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It’s Joon in September for Air France – but will that summer feeling last?

So Air France is launching a new airline this month – one that targets Millennials (18 to 35 year-olds) “whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology” it says. I am left wondering: whose life doesn’t these days, regardless of their age?

September 2017 | by Garry Stasiulevicuis, President 

Called Joon, the new service has been launched on a carpet of clichés: “authentic and connected”, “absolutely digital”, an “innovative and offbeat experience”, and “a lifestyle brand and a state of mind”. What these terms mean in practical terms is anyone’s guess because Air France has not revealed the substance of its new model yet. That should happen sometime this month.

What we do know is that Joon is not a low-cost airline as it will offer products and services that are original – and it will begin with medium-haul flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle this autumn, and then long-haul flights from summer 2018.

Cabin crew will be “dressing like customers” in uniforms “inspired by the new fashion codes; basic and chic”. However, the uniforms that have been publicised to date do not suggest anything very different to what modern men and women of almost any age might wear.

Air France is taking a big risk with Joon. An airline targeting a specific age group is self-limiting: cosying up to a preferred, specific demographic group can easily alienate much larger segments of the market.

While it is true that Millennials (born 1980-1999) may be spontaneous and adventurous, travel more, and have impromptu city breaks, the Baby Boomers (born 1944-1964) and the later Generation X (1964-1980) – who still consider themselves young-at-heart – often have higher disposable incomes and are well versed in travel and having ‘weekends away’.

Travel is part of the lifestyles of both these groups’ yet Air France is targeting just Millennials with Joon. By doing so, will it effectively tell the others to fly with other, more traditional airlines? And is that a strategy that can work in the airline business?   

On Millennials, Caroline Fontaine, VP Brand at Air France, says: “This generation has inspired us a lot: epicurean and connected, they are opportunistic in a positive sense of the word as they know how to enjoy every moment and are in search of quality experiences that they want to share with others.”

That statement could hint at a hip and trendy food service on board, and free wifi for countless inflight selfies to be beamed worldwide on social media. For sure, free wifi would be something most generations would love to see – and some airlines have started offering it; low-cost carrier Norwegian Air for one.

Fontaine’s description of Millennials is worryingly generic: it could easily apply to me, or even my parents’ generation. At CiR our research on Millennial travellers and shoppers in the global duty free and travel retail marketplace has thrown up some specifics that related to this demographic.

We think these five points connected to authenticity and exclusivity are worth some attention – Air France might want to take a look. We have also done some further work on Chinese Millennials for those looking to drill down to the nationality level.

We have also written about how the Millennial generation is changing and becoming post-aspirational. In the US, a recent study from our parent company, NPD, suggests that about 19% of spending at Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar stores comes from households with incomes in excess of $100,000 a year and that the phenomenon “is even more significant among Millennials”.

If this is the case, the model that Air France is building for Joon will need to be flexible to adapt to these evolving needs.  

There is a lot riding on the shoulders of the CEO of the new airline, Jean-Michel Mathieu – himself a Generation Xer at 48. He was active in the development of Joon from the start. Franck Terner, CEO of Air France, says: “The creation of a new airline is a historic moment in many ways. Joon’s creation will improve the profitability of the Air France Group, enabling it to reduce its costs and ensure the sustainability of its business model.”

That is quite some responsibility for Mr Mathieu. He will be banking on Millennials liking what Joon offers so much that they feel compelled to fly with the airline – even when others are offering much cheaper fares or similar services.

Loyalty has been diminishing in the airline market as air travel has become commoditised by online booking an low-cost carriers, so it will be fascinating to see whether Joon can turn the tide. Millennials have an independent mindset and if they see that they are being obviously targeted, they might not respond as expected.

Authenticity is what Air France will have to deliver to these demanding travellers with Joon if it has any chance of success in a highly competitive industry. Joon is promising “an offering that stands out in the world of air transport”. Let’s hope that the airline has done its homework and does stand out – rather than being called out for marketing messaging that doesn’t ring true with its preferred audience.

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