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After years of flying with only angle-flat seats in business, Air France’s 777-300ERs now have new lie-flat seating in business class, as TPG Contributor Adam Kotkin recently discovered on a flight from Paris (CDG) to New York-JFK — here’s his review of the experience.
Last year amidst planning a trip to Europe, my partner and I transferred American Express Membership Rewards (earned with our Amex Platinum cards) to Air France FlyingBlue miles. However, when we ended up having to cancel our travel plans, Air France quickly refunded these miles to our FlyingBlue account. This year, we noticed that these miles were about to expire, so we resumed our plans for a European vacation and redeemed the miles for a return ticket from Paris (CDG)-New York-JFK on Air France.
The usual cash price for a business-class seat on this nonstop route is $5,885, but we instead redeemed 62,500 FlyingBlue miles + $287 for each ticket — not bad for lie-flat business class across the Atlantic.
Check-In and Lounge at Paris (CDG)
Amazingly, there was no line at Air France check-in at CDG. However, at first the airline’s computer system wouldn’t accept our passport data, and the check-in staff couldn’t figure out why. It was soon corrected, though, and we were checked in and through security in less than five minutes.
The Air France lounge we visited was in CDG’s new terminal, 2E. Within this terminal are three “halls” — one each for gates that begin with K, L or M — and each one has an Air France lounge. In the halls themselves, shopping options include high-end stores like Hermès, as well as a wide array of food options. It’s not a bad place to pass the time and do some walking if you have a long layover.
Our lounge, in the K gate hall, had free Wi-Fi and was well staffed; it’s open from 5:30am – 11:30pm. You’ll find showers and sometimes (though not during our visit), free Clarins spa treatments.
The simple food selection of bland sandwiches, canned fruit salad and ramen noodles was a real letdown for us. As far as food goes, there are several US domestic lounges at CDG (Delta’s, for one), that I would recommend over this one.
That said, the drinks selection here was top-notch — including several spirits, excellent Champagne and a few choice French wines. So it wasn’t all a disappointment.
Cabin and Seat
With 42 lie-flat seats total, the business-class cabin on the Air France 777-300ER is divided into two sections — a small front one and a larger rear one, both in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone layout. The carrier flies another version of the 777-300ER that has four classes, but there was no first-class cabin on this flight.
Each handsome, leather-upholstered seat has 61 inches of pitch and is 21.5 inches wide. My partner and I both chose window (A) seats, which had a private feel to them, as you’re kind of burrowed into the wall’s curvature when in the lie-flat position.
At each seat, there’s a handy USB and outlet station that accepts a range of plugs, including my American 110v two-pronged one.
I had plenty of room to store all of my carry-on items in the ample storage spaces — to my left was a cute cubbyhole containing Air France-branded noise-canceling headphones and another compartment had a closable door.
There are other nooks and crannies on the sides of the seat and beneath the footrest, too. The only things that I didn’t love about the seat were the slightly annoying controls.
There are only three buttons for all the seat controls, which I found overly simplified. To move the seat and get it into a comfortable position (other than the lie-flat position) took practice and skill. Once I found the sweet spot, though, it was super comfortable.
We arrived on board to find a high-quality, cozy comforter and pillow on our seats, as well as socks and slippers.
At first, I was surprised not to find an amenity kit, but sure enough, after the doors were closed, kits were passed around. While I found the Air France business-class amenity kit functional, I didn’t find it particularly exciting. The zippered pouch included hand lotion, toothpaste and a toothbrush, mouthwash, a comb, a shoe horn, ear plugs and lip balm — nothing special.
The business-class lavatory was small but also functional. I was able to change in there, which I’d dare anyone to try to do in economy. The lav offered some quality face products for washing up during the long flight, which was an especially nice touch.
The one major fail of this flight experience? Our refreshed plane had advanced AV equipment – but there was no Wi-Fi! That being said, Air France’s new AV system is pretty comprehensive.
In addition to lots of new movies and shows, the entertainment system has several (potentially) cool and unique features:
Cameras – At boarding, exterior cameras allowed us to watch underneath and to the left of the plane. You can choose to watch on the handheld remote or your personal TV. I was looking forward to watching take-off, but as the plane lifted off the ground, the system went blank. So it’s a cool idea, but not well executed.
3-D Map – This is where my monitor spent the entire ride. (Though you can choose to watch a movie and have the map on the handheld, I came well-prepared with an iPad full of shows.) Powered by FlightPath, the 3-D map can be viewed from multiple directions, with and without pictures of the plane, above and below, night and day, etc. This feature also included lots of interesting facts about cities around the world.
USB Player – Theoretically, this allows you to display your own music, pictures or PDF documents on your screen, but mine wouldn’t let me play a movie from a USB.
RelaxLine – A built-in relaxation tool asks 15 questions to calibrate the system specifically to you, then plays music and pictures to help you relax and meditate. I started to play with this, but after the fourth question I got bored and exited the app.
Berlitz World Traveler – This language-learning program can help you cram before the big test of actually speaking with French people — too bad I didn’t see it until I was leaving Paris!
Food and Beverage
In America we eat; in France, we dine! Air France’s excellent business-class meal service stretched over several courses for more than an hour. I started with a 2014 Côtes de Provence rosé from Le Caprice de Clémentine. Other wine choices included a Brice Blancs de Blancs Champagne (which I had with my first dinner course), a 2013 Languedoc white blend from Domaine de Cigalus, a 2012 Vallée du Rhône red and a 2009 Haut-Médoc Bordeaux red.
The menu started with an amuse-bouche of artichoke cream with Jerusalem artichoke, followed by a first course of duck and goose foie gras terrine, red and yellow sun-dried tomatoes, grilled zucchini and carrots, Parmesan cheese and sautéed black grapes.
For the main course, there was a choice between a pan-seared leg of lamb in a mushroom cream sauce, a filet of duckling in a sweet-and-sour sauce, cod with creamy black rice and penne pasta with tumeric. I chose the lamb, which was fully cooked (I prefer it a bit pink) but tasty, especially with the mustard provided — even if its presentation wasn’t great.
The trio of desserts included a praline pastry, a lemon cupcake and a pineapple verrine with vanilla cream. In addition to a 10-year-old port, there were several digestifs available: Cognac, Calvados, Armegnac, a pear eau-de-vie and a Green Chartreuse liqueur.
The second “light meal” before landing was a simple fruit salad, vegetable tortilla, deviled egg with salmon and a mini chicken club with pesto, with an apricot crisp for dessert. It was good, but not very filling.
This flight was a good value – 62,500 miles + about $300 in taxes (lately, TPG has been consistently valuing FlyingBlue miles at 1.3 cents apiece) for a very comfortable ride with wonderful staff and delicious food and drink. Other than the pesky seat controls, there were no notable shortcomings. I would 100% fly on the Air France 777-300ER again, especially in lie-flat business-class!
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