I flew this French low-cost airline from LA to Paris and wouldn’t do it again
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Editor’s note: TPG reporter Caroline Tanner flew on French bee on a free trip provided by the airline. The opinions expressed below are entirely hers and weren’t subject to review by French bee.
West Coast travelers now have one more option for flying to Europe thanks to a new non-stop route from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Paris-Orly Airport (ORY) launched by low-cost airline French bee this past weekend.
While convenience is certainly a factor, the main selling point, so to speak, is probably the fact that French bee undercuts competitors’ fares by about half, with round-trip basic economy fares starting at $554 in May.
As with all experiences, though, you get what you pay for, so passengers looking for a more premium experience might be disappointed. And, as I experienced aboard the 10-hour and 50-minute inaugural flight on April 30, the relatively young carrier still has some growing pains to work out.
That said, if price is the main consideration — and it might be for more travelers as summer airfares continue to skyrocket — the entrance of French bee might be a welcome development for budget-conscious flyers looking to get from the West Coast to France in the next few months.
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French bee’s inaugural Los Angeles-Paris flight
“[French bee offers the] best value for money if you want to travel in good condition,” the airline’s CEO, Marc Rochet, told TPG at the airline’s headquarters near Paris-Orly Airport (ORY) shortly after landing.
Although he winced at the characterization of the airline as a low-cost carrier, Rochet admitted travelers should not expect the “best luxury service.” Instead of high-paying luxury travelers, the airline’s new and existing services aim to capitalize upon demand from tourists and families traveling together who want to save money ahead of what is already promising to be an expensive summer travel season for both domestic and international air travel.
“We think we will have a very good summer and need to continue to grow,” Rochet told TPG. He noted that the airline, which already flies four Airbus A350-900s and a recently delivered A350-1000, will put another A350-1000 into service before the end of the year and commence operations to its next U.S. market, Miami, by December.
“A simple, very good and comfortable aircraft” for passengers, according to Rochet, the fuel-efficient A350 is key to French bee’s expansion and its bargain pricing.
Perhaps that will be enough for most flyers who are simply looking for an inexpensive way to cross the Atlantic this summer. But those low fares also mean fewer amenities and pared-down service, as I discovered on my recent flight.
The value of a French bee fare
There’s no question that getting to Europe for about $275 each way represents a great deal at this point, but that’s just for the airline’s basic economy fares, which don’t even include a meal — and those prices jump to around $447 each way later this summer. From there, you can expect to pay about $50 more each way to upgrade your economy ticket to a Smart fare, which affords you one checked bag plus one meal.
For this trip, I flew in premium economy, which is the carrier’s most flexible and expensive fare type, and includes one carry-on bag (26 pounds), two checked bags (50 pounds each), two meals and snacks. The price was more than double that of even the relatively comprehensive Smart fare, but even at that higher cost and with the extra inclusions, the experience still left much to be desired.
It’s worth noting that French bee will only be operating this flight three times weekly for now (on Monday, Thursday and Saturday) before upping service to five times weekly in June.
I’d suggest sticking with the most inexpensive fare class that still includes the amenities you need or value the most — and tempering your expectations. After all, round-trip flights for the same dates on other carriers, including Air France, Delta and Canada’s West Jet, currently cost between $200-600 more for economy fares than on French bee, so saving money should probably be your primary motivation.
Checking in at LAX
Travelers flying out of LAX should note that French bee is not identified on any signage upon first walking into the Tom Bradley International Terminal, also known as Terminal B. Luckily, I saw the check-in counter right away as it was the first one, closest to the entrance. Perhaps that will change after the airline has been in operation at LAX for a little while.
I was able to use a check-in lane for premium economy ticket holders, which did not have a line. Within five minutes, the gate agent had checked my U.S. passport and vaccination card before weighing my carry-on bag to ensure it was less than 26 pounds. She also told me that Gate 203, where we would be departing, was at the very end of the terminal so I should give myself extra time to walk there.
After a quick check-in process, I took my place in the snaking TSA security line upstairs. Unfortunately, French bee does not participate in TSA PreCheck, nor was Clear available, so it ended up taking me around 45 minutes to get through security. I was glad I had arrived extra early for my flight.
I began the eight-minute walk to my gate through LAX’s “West Gates,” which were part of a $1.7-billion expansion project completed in 2021. This part of the terminal felt spotless but pretty empty since there were not many food or concession outlets around. Besides an Illy coffee shop, Sprinkles cupcake vending machine and salad vending machine called Farmer’s Fridge, the only other food and drink option for gates 201-210 was a Wilshire & Fairfax store, which was closed.
Although premium ticket holders were called to board first, within just a few moments, general boarding began and there was a mad dash to the gate. Although there were boarding lates with electronic scanners to quicken the process, passengers still had to show their passports to gate agents in order to board, so it took a few minutes for me to get to the jet bridge entrance where I found a colorful selection of macarons laid out for guests as a way of celebrating the new flight.
Cabin and seat
French bee’s A350-900 premium economy cabins have 35 seats laid out in five rows of seven seats each in a 2-3-2 configuration. Economy seats are 10 abreast in rows with a 3-4-3 configuration.
I thought the premium economy seat was comfortable enough. It measured 18 inches wide with 36 inches of pitch and an adjustable headrest. I did appreciate the expansive seatback pocket which was large enough to store the amenity kit, a water bottle, my iPad, laptop and any trash.
You might find the legroom to be limited, though, because the under-seat area is split in half by a movable metal leg rest. That made for a tight squeeze with my backpack laid on its side to one side of it and my small purse to the other.
As TPG has reported, certain Airbus aircraft, including the A350, are supposed to provide a better flying experience for long-haul flights thanks to better cabin pressurization and humidity. I can I say I found that I did not feel as exhausted or jet-lagged after my flight as I have on other transatlantic jaunts.
As for the seats themselves, there are no individual air vents, so passengers don’t have any control over the cabin temperature around their seats, though at least each seat has two overhead lights.
Overall, the seats were comfortable for a long flight. My main issue was with the lack of foot space, though I could have alleviated that by storing my backpack in the overhead bin space, which was roomy.
The most surprising part of this entire experience is that the seat reclined nearly 7 inches, which in theory makes for a comfortable sleeping experience. However, the full recline definitely disrupted the passenger behind me so much so that I actually felt compelled to explain to her that I was just testing out the recline for my story and that I wouldn’t actually be utilizing it, to which she said, “Yes please don’t.” (Well all right, then!)
My seat had a USB port and there were two universal power outlets located between my seat and my neighbor’s.
As for entertainment, each seat had its own 12-inch HD touchscreen and the system had over 80 movies and 20 TV episodes to choose from. If you preferred to read, iPads loaded with both English and French magazines and newspapers were offered for use during the flight as well.
Food and beverage
The celebrations continued on board with complimentary pre-departure champagne offered to all passengers for the inaugural flight.
After taxiing at 7:57 p.m. and taking off at 8:06 p.m., the beverage service began, with a selection of red and white wine, spirits, tropical juice, soda (Pepsi products) and both still and sparkling water. I had a glass of water with a slice of lemon and accepted a pre-dinner snack of almonds (15 in all), which is an interesting choice given the proclivity of nut allergies out there.
Shortly after this, I was handed an unscented hot towelette that I used to wipe my hands and other passengers used to freshen their faces.
After consuming the airline almonds, I cracked open my own plane snacks around 9:05 p.m., munching a couple of handfuls of “fancy trail mix” I bought at the aforementioned Illy. I was tempted to eat more, but I wanted to save room for dinner.
Around 9:15 p.m., the flight attendants passed through the cabin to collect trash, including the plastic wrapping from the premium economy blanket, pillow and amenity kit I’d received. Dinner service started at 9:30 p.m.
Unfortunately, dinner was not on the menu for me. Due to some dietary constraints, I had pre-ordered a gluten- and dairy-free meal at the time of booking. However, the flight crew had no record of my order.
The company’s PR team reached out after publication to let us know that the airline, like most airlines, does not offer meals that are both gluten and dairy-free. Had I been a regular traveler on a non-PR trip, I would have ordered a vegan meal and hoped it was something I could eat
The flight attendants I spoke to were all extremely apologetic and asked if they could somehow modify the two standard meal offerings — lemon butter linguine pasta with shrimp or beef stew with macaroni and cheese — so that I could enjoy them, but that was not possible. The two entrees also came with a roll, Camembert cheese with grapes, a brownie and California sushi rolls.
Luckily, I could eat the California rolls, so they gave me an extra portion along with some more almonds. In my experience, pre-order meal mix-ups aren’t unique to French bee. Last summer, when flying premium economy on British Airways, I had also pre-ordered a dairy- and gluten-free meal and had called to confirm it with the airline before departures … only to find that my meal hadn’t been loaded.
Tea and coffee were offered at 10:10 p.m. as they picked up our meals. I declined since none of the options was decaffeinated or herbal and I didn’t want to interfere with sleeping.
When I got up for my one bathroom trip of the flight, I had to wait about 15 minutes to use the premium-designated lavatory despite the sign indicating it was unoccupied. By the time I brushed my teeth and popped a Benadryl, the cabin lights had been dimmed.
The flight attendants continued to roam the cabins while most of the passengers slept, asking those who were awake if they needed anything like water.
Breakfast service commenced about 75 minutes before landing, and began with a choice of orange juice, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. After inquiring about options for breakfast beyond the French toast or omelet with Chobani yogurt that were on the menu, I again concluded I could not eat either meal, so I finished off my trail mix instead.
Premium-economy flyers receive a blanket and pillow, along with a basic amenity kit consisting of socks, an eye mask, earplugs, headphones, toothbrush and toothpaste. While pretty basic, they were still a nice inclusion, though the blanket could have been larger since it didn’t cover my legs and I’m 5 feet, 10 inches tall.
I was not able to successfully connect to Wi-Fi during the flight. The PR company for the airline said was a result of the provided Wi-Fi codes for members of the press not working, but that non-press travelers had been able to connect normally.
Last July, TPG’s Benet Wilson also was unable to connect to the Wi-Fi on French bee’s inaugural Newark-Paris flight, when she wrote: “French bee is an option for those wanting to go to Paris as cheaply as possible — especially if they manage to iron out the kinks.”
The airline offers passengers four different Wi-Fi packages ranging from $4-$29.
Overall impressions of French bee
The launch of French bee’s new Los Angeles-Paris Orly route marks an affordable new option for those looking to get from the West Coast to Europe. As you might expect from an airline touting such low fares, and as our previous reviews of the airline have noted, some of the services and amenities felt lacking — notably the issues I experienced personally with the Wi-Fi and meals. Perhaps French bee is just not the airline for me.
Overall, the experience felt more like a domestic flight in the U.S. (with many passengers ditching their masks despite French requirements to wear one) than an international long-haul one. But that might be enough for some value-seeking travelers who simply want to get to France at the lowest price point. As for me, I think I still prefer a more full-service experience, even if I do end up paying a bit more for it.
Featured photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy.
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