Forget Food And Amenities, Business Class Is All About The Seat: Air France Trip Report, Paris – Dallas

There are only a couple of business class airline products that make the experience really special. Qatar Airways, which top notch service and food to go along with the business class suites, is the archetypal example. EVA Air out of Taipei is another because while their seats are good, they aren’t industry-leading. However the amenities – and world-class champagnes – help them rise above most competitors.

Generally speaking, though, business class is about the seat. You have more space, and an available bed, so you can be more comfortable and well-rested rather than beaten up by the time you reach your destination. None of the ‘above and beyond’ business class products are offered by U.S. or European airlines.

At that point, then, the gradations in service matter but I do think – once the product hits a certain level of quality – it becomes more (though not exclusively) about schedule and price. I’ll go out of my way for a business class product that’s an experience, choosing Qatar’s QSuites or EVA’s Royal Laurel class, even when it’s a bit less convenient. Otherwise though I’ll go for the available comfortable seat and deal with the imperfections.

  • That doesn’t mean it isn’t important for an airline to focus on quality and comfort. I don’t think Air Canada’s inflight meals are great, but having a great sit-down meal in their Signature Suite in Toronto or Vancouver lets me have the crew save my main meal until later in the flight, which is clutch on a late night long haul departure (both for maximizing sleep, and for getting enough to eat). Air Canada will save the meal, while I’ve had less luck even in American Airlines first class though the airline actually trademarked ‘Dine Upon Request’

  • When United Airlines launched their Polaris service, they offered a really indulgent product with good food and encouragement to try cocktails and flights of wine. They’ve suffered numerous cutbacks, and their service and catering are generally subpar. However their bedding remains outstanding. And that bedding makes a difference in rest on a long haul flight.

It’s this framing that I had in mind when I took my most recent Air France business class flight from Paris to Dallas – Fort Worth.

  • Air France KLM Flying Blue makes more business class award space available to members of their program than to partner programs.
  • While they add fuel surcharges to awards, the prices are still fairly reasonable for what you get when saver award space is available.
  • And with myriad flights between Paris and various U.S. destinations, I can usually find something when planning a bit in advance (and I need a connecting flight anyway since there are no non-stops from my home city of Austin to Paris).

Air France is rolling out a new business class, but for now it’s mostly their old product. The cabins are surprisingly barren. The 787 seat is noticeably more narrow than the seat on their 777s. The service is fine, and the food is good for business class at least compared to what’s offered by American, Delta, United, and British Airways.

In other words, Air France offers transportation across the Pond that I can spend my miles for to travel in reasonable comfort. That’s pretty much what I expect from most business class options.

Here’s the seat. It’s fully flat, with direct aisle access. There’s not a lot of storage space. It’s about what you’d expect.

Here’s the cabin, where’s the splash of color? Where’s the airline logo? Something to spruce it up? Barren.

The lavatory, naturally, is the lav. But prior to departure from Paris they haven’t even stood up straight the toiletries provided. There’s not a lot of attention to detail (in the cabin cleaning either) at their home base.

Here’s the amenity kit. I appreciate that there’s a pen, though as a U.S. citizen and using Global Entry I didn’t need it. Still, it feels like it’s missing comb; tissues; mouthwash; lip balm.

Here’s what Air France actually does well. Their catering. I’ve had meals on planes I’d have been equally happy with in a restaurant, but that’s in the occasional first class. For business class you want to not be hungry and for the food to be stuff you can eat. Air France matches that, and roughly speaking I find it to be a little bit better than transatlantic competitors.

I had a pre-departure orange juice, I’m not really sure why but I didn’t fancy anything else. It’s from concentrate and wasn’t very good.

Air France still distributes face masks, which is a nice touch for those who wish to partake.

They also have the best kids meals I’ve seen on a plane (my four year old eats whatever we eat, but it’s still a nice effort, which they auto-request and you can opt out of). They also distribute toys and coloring for the kids.

I had a Coca Cola (again, wasn’t really up for a cocktail on this departure just after 10 a.m.) to go along with packaged nuts – missed opportunity – and an amuse bouche.

The salmon starter was good, so was my shrimp entree and those were followed by a cheese course. I had the sorbet with a glass of port, though I’d have preferred a French dessert wine.

They presented dessert options, a trio of sorbets or of pastries.

The pre-arrival meal was tasty, though not nearly as good as the cod dish I still remember from prior to arrival in Houston last year.

Everything was fine. The flight arrived about an hour late, delayed mostly because of backed up security queues. It had taken 30 minutes from driving onto airport property to reach the curb so it was no surprise that the lines for passport control and screening were interminable – but that’s because Charles de Gaulle is a terrible departure airport, just like it’s a terrible connecting airport.

Still, I’ll happily pay about 60,000 miles for a reasonably available business class product when it’s available. Because business class is all about a decent seat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. How do you opt out of the kids meals? I didn’t see that in the app. We have a flight coming up.

  2. Agree and don’t understand the interest in eating most anything of the sort that would be served on a plane unless I’m starving . . . and a trans-Atlantic flight isn’t long enough to threaten that – I can almost always wait until I’m back on the ground to eat.

    The only airlines that I’ll regularly take food in Business Class are JAL and ANA, and if I’m hungry enough I can usually find something to eat on SQ’s Book the Cook.

  3. You missed the key marketing mistake behind Air France. France’s strongest national asset is its unchallenged culinary heritage. Differentiate your aluminum tube from everyone else by turning the gastronomic experience into an extollation of national culinary culture.

    Much cheaper than offering more seat space.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with Gary! We just flew UA from EWR to SFO on their 777 with the worst business class we’ve ever experienced!! Backward seats which we were able to switch – 4 yes 4 across with no space for anything let alone storage and our feet not to mention no dividers of any kind to separate 1 person from another. It wasn’t the equipment we saw when we booked the flight so we were stuck. To make matters infinitely worse, the flight was 4+ hours late!!

  5. Doing a quick scan on Vivino the reds and champagne seem to be a step up on the wines on my recent Polaris flight. The less said about Polaris food the better.

  6. Huge thumbs up to Mak. I’ve never understood some people’s affinity for consuming airline food, especially when flying domestically, but even on flights under eight hours. Are these people incapable of bringing their own food or actually going without eating for a few hours? Considering the weight issues this nation experiences, it would probably do most people some good.

  7. To me, most of the seats in TATL business class are the same, but the food, wine and service are much better on AF, and after them, BA (thanks to switching to Do&Co), than on the US carriers. Especially UA, which has a decent seat but horrible food. On top of that, though, UA is usually more expensive. Good for them, I suppose, but makes my decision easier.

  8. In April we flew Air France from JFK to ATH and IST to JFK home for 57,000 points each way – found via The CDG – JFK flights were fine and Gary’s comments were right on. If you’re leaving JFK you can have the meal in the lounge and the sleep on the plane. The primary issue we had was they changed the outgoing cdg >ath link from a 2 hour stopover to almost a 8 hour wait in the Paris Lounge. At that point there were no other good point options – so we were stuck. Additionally the transfer at cdg from the international arrivals terminal to the domestic terminal (and vis-versa) is ridiculously long and tiresome. I don’t know any way to improve that.

  9. Say Gary,
    I haven’t flown on AF in many years. It used to be in Biz that they would serve Poilane bread (in my not so humble opinion, the best bread in the world). Do they still serve it?

  10. Late April trip to my Wife’s homeland
    AF 777 JFK/CDG in J
    on return
    TAP 321lr LIS/EWR
    The TAP throne seats were superior to AF product. I was surprised and how much room and comfort I had. The food was definitely not up to par.

  11. To me business class is 90% about sleep. I’m generally traveling for work and making short turns. I want a comfortable bed, individual air vent, and decent bedding. Unless the flight is 12+ hours, I probably won’t eat the food and all I really want from the FAs is beverages and for them to be quiet.

  12. @ Gary — I love AF’s 777 J seats. Definitely one of the best ways to cross the Atlantic!

  13. Qantas: oldest English speaking airline in the world 1920, first airline to introduce business class and probably best business class in the world.
    Maybe you should give it a go. Remember, just because one airline doesn’t do this or that try the back an appreciate what you do get.

  14. On United’s Polaris brand, the seat width is only 1 1/2″ wider in bus. class than it is in econ. plus; verry disappointed on how little space you have around your seat; they jammed in too many seats in the bus. cabin of their 787’s ; it’s so narrow, you’re bumping your knees or elbows all the time, if you move while trying to sleep.

  15. Completely agree!!! I keep saying that McDonald’s is just as good as a fancy omakase sushi place, because it’s all about not feeling hungry, and I’m never hungry after a McDonalds!!!!

  16. I’m just like you Gary. For me, it is ALL ABOUT THE SEAT, more than price or schedule. Love Qatar Airways and would gladly go out of my way again for their Qsuite, outstanding service, and food. I was on my way to Thailand several years ago and had planned on flying EVA Air. Unfortunately, I fell for United’s marketing hype and decided to try out Polaris. it was a major disappointment. FAs greeted me like they couldn’t wait for the flight to be over with. Thank God for ANA. Getting off that United flight and boarding the ANA flight for the trip to Bangkok was a night and day experience! I am planning a trip to Asia next year and will likely fly EVA. My second choice would be ANA.

  17. Air France has one of the best service and food within skyteam but that doesn’t say much, does it?

    In 2017, I used to fly them monthly, JFK to CDG in J, mix of 380s and 777s so I got to know some of their mgrs /staff at jfk where I was told how delta was forcing them to change many rules especially around last minute upgrade offers.

    Their amenity kits used to be a lot better. I do though still enjoy their service and food as I never sleep on flights, so to me soft product is more important than a comfortable bed especially of a relatively short flight across the pond.

  18. I love Air France! I have flown them 4 times in the last year. I love that you can get good mileage redemptions and upgrades are always available. Since I fly out of LAX, I believe there are 4 flights a day which is nice. And I love the food on their flights. Even in coach, the food is better than most other airlines.

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