Aircraft Type: B777-300 (Four Class version)
Class: Business Class
Flight time: 6:07
Date: November 2014
Best for: Anyone with a modicum of style, looking for good connections around the world.
The crowd: This carrier oozes Parisian chic. Luxury clothing mandatory.
Business or pleasure: This carrier is all about both, excellent and opulent food matched with excellent flight schedules, perfect for business travellers.
Routes: Air France, and partner KLM have connections to pretty much every country in the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Flying Blue, well connected with airlines around the world, with Delta, KLM and Air France all offerings excellent reward availability.
Best bits: The food and beverage, as well as service, seats even though angle-flat were very comfortable.
Worst bits: We were a little late departing (over 60 mins), our plane was changed from the brand new product and therefore the older IFE was a little bit dated.
Air France B777-300 Business Class Report
Air France, in the middle of 2014, launched their brand new business class product, offering fully flat bed and all aisle access to every passenger. We were lucky enough to be invited to trial the new product on their 777-300ER between JFK and CDG, a few months after the product had been flying the route. This being the tail end of our round the world trip, including flights to Helsinki, Osaka, Honolulu and then on to JFK, we were pretty exhausted, and were looking forward to a few hours sleep. Sadly just before boarding we found out that due to some technicality, our aircraft had been changed for the older version. Undeterred, we still decided to write up our report on the older product, here’s our take on Air France’s older and more predominant business class seat.
On the Ground
We had been on the ground since 7am, and considering our flight was departing at close to midnight, we headed into Manhattan to catch up with a few clients during the day. After a few hours though we were all done, so headed back to the airport, this time taking the subway to trial the public transport connections to JFK (which are very good) and decided to set up camp in Air France’s brand new lounge for a few hours.
Coming off the subway (J Train), there is a simple to jump-on connecting train to the airport, which stops at all of the airport terminals. Our terminal at JFK, T2, was around 10-15 minutes from Jamaica Station.
Getting off the train we headed across the bridge to the terminal, the whole experience painless and less than $10 in total, a drastic reduction from the $60-70 cab fares we were used to from Manhattan, and a similar length 45-50 minute journey. On arriving into the terminal, we were pleased to see the check in zone for Air France (on the southern end of the terminal) fully open and operational, for the plethora of earlier scheduled flights from the carrier.
The terminal, although one of the older ones, was swathed in natural light, was easy to navigate and seemed very unpopulated. Probably due to the fact it was the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) and as such, travel demand was lower than the previous few days. The terminal plays host to quite a few carriers, however Air France pretty much owned one full bank of check in desks, with economy checking in on one side, including check-in kiosks, and the Sky Priority (Business/First and frequent fliers) being able to check in on the alternative side, which had only a handful of guests visit whilst we were checking in.
The check in staff were incredibly friendly, helpful, although in hindsight didn’t tell me about the change of aircraft at the time. The lovely lady did however raise an eyebrow when she saw how long we had to wait. Within a few minutes, we had boarding card in hand and headed through the fast track Business / First queue to the lounge.
Through an unimposing door, lay Air France’s brand new lounge in JFK. It was so new that a few elements were still being finished off, but that didn’t detract from the spacious and well appointed space that became our home for quite a few hours.
At just under 10,000sq ft the lounge is spacious and split on two levels. There are not only showers to refresh but a Clarins treatment zone, perfect for a bit of post Manhattan pampering. The design is sleek, simple and bold. Clean lines, calm cool greys and whites fill the space, only broken by the occassional bold red splash of colour. Looking for a quiet space to relax, we headed upstairs to the top level, which features its own salad bar, drinks bar and excellent views of the airport’s southwest Apron.
Throughout the day the lounge never became packed, the closest it came was when Air France’s A380 departure to Paris was fast approaching, even then, there were enough seats for everyone to comfortably find a seat without feeling cramped.
There are some lovely design touches in the lounge too, from stand alone lights with branch like stands, that mimic the lighting found in CDG’s Hub Lounge, through to the red swash that features on the lounge’s main two storey feature wall. However from a technical point of view, during our visit the WiFi was a little unreliable and kept booting us off randomly.
This said our dismay at the WiFi conundrum was quickly appeased by the offering of chilled champagne and white wine on offer at the bar. The food offering whilst not anything to really write home about, was fresh and clean on the palette, as well as some naughty chocolatey dessert options.
Whilst all the flights were called silently by an impeccably dressed lounge assistant who toured the lounge with a paddle with flight number on it, we headed off a few moments before we thought the flight was going to be called, to get to the front of the line so we could photograph the cabin sans-travellers.
Sadly though, the plane was late coming in and even later boarding due to the strong headwinds across the Atlantic towards the USA. Our dual speaking gate agent was very reassuring however that the strong headwinds, would work in our favour, even with a 60 minute delay taking off, getting us to our destination (CDG) pretty much on time. That said, the announcement (and our first suspicion of the lack of the newer aircraft) that there was also an aircraft change, filled us with concern, as we were there to review the new fully-flat business class product.
Undeterred, as soon as boarding commenced, we decided to make the most of it!
Enterring the aircraft through door 2, we were greeted by the business class cabin both left and right, only two rows of first class ahead of a mini 2 row business class cabin where we were located. Considering we were not expecting anything really that special, we were fairly surprised. This particular aircraft was showing hardly any signs of wear and the business class seats seemed almost impeccably kept.
The business class seats in the older style Air France 777s are situated in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration, which when situated in the middle section does seem a little cramped, although the dual seats either side of the midsection, felt spacious and well proportioned. The first noticeable element in the cabin, apart from the older lighting equipment is the smaller TV screens, that feel disproportionate from the seat size.
Our seats, the last row of the mini cabin, although situated directly in front of a lavatory, were well insulated, isolated and felt private. Seat 4L is perhaps one of the better business class seats. We suggest avoiding seats in row 10, which are lacking a window, or obviously the middle seats in the cabin.
On the bulkheads there were a nice collection of magazines, both in French and English.
The seat doesn’t seem to have much seat pitch when getting in the seat, but the depth of the seat and depth of the footwell is vast, and therefore, offers one of the longest angle-flat seats in the sky. The overall look of the seat is smart, and chic, with cream leather and cream seat finishes framing the deep slate blue seat. Each seat has an angle-poised lamp too, which is a nice touch.
Waiting on the seat when we arrived was an oversized pillow, covered in a cotton duo-tone slip, a hanger suggesting they will take your jacket, and a set of slippers. There was also a very warm, thick and good sized blanket, perfectly sealed.
When climbing into your own space, the seat feels comfortable, spacious and solid. There is a very decent recline and a massage setting as well. The seats next to the aircraft walls offer more of a cocoon feeling than their counterparts, and for a night flight, that’s just perfect for us. On the seat back in front, is a divider section, which has two shoe holes, as well as literature pockets and coat hooks. The fully fixed TVs in the seat backs are indeed small, and the interface quite frankly, ancient, although this has been addressed with their new IFE system on the newer 777 interiors.
The seat when reclined is lowered too, so you are quite close to the floor, but the general benefit of this, is being lowered deeper in-between the seat divider, giving you increased privacy as you sleep. The larger seat panels also mean the pseudo-mattress is less bumpy, offering better rest. In fact, on the incredibly short flight we had, we had one of the best 3 hour power-naps we’ve ever had.
In between the seats was a small drinks table, which perfectly fits an iPhone, as well as the seat controls, including a massage function. The seat has a lot of different settings, meaning finding your perfect ‘sweet spot’ was easy. Although, without the memory function, difficult to get back to if you had to sleep, or get out of your seat.
As mentioned earlier, the entertainment wasn’t the easiest to navigate, and the quality plus square shaped screens meant the image wasn’t top notch either. In reality, the entertainment was the downside of the flight. Not the content per se, as there were plenty of movies and TV shows to pick from, along with moving maps and on-board cameras, however, the ease of navigation let the system down.
Matching this with the inbuilt headphones, (totally wired in) meant they were battered and worn looking. For cleanliness, the only saving grace was a pair of hygienically wrapped headphone covers to place on the headset yourself. Don’t expect high definition or quality sound here. We still managed to find a good movie to watch whilst enjoying our midnight feast at 35,000ft. Being a night-flight too, we weren’t too sorely disappointed, as entertainment wasn’t high on our list.
What Air France do really well, is inflight publications, and both the ‘Magazine’ and ‘Madame’ were of high quality and a good read. It’s truly outstanding the airline can carry off a dedicated fashion / female magazine with regularity and still have it filled with luxury advertising. That said, CDG is a shoppers dream, with high end boutiques lining the departure halls.
Now this is where Air France purely excelled. Expecting nothing more than a sandwich on a night flight, Air France presented a gastronomic experience that still makes our mouth water.
Presented on a wonderfully designed menu, and pieced together by none-other than master chef Joel Robuchon and sommeliers Paolo Basso and Wine authors Thierry Desseauve and Michel Bettane.
For wine, we were treated to champagne from Deutz Brut Classic, and for white, Chablis Domaine Sainte-Claire 2011 Jean Marc Brocard. For reds there was a choice of Cairanne Peyre Blanche 2010 Perrin et Fils or the rich Bordeaux, Lalande de Pomeroi Chateau Siaurac 2008.
A Gourmet Appertizer
Smoked breast of duck, scallop flan with tarragon and basil mayonnaise
Choice of Main course
Pan-seared tournedos of beef with béarnaise butter, roasted potatoes, sautéed oyster mushrooms
Rissotto with mushrooms
Joel Robuchon’s Chicken with sherry vinegar sauce with Southern French-style semolina,
Special Selection of Cheese
Orange juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate
Fresh Fruit, yogurt
Fresh bakery selection, breakfast pastries, butter and preserves
We started with a glass of champagne, and tucked into the appetiser, which was large and delicious. The duck was fresh and light and salad delightful. The entire meal was presented on the one tray, without the main course, which was a nice touch, as it meant food was on our trays roughly 40 minutes after take off, maximising our sleep time.
The serviette was also presented in a plastic ring, shaped like the Air France logo. You couldn’t help but notice the branding pretty much everywhere.
For the main course, we decided to opt for a Gin & Tonic, which had one of the strongest pours of Gin we had seen on a flight. We were sure headed for a good night’s sleep.
When the main course arrived, the smell was incredible. The food was piping hot and perfect for filling us up and letting us dream on a full stomach. The sauce was perfect, the semolina fragrant and the chicken moist and perfectly cooked.
Tucking into the cheese plate before the Creme Caramel, was great, and service attentive, as soon as I had broken bread, the smiling, and courteous cabin crew were around with the bread basket offering more rolls, with a wide selection to choose from, all crisp and hot.
Being a fairly short flight, as soon as food was finished, we were ready to sleep, so we quickly reclined into our seat which seemed to extend forever. The blanket and pillows (two as we had no neighbour) made for a comfortable 3-4hour rest before being woken for a continental breakfast.
We woke approximately one hour before arrival, and our tray delivered, and hot coffee poured almost instantly. The same cabin crew lady presented the meal, looking refreshed and still as happy as ever.
The fruit was incredibly fresh and cold, and presented nicely. at some points you forget the difficulties of keeping food fresh like this with limited refrigeration and prep space, however it seemed effortless as it came to our seat.
Air France know how to do an amenity kit. Whilst the headphones weren’t great and the slippers a nice touch, the amenity kit was beautiful, and came in two colours, which you could pick as it was distributed, naturally, red or blue.
As they were unwrapped, the case showed itself off as a collectors item in its own right. Opening it up there was a display of nostalgic Air France black and white photographs from the JetSet Era. How chic!
Inside the products were good, nothing as special as we received on Emirates, but still decent enough for a business class traveller. Beautiful baby blue soft touch eye mask, ear plugs, shoe-horn, comb and dental kit, plus a chap Ice lip balm and Clarins facial moisturiser.
For those who don’t approve of the inflight entertainment, there is also a power point on these older seats that fits most international plugs. The table is also solid and well constructed making for a good work table if you wanted to power up your laptop. But on a night flight like this, the most productive thing is to sleep.
Our experience was a bit of a roller coaster. When checking in our expectations were sky high of a new Air France business class product. However on boarding, we weren’t expecting much at all from the flight, knowing we were on the older business class seats. Once we sat down and started to enjoy the environment, our expectations were met once again, and we left the aircraft with a smile on our face.
Air France doesn’t have the most expensive seats in the sky, and compared to what you pay for, the experience is excellent. What is by far the best part of the flight, is the food, and service, and the only elements that let it down (angle flat heavily populated seating and bad IFE) have been addressed with the newer product, meaning the future is not only bright for Air France, but positively exciting. Whether on a new aircraft or one of the older ones, Air France know how to deliver service with a Parisian chic that only the French know how.