flights were taken in a similar time frame (April 2018 and February 2019). My Air France flight was operated by an Airbus A319 (F-GRXC) and my KLM flight was operated by a Boeing 737-800 (PH-BXG).

First off, lets compare the rewards I gained off both flights. My Air France flight was in April 2018 and under the new system of Flying Blue I gained 230 award miles for my flight, 41 miles for a paid seat selection and 5XP points. My KLM flight in February 2019, I earned 71 award miles for this flight plus 40 miles added from seat selection. This was probably a lower rate as it was part of a connecting trip to Sint Maarten, but I earned the standard 5XP you get for flying Economy Class from London Heathrow to either Paris or Amsterdam. So in this instance AIR FRANCE gets one win!

Air France’s black leather seating and the KLM blue fabric seating. Both standard slimline styles used around Europe, however most airlines use leather like AF over fabric that KLM uses, due to its easiness to clean during short turn around.

Cabin design on the planes. Air France Airbus A319 had these leather black seats, definitely the modern slimline design that is becoming industry standard amongst airlines in Europe, all though they had this unique little gizmo- a retractable cup holder! This for me is a “Life Saver” I can be at anytime in the flight with a drink and just have the little cup holder unfolded from the tray table whilst its stowed, love them! KLM on the other hand didn’t have a cup holder- however I do find the seats more comfortable, the KLM seats are the slimline design, but unlike Air France they have blue fabric covering rather than leather. Its one of my favourite reasons to fly KLM, I know the seats are comfortable and that I enjoy sitting in them! Comparing the two airlines pitch, both provided plenty of legroom for me. Air France offers 32 inches in a normal economy seat, where as KLM offers 30 inches in a normal economy seat. So given the options, I want to give this one to KLM for their more appealing cabin image, if I could chose either airline for a longer European flight (for example Zurich, Switzerland or Oslo, Norway to Amsterdam or Paris) I would take KLM over Air France if they were the same price due to the comfortable seating.

In flight service is still conducted on these short flights. Unlike British Airways, both these Skyteam airlines remain in the “Old School” theme of providing a free snack item and a selection from the bar. On early morning flights, Air France offers a pastry (croissant or pain au chocolate) alongside a hot drink. Afternoon flights often provide a sandwich or brioche roll with an option to have juices, soda drinks, hot drinks and selected alcohol. KLM offers a similar service, a Dutch sandwich in a box and on out bound flights to Amsterdam they also provide a stroopwaffle. KLM offers hot and soft drinks and beer, which they do offer on morning flights from a previous experience……. I will give this one to KLM as they provide a bit more substance and options. All though on afternoon flights the service is almost identical.

The morning KLM snack box with bar service drinks (above) vs the breakfast Air France offers. Both flights from London are of a similar time frame (35-50 minutes)

Now to the hubs. Both airports are two of the busiest in Europe. Amsterdam Schipol is a very communal airport as staff. inbound, connecting and departing passengers all mix air side. Good way of the Duty Free and Diners getting a huge audience for their business. Passport control can take a while to pass if you arrive during peak times, but during quiet periods, its quite easy to be waiting less than five minutes. You don’t have to pass a passport control at Amsterdam if connecting air side, when land side Amsterdam does have a very famous Viewing Deck facility and an aviation themed shop where air side tours are offered at 18EUR.

Air side and KLM check in at Amsterdam Schipol, taken in January 2018- hence the Xmas lighting.

Paris CDG on the other hand, if coming from a non-Schengen flight, you need to go through a passport control check to connect flights with in the Schengen Area, you also (naturally) have to go through a passport check getting into Paris. But for some reason the Paris airport is very, painfully (at times) slow to get through. Apart from two occasions, I’ve had to spend 45-60 minutes waiting my turn to get through, I might just be arriving at a busy period, sometimes I only see a few gates manned, various factors do come into play, Paris is also very unfriendly towards aviation enthusiasts by comparison, even requiring photographers and spotters to have a permit.

Air side at Paris CDG in Terminal 2 (Air France/Skyteam facility) and the famous Paris gate screen.

For this I’m giving KLM the win as Amsterdam is an overall better airport in my experiences than Paris. All though both airport’s have clean, modern terminals with plentiful selection of shops, cafes, restaurants and easy connections to their respective cities and tourist attractions, I mean you can go to Disneyland Paris direct from Paris CDG.

Wing Views from both a KLM Boeing 737 (above) and Air France Airbus A319 (below).

So overall KLM wins this comparison. Of course everyone has their own views, opinions and stories- We would love to hear them from you. Both airlines have solid, competitive and similar products for their European flights.

So the Flying Dutchman- KLM wins this review! But how will they compare in my next comparison against the next airline I pit them against? 

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