The New French Connection

January 01, 2008
Fares from Washington DC:

    The recent announcement that Air France will start up new twice-daily service this spring from New York to London seems, on the face of it, to be one of the first truly notable benefits of the new "open skies" U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement.

    This imperfect, but hard-won historic accord allows for full and free competition in air traffic between the U.S. and the European Union and, among other advantages, affords European airlines the same rights to connect any two European and American cities that U.S. airlines have long held through a patchwork of individual bilateral agreements (up to now, Air France, for example, could only fly to the U.S. from France whereas, say, American Airlines could fly from the U.S. to anywhere in Europe).

    As such, it would most likely mark the first time since the Norman invasion that a distinctly and proudly Gallic carrier of any kind would convey passengers directly between two equally proud Anglo-Saxon strongholds.

    Yet on closer reading it turns out to be not quite the French Revolution of the airways that it appears at first glance, because we are in fact merely talking about a new codeshare arrangement that allows Air France to get deeper into bed with a favorite SkyTeam partner and slap its name on the tail of Delta, who will actually be doing all the hard work of flying and plying—and Frenching, in a manner of speaking—the transatlantic travelers.

    It does signify a loosening of the stranglehold on London Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, where slots for transatlantic traffic have long been restricted to only two U.S. airlines—United and American—along with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic (plus a couple of smaller "third-party" players such as Air India and Kuwait Airways).

    Greater and more liberal access to Heathrow was actually one of the most contested points of this comprehensive treaty, with the United Kingdom and incumbent airlines balking at the prospect of increased competition and the lapse of long-held priviliges, which looks especially likely to slaughter British Airways' North Atlantic cash cow.

    Courtesy of Air France slots and thanks to their intimate partnership, Delta now finally secures these coveted Heathrow landing rights that weren't part of the bargain when it bought the New York-London route from United last year, allowing it to launch these new flights, presumably in addition to its existing Gatwick sevice.