Aircraft Type: B787-9
Class: Business Class
Date: March 2017
Air France started flying their 787-9 between CDG and LHR earlier this year, training staff on the aircraft before it commences its long haul duties. While only a short hop across the English Channel, it gives passengers a chance to experience the new product before committing to a long haul ticket price. We took the opportunity to try out the new aircraft and its business class cabin to see if it will stand up to the competition.
On the Ground
Air France’s ground experience at Heathrow T4 is similar to all SkyTeam airlines that fly from the Terminal. The usual Sky Priority status allows passengers in all carriers to enjoy business class check-in and fast track lanes through security. Both of which are fairly efficient. While we were only on a day trip and no luggage to check, we headed to the fast track on arrival with mobile boarding pass in hand.
There was zero queue at security even though there was a heightened police presence in the terminal after the London incident only a few days earlier, but we were in the SkyTeam lounge within 10 minutes of arriving at Heathrow.
The lounge (which we have covered many times before) is starting to show its age, however, its still spacious, well appointed and totally acceptable for an hour’s wait. Compared to the likes of the Etihad Lounge or Qatar Airways Lounge, the seating and finishes are a little dated.
On boarding the aircraft, which was only a few months old, there was a distinct impression that the aircraft still had that metaphorical ‘new plane smell’. The cabin has employed the design aesthetic that can be seen in the retrofitted ‘Best and Beyond’ 777 fleet.
The overall effect is clean and contemporary, but we have to admit it is a little stark in comparison to how other airlines recently have treated their cabin interiors (such as China Airlines, South African or LATAM.) The white interiors are a clean canvas, but will start to show scuffs and damage fairly quickly.
Due to this being a 787-9, the business class cabin is situated forward of the 2nd set of doors. All 30 seats are situated in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration through 8 rows. The cabin has just two toilets for the entire business class cabin, which on a short flight like this, was totally fine, however, on a long haul flight, an extra toilet might be useful.
The airline has also installed the Zodiac Cirrus seat on its 787 fleet. The seat offers the traditional reverse herringbone seats that are now industry standard in business class. The seat offers ample space, and has been designed with chic simplistic elegance.
There aren’t the myriad of seat controls that can be found on some seat designs. Instead a brushed aluminium trim yields into simple illuminated buttons that recline the seat into a fully flat bed. Some may have heard about the delays currently being encountered at Zodiac’s plant in delivering seats to carriers, and perhaps the stresses are showing, as our seat squeaked incredibly loudly when being manipulated into different positions.
On an older seat, this squeaking (which caused embarrassment when trying to move it) would be an understandable element of wear and tear, but sadly on a new aircraft shouldn’t really be occurring.
This small annoyance aside, the seat is comfortable, private and well equipped for the passenger. The new tray table is bi-folding – that can be moved to a passenger’s requirements – and is supported by a large side table.
The seat also features suitable storage, which is accompanied by Boeing’s large overhead bins. The seat features the bright red side storage unit that houses the headphones, as well as vanity mirror, perfect for ladies wanting to do their make up.
The seat’s cushioning was comfortable, well padded and the lack of leather surface actually adds to the seat comfort, which would be more noticeable on a long haul flight, compared to this short 40 minute hop.
As this flight is usually served by a single aisle Airbus, the catering on the flight is the usual Euro-Business offering, which consists of a simple breakfast offering. Considering there was only 20-30 minutes of usable flight to commence service, the service was perfectly adequate.
On boarding we were handed a refreshing towel, but no complimentary drinks. This is standard for these shorter flights. Although as we boarded reasonably early, and were on the tarmac for 40 minutes before pushing back, a drink would have been a nice gesture.
After take off, a familiar but tasty tray was laid, which offered cold cut meats, an assortment of baked goods and a fruit compote. The food was tasty, and cabin crew made at least two passes with a basket of breads to accompany the conserves and butter that were also on the tray.
However, on asking for a coke, rather than tea or coffee, we were advised it wasn’t available, and only tea, coffee or water was on offer. Considering the cost of business class flights between London and Paris, it would have been nice to see additional drinks on offer. In comparison, a later flight in the afternoon, had a full bar, including champagne, wines and soft drinks, even though it being on a smaller aircraft.
Air France offers gate-to-gate entertainment, meaning even though the flight was under an hour, we managed to watch over 1hour 30 minutes of entertainment. The screen is large and as a fantastic response to passenger habits, can be angle both up and down. This is very useful for passengers wanting to watch shows while in the reclined position.
The user interface is very intuitive, and easy to use. The screen is touchscreen and supported with a handset that offers a second screen that can show the aircraft map while watching a show. The headset is
Supporting the IFE system is Air France’s large and substantial ‘Magazine’ and ‘Madame’ which is designed as a female-friendly Fashion skewed title. Being a short-haul flight the airline didn’t offer its amenity kits or any additional amenities such as blankets or pillows, however these would be available on a long-haul flight, adding additional comfort.
We were delighted with the flight experience, and the new aircraft. It certainly is a contemporary addition to the Air France long-haul fleet. While it was difficult to fully gauge the product on a short haul sector, we can see how it will benefit long-haul passengers when the aircraft starts to fly these sectors. The only real negative element to point out, was the seat, which needed maintenance (so early on in service) and while we would have loved to have seen more personality in the cabin design, it was clean, contemporary and reflective of the airline’s current design aesthetic.