New Baghdad route for French airline

Where are you going for Christmas? Forget New England charm or warm islands where you can skip the traditional holiday and sun yourself without regret. Now, you can take the sort of vacation that will be the envy of all your friends: Baghdad. Your options were once limited, but now there’s one more airline taking passengers into Baghdad International Airport – from a convenient spot.

Aigle Azur, a French airline, is going to start flights from Paris to Baghdad twice a week, starting later this month. The inaugural flight’s wheels will leave the ground on October 30, 2010, on an Airbus-319. Flights are set to leave from Charles de Gaulle airport, and if you’re the type who likes to plan ahead, tickets will be available soon.

Aigle Azur fills a gap in the market, as Air France no longer serves Iraq.



Sex over service? Airlines try vixen pitch with passengers

It’s no secret that airline customer service is generally perceived to be as pleasant as a root canal. I was thinking about this over the weekend, as I walked home from Penn Station, after catching Amtrak’s Acela back from Boston. I had a fantastic trip (up and back) and was hung up on the contrasts to air travel.

Later that night, I met a friend for a glass of wine and talked through the issue, particularly the airline side of it. It feels like most of the major carriers aren’t making an effort to repair public exception, with notable exceptions like JetBlue. In almost any other industry, routine public perception being so low would trigger a crisis-caliber response.

Not the airlines, though …

I got my answer today, with a story that passed through my Twitter stream: sex sells. Instead of trying to build and maintain a solid image, an airline could just give up, and try to win new passengers the old fashioned way. And indeed, it is the old fashioned way, as anyone who remembers National Airlines’ 1971 commercial with flight attendant Cheryl Fioravente’s invitation: “Fly me.”

[Image credit: Flickr/Rachel Kramer Bussel]

Cathay Pacific isn’t going to that extreme, but it is making an effort to seduce passengers with shots of eye-candy that has yet to hit The Big 3-0. The flight attendants, uniformly hot in uniform and not, pose alongside quotes that could read from a customer service manual or a personal ad: “I just like to listen more than talk” and “Nothing beats a smile for turning strangers into friends.”

Who wouldn’t want to hear that at boarding?

The Wall Street Journal notes that this is a departure from the advertising of the past few decades, in which airlines have sacrificed the sensual in favor of the practical: “comfort, convenience, low fares and fine in-flight dining.”

Of course, that approach hasn’t really been working too well, especially the comfort and convenience aspects. In addition to dealing with an abysmal image, the industry has to contend with tighter market conditions as a result of the post-financial crisis recession. There isn’t as much disposable income to go around, and passengers have to choose between flying and other forms of recreation. Business travelers can be more discriminating, when destinations permit.

Cathay Pacific isn’t alone: Air France has headed into sexier territory with its latest ad campaign, which the WSJ describes as having a “blonde model wearing a pink corset, its strings apparently being loosened by a miniature plane taking off.” The U.S. carriers aren’t there yet, but the overseas trend nonetheless makes me wonder if the approach should be on their radar.

It’s pretty clear that something needs to change for an industry that struggles to make a right move in the public’s eye, even in cases where such ire is unwarranted. Maybe it is best to stop trying to look good … and focus on superficial beauty instead.

Air France in-flight thefts solved – flight attendant arrested

Earlier this year, we wrote about an Air France plane that had been hit by a pickpocket. The thief had emptied the wallets of business class passengers, and upon arrival in Paris, local police boarded the plane, but were unable to find the criminal.

Six months after that incident, French police have arrested an Air France flight attendant suspected of being behind the thefts. In total, 142 Air France flights had been involved in theft incidents, and when police compared their reports with staff rosters, they pinpointed their suspect. Upon searching her home and a bank deposit box, they recovered jewelry, checks, credit card numbers.

When asked by Bloomberg about the incident, Air France had “no comment” on the arrest. Naturally, aviation law only covers luggage placed in the hold, so the airline does not accept liability for cabin baggage. Personally, I am amazed it took 142 reports of theft to finally get a hold of their suspect.

Just like we mentioned in January, always keep your personal items close to you, never let your wallet out of sight, and keep expensive electronics locked in your hand luggage. Sadly there is not much most you can do against in-flight theft, especially if it involves an inside job like this.

[Photo credit: DAVID BOILY/AFP/Getty Images]

Photo of the Day (7.8.10)

Delays happen. Sometimes there are mechanical issues. Other times, weather plays a role in the form of ash clouds or blizzards. And other times, your flight crew just needs to sample every flavor of Jelly Babies, the UK equivalent of Gummy Bears.

This Flickr shot from OurManWhere captures a moment in Bangkok in the Golden Age of Air Travel (at least for the crew) when travel is still an exciting and sweet time. So what if you are stuck in the airport when you could be enjoying a “Bigheart” treat? Add some local tabloid reading and a quick airport massage, and you could have a rather pleasant layover.

Catch any flight attendants on a sugar high or find a way to make the most of your flight delay? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group right now and we might use it for a future Photo of the Day.

Alitalia joins Air France, Delta and KLM to form trans-Atlantic joint venture

Several of the largest airlines in the world have teamed up to combine routes, creating the world’s largest trans-Atlantic flight network. Alitalia signed an agreement to join Air France, Delta and KLM and share revenue and costs. The new combination will operate 26% of all trans-Atlantic flights, with almost 55,000 seats on 250 flights. The total revenue from this trans-Atlantic capacity is estimated to be more than $10 billion.

Unlike some airline collaborations, this new alliance actually appears to help air passengers by allowing airlines to create new routes they normally may not have considered. The network also allows for seamless ticketing and baggage handling between the U.S. and European gateway airport. Examples of new routes include Delta non-stop flights from Atlanta to London Heathrow and Portland to Amsterdam.

The hub cities for the network are Amsterdam, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York JFK and Paris CDG. Part of the joint venture will include codeshare flights (when allowed). The trans-Atlantic alliance is separate from the already existing Skyteam alliance.

[Image credit: AFP/Getty Images]