Fashionably French longhaul luxury

Despite owning a prestigious reputation, Air France’s premium cabins had been, until recently, objectively mediocre. For an airline that once battled British Airways to first feature beds on board, it lagged behind its competitors only a few short years after installing them. While fully flat became the new norm, angled flats, which just aren’t up to snuff anymore, remained the default in Paris until late-2014. Since then however, the carrier has revitalized its fleet and also its business class offering. New planes, like the 787 I flew on, are highlighted by a brand new top-of-the-line reverse herringbone seat. It’s been a return to grace — there aren’t many better ways to cross the pond nowadays — and I couldn’t have been more pleased with this leg of the trip.

Visiting the Salon in Terminal 2E was an excellent introduction to higher flying on Air France, but the boarding process seriously detracted from the pleasant experiences earlier; it was a chaotic, disorganized mess through and through. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given Charles de Gaulle’s notorious penchant for misery, but this was a special level of awfulness… and a terrible first impression for what the airline markets as Europe’s premier business class.

air france business airplane boarding
What a mess this was!

Gate lice are universal, but surely there has to be a better way of managing them than how they do so in Paris. People hadn’t even started boarding when I first walked up, but it seemed like the entire plane was already waiting in line a 45 minutes before departure. Wading through a crowd of line-jumping miscreants is frustrating, sure, but unless you NEED to have access to the overhead bins, it’s not something worth getting too worked up about. Everyone gets on eventually, right? That’s what I tried to remind myself of as other passengers were pushing and shoving and muttering French insults in my direction.

air france business airplane before
Taken after a nice long look at the plane while waiting to board

My credentials were finally scanned 15 minutes later — “Yes, finally!” — but turning in to the jetway led to another long queue and a far greater problem. There apparently was a miscommunication of sorts between the flight and the ground crews, and the plane wasn’t ready for passengers at that moment. Everyone was instead asked to stand by on the unheated jetway, which, in the middle of February, isn’t an ideal place to wait around. At least the walls were made of glass, so there were plenty of cool (no pun intended) views to be had.

air france business airplane jetway engine
Pardon the reflections!
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Not the best conditions for photographs
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That’s a big engine!

Slowly but surely, the line started moving, and within another 15 minutes, I was on the plane, directed to the left, and making my way to seat 1A. From there on out, things got much, much better.

Air France 356
Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) – Toronto Pearson (YYZ)
Depart: 14:10 (14:43 actual)
Arrive: 16:45 (17:10 actual)
Duration: 8:27
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 1A

As exemplified by its fleet of Boeing 787s, Air France knows how to design a stylish cabin. It’s not a particularly flashy one, but as the adage goes, simplicity is beautiful. The bright whites and minimalist touches work well to create a premium-feeling space without being too over-the-top or too foo foo. Everything seems fresh and clean, and thanks to the 1-2-1 configuration, it’s also quite spacious.

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The first view after turning left; it’s nice and bright and inviting in here!
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From the front facing towards the back

Naysayers might argue that this looks too much like a hospital, and while those critiques might be legitimate at first glance, a closer inspection reveals colorful accents and interesting textures. The details at the ‘micro’ levels of the seat (so, like, the privacy shield covered in leather) add character and detail to the cabin that ultimately prevents the overall feel of it from becoming too sterile. The final result is luxurious and put-together, but in a more subdued manner.

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Approaching 1A
air france business hard seat side view
Approaching 1A
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1A, in its glory

The seat features the same minimalist design cues. The upholstery, a mostly cloth, sometimes pleather, material, is dark. Most everything else is white, silver/gray, or cream colored. The chair is a nice contrast (with the stitched red logo to boot), and more importantly, it does a better job of hiding stains from past flights. They say ignorance is bliss, and I’m always perfectly content not knowing what accidents have happened prior to my boarding.

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The seat, with some goodies awaiting

The usual suspects — so a pillow, blanket, and an amenity kit, plus a hanger for “jacket service” — had already been placed on the chair.

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For “jacket service”

The amiable flight attendant responsible for my aisle, Jerome, quickly appeared to introduce himself, take my coat, and offer a predeparture beverage. “A glass of sparkling wine would be great, please” I said, while stashing the amenities away in the foot cubby for later use. “Please,” responded Jerome with a wink, “we ONLY do champagne — Laurent Perrier — on Air France!” “Well alrighty then.”

air france business soft bedding
Away you go!
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The seat, now with more space to sit down!
air france business view waiting to go
Ah, nice to finally be settling in (but note the line of passengers still waiting on the freezing jetway)

As is the case on other airlines, Air France’s reverse herringbone makes for an excellent hard product. There’s plenty of privacy to begin with, and even more so in the bulkhead. If you look around, you’ll see nothing but some closets and a crew lavatory (that’s hidden behind a curtain while in flight). It’s a perfect set up for solo travelers. If you’re with someone, however, you’ll want to avoid sitting here… unless you enjoy aggressively craning your neck to chat with your mate. Try one of the middle pairs instead, which are closer together and have a removable privacy partition.

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The view from the bulkhead. The curtain is closed while in flight, blocking the view ahead (and increasing your privacy)

The first row of a premium cabin typically has extra storage space (where the next seat would be, specifically), and this 787 is no exception. While there’s only so much that can actually be kept here on a shelf, it’s at least nice to have the added convenience.

air france business hard seat shelf
Some space that’s not available elsewhere

The bones of the seat (based on the Zodiac Aerospace Cirrus, in case you’re wondering) are comparatively ordinary. Aside from different colored upholstery, Air France’s model is practically identical to those on installed its competitors’ (American and Cathay Pacific, mostly) planes. That said, this is an extraordinary design, especially when it comes to personal space. The foot cubby is wide and long, and if you don’t mind the firm cushions, it’s quite easy to get comfortable in any position.

air france business hard seat ottoman
Such a long ottoman!
air france business hard seat ottoman spacious
Even with my feet stretched out (I’m 6’3), there’s an additional eight inches at least!

The in flight entertainment is positioned above, as is a small coat hook. Both are mounted to the forward console.

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The in flight entertainment “directly” ahead
air france business hard seat coat knob
But could you actually fit a hanger here? #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmm

By default, the monitor is angled parallel to the seat ahead (or, in a few cases, where a seat would be), but it releases with the push of a button to swing out and face the viewer/passenger. Unlike on some airlines, you can use the system from gate to gate, and you don’t have to stow it during taxi, takeoff, and landing.

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The monitor in use
air france business hard seat entertainment system facing downward
The monitor pivots downwards too if you want to watch while reclined/in “bed”

The screen looks huge when it’s released, and indeed, it’s 16 inches diagonally and about two-and-a-half feet (or so) away from your face. Thankfully it’s high definition — so no overly grainy pictures — and equipped with a touchscreen. There’s also a remote located on the side console opposite, which can be released and used as a handheld device instead.

air france business hard seat side console storage
The entertainment remote

There’s a decently sized storage area located near the remote. Like some of the other cabin accents, it’s painted bright red, although I haven’t decided if I like that or not. On one hand, who doesn’t like a splash of color (that’s consistent with the decor/branding), but on the other, the red might be a little bit too “passionate”… Then again, this will likely be closed up for 99 percent of the flight, so who really cares? Anyway, headphones that are permanently wired in to the system hang on a hook, and a small bottle of Evian water awaits passengers.

air france business hard seat side console storage nook
Inside the storage cupboard

To give you a sense of size, you can’t keep a laptop in here — in fact, there aren’t many places at the seat where you can — but smaller items/devices fit without a hitch. Additionally, there’s an elastic net of sorts built in to the door underneath a vanity mirror. It’s big enough for important belongings, like a passport or a wallet (or both), but not much else.

air france business hard seat side console storage nook panel
Beware, it’s remarkably easy to forget that you stowed something here, especially after a long flight!

Should you need some light when the cabin is dark, most everything is easily illuminated thanks to a combination of standard overhead LEDs and a tiny-yet-bright adjustable “lamp” built in to the privacy partition right next to the console.

air france business hard seat led lamp
air france business hard seat led lamp on
…and bright!

An adjacent counter stretches from the base of the console to the wall. The tray table is right underneath the surface of that, and the seat controls are right on top. There’s space to keep a computer here in flight (although actually using it might be a challenge), and also a small circular cutout for drinkware.

air france business hard seat side console table

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The tray table folds out from underneath
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The relatively simple seat controls, plus the switch for the overhead reading lights

Near the wall of the plane and next to the foot cubby is a cutout from the console. Here lies a power panel with a 110 volt international outlet, a USB port, and a literature pocket.

air france business hard seat power and literature nook
This photo taken adjacent to the foot cubby and underneath the tray table
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Available power plugs
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A close up of the packed literature rack

The benefits of such a design choice are twofold. For one, you don’t have to reach very far to plug something in — some other models make you go hunting in the deepest nooks and crannies of the seat to find a jack for your iPhone charger — and you can store your devices directly on the counter above. Talk about convenience! The second advantage particularly favors side sleepers, as the cutout allows for additional room to bend your knees. Combine that with an already wide and deep foot cubby, and there’s ample space to spread out when it comes time to rest. Unfortunately, it’s not all perfect: there are no individual air vents, so you may find yourself getting a little bit too hot.

air france business hard ceiling panel
Ugh, nothing but more lights and a seatbelt sign up here

There’s also no permanent armrest on the outer side of the seat. A spring-loaded one can be released from below, although it must be retracted and stowed during taxi, takeoff, and landing. It’s a shame that it can’t be left up all the time, as it’s supportive and well-appointed (it’s leather…I think), and adds privacy when the seat is in bed mode. Oh well…

air france business hard seat armrest
Nice armrest, not so nice implementation

These complaints are just small gripes though, and the overall quality of the hard product otherwise remains high. Kudos to Air France for markedly improving its hard product; what a difference this is compared to the old offering. After the rude introductions in the gate area and then on the jetway, my mood was improving even before I settled down in my seat. With warm introductions from the flight attendants and the purser, plus aforementioned “jacket service,” it’s easy to be feeling pretty good  early on. Two rounds of predeparture champagne doesn’t hurt either!

air france business soft dining predeparture champagne
A second glass of bubbly

Unfortunately, because of residual delays from the boarding snafus, it wasn’t until around 14:25 — 15 minutes after scheduled departure time — that we actually pushed back and began taxiing. That’s okay, as it was nice to relax in the not-too-cushy chair (the padding is rather firm, actually, so it was supportive of my aching back), sip some bubbly, and catch my breath.

air france business view taxiing 1
Pushing back next to a 77W
air france business view taxiing 2
Ta ta, terminal 2E!

Oh, and taxi we did! Paris Charles de Gaulle is one of the largest airports by land area, and correspondingly, it took forever (well, 18 minutes) to get airborne (at 14:43). In the meantime, the captain came over the public address system and told us not to worry about getting in to Toronto too late — “we’ll likely make up time in the air” — although that later proved to be wishful thinking (we landed nearly half an hour later than expected). The safety song and dance performance video was screened, which was, uh, “enthusiastic” to say the least…

air france business soft safety video Oh my… ALSO those aren’t the faces I’d be making in the event of cabin depressurization (click the image to see the full video on Youtube)

…and we passed an assortment of airliners…

air france business view taxiing 3 heavy
Air France’s heavies
air france business view taxiing 4 air mauritius
Air Mauritius’s new A350
air france business view taxiing 5 infamous a380
An A380 alone for some maintance (disappointed that it’s not that A380)

…all before reaching the active runway.

air france business view taxiing 6
Time to go!

Our takeoff roll was long and slow — the plane was unnervingly lethargic on the initial ascent, actually — but then the pilots increased power after passing 10,000 feet and things became more normal. An Emirates A380 was taking off on a parallel runway, so we “raced” until turning our separate ways.

air france business view takeoff race
The race with Emirates is on!

The winter afternoon lighting combined with dramatic cloud formations made for dramatically gorgeous views.

air france business view takeoff paris
Downtown Paris shrouded in clouds; you can see the Eiffel Tower if you look hard enough in the center left portion of the image
air france business view cloud bank
#NoFilter, rather incredibly

I had plenty of time to gaze out the windows and appreciate the sights; there was a lot of chop and the seatbelt sign remained on an hour (!!!) after takeoff. It wasn’t until about 20 minutes after that when the flight crew began distributing menus. This delay — although by no fault of the flight attendants — was foreshadowing for what was going to be a traditional French lunch: long and drawn out.

You can alternatively opt for the express service, which consists of everything except the entree and amuse bouche, all presented on a single tray… But what’s the fun of rushing through the culinary experience on a longhaul daytime flight? What else would you do in that time instead? Besides, if the menu is to be trusted, there is no shortage of quality in Air France’s business class dining. There were plenty of delicious-sounding food and beverage choices, all intended to pair well together and complement the other selections.

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The business class menu
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Page 1 of the menu, showing beverages.  Click the image to enlarge.
air france business soft menu beverage 1
There’s a separate booklet for the wine list, because Air France is bougie like that.  Click the image to enlarge.
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Page 2 of the bougie wine list.  Click the image to enlarge.
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Page 3 of the menu, showing lunch.  Click the image to enlarge.
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Page 4 of the menu, showing post-lunch delectables.  Click the image to enlarge.
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Page 5 of the menu, showing the prearrival snack.  Click the image to enlarge.

No, this may not be the most extensive business class menu in the world, but it’s certainly respectable. The (excellent) French wines add some flair, which I appreciate, and it’s cool that you can request specific meals prior to boarding. This service isn’t like Singapore’s “Book the Cook” by any means, but if you have dietary restrictions or a hankering for something particular, you’ll have the opportunity to note them/that. Beyond basic alternatives however, like kosher or vegan or low-sodium dishes, there didn’t seem to be any more “advanced” offered on the website… but perhaps I just wasn’t looking hard enough. Similarly, the “refreshments” printed on the menu weren’t, in reality, any different than other items. It’s not like there’s a self-serve bar you can visit and socialize at while stretching your legs mid-flight. As is the case with the preordered entrees though, something is better than nothing.

air france business soft dining mixed nuts and champagne
Introductory beverage service

Jerome had remembered my predeparture beverage selection — Laurent Perrier champagne — and came back with a glass of that and a box of cashews, roughly 90 minutes in to the flight. That’s also when he took my order, and after telling him, “All of it looks good, but I think the ravioli would be best,” his eyes grew wide and explained “NON, you can eat ravioli all the time on Earth but you cannot have fish like this anywhere else!”

“So you think the cod is better?”

Oui! You must have that!”

And with that, the decision had been made. For anyone who might take Jerome’s behavior to be an affront: don’t. Everything was said with a smile, and it was a fun, non-confrontational interaction. I don’t think insisting on ravioli would’ve caused too much trouble…but who knows? Anyway, he continued on to the next passengers in line, and then returned moments later with a hot towel and the promise of more food coming soon.

air france business hard soft towel service
Towel service

Sure enough Jerome reappeared within a minute to set the tray table, and then deliver an amuse bouche: shrimp with butternut squash puree.

air france business soft dining amuse bouche
Not the most dramatic, but definitely delicious

It paired perfectly with the champagne, and as soon as I had finished savoring them both, Jerome brought a tray of appetizers. He also suggested that I switch to white wine for the rest of the meal; the chablis specifically (Chablis La Pierrelee 2013), which would nicely complement the fish and the other small plates. The timing and suggestion couldn’t have been more perfect. Both were most excellent.

air france business soft dining appetizer
The appetizer tray

The highlight of the appetizers had to have been the duck foie gras combined with the smoked salmon, tarragon sauce, lime, and “blini.” The flavors were fully developed and varied — sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami were all accounted for — and present in every bite. The caterers did an excellent job.

air france business soft dining salmon and foie gras

Next up came the salad, which, while simple, was quite delicious. The lettuce was fresh (or rather as fresh as lettuce can be at 38,000 feet) and the pine nuts added some more crunch and flavor. There was a small bottle of balsamic vinaigrette, and because I’m a sucker for simple dressings like that, the greens were all the better.

air france business soft dining salad
Not very interesting looking, definitely very tasty

Lastly there was a roll and two cheeses, with a dried apricot added for a bit of sweetness. The roll was served warm, which is always a nice touch, and the cheeses weren’t too cold either (there’s nothing worse than rock solid, frozen airplane cheese). These were all good, but also the least memorable parts of the meal.

air france business soft dining cheese and bread
A roll and cheeses and apricots…and the bottle of salad dressing!

In all honesty, the appeal of the express dining option was becoming increasingly evident by this point in the flight. It was already two hours in to the flight, and that foie gras was very, very rich. I was a good level of full and still, as Jerome put it when he came to collect the dirty dishes, “The pièce de résistance is yet to grace the tray table!” Rather regrettably, it would be another thirty minutes before the fish appeared. Then when it finally did, it was underwhelming.

air france business soft dining cod entree

Where to begin describing this? Well, for starters, the presentation is not great. Does anyone want a garnish that could easily be confused for algae? Both sauces — the one that the fish was swimming in and the opaque one in the small container — had potential to be good otherwise, but they ultimately missed the mark. Who wouldn’t like a “basil and lemon sauce leek mimosa in a vinaigrette?” That seems like a winning combo, but in the reality, the ingredients, including an impressive collection of spices, were all diluted by copious amounts of water. Did the cooks take the cod straight from the ocean? It sure tasted like it. The overwhelming amounts of salt and the bones in the filet helped convince me of that too, as did the seaweed cylinders (pictured in the top left portion of the bowl). Those had no flavor and were genuinely impossible to chew. The second roll and helping of cheese was the high point of this part of the meal. Sorry, Jerome, I shoulda stuck with my gut and ordered the ravioli…

air france business soft dining push away

Despite that review, I ate everything — I hate letting food go to waste — and started to wait for dessert. While Jerome was making his rounds through the cabin, he noticed me taking pictures of *everything*.  “Is this your first time in business class?” he asked.

“Yes!” I lied, “this is such a fun experience for me!” (although that last bit wasn’t a lie).

“Well I will work even harder to make sure that this is even more perfect for you!”

“Aw, well thank yo-” I started to reply, but Jerome interrupted, grabbing my phone (but in a nice way) and snapping a picture of me. It was charming and thoughtful to say the least, although I’ll spare y’all the photo. Nobody looks good after flying 8,000 miles in 36 hours, and by this point, I just wanted to get to the final “plate” and then go to sleep.

air france business soft dining dessert plate
Here comes the final course!

The desserts were comparable to the appetizers in the sense that they well thought out and consisted of a number of tasty choices. Despite a cosmetic variety between the small dishes, there was a unique sense of consistency among them all, with a lot of fruit flavors (lemon, cherry, mango) and pastries (cheesecake, macaron, and the “chocolate bite”). Even the two outliers of the bunch, the rich “chocolate bite” and the palette-cleansing mango sorbet, fit right in.

air france business soft dining sweet bites
Decadent desserts, but thankfully not too filling (because of the small portion size)
air france business soft dining sorbet
The perfect conclusion to the meal

While nothing can compare to the presentation of the entree, Air France could also probably do a better job with the coffee. Nobody even attempted to gussy up the mug; I was served a cup of hot water, packets of espresso powder, cream, and sugar, and a spoon to stir it all up. That wasn’t a good look to begin with, and it was made much worse after we hit some chop and “freshly” mixed coffee spilled all over the sides. The taste, however, was okay, as was the dark chocolate on the side. Then again, you eat with your eyes…right?

air france business soft dining dessert coffee mess
Not the best look, but also not the fault of anyone (except Mother Nature, of course)

We had been flying for more than three hours when the lunch service finally concluded, and it seemed to drag on for even longer. That would have been unacceptably slow if this flight were a redeye, but for a daytime trip, it was actually sort of enjoyable. There was plenty of time to savor the flavors and enjoy the French dining experience, unlike on the outbound United leg. In between each course, I had plenty of time to peruse the in flight entertainment.

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The main screen

The system is good when it comes to responsiveness (there was some, but not much, lag) and screen quality (it was definitely high definition), but only above-average in terms of its content. There are a few dozen movies, including some new American releases and more obscure French flicks, but it’s not the sort of collection where you’ll leave thinking “this is a game changer!” like you might after flying on Emirates. A similar assessment — not bad, but not great — generally applies to the television and audio selections too, but there are some notable exceptions to the generic-ness: programs produced in francophone countries like Algeria, Cameroon, and Canada. They’re neat additions, because they highlight cultures that are inherently different but also united by a universal language, but I can’t comment definitively. I instead opted to watch something far more mindless during the meal service: “300 of the greatest goals!”

air france business entertainment movie selection
A small sampling of the movies on demand

air france business entertainment tv selection

A few television shows are highlighted too

Air France provides generic noise cancelling headphones that are “built in,” meaning that they’re wired directly in to the system, and can be found hanging on a hook on the inside of the console.

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“Built in” noise cancelling headphones

These headphones are just above average quality, and for compilations of soccer highlights or North African soap operas, they more than suffice. If it’s supreme audio fidelity that you’re after though, definitely bring your own equipment. It’s easy enough to plug in your own cans; there’s a single jack right underneath the remote that thankfully doesn’t require any finicky adapters.

air france business hard seat headphone jack
A single jack for your own personal listening!

For the “armchair shoppers,” you can peruse a digital duty free selection, although the appeal of this seems to be a bit limited. Most of the (*expensive*) stock on display isn’t actually loaded on board, so when you order something, you’ll likely have to wait three weeks or so for its delivery. What’s the point of that when you can just go to Amazon and get something similar for far cheaper and in much less time? To cap off these shortcomings, the generally snappy IFE system gets hit with stutters and lag when browsing the catalog. Unless you’re very curious, you shouldn’t waste your time here.

air france business entertainment duty free shopping
Get some overpriced cologne here, as well as some other things you never knew you needed!

It’s honestly hard to feel underwhelmed by Air France’s take on the digital Home Shopping Network — would you actually expect something extraordinary here? — but a faulty moving map is a much bigger let down. When I went to check on the progress of the flight…

air france business entertainment moving map
“Server is unavailable. Trying to re-connect.”

…there was absolutely nothing in return beyond a blank error screen. It seemed that some of my neighbors were having this same problem, and when I mentioned these technical difficulties to Jerome, he gave a forlorn look, paused for a while, and then finally said, “Oui, I suppose we cannot be perfect all of the time.” Indeed, such a comment also applies to the onboard wifi… or lack thereof. While Air France has been outfitting its planes with satellite internet, the model on this particular aircraft was defective. Perhaps that’s also why the map couldn’t ever connect to the server.

Disappointed but not disheartened — I was planning to go to sleep anyway after the meal service concluded — I fetched the stylish-looking amenity kit from the foot cubby and rummaged through its contents, searching for things to freshen up with in advance of my nap.

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The amenity kit and some slippers

Air France stuffs a rather significant amount of quality toiletries in the small-ish bag. There’s the standard fare, like soft eyeshades, earplugs, and cream, in addition to a full sized dental kit, some wet towels, lip balm, a comb, and a shoehorn. There’s also a pair of slippers, which always makes for a nice treat.

air france business soft amentity kit open
Lots here to help you get comfortable

Toothbrush in hand, I went to the lavatory in the front of the cabin to brush up (and to take pictures for the blog, of course!). Jerome was sitting in a jump seat in the galley, and as he saw me entering the bathroom, he asked, “Will you be going to sleep soon?” I nodded, and he immediately jumped up enthusiastically, “When you return to the seat, it will be a cocoon for your comfort!” he explained. Then, as I stepped inside, he locked the door behind me. I thought flight attendants only did that in first class; thanks, Jerome!

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The toilet
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The counter top and sink
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It’s hard to tell, but this photo of the door, the sink, and the mirror was taken through another full length mirror

For an airplane bathroom in a premium cabin, Air France hits above the industry standard. In addition to being up to date on all the current trends, like mood lighting…

air france business hard bathroom mood lighting
The blue lighting creates a cool vibe…but is it really necessary for the lavatory?

…and more practical features like a touch-less flusher and faucet…

air france business hard bathroom flush
This is so much more hygienic than some grotty old button!
air france business hard bathroom automatic faucet
Nice, although you do have to press the buttons to change the temperature

…there’s also Clarins-branded mouthwash and “Vitality Freshness Firmness.”

air france business hard bathroom toiletries
Cups to the left, mouthwash in the middle, and ??? to the right

…and should you need them, cotton swabs.

air france business hard bathroom cotton supply

Jerome met me where he left me, right at the door to the lavatory, and walked me back to my seat. I don’t know if a cocoon per se awaited me, but it definitely was cozy-looking.

air france business soft bed service
Intimately private…
air france business soft bed service long view
…but still plenty long!

In addition to fluffing up a pillow and laying down a comforter, Jerome placed a new water bottle on the counter, plugged a Lightning cable in to the USB port so I could charge my iPhone, and dimmed the windows (because 787s obviously are not equipped with shades).

air france business view dark tint
Not entirely dark but not a problem either

After crawling under the covers, as relaxing as it was, I couldn’t help but think that United has far better bedding. Don’t get me wrong, the reverse herringbones on Air France are far superior to B/E Diamond seats and Jerome’s turn down service was impeccable, but there’s only one pillow and one blanket available. While they’re more than serviceable, they simply can’t compete with what Polaris offers: multiple sheets, multiple pillows, a mattress pad, and even pajamas on select routes…among other things. Once United gets around to retrofitting its fleet entirely, it should be able to blow Air France out of the water in this regard. However, we’re still far from reaching that point.

air france business soft in bed
It was still very, very nice to stretch out here

While the previous paragraph may suggest otherwise, Air France has comfortable business class beds on board its 787s (and its 777-300ERs and other select aircraft). After lounging around for about five minutes, I soon fell fast asleep and didn’t wake up until we were about an hour out — four-and-a-half hours later — over northern Canada. The views from the plane were pretty incredible here!

air france business view tinted windows
Were we flying underwater or is this just how the sky looked (through an electronically dimmed window)?
air france business view in blue
Flying blue! 😉

A few minutes passed by, and then Jerome appeared to take orders for a small prearrival meal. Before I could even open my mouth, he explained that, “it would be best if you try everything we have on offer. You seem like the fancy guy to do that!” How can you say no to an offer like that? And so it was decided: it’d be a little bit of everything.

The quality of these snacks were thankfully akin to that of the appetizers, which is to say that they were really good, and they were plated relatively quickly. It wasn’t like the past entree, which took forever to come and disappointed on arrival.

air france business dining arrival tray
An appealing tray of finger foods

While no one serving was much bigger than something you might get as a free sample at Costco (the panna cotta in the top left is an exception), everything was rich and filling and satisfying. I started with the three savory bites: a bagel with salmon; mozzarella and tomato with basil; and focaccia with pastrami.

air france business dining arrival bites
From left to right: a bagel with salmon; mozzarella and tomato with basil; and focaccia with pastrami

Even though we were nearing the end of a longhaul flight, the salmon, tomatoes, and pesto sauce amazingly tasted fresh. The focaccia was served warm, which is easy enough to pull off from the preparation standpoint (just turn on the oven for a bit), but it makes all the difference in enhancing the perceived quality of the dish. Desserts were also just as appetizing, with nougat cake and a chocolate choux pastry.

air france business dining arrival sweets
The choux is in the back, the nougat cake in the front

The chocolate pastry was pretty decent — it definitely seemed like it came straight from the fridge — but the cake was sinfully decadent. Apricot and passionfruit proved to be excellent complements to the nougat flavor. Part of me wishes that these serving sizes were bigger, but then again, there seem to be enough calories on the tray as is. The palette-cleansing panna cotta isn’t a much healthier option either.

air france business dining arrival yogurt
Sweet and creamy and made even better by the “red berry”

But nutritious or not, I ate everything shown above enthusiastically, and then watched our descent in to snowy Toronto. There were only 30 minutes yet to go, so beyond listening to a few songs, there wasn’t too much that I could’ve gotten into for entertainment (although “300 of the greatest goals! Part II” was definitely tempting).

air france business view descent 1
A nice day above the clouds…

When people ask me why I like flying so much, sometimes I’ll joke and say that no matter the weather down below, it’s always a beautiful day up above. This was exemplified in our descent, because once we passed through the last layer of clouds…

air france business view descent 2
Nothing like landing in a blizzard!

…we were in really crappy conditions.

air france business view landing

At least the final approach and the subsequent landing were as smooth as could be; no complaints here!

air france business view landing taxiing 1
It was so gross out, but hey, a WestJet 767!

The interesting ground traffic also made up for otherwise unappealing weather.

air france business view landing taxiing 3
Taxiing past a newly painted Air Canada A330; any opinions on the new livery?
air france business view landing taxiing 2
Approaching our terminal, with an El Al 777, a KLM 747, and an Air Lingus A330
air france business view landing taxiing 4
Pulling in next to that Aer Lingus A330

Unlike in Paris, there weren’t any technical difficulties at the gate. While smooth ground logistics are by no means a defining feature of a product, it’s nice when they work, and after the horrendous boarding process in Paris, it’s all the more appreciated. Jerome came by to return coats in the meantime — thus concluding the “jacket service” — and then bid passengers farewell. When he reached my seat, he said, “It has been a most excellent pleasure and honor of mine to serve you, Mr. Colins!”

“And the pleasure has been all mine, Jerome. Thanks for such a great flight!”

“So this means you’ll be flying Air France many more times in business class?”


“Well, I’ll see you again soon then!”

And I can’t wait for when I do.

air france business airplane after
Bye for now, Air France!

No airline or product is perfect, but you have to give credit where credit is due: Air France has one of the best longhaul business classes in the transatlantic market. The reverse herringbone seats are among the best, and the soft product, bearing some exceptions (i.e. that entree and the bedding), is quite good too. Of course, the perfect complement to the delicious meals is top-notch service, and Air France delivers again in this regard. While Jerome is certainly one-of-a-kind, I’m confident that his colleagues are equally charismatic and fun without being too rude or overbearing…although I’ll just have to fly again to find out! If you have to go between Europe and North America, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better, more complete offering than Air France’s. If there’s award availability, which can be a big “if” at times, this is one of the better ways to fly higher across the pond.

The good, the bad, the ugly of Air France Business Class

  • The Good
    • The reverse herringbone seats in Air France’s business class cabin have both form AND function. From the upholstery to the accent pieces and trim lines, everything is high style but not nouveau riche. It’s stunning, actually, and oh-so-comfortable too.
    • Jerome was such a fun flight attendant. He went above and beyond to make me, and all the other passengers, feel welcome. His enthusiasm was infectious, and everyone disembarked so happily.
    • The investments made in Air France’s premium offering are evident — perfect conditions for any discerning higher flyer — all the way down to the excellent wine list…
  • The Bad
    • …Which is unfortunately paired with a not-great entree. That’s not to say that my fish dish was truly horrendous, but with everything else being so excellent, this watered-down water creature was underwhelming.
    • There’s more to a higher flyer product than just the first impression, but by God could Air France stand to gain a lot if it refined its boarding process.
  • The Ugly
    • There’s no better form of in flight entertainment than a moving map. It’s always a let down when that system is out of commission.
    • Hopefully you’re not in a rush to eat. Hopefully you like eating lunch at a French pace. If you don’t, well, you’re gonna be in trouble…

“A Weekend to Europe” Trip Report

Have you flown Air France Business Class? What are your thoughts?