It’s 2021. You haven’t had a vacation in *checks watch* too long. And Americans are now allowed back in France. Maybe you already spent (or invested) your stimmy, and you want to get overseas without dipping into your savings. Lucky for you, French bee has your back.
French bee is a new bud in a plant that has been growing for three generations. What began as a family-owned grocery store chain in the 1920s became Group Dubreuil. In 1966, current president Jean-Paul Dubreuil took over from his father, and soon turned his interests to aviation. Air Vendée, a domestic airline, was founded in the 1975, in part to serve Dubreuil’s increasing business travel needs as he continued to expand his father’s empire, “with a single aircraft and only three people on the staff.” In 2003, he purchased a small regional airline in the French West Indies called Air Caraïbes, and began running flights between Paris and the Caribbean. But Dubreuil was always looking for bigger fish to fry.
Having just had their inaugural flight on the Paris-New York route in July, French bee is getting ready to offer consistent and affordable flights to French and Americans alike for as low as $199 this summer, and only $154 starting in October. How, you may ask, are they able to offer flights at such a low cost? “I think for us the idea, when we started three years ago with French bee, was to start with a white piece of paper, having no costs as a main airline,” explains Marc Rochet, French bee’s President. “We had chosen the 350 because it is the most economical aircraft and also the most appreciated by passengers, and it’s low-fuel consumption.” The Airbus A-350-900 is one of the most fuel-efficient planes on the market, and its spacious cabins allow French bee to provide a great deal of seating without crowding passengers. There’s also no business class, which allows more room for passengers in ECO Class and ECO PREMIUM Class, the airline’s two seating options.
French bee is complying with both French and American health guidelines, and keeping a constant eye out for changes in protocol. Their planes are also equipped with HEPA filters that constantly refresh the air on board, the same kind used in hospitals around the globe.
Travelers are given the option to purchase flight amenities à la carte, for things like meals, extra baggage, and seat selection, meaning that no one is being charged for items they do not require. And by doubling as air cargo for wish fulfillment services like Amazon and Alibaba, French bee assures that they are maximizing the potential to save costs on each flight. And these not-so-little details can add up fast, especially when your target market is what Rochet calls “VFR,” or people traveling to Visit Friends and Relatives, not people being shipped out for work trips by big companies with an expense account.
“What we are seeing is that this is the part of the market that is starting to move. Businessmen are not traveling very much today. IATA predictions say that that won’t happen until between 2024 and 2025,” Rochet says, explaining that video conferencing has greatly reduced the need for people to travel in person for business. And with many companies anxious about travel liabilities, they are keeping their employees home. “People who want to travel now are traveling with families, so when you are traveling with three or four people, you have to think that the price advantage you can get, for instance, traveling through French bee will be multiplied by four,” explains Rochet. “There is a big demand on this side because people have been locked down for more than one year and they have not been able to visit their families, students have not been cleared to travel, and there is huge demand. We think we are at the right time in the market at the right place.”
Dubreuil is also optimistic about the airline’s future. “The route between Paris and New York carried more than 2.2 million passengers per year in 2019,” says Dubreuil. “I think in 2022 we can recover the same level of passengers. We are going to take maybe 10 percent, 12 percent of this market with this aircraft, flying at this time four times a week, and in the future flying every day from Paris Orly to Newark.” He explains that this is all part of a long history of a family business. “We started with a very small aircraft 45 years ago with a fifteen minute route, so operating to New York today is a very big achievement.”