Air France New First & Business Class at New York Expo

Air France is in the process of refreshing their longhaul fleet, and they’re doing a damn good job. Back in February they unveiled their new business class, while in May they unveiled their new first class suite.

To showcase their new products and services, they’re holding an Air France Expo in New York, which is pretty awesome. It’s open to the public from June 26 through June 28, though on Wednesday (June 25) they had a press conference and “private” Expo.

Air France was kind enough to invite me to the event. It’s rare that I attend these press events, since I find that they’re more geared towards “traditional” media:

  • Virtually all the information shared at press conferences is publicly available, so they’re generally more of a “spark notes” version of things for the mainstream media.
  • Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I really get quite frustrated by the arrogance of a lot of the “traditional” media folks. They’ll come up to you, ask who you write for, say “oh I’ve never heard of that,” and then tell you who they write for, waiting for you to bow down to them. I’ve never heard of 90% of the publications they write for, though to be polite and make them feel better I’ll say “oh okay, cool.” But socially I just find these press events to be kind of awkward, or perhaps just feel like a bit like “Mean Girls” at times.

But really the reason I couldn’t resist going is because I freaking love Air France’s marketing, and lets be honest, the French don’t do anything half a$$ed. Either they go all in or not at all, and when it comes to a chance to show the press how stylish they are, you know they’re going all in.

Anyway, the press conference was held at Skylight Modern in New York at 9AM, and registration and breakfast started at 8:30AM.

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The press conference was in the basement, and as stylish as you’d expect from Air France.

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The event started promptly at 9AM with various uniformed employees walking on stage.

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What really amazed me is how many big wigs were in attendance:

  • Alexandre De Juniac — Chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM
  • Frederic Gagey — Chairman and CEO of Air France
  • Edward Bastian — President of Delta Air Lines
  • Bruno Matheu — Chief Officer of Longhaul Passenger Activity

Alexandre De Juniac kicked off the press conference by explaining a bit about the innovation behind the new product.

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Then Edward Bastian of Delta spoke, about how thrilled he is by Delta’s partnership with Air France, and continuing to work together (I didn’t have a chance to ask him about how he feels about their partnership with Korean Air, on the other hand). ;)

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Then Frederic Gagey spoke, basically reiterating what Alexandre De Juniac.

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And then Bruno Matheu spoke to dig a bit further into the details of the new product. I love how he said “we serve champagne in all classes, even economy.” I was the only person in the audience that clapped. ;)

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I loved the marketing videos they showed during the presentation as well.

It started with this one (anyone know the name of the song — I LOVE it):

And then this one of passengers sharing their experiences with the new product:

And then this one about the history of the New York <> Paris route:

I really can’t say it enough, I think Air France’s marketing is just so gorgeous and brilliant.

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Then came the Q&A session — having this many big wigs on stage at a press conference in the US is just awesome. And I really commend them for doing this, since clearly to some degree the executives weren’t totally comfortable speaking in English (with the exception of Ed Bastian, of course).

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There were some interesting questions. One guy asked what Air France and Delta are doing to develop common service standards across airlines, in terms of food, service, seats, etc.

But quite possibly the most interesting question involved diversity. I was sitting next to my friend Scott Mayerowitz at the press conference (who’s my favorite mainstream journalist that covers travel), and he Tweeted the following:

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I figured I’d provide the back story on that. A guy that wrote for an LGBT travel magazine asked what Air France is doing to embrace diversity, not just when it comes to gays, but also different cultures.

Ed Bastian of Delta Air Lines clearly understood the question, while the guys from Air France were a bit confused. The Air France CEO began to tell a story about how their inflight entertainment system has a diverse selection of options in many languages, and said that he spoke to a German passenger last week who said he liked Air France service and that they had movies in German.

The guy that asked the question said “with all due respect, that isn’t what I was asking,” and tried to clarify the question. They then proceeded to explain that they have special meals for a diverse group of people, and somehow the conversation advanced into explaining that many passengers on their flights from China have never used a fork and knife before.

I only mention this because:

  • It was hilarious
  • It totally wasn’t intended the way it came across, but it’s something that was clearly just lost in translation
  • The fact that this question wasn’t understood actually shows how much more diversity is embraced and how much further gay rights are in Europe than in the US — it’s not a question that has to be asked there, because they’re way ahead of the US in that regard

Anyway, after the press conference we were driven to Center548, where the three day Expo takes place. The venue was awesome — we had to take a freight elevator to get up to the exhibit.

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Before we could actually access the exhibit, there was a reception and ribbon cutting ceremony.

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They really went all out. There must have been well over a dozen servers, and they were attentive with making sure champagne glasses were always topped off.

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We were given press kits and gift bags courtesy of Clarins.

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On the side of the rooftop was what looked like a ribbon holding ceremony.

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But after about 30 minutes it turned into a ribbon cutting ceremony. I have to give credit to all the Air France executives. They were incredibly humble, approachable, and friendly.

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And then it was time to visit the Expo, which was just just totally over the top and impressive. Of course there was a lot of “fluff” which was interesting to look at, but probably less interesting to share here, so I’ll just include a few pictures of it.

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The most fun “fluff” had to be the adult swing they had, whereby with each swing you would “land” in a different city, be it New York, Paris, or Shanghai.

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What I really wanted to see were the seats. They had the new economy class seats on display, which are apparently more comfortable.

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Then they had the premium economy seats on display.

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And then the premium cabins, which they just marketed beautifully, partly by having a “dining room” to simulate what it would be like to eat on an Air France plane. Heh.

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The business class product is really solid. It’s a reverse herringbone seat, much like what you’d find on American, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, etc. I didn’t notice any major differences in terms of design, though the finishes were a bit different, and I thought much nicer than what some other airlines have.

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And then it was time to see the new first class La Premiere suite, which was gorgeous. The seat is so simple yet elegant, and I love that. The fact that the seat has curtains makes it the first of its kind, and I think it’s a really unique alternative to having a seat with a door.

I was extremely pleasantly surprised by my Air France A380 first class flight late last year, and especially by Air France’s first class lounge in Paris.

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Other interesting facts from Air France press conference

Some other things I picked up during the press conference:

  • Air France is investing 500 million Euros in their new cabins, and KLM is investing 200 million Euros in their new cabins
  • By the summer of 2017 Air France’s new cabins should be available throughout their longhaul fleet, including on their A380s
  • Air France hopes to be one of the world’s three best airlines by 2016 (though they didn’t make clear which metrics they’d use)
  • The new business class product is available between New York JFK and Paris on AF8/9 since June 24, 2014
  • Air France’s 777s are 1,000 pounds lighter after the reconfiguration (interesting but not really useful)
  • Air France is installing a total of 10,000 new economy class seats, 1,100 new premium economy seats, and 2,102 new business class seats throughout their fleet
  • By the end of 2014 the new cabins will be available to Singapore, Jakarta, Tokyo-Haneda, Houston, and Shanghai
  • In early 2015 the new cabins will be available to Douala, Dubai, and Sao Paulo
  • This summer KLM is offering its new business class on 22 Boeing 747 aircraft, and by September 2015 all Boeing 777 aircraft will have the new products as well

Bottom line

Air France’s new premium cabin products make them extremely competitive, and I can’t wait to try them out. With their business class product I do think they’re doing more “catching up” than innovating, while I think their first class product is incredibly innovative, simple as it may be.

What do you think of Air France’s new cabins, and did you have a chance to check out their New York Expo?

Comments

  1. says

    What fun! And, the song is “Adjust Glasses” by Kisses!

    OMG, I’m so excited by this expo – do you know the hours it is open?

  2. Joey says

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I plan to go later today after work (Summer Fridays)! I can’t wait to see the new seats! This year my strategy is to be a Flying Blue elite member so I look forward getting a glimpse of their future plans.
    @Jyoti, I don’t know what time it opens but I do know it closes at 5pm.

  3. Joey says

    Lucky, how were the macarons and champagne? I plan to go this afternoon at around 4pm.

  4. lucky says

    @ Joey — Champagne was good! I believe they only had macarons in the afternoon, and I was gone before they were offered, unfortunately.

  5. Nigel Long says

    Lucky: Was there yesterday. Clearly the new business class seats are an improvement over their current offering – everyone there was impressed. Management was still interacting well with the general public – had an interesting discussion with Catherine Betsch who is “VP La Premiere”.
    I’m not sure if all the visitors understood the French philosophy of how to promote a new product – but everyone enjoyed the champagne and macarons…

  6. Nick says

    Ben, that’s not the picture I had expected to accompany your description of the “adult swing.”

  7. concorde02 says

    OMG Air France is my favorite airlines, especially the first class service and their lounge!.. I can not wait to fly their first class again. They will also introduce caviar tasting for flights out of Paris CDG later this year.

    I like the bag they gave out! They should have this shower longer than just this weekend for LGBT people who go to pride somewhere else this weekend.

  8. JustSaying says

    Perhaps they did indeed understand the diversity question but they found it preposterous to differentiate treatment based on someone’s bedroom activity that they chose to “elevate the question” to a morally superior question and answer……..I think their approach shows just how classy they are at things……..as for their service they have to have a much stronger catering base just because of how the French approach food to start with………..if they can translate that head start onto their airplanes then they should always be one of the best………..now to just figure out how to get 2 FC seats from SFO……….

  9. Nick says

    @Lucky, how far in advance does AF release award space to its partners? I seem to recall it being notably less than 330-something days, but do you happen to know offhand?

  10. Pablo says

    @Justsaying, how is the LGBT issue “less morally superior” than some totally made up story about Chinese people never used forks and knives before? How is hiding or escaping from this question helps anything?

  11. Pablo says

    @Lucky, Is AF offering the same amount of business award seats to AS as they offer to DL?

  12. Garrett says

    Damn…just tried booking the AF9 and it still shows the old product. Being in LA, the price jumps because you have to get the damn flight from LAX-JFK. I guess I’ll have to wait until they update the A380s, or until they update the 777s that they bring here seasonally.

    Meanwhile, I’ve flown KLM’s new WBC 6 times already, and am less impressed each time. It’s a SIGNIFICANT improvement over the old one, but unless you can get 1A or 4A (or the one in row 4 that’s in the middle of the cabin…weird) it’s kind of shitty. Luckily, your chances of being seated next to a nice Dutch gentleman (read: hot) are high, and they’re either polite enough to ask kindly, or they’re tall enough to step over you…either way is sort of fun I guess. Just wish they would have taken AF’s cue when updating their business cabin.

  13. Pablo says

    @Garrett, I wish I will be getting the same experience (Seating next to a nice Dutch gentleman) ;) the next time I fly with KLM. I always get bumped up turkish women, three in a row already…Talking about probability!

    @Lucky, could you please remind me which routes KLM fly their new business class?

  14. Leon says

    @pablo its got nothing to do with “morally superior.” Chinese people have a different culture that actually pertains to the flight experience, such as dining style in-flight! How does being LGBT impact ANY part of the flight experience? Its a preposterous question

  15. Pablo says

    @Leon, as an actual Chinese I can confirm with you that though we do in fact have different dining style, for example, the need of hot drinking water; however most Chinese people CAN adjust to the western dining style (using knives, forks and more), especially when they are on a plane most likely flying into Europe or the reverse way. However, please do understand what Scott in his question was suggesting; whether the airline is LGBT friendly does impact them when they are making their traveling choices.

  16. lucky says

    @ Pablo — Nope, they offer more award space to Alaska than to Delta (basically Delta isn’t willing to pay their “going rates” for award space).

  17. Pablo says

    @Lucky, WOW, I thought DL and AF are closer partners… as they are trying to be one unity, the great “AF KL DL”, no? When I make phone calls to one DL/AF? line, it constantly remind me that I am calling AF, KL AND DL…

  18. lucky says

    @ Pablo — That’s what they try to market it as, but the reality is quite different.

  19. Garrett says

    @Pablo, from what I’ve read, all of the routes using a 747/747 combi should be complete.

  20. adi_T says

    Great review. one thing I can’t garner is whether the Expo is open to the public or do you have to be invited?

    I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear the diversity back-and-forth. While it is certainly possible that they are so ahead of us that they weren’t even thinking along the same lines, is it possible it could be a ‘lost-in-translation’ moment?

    Nice to have so many bigwigs there.

  21. lucky says

    @ Robbie — That doesn’t seem to be a route on which they’ll initially offer it, so I would expect later in 2015 or in 2016. I think they haven’t gotten that far yet. Didn’t ask specifically about first class award space, though I’m guessing the answer would have been that they’re trying to keep it “exclusive.”

  22. says

    You know one of the points that really got me in this design?

    The cabinet that opens in a nice red color. Dont know why, but sure makes something bump inside of me.

  23. JustSaying says

    Perhaps something got lost in the translation as about how strongly the French and I believe in the whole issue of equal rights……..I truly think when someone presents a question like that that they see it as so yesterday that they have dealt with and solved years before unlike Americans and most of Africa……….I don’t see the role of a French airline to be a world leader in advancing human rights………what we can and should expect of them is how they treat their customers and employees in their attitude toward human rights……I think it shows how wide a gap there is between an American psyche and a European psyche………

  24. JustSaying says

    And folks the term “more morally superior” meant that the French have long ago answered the LGBT question with equality that the US does not have……..in that way they are morally superior in my mind…..I am sorry if it came across in an offensive crafting of verbiage………..it’s not that they are hiding from the question Pablo as much as they are perplexed by the question as they answered in an affirmative way a long time back…………..as a society moves forward in their understanding of equality it becomes counterproductive to look back to “resolve” human rights issues that the present day society views as settled………just because America and Africa have not solved this human rights issue does not detract from how progressive Europe is today………

  25. Lisa says

    Despite my love for France, I have to ask everyone to get their heads out of the clouds. The French are not more advanced than we are on gay rights. The colloquial French word for gay is pedophile, or pedo, for Pete’s sake. Maybe the actual word “gay” is what confused them – the word “gaie” in French still means happy and cheerful. If he had said homosexual, they might have comprehended what he meant.

  26. JustSaying says

    @Lisa you must be going to the wrong clubs and hanging out with the wrong people……….I love bringing my head out of the clouds when I go to France and get down to the gutter level so I can search for the potholes that aren’t there……….US infrastructure? Old and Broken France infrastructure? Newish and “in the clouds” There’s many reasons why France is morally superior to the USA and those are just a couple of diverse items and I remain unrepentant on the issue……….

  27. Ron says

    I’m a bit surprised that they don’t intend to update the CDG-LAX route sooner rather than later.

  28. JohnBom says

    Lucky,

    Did you receive compensation for attending the event other than what you’ve already mentioned? Travel, accommodations, or anything else?

  29. lucky says

    @ JohnBom — Nope, paid for my own flights, transportation, hotels, etc. All I got from them was a press kit and a couple of glasses of champagne.

  30. says

    I knew this would be good like this. Doesn’t look like there was anything good in those gift bags, but I bet the food was awesome. I really like that place it is held at.
    The reason the French guys did not understand the question was probably because they did not understand the guy, but also because they probably do not understand how dumb the media is here and the never ending parade of perpetual victims foisted on decent Americans by the liberal and fag media. I suppose the right answer would have been that they have a gay quota? Like seriously, it is a bullshit question.
    The questions purpose is to advance an agenda and make it part of what is talked about. I think it is ugly and shitty to try to take over someone’s event when you are an invited guest. It is irrelevant to why they had the promotion in the first place. It is also pathetic to classify that as diversity. It is like asking how many black people are you planning on employing. It’s pathetic.
    The news today is a fake story made up by idiots. Global warming? Fake story used by liberals and other immoral people and crooks to make money unjustly and fear monger. There are legions of people taking honest people’s hard earned money through taxes, so that billion dollar money laundering schemes can be carried out by crooks in the name of “clean energy” and solar panels. These business crooks give photo ops to Obama and through campaign fundraising dinners at $10,000 a plate, and then things like Solyndra get fastracked even though the company had an obviously flawed business plan, and whooopsss all the money is gone. Shucks.
    What’s $850,000,000?
    “Scientists” also are getting grant money, power, prestige, and funding through legislature to support this scam.
    Global warming is just an example of a fake story propagandized in the media as what is important and happening.
    How old is the earth? Would you think about it if it was not shoved in your face all the time?
    The French guys probably do not know the current story in the American media is that you are diverse if you are gay, and actually not just that, that everybody should be gay, and that gays were terribly persecuted, and America is a shameful country at fault for all the world’s problems, and that America was horrible for having slaves and it was America’s idea. It just never ends with how many people were victims.
    How many people know what a mess Iraq is right now? That is not the headline of any American media that I have seen. It is not deemed important by the popular news media.
    Also, dipshits like you Ben think that Europe is so far ahead of us and that America is stupid.
    I don’t think you know what France is all about, because French people are good.

  31. says

    The point of the question is for some drive-by loser to check if he can make legitimate people bend to his threat of bad publicity. It is a way for him to think he is more powerful than he really is, which makes him a never ending douchebag, ass.
    He wants them to grovel.

  32. wwk5d says

    Yeah, I’m not really sure how an airline is supposed to cater the gay community. Appealing to different nationalities and/or ethnic groups is a great way to expand service and attract people who might not normally use your product. But again…how should Air France or any other airline court the gay community?

  33. Alan says

    @John McIntosh See, here’s what happens when you forget to take your meds before turning on your computer

  34. Terence says

    Hey Lucky, you should’ve asked about the partnership between DL and KE during the Q&A session, if not DL X AS! The business cabin looks really great that I want to try it as well!

  35. lucky says

    @ Terence — I didn’t feel like that was the time or place. It was a press conference about Air France’s new product and Delta was there to offer their support, so I don’t think that would have been fair towards Air France.

  36. Terence says

    Agreed. but seriously, do you know any tricks to track which plane will carry you exactly when booking tickets? AA is reconfiguring 772’s and AF is refreshing the premium cabin. I don’t know an efficient way to predict the metal. Is there any dataset linking routes to planes’ registration number?

  37. lucky says

    @ Terence — Nope, not specific tail numbers. The best you can do is look at the seatmap and judge based on that.

  38. Ivan Y says

    Wow, they are making Houston one of the first markets with the new cabins! So awesome — guess I should be planning a trip to Paris in 2015 :D

  39. Charlie says

    @ Lucky – two questions:
    1. how do you think the AF J cabin will age with the white colour scheme?
    2. from the pictures, it appears that the TV screen is housed in a ‘box’ that extends roughly 90 degrees to the windows? In comparison to the CX J seats where the TV screen when not used can be pushed flush to the diagonal wall, does the position make much of a difference (e.g. does it make it seem less open, or more cramped, or is it ‘better’ as in making it more cozy)?

  40. Nancy M says

    will the new Premium Econ seats actually recline? friends who just returned from a r/t SFO/CDG/TLV got no sleep at all apparently would have been better off (sleepwise at least) in regular coach – this seems to be a longstanding issue – any sense that AF plans to correct it?

  41. lucky says

    @ Nancy M — As far as I know they recline within their “shell,” so you’re not impacted if the person in front of you reclines.

  42. Lucas Cabral says

    Hi Ben,

    I’m booked on AF9 from JFK to CDG on Dec 8th, expertflyer doesn’t show this flight and AF website gives me an error seat when trying to select the seat. On EF the same flight on Dec 9th shows the new business class. How can I make sure AF 9 on Dec 8th features the new cabin?

    Thanks,

    Lucas

  43. lucky says

    @ Lucas Cabral — That’s odd, maybe there’s a schedule change in progress and the flight will be canceled? Can’t pull it up either. I’d give it a few days, maybe.

  44. Lucas Cabral says

    It has been like that for the last 15 days… Do you have access to amadeus by any chance?

  45. Lucas Cabral says

    That’s the answer EF gave me… and worked!

    “The Air France direct connection only returns so many flights at a time, advance the time of day to near the time of the flight and the flight will show.”

    Well, the bed thing is that according to them the J class is 2-3-2 on AF9 on DEC 8th :(

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