Exclusive: Air France new first class suite La Première – A designer suite
In May 2014 Air France revealed its new first class product in La Première, a product which has been formally named ‘A designer suite’. We got the opportunity to see the new suite already in June during the Air France Expo in New York, which gave a very good impression already back then. On 29 September the new suite was introduced in the Air France fleet on one Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, the first route being Paris-Singapore-Jakarta.
Finding out the flights operated by this particular aircraft was not an easy task, but we eventually succeeded and today we can publish possibly the very first proper test on the internet of the new first class suite.
At the Airport
I was only transit in Jakarta with three hours between flights but to minimise any potential problems I had notified Air France about this so they would hopefully assist me in case of any delays. This turned out to be a smart thing to do as I was met already upon arrival by a personal assistent from the ground handling company who was there to help me during my transfer, a young man in uniform carrying a folder with all the information about my booking.
Unfortunately it was not possible to do a normal international transfer in Jakarta, instead we had to enter Indonesia for a normal check-in process in the departure hall. But my personal assistent quickly arrange a visa and he also arranged so we could use the crew line at passport control. All-in-all it took no more than five minutes. He also made a call to the baggage coordinator to make sure my checked baggage was properly transfered.
In the departure hall there was a dedicated check-in area for Air France with a separate desk for La Première, obviously with no line. I was quickly checked in by a young woman and while she took care of the check-in process the station manager came to greet me. He also informed me that because of the Skyteam rules I could use the Garuda first class lounge at the airport, which was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise. The boarding pass was handed to me in a red La Première folder.
Also at the departure passport control we were able to use a separate line with no wait whatsoever, the personal assistent took care of all formalities and did all the explanation to the staff while I waited quietly. Finally he escorted me to the Garuda lounge.
The lounge staff were apparently expecting me, as we arrived we did not have to show a boarding pass at the reception and we simply continued towards the roped-off escalator leading to the first class lounge in the basement. I had seen many photos of the lounge but nevertheless it gave an excellent first impression. The interior was in an immaculate condition, there was nothing whatsoever to comment about. The lounge was also completely empty when I arrived, perhaps not too surprising as most Garuda flights with a first class cabin depart late at night. My personal assistant asked me where I wanted to sit and then told me he would be back 30 minutes before departure to escort me to the gate.
A few moments later the lounge manager arrived to introduce himself and the facilities. He turned on the auto playing piano and handed me the menu card and the drink list. I ordered a glass of champagne, a club sandwich and a fruit platter. The champagne offered was Billecart Salmon. The champagne was served at my seat together with a bottle of water and 15 minutes later he informed me the food was ready in the restaurant.
There were plenty of hot dishes on the menu but as I had a very extensive lunch on the incoming flight and expected a full dinner on the next flight a light snack felt more appropriate. A refill of the champagne was offered and finally I ordered a cup of coffee. During the whole visit I was the only visitor in the lounge and the service was of course top-notch, just like the food. There were at least two chefs working in the kitchen right behind the lounge and everything was cooked on order. The only drawback was the language skills of the lounge staff, there were no problems discussing relevant topics such as food and drinks, but once the conversation progressed into other areas it quickly got difficult.
Boarding and First Impressions
Just as promised the personal assistent returned 30 minutes before departure at 7 pm to escort me to the gate. It was a long walk from the lounge to the gate located in the D-pier at the opposite end of the transit hall. But of course he had timed the walk perfectly, there was no wait whatsoever at either the security checkpoint or the gate, we could walk straight onboard. I was incredibly excited to finally be able to see the new cabin in real life.
I was greeted at the door by the purser and escorted by another flight attendant to my seat 01L. Having seen many photos of the cabin and also a mock-up model of the suite my expectations were extremely high, to the extent I was afraid I would get disappointed. Fortunately this turned out not to be the case. Rather the contrary the cabin gave a magical first impression. It was completely dark outside where the rain was pouring and inside the cabin the crew had turned on all the cabin lights, including the decoration lamps at each seat. This was not like boarding an aircraft, it was like entering a luxurious living room on a Friday evening.
After I had settled my jacket was taken and placed in the personal wardrobe behind the suite, a rather small one but still practical on night flights. Both the flight attendant and the purser then passed my seat for a more formal welcome and some small talk. As the cabin had been in service for less than a month it was a special flight also for the crew, it turned out to be the first flight in the new cabin also for them and they were very interested to hear what I thought of the product. The captain also passed my seat to greet me.
I was offered a welcome drink and ordered a glass of champagne, in fact there was already a champagne cooler waiting on the table between the two middle seats, so it was an easy choice. The champagne served onboard was Bollinger 2004 ‘La Grande Année’, apparently 2004 was of the best years in decades for Bollinger. And the champagne was indeed exquisite, served on a silver tray with a package of salty crackers. However they really should served these in a bowl instead.
Air France uses regular glasses for wine and champagne which has been a topic for discussions. Some argue these lower glasses are better to use to enjoy the full taste of the wine while others argue they are inappropriate for a premium cabin where proper wine and champagne glasses obviously should be used. Personally I have no problem with the ones used on Air France.
Newspapers were offered from a rack followed by magazines in English and French. Despite a flight time of no more than two hours both an amenity kit and a pyjamas were offered in La Première. The new pyjamas from Christian La Croix was provided in a lovely blue bag while the anenity kit was from Givenchy in a nice black box. Even though none of these would obviously be used during the short flight it was a pleasant surprise as I could bring these home for later use. Slippers were also offered. There was a drawer in the ottoman where both my shoes and the pyjamas could be placed, the drawer exists also in the old first class product but now has a new design with the characteristic red colour of Air France and they have also installed lighting in the drawer. Very effectful.
A refill of the champagne was offered before it was time to close the doors and leave for Singapore and Paris.
The new suite has been designed by Priestmangoode in cooperation with Brandiage. It is 230 cm long and covers an area of roughly three square meters. A difference between the new cabin and the old cabin is that the number of suites have been reduced from eight to four, there is now only one row in a 1-2-1 configuration. This however means a rather small and exclusive cabin.
Another major difference is the cabin interior which has a completely difference design och colour scheme. The old beige interior is gone and has been replaced by soft colors like light grey and ice blue with cabin details in the characteristic Air France red colour. At first I was afraid the new colours would make the cabin fell too bright and sterile, but they actually work very well. When I met the director for La Première in June, Catherine Betsch, she told me most of the inspiration comes from hotel interiors and also that they wanted the colours and design to reflect French elegance.
In front of the seat there is an ottoman which can be used as a visitor’s seat and below is a drawer for shoes and personal belongings. There is also additional storage next to the seat below the panel where the headphones and remote control for the entertainment system are stored. Each suite also has a rack for newspapers and magazines as well as a personal wardrobe.
The seat control is located next to the cocktail table and is divided into two parts, one part with quick buttons, which can always be reached, and one part with more advanced buttons to control each part of the seat.
The new entertainment system is from Panasonic and is the same version that I tested in the new business class, it is a major improvement compared to the old system, especially the menus which are far more modern and elegant than in the old system. Also the remote control is the same as in business class, designed like a smart phone with a touch-screen functionality. Most of the menu is shown directly on the screen on the remote control. According to Air France there are 1000 hours of entertainment and the menu is available in 12 languages.
A positive change is that the screen available in the old La Première suite (which was very small and did not feel like first class) has been replaced by a much larger 24 inches HD-screen mounted on the wall in front of the seat. This was just another detail which made the cabin feel more like a livingroom than an aircraft cabin. The picture quality was excellent, just like the sound quality through the noise-cancelling headphones provided.
The menu and the drink list were handed out already before departure, the menu in white and the drink list in red. The menu contained both the full dinner and the breakfast choices between Singapore and Paris as well as the shorter meal service between Jakarta and Singapore.
The wine list in La Première looks a bit different compared to most other first class products. While most airlines have a rather wide selection of wines, often four reds and fours whites, Air France on the other hand has focused on quality rather than quantity with fewer options, and of course all wines are French. The current wine list has been composed by Paolo Basso who was recently awarded the title ‘Best sommelier of the world 2013’.
The wine list included one champagne (Bollinger La Grande Année 2004), two red wines (Châteauneuf-du-pape 2010 and a Bordeaux wine, Margaux Château Cantenac-Brown 2008), one white wine (Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2011 Joseph Drouhin) and a dessert wine (Rivesaltes Ambré 2001 Domaine Cazes). There were also several aperitifs and digestifs like fruit liqueurs, cognac and armagnac.
Another surprise was that they had a wine cart onboard which the flight attendant placed next to my seat, with just enough space for the wine selection onboard and two bottles of water, still and sparkling. She introduced the wines and talked a bit about their characteristics before she asked me what I wanted to drink. Very elegant. I ordered a class of Châteauneuf-du-pape to start, a wine I always enjoy. I was also offered a hot towel
A couple of minutes later she was back with a white table cloth which was placed on the table, a rather sizable table, much larger than in the old La Premiere suite. There should be no problem for two people to dine together using the ottoman as a visitor’s seat.
Salt and pepper, different types of mustard, and of course cutlery were also placed on the table before the first course arrived which was a ravioli dish with vegetables. On longer flights there are usually several options of both starters and main courses but on this short flight there was only one choice of main course. The ravioli, however, tasted perfectly and was very filling. I was also offered a refill of the wine as well as bread from a basket.
After the main course a cheese platter was offered as well as more bread. I decided to also try the dessert wine which was rather sweet and very fruity.
Finally a bowl with fresh fruits was served and also a box with Turkish delight. I decided to finish the meal with another glass of champagne and was also allowed by the crew at my own discretion to keep the glass during landing to finish it before getting off.
This was a flight I had been looking forward to for a long time and this was something I also mentioned to the crew. Fortunately the crew had just the right mindset and delivered a La Première experience which simply could probably not have been any better considering the flight time. They gave me a full demonstration of the suite and the cabin and also showed me how the curtains work. Another bonus was of course both the pyjamas and the amenity kit.
The meal service was impressive given the short flight time with the wine cart and all the bottles placed in front of my seat, a concept I have not seen on any other airlines, but surely very elegant.
The crew working onboard were delightful, fully dedicated to provide a good service and to make the most of the flight. Of course being the only passenger in first class made this slightly easier. Also the purser passed several times to make sure I was happy and to get some feedback of the new product. The only thing they missed was to hand me a landing card for Singapore, which I had to remind them about just before landing. This caused some minor stress as there was very limited time to complete the form before it was time to disembark.
As this was an evening flight there was never the need to sleep onboard and consequently I cannot give any comments about the sleep comfort, but when reclined the seat becomes fully flat and a mattress and a duvet are provided by the crew. At least in an upright mode I found the seat both soft and comfortable.
What makes the new La Première suite unique is that there are curtains available at each seat, a unique concept for Air France. When it is time to go to bed the curtains are closed to separate the suite from the rest of the cabin to create full privacy. The main benefit of this concept is that one gets a very open cabin layout as default while it is easy to get full privacy. I usually enjoy seeing the other passengers on day flights while I prefer the privacy during night flights, so I found this concept a perfect solution.
We landed at Singapore Changi airport a few minutes ahead of timetable, the flight was over far too quickly. Before landing the purser passed a final time to say goodbye. Air France uses terminal 1 in Singapore.
Inside the passenger bridge a new personal assistent was waiting for me and inside the terminal building a buggy was waiting. It was a fairly short ride to the passport control but still a very comfortable way of arriving. She also handed me a welcome letter from Air France in Singapore describing the first class benefits at the airport, some things I did not know about. For example departing first class passengers are allowed to use the Jet Quay CIP terminal.
She took care of all formalities at immigration and also helped me with my suitcase when it arrived as number three on the belt. It would have been more impressive if the suitcase had arrived first on the belt (it had been tagged with a red La Première priority tag in Jakarta) but number three is still OK I guess.
Finally she escorted me through customs to the taxi rank where I caught a taxi to the hotel in downtown Singapore. All-in-all I spent less than 20 minutes at the airport and this was without a doubt a very comfortable and completely hassle-free was of arriving.
The new La Première suite is without any doubt the most elegant and effectful product I have ever tested. I just love the design with the soft colours and the cool lighting which created an atmosphere in the cabin only to be described as magical, especially as it was completely dark and rainy outside. Incredibly stylish, without taking it too far and making the design too extravagant. The flight itself was a bit too short for a proper first class experience but the crew made the most of the time and both the food and the drinks were of high quality. I definitely hope I get the chance to do this soon again.