Contributor: David Bernard
Several years ago, Air France took ownership of their first Airbus A380 aircraft. After much anticipation they debuted the aircraft on the JFK-Paris route, where it typically operates in the summer season. Air France originally used to replace it with the Boeing 747 in the winter months, but now with their complete retiring of all 747’s in their fleet earlier last year they replace it with the 777. On busy winter days however, if demand seems high, they do place the A380 into select service in order to accommodate the traffic. I myself was lucky enough to travel just a few days before the new year, and given the holiday season I was treated to my first A380 experience.
Originally I booked my ticket going out in premium economy, with a return in regular economy. The total price was $1203 round-trip, which is a little high but actually really cheap when I remembered that the outbound was in a premium class of service AND I was travelling during the holidays. I was eager to experience premium economy on Air France, because up to that point I had never experienced anything other than regular economy, with the exception of one upgrade to first class on a delta shuttle from NYC-LaGuardia to Boston – which had limited service because of the short air time and poor turbulence conditions.
Before the trip I had tried to see about the possibility of using SkyMiles with Delta in order to upgrade the flight to business, seeing as I had booked the segment on the Delta code-share numbers, but Air France has really poor award seat availability on Delta and especially with the holidays being when I was travelling, I was out of luck-even though I frequently continued check up to the departure day in case anyone cancelled their award seats. All hope was not lost however, and at check in I was proposed a very intriguing business upgrade offer by Air France. I had seen these many times, but always the prices for the Boston-Paris flight seemed too high ($500-600!). Whatever the case was, whether it was because I was already in premium economy, or the fact that I now had SkyTeam elite status, they offered me a business class upgrade for only $257.
I spent hours thinking about it, and even slept over night before finally deciding to do it, but I really don’t regret the decision. In fact, if I was offered it again I would probably take it every time. There is certainly a difference between the two classes of service worth paying some money for! It all started with the lounges too, which have complete services and are a great way to avoid the craziness of the airport terminal. I won’t get into the lounges too much in this post, instead I’ll review them later, but I can say that they definitely enhance the experience, and access to them is free with a business class ticket. Even if you’re connecting, as long as your “main” international flight is business class, then you get lounge access.
Let’s start with boarding. Business class passengers are of course granted “SkyPriority” lane access by Air France, and even when boarding such a big plane, the line actually moved extremely quickly. There were several agents scanning passes, and so we moved relatively quickly, even though the A380 has a ton of “priority” passengers between first/business/premium economy class, all of which are granted “SkyPriority” lane access. I took to my seat quickly and began to admire all of the amenities already in place. I was immediately impressed by the comfortable pillow and comforter set, wrapped up nice and neatly for me, as well as a small pouch which contained very comfortable socks and slippers.
Air France configures their A380 business class cabin in a 2-2-2 configuration, which is fairly standard for other A380 cabins on other major airlines. After some more time to settle, the flight attendant came around with small amenity kits, which I found to be full of very beneficial things. The thing which struck me the most was the inclusion of a full travel size toothpaste. Typically amenity kits include very tiny “single-use” sizes, however Air France seemed to have gone beyond here and offered a full size, which would easily last several days. I was also impressed with the inclusion of mouthwash as well, something we also rarely see in airline amenity kits these days. See the photo below for a complete showing of the contents.
After the amenity kits, she came around again with pre-departure champagne, something which Air France is very generous with. Even in coach you can get free champagne with your meal services. Soon boarding was done however, and we were ready to go. Not long after take off, flight attendants began the three-course dinner service, which I found to be truly wonderful. We were given an 8-page menu (complete in both English and French of course) that detailed the service, as well as any customizable options.
First we were greeted with another round of drinks, as well as shortbread cookies and an “amuse-bouche”. For those who do not know what this is, it is a specialty in French culinary arts which consists of just a small bite-size taste of something which serves to get your appetite up and running. Our amuse-bouche that evening was a spoonful of tomato, mozzarella cheese, and pesto sauce with an olive. It was so fresh and a perfectly paired combination that I actually asked for a second taste, which is totally out of etiquette in french culinary arts, but I was really enjoying the experience so I did it anyway!
For the second round we were given a wide range of options. This round of food included pan-seared scallops over a bed of fennel and orange salad, as well as some parma ham, melon, grilled artichoke, a selection of cheese, and a French roll. Dessert was also served on this tray, but I saved it for later. All the food was prepared well considering the fact that you’re on an airplane. I’m usually not a fan of seafood, but I ate the scallops anyway and thoroughly enjoyed them!
The third course was the main entree. With this round came of course more drinks as well as my selection of an entree. Travelers were given the choice between beef steak, mushroom ravioli, or the daily special that night which was salmon. I went with the steak, and it was a great choice. I found the meat to actually be cooked medium-rare instead of a thorough cooking which I expected from an airline. The mushroom risotto that it came with was also deliciously creamy, and I loved every bite even though I don’t like mushrooms! To top it off, I finally bit into the dessert, which was a mango mousse cake, and loved it as well. It even bubbled a bit in my mouth which made it truly enjoyable.
After dinner cleanup, the crew came around again with coffees, teas, and digestive liquors. I decided to have a cup of hot chocolate instead to help me sleep, and the flight attendant graciously went back to make one and even gave me a carton of milk to add to it. Afterwards they turned off the cabin lights and I decided to turn my seat into a bed and get some sleep. I have never slept on an airplane before, but on this bed I got a full two hours of sleep (which is good when you consider they had just fed me for about 2 and a half hours, as well as the duration of the flight is only 6 hours in the air!). I’m a modest 5 foot, 9 inches and so I found the bed to be quite comfortable, especially with the larger pillows and comforter blanket which is a huge step up from economy.
About one hour prior to landing they turned on all of the lights again and began our breakfast service. I was given an arrangement of breakfast pastries, as well as fruit, and yogurt. I was offered as glass of orange juice, and again I took another cup of hot chocolate. I was highly impressed this time however, because the flight attendant had quickly run back to get some and she even remembered to being a carton of milk, even after all of those hours that had past from the first time! Her attentiveness was greatly appreciated.
Not too long afterwards, we landed in Paris and arrived shortly at the gate. “SkyPriority” passengers (First class, business class, and premium economy) are granted the SkyPriority customs and immigration lane, so it made for a very quick arrival into Europe. Business class and first class passengers are also allowed to use the arrivals lounge, but I decided not to since I was connecting onto another flight and I knew I could use the Air France lounge within the terminal.
Overall, I had a highly pleasant experience, and Air France has quickly become my trans-atlantic airline to travel with this year. Their service is highly superior to other airlines that I have traveled with, and they do it all with gracious style as well. For those readers who are scared by business class prices, this might be a valuable alternative! For passengers in premium economy and/or with elite status from a SkyTeam member airline (Air France is a member of SkyTeam, so your benefits would transfer there during your flights) you might be granted even better deals! We’re still new to this process with Air France, but the more we fly with them, the more we will continue to research it! It’s definitely something to consider we think, if regular business class tickets seem too expensive for you!
Have you experienced Business Class on Air France, or the Airbus A380? Comment and share your experiences below!