New Years in Paris: Air France Business, British Airways First, and the Park Hyatt Vendome: British Airways Club Europe Paris Orly – London and the Concorde Room

A trip report in five parts

  1. Air France A380 Business Class, Washington Dulles – Paris
  2. Park Hyatt Vendome
  3. Mostly Eating in Paris
  4. British Airways Paris Orly – London and the Concorde Room
  5. British Airways “New” First Class, London – Washington Dulles

The return trip was going to start at Paris Orly airport, that’s the ‘close-in’ and some would say convenient airport, which mostly services intra-Europe flying. Really, though, it’s a pit of an airport, old and without modern facilities. But since the goal is to get in and out, and not spend time there, it’s relatively compact. If you can time it so that you breeze through formalities and without much to do airside, it’s a perfectly convenient place.

I had checked in online, having learned from my outbound with Air France that I don’t like it when the roulette wheel gives me an agent that wants to weigh my carryon (and in that case, my carryon plus my laptop bag). But then I decided since I was connecting and would be carting around Heathrow that I might as well check my rollaboard anyway. So I proceeded to the British Airways checkin desks.

There really wasn’t a queue for the premium line, and the bag was tagged and sent off right away.

The agent directed me to the lounge which British Airways uses — it’s a contract lounge. Before security. On the other end of the terminal. Makes perfect sense! But I decided to check it out if only for a few minutes, to see what I’d otherwise be missing.

The answer? Not terribly much.

Having snapped a few photos, I went back downstairs into the terminal, and headed all the way back to the end of the terminal where I had just dropped my bags with British Airways. There I entered the line for immigration. It was quite long, but fortunately there was a premium cabin lane and only a few people ahead so I was quickly to the front where it funneled back into the regular immigration area.

Once past the exit formalities for France (I really do like that the U.S., like Canada and the U.K., does not have immigration on departure — my country may be one of the absolute worst on arrival, but they do make up for it a bit by not hassling folks when they leave, although I suppose TSA ‘Secure Flight’ approximates exit controls in a way), it was on to a much shorter security line.

There’s not a lot to do past security, so I decided to make my first stop the mens room. Only the mens room was ‘closed for repairs’. Mens room on the left, there were a couple of toilet rooms directly ahead, and ladies to the right. Whomever was in those toilet rooms directly in front of the entryway were taking their own sweet time. It’s one of the only times I’ve seen men lining up several deep to use the bathroom, while women zip in and out with ease. Finally order broke down and the toilet rooms in the ladies room closest to the entry way were spontaneously appropriated by men standing in line and one by one the pressure was off.

With that modest adventure behind me, I went to the gate area and used a few of the 15 minutes of free internet one is allotted at the airport and it was time to board. There was little rhyme or reason to the boarding process, just a general rushing of the gate area.

It’s good for me to fly intra-European business class every now and then. I realize I’m getting old (when did it become possible for me to start a sentence, “Well 30 years ago when I”…?). Occasionally I’ll wax curmudgeonly about the decline in US domestic first class. The food, certainly, used to be orders of magnitude better.

I remember how shocking it was when United started serving a gourmet cheeseburger at lunch up front a little over a decade ago (this was pre-9/11). To go from a steak at lunch. As a second course no less. To a cheeeeeezburger? But it was a pretty good, very tasty cheeseburger with quality toppings at least and well presented.

But even the quality of airline cheeseburgers managed to fall quite a bit.

    (Cheeseburger on American Airlines, summer 2010 — no almond-dusted shrimp appetizer served first, either)

But then I step onboard what counts as a premium cabin for flying inside Europe.

No extra legroom, mind you.

The meal service though, well, pretty darned good considering the flight is blocked at an hour and 20 minutes.

    (In Asia this would have been served in courses – the flight was, after all, over 45 minutes!)

Service was friendy and informal, hot towels, drinks refilled, and the lack of legroom was perfectly fine on such a short flight. But there’s little question I’d take domestic first class on the U.S. — even on US Airways or Alaska (I find Alaska’s seats less comfortable than United’s, American’s, and Delta’s) — over intra-European business class, despite the better food offerings in the latter.

Taxi at Heathrow was quick, we pulled up to terminal 5 and were off the plane quickly. It was a short walk to passport control and there was no line to speak of at Fast Track or regular passport control.

When you take the premium line for passport control for transfers at terminal 5 you stay in a roped off area that takes you up an escalator and into the premium transfer security line. The line was short, no more than 8-10 passengers ahead of me, but they all acted as though they had never been through security before and it felt like the process took half an hour when in reality it probably took no more than 15 minutes. Still, it amazes me how security at Heathrow always seems to take longer than most other places. And the security lines without Fast Track were much, much longer.

Nonetheless, I love transiting terminal 5. No buses between terminals, no walking interminable distances to reach those buses, and no need for the buses to drive what seems like halfway to your destination to get to that terminal. It’s a relative thing, of course, but while I would pick almost any airport over changing terminals at Heathrow, I’ll take Heathrow’s terminal 5 over Paris or Frankfurt (though not Munich or Vienna).

Once through security it was q turn to the right and into the Concorde Room.

My first stop was the Quintessentially desk to check on a cabana booking for my next BA first class flight. This time I was just coming off of a short flight from Paris. Next time it will be arriving at Heathrow off a long haul segment and I’ll want a shower.

I had made a cabana booking online via YouFirst, and it amazes me how frequently those reservations get mucked up. Indeed, I had made it into ‘the book’ of cabana reservations, which are written in by hand. The woman had said that it was called over only the day before, even though I had been told it was completed a week prior. And my reservation time was for the scheduled arrival time of my inbound flight.

The woman told me that since I would take a bit to make it from the flight into the Concorde Room, my booking would probably be given away by the time I turned up. She changed the reservation to reflect the time as when my flight would arrive, and not to give away the spot.

Next stop was the restroom, which while they’re nice enough just aren’t maintained as well as I would expect the airline’s flagship lounge restrooms to be.

    Trash on the floor.. Really?

I walked past the dining room, I ddn’t fancy a sit down meal and I find the food to be extremely mediocre in the Concorde Room in any case. (Though I would order — and regret, then not finish, a snack in just a bit.)

Past what was once the ‘champagne bar’ but now displays all sort of liquor..

And out onto the balcony area which looks out over the terminal and onto the tarmac.

I find the ‘outside’ space of the Concorde Room to be the most pleasant, largely because it’s the brightest and there’s usually plenty of space. Even though it’s farther from the core of the lounge, there’s usually good service with roaming staff members to take orders for food and drinks.

Here’s the snack menu:

Orders were placed for a salad, burger, and bloody mary.

While the fries were good I took a single bite of the burger and just didn’t enjoy it. The bloody mary was fine but nothing special, nothing like I get in American’s AAdmiral’s Club at Washington National Airport (when Marcos is there — he makes an amazing bloody mary).

After snacking I fired up the laptop to do some work, but the internet signal was too weak to connect. I walked inside to the desk where I had originally checked in, and found someone else complaining about the internet (so they couldn’t say it was just my device or user error – hah!). There were reports of signals coming and going, I was told “just keep trying and if you want me to call in the problem let me know.” I went back outside and managed to connect, but the internet remained excruciatingly slow.

My flight was delayed half an hour, which gave me plenty of time to compensate for the slow internet before heading down to the gate.

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. I find the burger at T5 really bad, I only ate the fries. Also T5 security can be a real pain, last 2 times they did take my carry on to the side and it took what felt 1 hour until they finally did check it. Just way understaffed, 1 person and she had at least 5 carry on’s to check before my turn with at least 2-5 minutes for each person. Barely made my connecting flight after landing from the US with more then 1 hour to spare.
    I just don’t get their double checking if you come from the TSA checks in the US but I guess they can’t easily separate you out.

  2. Thanks for the report Gary. You said “I would pick almost any airport over changing terminals at Heathrow, I’ll take Heathrow’s terminal 5 over Paris or Frankfurt (though not Munich or Vienna)” Since I have never been to Frankfurt so just curious to know why you lumped Frankfurt with Paris. Is it that bad? Anything specific that you might to elaborate on?

  3. I’ve never had success with the wifi at either the JFK or the LHR concorde room… My wife can’t stand the Concorde room because she hates having to order food and wait for it…


  4. Of LHR’s terminals for security, I find T5 to be absolutely the worst. T3 is variable. I’ve found T1 and T4 to be consistently good to excellent. Only once in the past 5 years or so (10 to 15 trips per year) have I had to wait more than 5 minutes and, indeed, it’s unusual for it to be that long.

    On intra-Europe business class, I’m conflicted. For a flight of the length of Orly to London, I’d happily swap the extra legroom, poorly designed seats and lack of catering of a US airline for what BA offers. But if we’re talking 3 hours, then it’s a different matter entirely.

  5. Gary, I agree with you in principle about Eurobusiness — although BA’s seats at least convert — but there actually is extra legroom. The convertible section of BA’s A320 family fleet have a 34 inch pitch, compared with 30-31 down the back.

  6. Love the BLT at the Concordia Room — love that they will get you almost anything you want — love the openess of it — love the cabanas — really worth the experience for me….

  7. Gary, France does not have immigration on departure. France is part of the Schengen zone (along with all EU countries except the UK and Ireland), which means that you don’t need travel documents at all to travel from one of the Schengen countries to another. It’s great. It does mean, however, that when you are leaving a Schengen country for a non Schengen country, they will check you out to see if there’s any flags in your Schengen wide record. It’s such a huge area that this is a tiny price to pay for paperless travel.

  8. Last time I (and my GF flying with me) had THAT burger in the CR, both of us hacked for six hours of the nine back to SFO that day. Never again.

  9. @caveman – you have to go to FRA to understand. The airport is a confusing mess of poor signage, long hallways and connections at different ends of the place with inevitable bus transfers to ramp positions due to it being cobbled together and serving so many destinations. Many find the security terrible and often curt/rude as well. Overall, I find it ok,and certainly no worse than LHR or CDG but I’ve been through many times and sort of know my way around.

  10. I take my burgers very seriously, and really appreciate the heads up on your recent experience. (Gary I emailed you a pic of the burger I had at the Heathrow Virgin Upper Class Lounge which I really enjoyed..fries were super hot too!)

  11. You eat bad food that is also the result of massive animal abuse.
    Shame, ignorance and bad habits

  12. Gary, when you made your booking for the cabana, you mention that you did it online. On the YouFirst page, I did not notice a link to book a cabana online? – I have had to call to book a cabana (and it is always handwritten in the book:))

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