Aircraft Type: B777-200
Class: Premium Economy
Date: May 2016
We were very happy to return from our previous trip with Air France in Premium Economy to trial one of the world’s most applauded mid-cabin classes. Featuring a modern clean cabin, well appointed seats and above-standard amenities such as champagne on tap and enhanced amenity kits. Sandro Squillace takes it for a spin. [Editors Note – apologies for the lack of photos on this report, part broken camera, part low light levels on the aircraft, so we’ve mixed press shots and real shots here]
On The Ground
Sao Paulo’s Terminal 3 at Guarulhos is one of the most modern terminals in South America. Filled with light from its large picture windows, the terminal never feels overly busy. On arrival at the airport, we headed to check in. Situated in Zone G, the airline utilizes quite a few check-in desks to reduce the waiting times. The area is well sign posted with Sky Priority lanes easily identifiable.
One advantage of Air France’s Premium Economy is that you are able to use the Sky Priority lanes, which is at odds with other carriers like British Airways, whose Premium Economy check-in is shared with the regular economy experience. Naturally the airline offers a variety of perks, such as extra luggage (46kgs in total) and extra hand luggage too.
After a quick and efficient check-in, we were quickly through security and airside. Air France does allow Premium Economy passengers to purchase lounge access at a fee (such as the VIP lounge pictured above), however, as there wasn’t much time before boarding, we made our way to the gate.
Air France allows passengers in Premium Economy to bypass the queues, another privaledge of Sky Priority, meaning we were able to board the plane as soon as boarding commenced.
Situated on the 777, the Premium Economy cabin is small, intimate and situated just behind the business class cabin, meaning during boarding, the majority of the passengers pass through, so the champagne service as we sat down was interrupted a few times, but it was a pleasure to be greeted with a glass of bubbles.
The cabin features between three and six rows of seats (dependant on the type of aircraft) and are in a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration which is much more spacious than the economy offering. The seats are naturally in pairs, and are divided by a large unit which houses the tray table in the front row, or a cocktail shelf on the proceeding rows.
The cabin interior is chic, but fairly minamilist. The only colour elements are the red stitching on the seats and curtains in an otherwise smart and reserved navy blue and white interior.
The seats are definitely not showing their age, the white shell and leather headrests looked crisp and factory-fresh, while the seat padding was incredibly comfortable. Good to know on a 10 hour flight!
The seats came with a plethora of storage areas, and are well equipped with large dining tables, areas to store water and personal items, as well as reading lights, USB ports, power sockets, noise cancelling headphones and large intuitive touchscreens.
The seats are the hard-shell type, which mean the passenger in front won’t recline into your own personal space, however that means for the seat to recline, it slides the seat cushions forward and down, meaning a passenger virtually ‘slumps’ in their seat.
To be honest, its not our favourite, and not as comfortable as the big reclining seats that we truly love in other Premium Economy classes (such as Virgin Atlantic) but they still offer enough comfort that we could get several uninterrupted hours of sleep.
Some of Air France’s biggest plus points are in their catering. We’ve waxed lyrical in the past regarding Air France’s business class catering, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that Premium Economy has its own dining flourishes that impressed us through the flight.
After take off, an aperitif and savory treat bag were handed out, prior to the premium economy meal service. Being a fairly small cabin, the food service was efficient and friendly, which was welcome being an overnight flight.
The meal service comprised a Marinated scallop and shrimp salad with mango, papaya, Parma ham and melon as a starter, which was refreshing and light.
This was accompanied by a choice of main course, which was chicken fricassee with mustard cream sauce, rice and corn, or cheese ravioli with basil and tomato sauce.
The chicken, which we opted for, was well seasoned, still moist, and the sauce was punchy and full of flavour.
[Editors note] Our apologies. Being a night flight, with low level lighting and being a full cabin, we opted not to take photos to respect our neighbours – as some passengers had already decided to sleep during the food service.
We loved the sweet treats that were handed out in plastic branded tubes at the end of the meal, that were so delightful, we wolfed them down in a matter of seconds.
In the morning, approximately two hours before landing, breakfast was served, which consisted of a fairly substantial breakfast, including croissant, yoghurt, fresh fruit, bread rolls with accompaniments, and a hot egg omelette with tomatoes and mushrooms.
The seat features a reasonable 10.4″ screen, which is not noticeably small, but not as large as competitors such as fellow skyteam member, China Airlines in this cabin class. Unlike the previous incarnation of the IFE system, the new system was responsive, and very easy to use.
The hand controller for those who don’t want to reach out to the touchscreen is sat in a slightly awkward place right next to the passengers thigh, meaning through the flight, we knocked it a few times, although the position of the handset controller very much depends on the aircraft type you are flying (due to the different IFE systems in place across the fleet)
Air France offer a substantial amenity kit, beautiful menus, blankets, oversized pillows, noise cancelling headsets as well as a service level you would experience from some airline’s business class.
Some of the elements we really like include the complimentary champagne service (not sparkling wine like some competitors) and the plastic tube of sweets which becomes an #avgeek keepsake.
Air France’s Premium Economy is certainly a market leader in some respects. With dining being the flagship element here. It’s reasonably priced, and compared to the sister airline KLM, Air France has invested in a mid-cabin class and made it work. We like the fact the experience can be customized as close to business class as you want. Purchasing lounge access in some respects means the only real difference in product is the seat to business class, and if you are comfortable sleeping in a deep recliner rather than a flat-bed, this could the affordable solution for you.