Paris: During the last French presidential election campaign, Carla Bruni claimed she was so down to earth she wore a wig to travel on the Paris metro in disguise.

But it seems that the millionaire folk-singer wife of the former president Nicolas Sarkozy still has a taste for luxury travel and state freebies.

A trade union at the national airline Air France has voiced outrage after Bruni enjoyed a free return flight from Paris to New York while she was promoting her new album in the US last month. Air France paid the £500 equivalent to airport taxes for her.

The SUD union at Air France complained that this sort of policy of free tickets for VIPs was scandalous at a time when the airline is in serious financial trouble and telling staff that its economic situation is “catastrophic”.

Air France has been undergoing significant restructuring and is engaged in a plan to cut its debt by £2 billion by 2015, which involves large numbers of job cuts in France.

Former French presidents and their families are traditionally allowed the perk of flying free on Air France, which is partly state-owned, as well as travelling free on the national railway.

The SUD union at Air France criticised an opaque system of VIP freebies, not just among former presidential families but also among the executive class and hangers-on. “We’re no longer in a monarchy,” a union representative told Agence France Presse.

Last year there was a scandal when a former Air France chief executive, his wife and two friends were due to fly to Mauritius on preferential tickets that cost almost nothing. They eventually cancelled their trip.