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Last month, TPG Creative Director Adam Daniel Weiss flew on an Air France 777-200 from Paris to New York in Premium Economy; here is his review of the experience.
After an amazing trip through the south of France and Paris, I eagerly boarded my flight from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport back to my hometown of New York City. Although I had flown Air France’s 777 multiple times, this was my first time flying in Premium Economy, which I was excited to try out. On my flight from Rome to Paris (which was all booked on the same itinerary) I was seated in Premium Economy on an A321, which differed from Economy only by way of a glass of champagne and a small meal. The seat didn’t recline any farther than a normal Economy seat. It seems that on shorter flights, the Premium Economy service on Air France is lacking. Fortunately, the experience was much better on the second, longer flight.
Booking and Boarding
I booked through Flying Blue and used 50,000 miles to travel from Rome to Paris and on to JFK, with an additional €196 ($295) in taxes. Given that I value Air France miles at 1.3 cents apiece, and considering that the two-leg flight would have cost $1,806 to purchase, this was a decent way to get home in comfort, especially since there was no business or first class award availability on any other carrier for my trip home. Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program of Air France, is an instant transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and they sometimes run transfer bonuses of up to 35%. Unfortunately you cannot book Air France Premium Economy awards using Delta SkyMiles, so my main option was to transfer Amex points to Flying Blue, which was easy and the transfer went through in about a minute.
After a lengthy check-in process, I boarded the Boeing 777-200 through the Premium Economy/Economy door (and sadly not through the La Premiere/Business door), and walked straight to my seat in row 11.
Having spent a little more for Premium Economy, I expected my seat to be (for lack of a better term) a more premium version of economy, but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the seat (and the overall experience) was more akin to flying Business class on a domestic flight.
Seats were arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, so having seat 11L meant that I had only one person next to me, and I had a nice view out the window just ahead of the wing.
Unlike TPG, I’m a modest 5’7″, so by lifting the foot rest under the seat, I had plenty of room to sprawl. Plus, the extra large tray table allowed me to set up my laptop and get work done, all while enjoying a bottle of Evian and perusing the on-board entertainment system.
Once the wheels are up, I tend to recline my seat and get comfortable as soon as possible.
Although the seats have a width of 19″ and a pitch of 38″ (2 inches wider and 6″…er…pitchier than economy), the seat didn’t go back as far as I would have liked. Still I’d take it over a normal economy seat any day of the week.
Meals and Amenities
Shortly after takeoff and once we reached altitude, the cheery flight crew came through the premium economy rows and passed out amenity kits, which was a welcome surprise. The kit was modest with the standard socks, eye-mask, toothbrush, earplugs and “bonnets” to cover the headphones that came with the seat.
The amenity kit was nothing of note, but “bonnets” did the trick when I thought of how many people have used those headphones. Shortly after takeoff, our flight attendant (who, along with the rest of the crew seemed to wear a perpetually large grin) provided us with the flight menu, which featured the Air France 80th Anniversary imagery and a nice selection of items.
As I pondered the menu, I was immediately presented with a glass of champagne and some rosemary crackers.
Given the choice of cheese-laden tortellini or chicken in lemon sauce with veggies, I went with what I hoped was the healthier option and had chicken presented alongside a smoked salmon appetizer. As an Air France service, of course there was a hearty portion of cheese, along with some cherry tomatoes and a peach shortbread. The chicken was unmemorable, but the salmon with it’s Madagascar lime oil was really tasty.
Following the meal I was given a little plastic coronette filled with small sweets, including a stick of Valrhona chocolate, a piece of nougat and fruit jellies from famed patisserie Fauchon, a refreshing wet towel and more.
I walked to the bathroom to wash my hands, and while waiting I discovered a small minibar area with juices, beers, sodas and snacks for the duration of the flight. Upon entering the bathroom I was pretty surprised to find what amounted to a facial station attached to the wall, complete with Clarins products including a toner, moisturizer, and pads to apply said items.
Given that the flight was a just more than 8 hours long, a secondary meal was served prior to landing, consisting of a container of yogurt, a soft roll, more cheese (of course), orange juice and cookies.
All in all I was very pleased with the service and product provided by Air France in Premium Economy. Since it costs more than standard Economy but significantly less than Business class, it can be a great deal- even though Air France does have annoying fuel surcharges. That being said, if you’re looking for a comfortable experience in a lie-flat seat, you’re not going to get it (and you won’t even in Air France business class until they retrofit their planes sometime over the next couple years). Nonetheless, given that Business class is $4,700 one way and La Premier/First is $8,900 one-way, Premium Economy was a great value and overall a really enjoyable experience- at least compared to most US carriers who offer premium economy as the same exact seat as economy, but with a little more recline and legroom. While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.