MONTREAL — Updating the travel trade media at a virtual press conference yesterday, General Manager Canada for Air France KLM, Vincent Etchebehere, said the speed of the industry’s recovery post-COVID-19 depends on three factors: capacity to control the virus; coordinated health and safety measures for the aviation and travel industry globally; and restored passenger confidence.
Etchebehere also said that despite Canada’s ongoing travel advisory against non-essential travel, and still-mandatory 14-day quarantine, “we’ve seen a good upwards trajectory for the past 3 – 4 weeks.”
He added: “We are quite positive and optimistic on this trend, even if it will be gradual.”
Both Air France and KLM are ramping up service this month and next from the Canadian market, the latest sign of optimism for the travel industry post-COVID-19.
Joining Etchebehere on yesterday’s call was Catherine Guillemart-Dias, who is taking over for Etchebehere as Vice-President and General Manager Canada for Air France KLM starting Aug. 1. Etchebehere, meanwhile, is heading for Air France’s Sustainability and New Mobilities in Paris.
Guillemart-Dias is a 13-year veteran of Air France KLM Group. “I am delighted to assume the leadership of the Air France KLM Group’s operations in Canada,” says Guillemart-Dias. “I have complete confidence in the teams’ ability to continue to provide our Canadian customers with the finest travel experience in accordance with the strictest health rules, while continuing to also uphold our societal and environmental commitments.”
She adds that Air France-KLM “will keep working alongside Delta Air Lines on the integrated services of our transatlantic alliance and will continue to bolster our partnership with WestJet.”
Air France and KLM are the only European airlines that have been continuing to provide flights to Canada since March and the COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closures that all but shut down the travel industry around the world. Since March Air France has been serving Montreal and KLM has been serving Toronto.
Air France and KLM are increasing their operations out of the Canadian market in July and August. This includes added flights as well as resuming service between Toronto and Paris for Air France, and flying out of Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary for KLM, for a total of 28 flights a week. That’s about 37% of the 75 weekly flights originally scheduled for summer 2020.
The Air France KLM Group has brought in high hygiene standards throughout its travel chain, both in-flight and on the ground. Masks are mandatory in airports and on the group’s flights. ‘Surgical’ masks are now required on Air France flights. KLM passengers have the option of flying with a universal mask.
It’s recommended that passengers have at least three masks in their carry-on for transatlantic flights, one hand disinfectant gel (under 100 ml), and single-use tissues.
Etchebehere may be departing Canada at a turbulent time for the airline industry but he says he sees great potential for this market. “I see Canada as a market really full of opportunities,” he said. While the group’s connection with the trade is already “very high level”, there’s room for even better relations, he says, adding “where we can improve is our level of communication to our travel partners.”
Also on yesterday’s call was Melanie Paul-Hus, Director for Canada for Atout France. Her message to the trade? “Being transparent and honest will be the future of selling travel,” she said. Customer service, a skill that so many travel agents excel at ever since the industry’s disruption from the OTAs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, will be key. “Customer service is so important,” says Paul-Hus.
France began welcoming Canadian visitors back on July 1 and many of the country’s top attractions, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, have reopened. Paul-Hus says she’s talked to several agents who are working on departures for their clients for this fall.