Review: Air France Business Class 777 Paris to New York JFK

Introduction
KLM World Business Class 747 Los Angeles To Amsterdam
KLM Crown Lounge Amsterdam Airport (Schengen-side)
Air Europa Club Business 737 Amsterdam To Madrid
Apartments Vs. Hotels In Madrid (And Elsewhere)
Air France Business Class A321 Madrid To Paris
Air France Business Class Lounge Paris Charles DeGaulle Airport
Air France Business Class 777 Paris To New York
Delta SkyClub New York JFK Airport
Delta One (née BusinessElite) 757 New York To Los Angeles


Air France 10
Paris (CDG) – New York (JFK)
Sunday, April 12
Depart: 4:55PM
Arrive: 7:00PM
Duration: 8hr05min

Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 8B (Business Class)

Initially, I was scheduled to fly from Paris directly to Los Angeles on their afternoon 777-200ER leaving at 1:50PM and arriving at 4:30PM (with a corresponding earlier connecting flight from Madrid), one of two nonstops Air France typically runs between the cities each day. However, in January I checked my itinerary online to discover that my flight had been cancelled, and I’d been reassigned to the morning flight on the A380; however, they hadn’t rebooked me on my Madrid to Paris leg and the itinerary was a misconnect.

I didn’t particularly want to leave Madrid at the crack of dawn to make a 10:30AM CDG departure, especially on such a short getaway, so I called Air France/KLM/Delta’s Atlanta sales office to review my options.

After looking online at seat maps, I’d discovered that AF 10 between Paris and New York was scheduled to be on one of the newly outfitted 777-200 planes with reverse herringbone-style business class. Although it wasn’t the most convenient routing, it would allow me to take a later flight from Madrid, try out Air France’s much-beloved new product, and then test out Delta’s new transcon business class product, DeltaOne, between JFK and LAX.

However, sometime in late February I got a notification that my seat assignment had changed, and I soon discovered why: Air France had pushed back its refurbishment schedule by a couple of months, and so while it had at one time announced that AF 10 and AF 11 would have the new business class, the rollout had been pushed back by several months.

So not only was I not in Air France’s new business class, but I was in a cabin in serious need of refurbishment. Brother, it showed. I’ve flown Air France’s “old” business class product between LAX and CDG before on the A380, and found it perfectly comfortable and in decent shape. On the older aircraft, however, the seats felt like they were on their last legs.

In any event, still feeling ill, as we boarded I flagged down one of the flight attendants and explained to her in French that my stomach wasn’t feeling great, and asked her if I could have some ginger ale. She took my seat number and came by within 4 minutes with a glass of ginger ale, some paracetamol, and some Maalox, all of which were enormously helpful.

Boarding was a bit of a zoo. Due to some irregular operations on prior flights and the cancellation of an earlier United nonstop between CDG and Washington, the flight was quite full and nearly everyone’s seats were reassigned. Indeed, my chosen seat, 7B, was confirmed to me by Air France two days prior to departure, but at check-in had mysteriously changed to 6L. I tweeted @AirFrance, who acknowledged the seat had been reassigned and instead assigned me 8B, which was more or less the same.

Air France old business class middle seats
Air France old business class middle seats

As I approached my seat, I saw a confused pair of middle-aged Spanish friends who gestured at my seat and said, “this was supposed to be mine, but they put me over there,” and pointed to a seat in the middle of the row.

He asked me to switch, but already on the verge of throwing up and feeling in miserable shape, I was not about to sit in the middle. I felt bad, but this was Air France’s fault, not mine. They bumped me for someone else (my seat, 7B, ended up being occupied by a snooty French businessmen with the world’s worst hair, a combination of obvious hair plugs and a terrible dye job), and Air France bumped this guy for me because I tweeted and asked for an aisle. And as I looked around, we saw any number of actual couples (not golf buddies, as these guys appeared to be) separated by involuntary seat reassignments.

You guys, I’m probably an a-hole. Definitely. But: I will go to the trenches to avoid a middle seat.

(In the end, the guy sitting next to me got his silent but deadly revenge by releasing some truly noxious odors every 20 minutes or so. Well played, señor!)

In the end everyone settled into their seats with a shrug as the flight attendants came by and distributed amenity kits. My flight attendant came by with a tray of navy blue-colored and cream-colored amenity kits, though they weren’t gender specific. I chose a navy blue kit, which was very cute and featured leather detailing.

Air France business class amenity kit
Air France business class amenity kit
Leather zipper on amenity kit
Leather zipper on amenity kit

The amenity kit included Colgate toothpaste, a full size toothbrush, a comb, shoe-horn, lip balm, Colgate mouthwash, Clarins hand cream and a soft cotton and terry cloth eye mask, which is a major step up from the typical uncomfortable nylon business class eye mask.

Air France business class amenity kit contents
Air France business class amenity kit contents

Further amenities, including more hand cream, facial wash, shaving kits and pens, were located in the business class lavatories.

Business class bathroom amenities
Business class bathroom amenities

Separately, there was a clothing bag containing socks and comfortable terry-cloth slippers at the foot of each seat.

Shortly thereafter, the business class purser, who was delightful and spoke French-accented English with lilting British accent (apparently, he lived in the UK for nearly 20 years), came by with a tray of juice, champagne or water. I selected the juice, which seemed to be an orange-guava mix. In any event, it, along with the ginger ale I got at boarding, helped to settle my stomach further.

I explored the seat a bit and this is as good a moment as any to tell you that it is in serious need of replacement, but more by age than by design. The panel was coming off of the footwell in front of my seat, and my neighbor’s seatback was held together with packing tape. The 777-200 seatback video screens seem terribly small. While I think it’s obvious the new Air France business class seat is a dramatic improvement, it’s worth me pointing out that the “old” business class seats on the A380 are, though largely the same design, substantially nicer. Partly that’s because the seatback screens are quite larger, partly it’s because the seats are newer and haven’t had as much time to age, and partly because the A380 itself feels very airy and spacious. In the meantime, the 777-200 business cabin felt, at times, claustrophobic.

Air France business class seat 8B. Note the broken panel.
Air France business class seat 8B. Note the broken panel.

However, it’s also worth me pointing out that, despite the numerous flaws of the 777-200 seat, mainly due to age, I think that everybody’s “oh my dear!” vapors over Air France’s angled-flat seat are way overblown. I do tend to feel that unless you’re the princess in “The Princess and the Pea,” your ability to sleep on Air France’s angled-lie-flat is not going to be materially impaired if you can sleep on a 180-degree lie flat in a 2×2 configuration. Though I never felt like I was “sliding off the seat” once, it’s helpful that there is a footrest you can pop out when the bed is fully extended. The seat is modestly angled, at most.

But, look, bottom line, it’s an aged and out of date seat, and is in the process of being swapped out. The 777s are being retrofitted first because they’re clearly more in dire need. At the end of day, though, I slept just fine when I wanted to, and for a day flight, the recline was more than acceptable. The physical condition of the seats was not.

The safety video came on, which was adorable and seemed to put everyone in a good mood. Air France has adopted a new company-wide motto/song/design/motif, “France Is In The Air,” and it really is quite a jaunty and fashion-forward exercise in branding. (I can attest they even play “France Is In The Air” as their telephone hold music.)

About 20 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants distributed menus and then about 30 minutes later came by and offered aperitifs and amuses-bouche.

Air France business class dinner menu
Air France business class dinner menu

AFBizentrees

Drinks menu
Drinks menu
Drinks menu
Drinks menu
Air France business class wine list
Air France business class wine list
Air France business class wine list
Air France business class wine list

 

Though I was still on shaky ground, hangover-wise, I requested a glass of champagne, which was Henriot, and excellent (though I took more modest sips than I otherwise might, to keep my recovery on an upward path). The amuse-bouche was shrimp in a whipped guacamole and grapefruit sauce that was terrific, accompanied by a package of tomato-olive cheese crackers.

Shrimp with guacamole and grapefruit
Shrimp with guacamole and grapefruit

About an hour and a half into the flight, another flight attendant set my dinner table and brought the tray containing the appetizers. During this time, the original flight attendant who I’d requested medicine from at boarding checked in on me to make sure that I was doing okay, and I assured her I was feeling better.

Duck foie gras; zucchini fricassee; cheese and tomato brochette
Duck foie gras; zucchini fricassee; cheese and tomato brochette

The tray included bread, green salad with a fresh herbal dressing, butter, a tomato-and-cheese brochette on a zucchini fricassee, and a hunk of duck foie gras with fig chutney. The foie gras was incredible, but also incredibly rich, and I could only eat a shaving at a time. I don’t think I got through more than a tenth of the serving portion (and I wonder if anybody who ate the whole thing lived to tell their cardiologist about it later), but it was lovely especially paired with the Henriot. I was impressed that the cutlery was Christofle, a high-end French silverware brand you would not typically associate with airline utensils.

The purser came by to request my dinner selection and I quizzed him about what might be a lighter option (since the heavy veal entrée sounded like it might kick me back over the line into queasiness). He showed me all of the platings and suggested the shrimp, which looked excellent, but I thought I should stay away from seafood for reasons noted above, so I went with the chicken. He also offered me a cheese plate.

Provencal-style filet of free range chicken
Provencal-style filet of free range chicken

I wasn’t especially hungry so only had a few bites of the chicken. The chicken was good, though a little tough (though in all fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever had chicken on an airplane I’ve raved about). Given my general high marks for Air France’s catering, though, I do think the chicken was a bit of a miss.

I skipped dessert, but quite enjoyed the cheese plate.

Cheese plate
Cheese plate

Following the meal, I read for a bit and then tried to sleep away the last vestiges of my hangover. After napping for a couple of hours, I got up to stretch my legs and felt a bit peckish and in the mood for something sweet, so I poked into the little snack stations they have set up by the lavatories. On previous trips, on the A380, the snack stations had been stocked extensively, but on this particular flight the stations were a bit on the minimalist side, although there was always available Henriot champagne on ice and a bottle of still and sparkling water. I spied a few cans of soda and some various juices, and one tiny wrapped chocolate, but not much in the way of food. I asked a flight attendant in the galley for something sweet, however, and she gave me a few packages of cookies.

A little bit after that, I decided to watch some TV, but found the IFE system a bit on the problematic side, with selections occasionally freezing onto a green screen before sending me back to the home screen. I didn’t find the IFE on the 777-200 nearly as intuitive as I found it on the A380, and ultimately settled on watching an old movie where I could only half pay attention, so I turned on When Harry Met Sally. I burst out laughing (as I always do) during the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene, and I’m sure my seatmate didn’t appreciate it. I wasn’t appreciating his methane emissions, so we were just about even.

About an hour before landing, the flight attendants came by with a light snack tray, which was absolutely the perfect amount of food. The acidity of the champagne was getting to me, so I ordered a Heineken instead, which hit the spot. I also ordered a Coke Zero to help refresh me a bit.

Snack menu
Snack menu

The cream of cauliflower actually had a few caviar (or roe, more likely) eggs on top, and was delicious. I’m not sure if the actual presented tray lined up with what was on the menu, but I got a triangle of a finger sandwich (which, in hindsight, may have been the boursin cheese and cucumber roulade) and a savory muffin, which may have been the “chicken loaf” (which is worth a renaming in any event).

Pre-landing snack
Pre-landing snack

The real star of the snack tray, and in fact the whole flight, and maybe the whole year, were the cream puffs. F’ing incredible. I mean, yeah, my appetite was just coming back, but these things were out of this world. The French are known for their pastries, and Air France really blew this one out of the park.

Raspberry cream puff, which rocked my world
Raspberry cream puff, which rocked my world

As we flew over the Northeast and made our preparations for landing, I freshened up a bit in the lavatories and ended up in a lovely conversation with one of the flight attendants in a hybrid of (my slightly rusty) French and English. The original flight attendant found me at this point and wanted to double-check that I was feeling better. We had a pleasant little conversation and I went back to my seat and prepared for arrival at JFK.

Air France 777 “Old” Business Class Bottom Line

I think if there’s ever a case of a flight having a terrible hard product but a wonderful soft product, it would be this one. I was disappointed by the condition of the 777-200 business class hard product, and by the worn and rough-around-the-edges seats. Obviously, I would have preferred to have flown the new 777-200 business product, and I hope to one day soon, as it looks cutting edge, comfortable and beautiful. So if you’re just flying a plane for a 180-degree lie flat seat, either take another carrier across the pond or make sure you’re on a newly-outfitted 777 that’s already in service.

The service, however, was magnificent through and through. I felt very personally looked after and cared for, and each and every one of the flight attendants and crew I interacted with was warm, friendly, quick with a smile and eager to put passengers in a good mood. I went from being very miserable and very ill hungover at the commencement of the flight to swooning over a cream puff and laughing with a flight attendant in the galley by the end.

Now, I know people who’ve said their mileage has varied with Air France service, and I do wonder if, as KLM is to the Dutch, Air France is to the French. As for me, I’m a Francophile and I “get” France. I understand that speaking a bit of French, or even attempting to, is a bit of flattery and courtesy that will get you endless goodwill in return. The French are very rigid about addressing folks as monsieur and madame and peppering speech with bonjourmerci, and je vous en prie (a more formal way than de rien of saying “you’re welcome”), and if you buy into that sort of genial formality, it’s all very delightful. I can’t vouch for the passengers who only spoke in English on the plane, but I didn’t sense any difference in service with them, at all.

The French are also all about fashion and style and beauty, in some cases over substance. The style is reflected through Air France’s branding material and in the general sense of living life to its fullest with the catering service. Champagne! Foie gras!  Even little bits of caviar in the cauliflower soup! The French take great pride in their food and in their wine, and Air France reflects that (they even serve endless champagne in economy class, the only airline in the world to do so). My food was, for the most part, excellent, and I thought the wine selections were a step above other carriers in business class.

But back to style over substance. There’s no denying the substance of the old business class on the Air France 777 needs a lot of work. I will say this is less applicable on the A380, where the business class cabin, though dated, still has some luster. But if you’re able to fly to Europe on a new 777 or even on an A380, I’d not hesitate to fly Air France for the experience of it all, which is full of charm.

I would not fly Air France’s old 777 on a Europe-bound redeye where sleep is paramount; however, on a westbound daytime flight I think the hard product is slightly less critical, so it’s a tossup of whether you prefer your product, ahem, hard or soft.

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Comments

  1. I am sorry you did not get the new 777 Air France business class product. It is really nice. I had a chance to try it (and review it) in December of 2014. May last Air France (old) 777 flight was in November 2014 MIA-CDG prior to Air France switching to the A380 for the MIA-CDG route. I do find that a window seat, bulkhead on the (old) Air France 777 did allow me to get decent rest. I enjoy flying Air France, and echo most of your sentiment with regard to the food and beverage. Quite frankly, all of my experiences on Air France over the past year have been positive (even my CDG connections). I “guess” my only very minor complaint is the lack of glassware on the short haul Air France CDG-AMS flights (plastic Champagne flutes in Euro-Biz but still poured from large bottle of Champagne). So odd, as KLM has real glassware in Euro-Biz on such short intra-European flights.

  2. “Well played, señor!” – classic. I have no idea who you are, Nick. But you’ve made me laugh and one day I will buy you a beer.

  3. You have the same delightful writing style as Ben. Unfortunately, you also seem to share the same alcoholism tendencies.

  4. “About an hour and a half into the flight, another flight attendant set my dinner table”
    what were they doing for an hour after the initial take off?

    also, if is there a way to know if my flight will have new biz class before i book it?
    thank you.

  5. @Lantean, you should be able to check the seat map on Expert Flyer. On the Air France website, you can check the seat map before you commit to purchasing, although you have to plug in some basic information first. Any layout showing three middle seats together in the Business cabin will be the old cabin (2 + 3 + 2). If it’s 1 + 2 + 1, it’s new Business.

    I think there are also some threads on FlyerTalk that get into detail as to which flight numbers are the new business class and when and where the rollout is expected. Just so you know, very few of AF’s planes are outfitted with the new business class so far. Right now I think it’s one flight to/from JFK a day, and that’ll be bumped up to two flights next month when AF 10/11 come online.

  6. Don’t feel too bad about staying put, if they had any fantasy baseball experience, they ought to have suggested a threeway swap – trade you 8A for 8B, and then trade 8B for the other aisle (8C??) seat.

  7. OK, thank you.
    one last q… are they retrofitting 777-200 as well as 777-300? seems like 777-200 has a much small biz class cabin.
    thx.

  8. @Voice of reason: Yes, I was hanging in there with Nick, too, until the beer. What was he thinking? A few sips of Champagne? Bien sûr! But beer? Still a great report, though on a Westbound flight I have to admit that I’m 100% ok with flying Y.

    The last time I flew AF/KLM, they also took my seat. The Gate Agent said, “You have to be here an hour before the flight.” I looked at my watch: 63 minutes. I looked back at the Gate Agent and cocked my eyebrow, politely. She gave us the exit row.

  9. My problem with Air France’s J offering on their A380s (and older or non-retrofitted 777s) is not whether or not angled lie-flat is comfortable – I don’t think it is, and I *always* slide off – it’s that Air France had the perfect opportunity to be innovative, and they squandered it. Brand new planes, new class of plane altogether for the carrier, and a huge chance to meet current market standards for a J offering, and they totally screwed it up by keeping with a terrible status quo.

    I’m not sure if it was financials, or just a lack of give-a-shit, but it doesn’t show a company that’s trying to be cutting edge – as much as they think their new safety videos are – and maintain modernity. I’m glad they’re doing something now, but I think their being tardy to the party is indicative of what they feel about their position in the market, and that’s that they don’t (at the time, I guess) need to be competitive.

  10. @Adam — I agree, AF’s decision to install angled flats in its brand new A380s was truly baffling, especially considering that flat beds had already been around for many years at that point.

  11. @Adam – Lufthansa did the same thing: they took delivery of their A380s with their old, angled J product. They only delivered the 747-8 with the new J seat.

  12. @Anil C

    i read the article but it seems to me like it was a visa issue… evidently passengers who did not need French visa we given hotel rooms because they were able to enter France… the airline can’t just decide to allow someone into the country…

  13. while they were waiting in the basement they could have been given chairs and water to drink, if not bedding to spend the night .

  14. @lantean – its a question of how they were treated overnite, no chairs, bedding, not enough water and fodd etc. Pretty shameful. No air france for me

  15. Great sense of humor Nick! Hope you’re feeling better next time you fly. When can we look forward to your next contribution to our daily fix?

    And your last paragraph? Ahem….well played Monsieur. 🙂

  16. Considering all the drama that has become of airline seats (See AA and their 787s being delayed) could it be AF saw problems with their seat selection and rather than delay their planes went ahead and got seats that were tried and true for manufacturing and could be delivered on time?

  17. I absolutely loved this trip report!!
    I had a great Air France experience in economy!! They gave us a menu. Seriously!! a menu in economy. while i do accept that the choices were not really more than what you would normally get on an international flight it was a nice touch. Good service in business should be the standard and not the exception. However, in economy I found the service to be ummmmazing. The purser and i engaged in a long conversation and he even pointed out several cities as we were dying past them and gave me accounts of his time in those cities. All with a smile!! One thing i have noticed is that airlines from a particular region generally have similar service standards. The middle-eastern airlines (with the exception of Kuwait Airways), the North American airlines or the Asian airlines. @Lucky I know this may be much to ask but please consider travelling on Jet Airways business class(international long-haul) and first class if you are able to. I find this airline has the best service as compared to even SQ!! Popcorn while watching a movie-check. Amazing seats-check. Turndown service in biz-check. pyjamas in J-check. Amazing staff-check.

  18. I had a chance to fly (and review) AF’s new BEST 777 J seat in June. The new seat is magnificent but service for me (both the to and return leg) was borderline garbage. Maybe it was my zero knowledge of French, maybe I just got unlucky with the crew, maybe they just got a huge paycut, who knows.

    Both legs were red-eyes though, so the lack of service wasn’t *that* bad since I slept most of the flight(s) away. Full write-up here: http://bit.ly/1CftzhO

  19. This is pretty much the dumbest review I have read in a while.
    Maybe you should seriously think about what you write and not complain about the person’s hair next to you.

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