Air France’s new business class – The inaugural flight Paris-New York
During spring 2014, Air France announced that their new long-haul seats would finally be fully flat in business class. In the second half of June, the first aircraft with the new seats took flight on one of the daily departures between Paris and New York.
BusinessClass.co.uk was on the first official flight to New York, evening flight AF 008, where there were some extra festivities both at the airport and in the air. Also on the flight were Air France & KLM CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, and Air France CEO, Frédéric Gagey.
At the Airport
I arrived in Paris shortly before 4pm on a flight from Scandinavia. The flight arrived at terminal 2F while my connecting flight departed from terminal 2E, which is used for all Air France’s non-Schengen flights. Terminal 2E consists of three buildings, with the names K, L and M. The flight to New York would depart from K-pier, which is the original terminal building.
Changing flights at Charles de Gaulle is now rather easy, at least as long as you are switching between two Air France flights or between Air France and another airline in Skyteam. For a number of years there have been connecting walkways from terminal 2F to both K and L piers in terminal 2E. It is very straightforward. All that was needed was to pass through passport control, which was completely empty, and where there is also a fast track (Accès No 1) which I could use as a gold card traveller and business class traveller. With the connecting aisles you no longer have to pass through security when connecting to a flight outside the Schengen area.
Just over a quarter of an hour after landing and I was in the lounge in the K-pier. Air France lounges are generally pleasant to visit, they have a stylish interior and often have champagne and nice wines to drink. However, I would like a little more food to choose from, during this visit also. The most savoury options on the buffet were fruit salad, yogurt and bread and cheese.
Boarding and First Impressions
Boarding started 30 minutes before departure with a short walk from the lounge. At the gate I was elected for a further check, which meant a quick body search and checking the contents of my hand luggage. The treatment I received was friendly and respectful, so not much to comment on.
Next to entrance to the aircraft we were met by the first sign that this was an inaugural flight. Along the passageway stood a long row of smiling Air France employees holding signs with different flight inspired texts. They wished everyone who passed a pleasant journey.
I was warmly welcomed at the entrance and quickly found my seat, 07L , a window seat on the last row in the business class cabin. The cabin made a great first impression with the interior almost entirely in white (or possibly light grey). This was, as I said, the official inaugural flight (however, in a practical sense, it was the Ninth commercial flight with the new seats) and everything felt, as you would expect, new, fresh and modern. The flight was almost completely sold out in all classes.
There was a pillow and quilt waiting at my seat as well as a hanger to hang up my jacket. All hand luggage is to be placed in the over-head compartment as there is no room in front of the seat. With the seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, you practically get your own over-head compartment.
After everyone was settled, we were offered a welcome drink, a choice of champagne, juice and water. As I was on a French airline, I clearly had to go for a glass of bubbly.
Pushback was a few minutes after schedule, at 7:10pm, while the usual security video was played in English and French. Flight time to New York was estimated to be 7 hours and 30 minutes.
Air France’s new business seat is basically the same seat that Cathay Pacific uses, a seat I tested three years ago when it was brand new and state-of-the-art. Of all the types of seats I have tested, this is by far one of my favourites. According to Air France’s product manager, however, their version is more advanced than Cathay Pacific’s as they bought the seat with more options. The seat is manufactured by Zodiac and the model is named Cirrus.
On board the Boeing 777-200 were ten rows, divided into seven rows in the main cabin, and three rows in the small cabin behind the galley. The seating was in a 1-2-1 configuration, with all seats placed so passengers sit facing away from the aisle, either directed towards the window or towards the middle of the cabin. If you sit in one of the two middle seats and do not know your neighbour, there is a screen which can be pulled up. The advantage of the 1-2-1 configuration is that all passengers have direct access to the aisle without having to climb over someone else.
Air France has reduced the total number of seats for sale on board, and on the Boeing 777, it has been reduced from 47 to 40.
The new seat can be described using “the three Fs”: Fully flat, Full Access, Full privacy
The new in-flight entertainment system is a pleasure to use, neat and clean with pleasant menus. The old system (and current system on other aircraft) is certainly okay, but is still somewhat old-fashioned in design and, above all, the screens are quite small.
The entertainment system is from Panasonic and has over 1000 hours of entertainment and a menu in 12 languages. The screen is, as I said, considerably larger, 16 inch compared to the previously 10.4 inches, and is touch-screen, meaning you can navigate through the menus by pressing directly on the screen.
The remote control is also new and is secured in a holder on the wall. It is designed as a smartphone, with a display showing the menu options which you then press. One can navigate in three different ways: with the traditional buttons on the remote control, the remote’s display, or by pressing the large screen directly.
Noise cancelling headphones are stored in a cupboard next to the seat where there is also storage options.
A fun feature of the new in-flight entertainment system is the chat function, it is built in and allows you to chat with any other passenger on the flight.
There is no internet access offered aboard. Air France is testing Wifi but this has not been installed on many aircraft and no decision has been taken if or when this will happen.
After take-off, menus were distributed along with the drink list, and there was a little surprise. Air France has recently entered into a partnership with ‘The Ritz Hotel’ in Paris, and their Bar, ‘Hemingway’. This means that over the coming year, cocktails, concocted at The Ritz, will be served on board. It is extra lucky if you get meet the head bartender in person, and it just so turned out that I did.
Colin Peter Field has been head bartender since 1994 and has won, ‘world’s best bartender’, by Forbes, three times. Before this flight he had put together a special cocktail list from which passengers could order from. As an aperitif, he recommended Serendipity, also known as, “France in a glass”, which he himself created. It consists of champagne, apple juice, calvados and mint. Most followed his recommendation, including myself, and the cocktail was delicious. Along with the cocktail, nuts were offered as well as an amuse bouche, consisting of a shrimp with thai spiced vegetables.
The regular drink list consisted of a champagne (Ayala Brut Majeur), a white wine, a rosé, and two red wines, all French, of course. There was also an extensive range of spirits with several apéritifs (to drink before your meal) and digestifs (to drink after your meal). Apéritifs include an anise liqueur and vermouth, and digestifs include Calvados, Armagnac, Eau-de-vie and Chartreuse. A little different from the drink list you find on a typical European airline. There was, of course, also a standard range of soft drinks, coffee, and teas from Fauchon in Paris.
With departure at 7pm from Paris, dinner was to be served on board. A white cloth was laid on the table (that is 25% larger than the previous model) and a meal tray was presented with the “gourmet entree”. This was Air France’s signature dish, foie gras with scallops and a special pearl pasta salad. On the plate, there was also a smaller bowl of salad. The stewardess offered two kinds vinaigrette as well bread from a basket. Drinks were offered and I ordered a glass of Burgundy wine. I have never been a big fan of mussels, but the foie gras, I more than happily tucked into.
There were four choices of main course described in the loose leaf menu, entitled “Today’s suggestions.” The four choices were steak with maxim potatoes and béarnaise sauce, cod with polenta and Italian cheese, chicken with honey, soy sauce and vegetables, and finally, rice with zucchini, eggplant, curry and grated Parmesan.
Most sounded appealing but the steak still felt like an easy choice and it tasted really good with the maxim potatoes. I ordered a glass of red wine to go along with the main course and could choose between a Rhône wine and a Bordeaux wine, I chose the latter. At the same time I was offered additional bread.
The table was cleared and a small cheese platter was served consisting of petit chèvre and camembert. More bread and wine were also offered.
Lastly, it was time for dessert. A dessert cart rolled through the cabin with three different ice creams and sorbets, fruit salad and Air France’s signature dessert, “trio de desserts”, which consisted of pineapple and almond cake, a mini chocolate cake, and a hallon macaron. In addition to this, various liqueurs and digestifs were offered, but as I had some work to do, I made myself content with a cup of coffee.
Overall I was very pleased with the dinner and the delicious food and good wines. Within Europe, the food in business class can vary from good to pretty unremarkable, while on long-haul flights I have always been very satisfied with the food available in business class.
With just over 90 minutes before landing in New York, a snack was served. The choice consisted of a chicken brochette, a sandwich, yogurt and a bowl of fruit. Coffee and tea were also offered.
There was a self service buffet available between meals with drinks and simple snacks, found next to the galley, between the two business class cabins, on the right side. It is the same buffet that existed previously and which will continue to exist even after the cabin upgrade.
The bartender, Colin, was on hand during most of the flight. In the small hours of the morning, when most people had gone to bed and I was finished with my work, I went to the front galley where he worked, and got talking to him for nearly an hour. He arranged two cocktails while he enthusiastically talked about how he worked with the different tastes, how different ingredients affect different parts of the body and how this knowledge can help create effective cocktails. he was one of the most inspiring bartenders I have ever met. He had been on two flights prior to this, including a flight to Tokyo.
Despite a full cabin, service was excellent without any problems. The staff were friendly and attentive and had all the grace and finesse I appreciate. To be fair, this was a maiden flight and the CEO was on board, so it would be strange to see anything other than these high standards.
I do like Air France’s summer uniform of light blue with the attached red belt. Very elegant!
With arrival in New York at 9pm (3pm central European time), most tried to get at least a few hours sleep later during the flight.
When the new business class seat is in a folded position, it becomes fully horizontal (fully flat). In total, it creates a bed 196cm long, with a width of 68cm. In the seat construction, under the screen, is a small shelf that becomes an extension to the seat and helps to form the bed.
I thought the seat was comfortable to sleep and rest in. The right amount of softness and a nice pillow and blanket. The seat also felt quite private with shielding from the rest of the cabin. Around the back of the seat is a curved screen and the armrest can be folded up and down. In the default mode, it is folded down and unnoticeable. With one press of the button, however, the armrest flips up to over 30cm, which in turn creates additional shielding.
The seat controls are located on the side of the table.
Before night fall, a toiletry bag was handed out, available in four different colours – red, blue, beige and black. According to Air France, it is a similar model that was used during the period Air France flew with Concorde.
We landed punctually at New York JFK airport a few minutes after 9pm local time. The advantage of the late departure is that you can get a full day in Europe and still find time for a transatlantic flight, but can be a little tough to land so late.
The advantage of the late arrival was that it was nearly empty at passport control and, as I only travelled with hand luggage, I passed quickly through the arrival formalities.
All the passengers on board were given a certificate, before landing, that stated we were involved in this inaugural flight, signed by Jean Philippe Barat, head of Air France’s long-haul fleet.
This is clearly an upgrade for Air France whose current business class seat is starting to feel quite old. I have liked this new seat since I tested it for the first time three years ago. A good sleeping experience with excellent storage and enough privacy. I was also really happy with Air France’s new in-flight entertainment system.
I always appreciate the food and drink on Air France’s long-haul flight, as I wrote in the previous review of Air France’s business class.
The service on this flight was the best possible, although It was a special flight and the service was almost guaranteed to be of an exceptional level. The staff on board certainly performed to their best. This is definitely nice and much appreciated, but I will let my previous reviews provide a more nuanced and accurate picture of service and treatment.
I would recommend a window seat (A or L) if you are travelling alone, and my place (E and F) if you are travelling with companions. Window seats are marked as, ‘Preferred’, with Air France and can only be booked in advance if you have higher status, for example, in the ‘Flying Blue’ reward scheme. However, these may be selected by others when checking in.