French Connection: A review of Air France economy on the 777 from Paris to New York
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My go-to way of getting myself across the Pond is booking cheap economy fares with SkyTeam carriers so that I can earn valuable Medallion Qualification Miles and Dollars towards my cherished Delta Diamond Medallion status.
I still haven’t had the chance to fly with KLM, but I’ve flown Air France plenty of times, and I had the chance to do so yet again on a recent trip to Spain. My outbound flight was operated nonstop by Delta, but the return from Madrid (MAD) was operated by Air France, with a connection in Paris (CDG), of course. I’ve had flights on AF’s A380 and 787-9 recently, so I was excited that this particular flight would be operated by the Boeing 777-200ER, though my excitement was tempered greatly by the fact that AF squeezes in 10 seats in most rows of economy, meaning I’d be experiencing the dreaded 3-4-3 configuration for the approximately eight-hour flight from Paris to New York.
I booked this round-trip ticket with a nonstop outbound flight and a connecting itinerary to get me back home. I bought this Paris-New York-JFK ticket for the reasonable price of $435 round-trip, but you can do even better with some of the recent Delta SkyMiles flash sales we’ve been seeing lately, with round-trips to Europe selling for as few as 20,000 miles. In this case, purchasing the ticket made more sense, as I wanted to earn the miles toward Diamond requalification. I earned a total of 7,833 MQMs — a decent haul — but just 1,120 redeemable miles and 102 MQDs for the round-trip journey. With this trip, I was mostly concerned about the MQMs, as I am on steady track in terms of MQDs but lagging on the miles side of things.
We put the fare on the Platinum Card® from American Express, which earns 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly through the airline or with Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). For this flight, we earned 2,175 MR points, worth about $44, according to TPG’s current valuations.
My journey began in Madrid, but I’ll be focusing on my time on the ground in Paris during my connection.
When you’re connecting through Charles de Gaulle, it’s always a gamble what your experience is going to be like. My previous experience in business class on the carrier’s Airbus A380 was dismal, thanks to multiple bus transfers, a lot of waiting in line and having to sprint through the terminal to make my flight. This time, however, I had a layover of several hours and didn’t even have to take one bus! The lack of bus transfers made things more seamless, for sure, but CDG is maze-like, no matter what kind of connection you have to make. I’ve transited the airport many times and still get confused.
As soon as I disembarked from my flight from Madrid, I located my connection to New York on the departures screen and learned that I’d be going to the L gates at Terminal 2E. Thankfully, this didn’t involve any buses or trains, though it was a long walk through de Gaulle’s corridors, and it involved passing through immigration, which I’ve always found to take a very long time at this airport.
Once I cleared immigration, I still had several hours before my JFK flight was scheduled to depart, so I moseyed through the duty-free section, turning down a number of eager salespeople in the process, and made my way to the Air France lounge at the Terminal 2E-L gates, which I could access thanks to my SkyTeam Elite Plus status.
Since lounge access isn’t a part of economy tickets, it’s not factored into the score of this section, but I think that it deserves a shoutout, as it’s a great lounge.
The space itself was huge, and featured several distinct sitting areas, including a central “wine bar” area surrounded by gorgeous navy-blue velvet booths and directly under a shimmering gold ceiling installation.
The rest of the lounge was bright and airy, with plenty of comfortable seating and power outlets.
The food selection was extensive, and of high quality. Even more impressive, though, was the alcohol on offer — particularly the Champagne bucket at the main bar.
I spent several hours watching Netflix in the lounge, and then about an hour and a half before my flight was scheduled to depart, I headed out into the gate area so I could get a feel for it before boarding my flight.
The concourse was bright and open, and there were several options for grabbing a bite to eat and drink before a flight.
I particularly liked the views of the planes that this concourse afforded — who wants to fly Air Senegal with me?
I made sure I was one of the first in line for my boarding zone, in hopes that I could get on board before too many people had flooded the cabin. The boarding process was orderly, on time and completed with biometric boarding, though my boarding pass was marked with the dreaded “SSSS,” so that ate into my precious time of being on the airplane with a fairly empty cabin. However, this SSSS inspection was actually one of the more pleasant (if you could ever describe it as such) that I’ve had, and within just a few minutes I was on the jetbridge.
Cabin and Seat
There’s no way around it: Economy on AF’s 777-200ERs is a tight squeeze. Along with most of the airlines that have 777s in their fleets, Air France decided to cram a 10th seat in each row of economy, squeezing out more revenue from each flight — and every economy passenger to the maximum.
Ten seats across means the seats are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration. I chose Seat 27A, a window, knowing full well that I’d probably want to get up a few times during the flight. I just can’t say no to a window seat, though.
Each of the economy seats is just 17 inches wide and offers 32 inches of pitch. The blue leather headrest moved up and down and had adjustable wings, which helped me get more comfortable while I was watching movies to pass the time.
I appreciated that the seat had a cupholder that could be used while the tray table was still in the upright position, as it actually does make things more comfortable when you only have a drink in front of you.
Even though the seats were really tight, I found them to be padded sufficiently and I thought they looked smart. As this was an evening departure from Paris, I didn’t want to sleep so that I’d be ready for a proper night in bed when I got home, and ultimately didn’t have too much trouble getting comfortable for my seven-hour flight.
Amenities and IFE
I was a little surprised to find so many goodies waiting for me on my seat when I got on this flight.
There was a sharp-looking red pillow and blanket, as well as an equally eye-catching sleep mask and a pair of mediocre over-ear headphones. I found the pillow and blanket to both be above average, and I was successfully able to wedge the pillow between my seat and the wall of the aircraft in such a way that made watching movies a little more comfortable in the very narrow seat.
When talking about long-haul flights in coach, I always say that I can deal with the narrow seat as long as I’m entertained. Thankfully, Air France mostly delivered on that front.
There were both USB ports and AC outlets at my seat, so I was able to keep my phone charged even though I didn’t have much use for it, since there was no Wi-Fi on board.
I wasn’t that upset at the lack of Wi-Fi on this flight, since I was traveling on a Sunday and actually appreciated the time to disconnect and watch several movies in a row without feeling bad about it.
Speaking of movies, there were a lot of them, with over 300 on offer. Air France typically has a large selection of French films (naturally), so it was nice that you could separate movies by language, as I regrettably don’t speak French.
The IFE system offered a number of map views, and felt thoroughly modern in terms of the interface and responsiveness to touch. Overall, I was satisfied, though in other circumstances I would have probably found myself frustrated with the lack of Wi-Fi.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Cabin service started a prompt 15 minutes after takeoff, with flight attendants distributing menus and wet towels for all economy passengers.
About a half hour after we took off, we were served a small snack — pretzel sticks on this flight.
Then, 75 minutes after takeoff, the full meal service began, with one pair of FAs serving the meal and then another pair with another round of drinks.
The first meal — I guess it was dinner, since we took off after 7 p.m. Paris time — consisted of a turnip-and-carrot salad, a choice of chicken with diced vegetables or penne with mushroom sauce, cheese and a lemon cake.
I chose the pasta, which was exactly what I expected to be: perfectly tolerable and pretty decent actually, but in no way memorable. I more or less picked at the very wet carrot-turnip salad but did thoroughly enjoy the lemon cake, cheese and bread.
About 90 minutes before landing in New York, we were served what was listed in the menu as a “light snack,” though no other details were given. It was served in a small Air France-branded bag and consisted of a veggie sandwich, a second cake and a drinkable yogurt. It was pretty lackluster overall, and I decided to skip it after just a few bites and pick up something near my apartment after my arrival instead.
I like that Air France is emulating its partner Delta with the menus and additional services like the wet towels, but if it wanted to distinguish itself from the pack it could beef up (pun kind of intended) its offering and could consider providing extras like real silverware.
Overall, despite it not being class-leading, the food and beverage from Air France is pretty much exactly what I’d expect — nothing more, nothing less.
A pleasant crew plus efficient service made for a great experience.
I never expect much interaction with flight attendants on long-haul economy flights — there’s just no way a crew can provide personalized service with that many people to serve. And while this crew was what I expected, I did appreciate that they made multiple passes through the cabin with water, tea and coffee — it’s especially important on “daytime” flights when not as many people are sleeping and the need (and desire) to stay hydrated is more urgent. Also, each time the crew passed through the cabin, items were served with smiles and a polite demeanor. I’ve recently had positive service experiences with Air France, and this flight furthered that trend and reinforced my good opinion of AF flight crews.
This flight was about as standard as they come, but that’s a good thing in long-haul economy. Save for maybe a handful of carriers in special circumstances, you’re likely never going to be blown away by how good an economy flight is. The seat was narrow, but it’s sadly not outside the norm for this aircraft.
Despite the discomfort of the 3-4-3 arrangement, I found the cabin to be new-feeling and smart-looking, the IFE plentiful enough to keep me entertained and the food, though it wasn’t gourmet, enough to do the job. Thanks to Air France’s close relationship with Delta and extensive network in the U.S., I won’t hesitate to fly the carrier again — and I’ll be doing exactly that in just a few weeks on the very same flight.
All photos by the author.
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