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Air France brings a little European cachet to Raleigh-Durham International Airport

With a traditional water-cannon salute from airport fire trucks, the first Air France flight from Paris pulled to the gate at Raleigh-Durham International Airport early Monday evening.

Air France has taken over the Paris route that Delta Air Lines began in 2016 and revived in the spring of 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic devastated air travel. Air France and Delta are partners, seamlessly selling tickets on each other’s flights, so in that respect little has changed.

But Air France, with its French crews and food, brings a certain je ne sais quoi that the familiar Delta does not. It becomes only the second European airline to regularly call on RDU, after Icelandair began flying to Reykjavik in the spring of 2022.

They’ll be joined by Lufthansa in June, when the German carrier begins regular flights between RDU and Frankfurt. Both Paris and Frankfurt offer connecting flights to not only the rest of Europe but also Africa, India and the Middle East.

About a third of passengers who have booked travel on the Air France flight from RDU are actually bound for Paris, said Eric Caron, the North America general manager for Air France-KLM, the airline’s parent company. The rest are flying somewhere else.

“It’s not just about Raleigh-Durham to Paris,” Caron said at RDU on Monday. “It’s also giving access to all of our network. At Paris Charles de Gaulle, we have up to 200 destinations that our customers can connect with.”

The arrival of Air France brings other changes as well. The airline will initially fly the Paris route three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, compared to Delta’s daily service. Air France is scheduled to resume the daily flights on March 31, in time for spring and summer vacation travel.

Air France is also using a larger plane than Delta, a 279-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliner, though that may change when the airline switches to daily flights. Delta has used a Boeing 767 with 234 seats.

American Airlines operates a Boeing 777-200 with 273 seats on the daily flights between RDU and London’s Heathrow Airport.

The inbound Paris flight arrived about a half hour late Monday. Passengers awaiting the overnight flight back to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport were treated to white chocolate mini baguettes from the La Farm Bakery just down the concourse, as well as souvenir Air France pens and eye shades.

With the addition of Air France and Lufthansa, 16 airlines are now doing business at RDU. They include domestic low-cost airlines such as Avelo, Breeze, Sun Country and Spirit; legacy carriers Delta, American and United, and now five that are based outside the United States.

Paris is one of eight international destinations that airlines now serve from RDU, some of them seasonally. Others include three in Europe (Frankfurt, London and Reykjavik); two in Canada (Montreal and Toronto), and one each in Mexico (Cancun) and the Bahamas (Freeport).