Review: Air France Business Class 777-300ER (CDG-JFK)

Image courtesy of Vince Boyer

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Air France would appear to start its international boarding process earlier than most airlines I’ve flown because, when I got to the gate with a little over an hour to go before departure, I was faced with a sea of travelers ahead of me and boarding had already started.

There were between 30 and 40 people ahead of me in the priority boarding line so any thoughts of being one of the first to board (to get good pictures of the cabin interior) quickly disappeared – I just waited to see how slowly the line would move.

In fairness to Air France the gate agents did a great job of keeping the line moving and I was on board a lot sooner than I had expected when I first saw how many passengers were ahead of me – this was the second time in a day that Air France gate agents impressed.

Air France has refurbished most of its 777-300ER fleet with a new Business Class cabin that offers 4-across seating and aisle access from all seats.

air-france-777-business-class-1-4Air France 777-300ER Business Class Seat Map – courtesy of SeatGuru

The reverse herringbone layout is one of my favorite Business Class configurations so it’s unsurprising that my first impressions of the Business Class cabin were very positive.

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The cabin colors were modern, classy and clean and the overall minimalist feel to the cabin is really something I liked. I’ll take a cabin like this anytime over the often more gaudy cabins on Middle Eastern airlines.

I had booked myself in to seat 12L on the right side of the plane.  Row 12 seemed like a good balance between being close enough to the doors to be able to make a speedy exit once we landed in New York while still maintaining sufficient distance from lavatories and galleys (the noisiest areas on any aircraft).

The cabin crew had placed a blanket, slippers, socks, headphone covers and a hanger on each seat prior to boarding…..

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….and I couldn’t have been in my seat more than a minute before one of the flight attendants came to take my coat.

The Air France Business Class seat on the 777-300ER is very similar to the reverse herringbone seats on the Cathay Pacific and Finnair A350 aircraft….its mostly the storage areas and seat controls that are different.

The seat itself was very comfortable and there is a definite feeling of space around it.

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The TV screen is stowed at an angle to the seat so, unlike on American Airlines, if the crew ask for screens to be stowed for take-off and landing you can still carry on watching your show if it hasn’t finished.

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The foot rest under the TV forms part of the bed when the seat is in the fully flat position and offers a small storage area under it (although you’re not meant to store anything there during take off and landing).

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The window seats in row 12 have two full windows…although when you’re sat back in the seat you don’t quite get the benefit of both:

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The main storage areas around the seat are a small compartment just below knee height (when seated) under the windows and a mini-cupboard at window level:

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The window level compartment is one that you’ll find on most (possibly all) reverse herringbone Business Class products but this one seemed deeper than others I’ve come across.

This compartment is where the noise-cancelling headphones are stowed and where you’ll find the headphone socket for the main audio system.

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It’s also tall enough to comfortably store an 11″ MacBook Air.

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The table area just ahead of this storage compartment is a good size…..

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…and it’s where the seat controls are to be found.

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This was the one area where the seat could be a little bit annoying because, when looking out the windows or when going to get something out of the window-level storage compartment, it was very easy to accidentally press one of the seat controls. A small an unimportant issue but it got a little annoying the 4th or 5th time it happened.

The seat’s tray table is stowed in the area by the window and slides out to offer a half-table….

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…or full table depending on what you need.

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The universal power socket and USB socket is by the storage compartment at knee-level under the windows:

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At first I thought this was going to be irritating as, once you’re seated and with the tray table out, the sockets aren’t easily accessible….. but it turns out that this is actually pretty well designed.

All you have to do is plug your cables in at the beginning of the flight and leave them there for the duration. The cables remain out of your way and are less likely to be accidentally knocked out of the sockets during the flight.

Anyway….

About 10 minutes after most of the Business Class passengers had taken their seats the flight attendants came around with amenity kits:

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Not too much to get excited about in this amenity kit although its worth pointing out that the moisturising cream is by Clarins….as are the toiletries in the Business Class lavatories:

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No sooner had the flight attendants finished handing out the amenity kits and they were back in the cabin offering a choice of water, orange juice or champagne as pre-departure refreshments.

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That wasn’t the end of their in-cabin duties either as, 5 minutes later, hot towels were brought around.

The flight pushed back 5 minutes late (19:15) and, 15 minutes later we were in the air and on the way to New York.

As soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off the flight attendants were back in the cabin handing out menus and bottled water that was as French as it could possibly be 🙂

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Diner Menu (click to enlarge)

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Champagne and Wines (click to enlarge)

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Other Drinks (click to enlarge)

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Around 30 minutes after take off the flight attendants took dinner orders and, 15 minutes later, more champagne was offered with the cauliflower cream sauce, shrimp and tomato pesto mise en bouche:

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The mise en bouche was delicious, the Laurent Perrier champagne went down very easily indeed (possibly too easily!) and the flight attendants were consistently friendly, smiling and just plain old pleasant.

The main meal was served around half an hour after the mise en bouche (around 75 minutes after take off) and my choice was probably the most un-politically correct meal I’ve ever seen on an airline (and I’m not saying that as a criticism).

For my appetizer I had the fois gras terrine, apple apricot chutney, fillet of salmon, wakame salad and yellow sun-dried tomato:

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Aside from the wakame salad (which I didn’t like) the appetizer was excellent – full of flavor and texture and the accompanying walnut bread and real French butter were fantastic.

For my main course I chose the sautéed veal with maniguette pepper and organic corn penne pasta:

air-france-777-business-class-31Air France Business Class 777-300ER

The veal was very tasty and tender but the pasta was mediocre at best.

For dessert I ordered the mini mirabelle plum clafouti, praline cream puff with almonds and peaches with berry coulis:

air-france-777-business-class-32Air France Business Class 777-300ER

Unsurprisingly, this is a French airline after all, the desserts were great – not soggy, not too sweet and not chilled to death as some airlines seem to like to serve desserts.

Dinner was s rounded off with an illy espresso (why don’t more airlines offer proper coffee?!) and a glass of Armagnac:

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All in all, this was one of the better Business Class meals I’ve had on a non-Middle Eastern airline. Sure the pasta was average and I didn’t like the greenery with the appetizer but everything else was very nice indeed and the service throughout was excellent.

After dinner I decided to see what sort of entertainment options Air France offered.

The main TV screen is a touchscreen and offers the usual selection of movies, TV, music, games etc….

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If you’d rather not use the touchscreen there’s a controller built into the seat next at window level….

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…and when you remove the control from its cradle it switches on and offers up a menu that looks almost exactly like the menu on the main screen:

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The easiest way to filter the movie options was by language…..

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…and the selection in English seemed pretty good:

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The TV shows were best filtered by genre and, while there were a few full series (like the Big Bang Theory season 9) most series seemed to offer at most 3 episodes…and not necessarily ones that were concurrent.

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Overall I’d say the entertainment offering was average for a modern Business Class cabin but, as I’m fond of reminding readers, it’s so easy to bring your own entertainment onboard nowadays that you shouldn’t be leaving it up to the airlines to provide you with something you like and enjoy.

After playing around with the entertainment options for a bit I did a bit of work before settling down to watch some shows I had pre-loaded on my MacBook Air (yes, I take my own advice).

Note: Air France doesn’t currently offer WiFi on its aircraft but WiFi will be added to most of the long-haul fleet starting in late 2017.

Around an hour and a half before landing the flight attendants were back in the cabin to serve the second meal of the flight.

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The “fresh fruit salad” was a slight misnomer as it was just pineapple chunks rather than any sort of salad….but they were nice enough.

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The savory items tasted fresh and weren’t over-chilled and the desert items were really delicious. Apparently Air France is not an airline to fly if you’re on any kind of diet!

40 minutes after the second meal was cleared away we landed at New York’s JFK airport just a little ahead of time

Verdict

I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed my flight with Air France and I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting all the airline personal that I came in contact with to be as friendly and helpful as they were. There wasn’t one member of crew or ground staff that wasn’t charming and polite and, in my experience, that almost never happens on most airlines.

Both the soft and heard products felt like thought had been put into them and an effort had been made to make them as good as a good Business Class product should be. Yes, the lack of wifi is an issue…but at least its an issue that the airline is finally addressing.

On the whole the food was very nice indeed and the seat was comfortable and spacious. The amenity kit wasn’t really anything special (it was very average) but the day I start judging an airline based on the amenity kit is the day I stop writing reviews and start taking a long hard look at my priorities.

I was concerned that this review may come over as almost too positive for what is, after all, just a Business Class product but, having re-read it a few times, I’m happy that it reflects exactly how I felt about the experience. It was really good.

The hard and soft products are miles better than anything the likes of British Airways offer and, while the seat is no better than what I had on recent American 777-300ER and Cathay Pacific A350 flights, I’m surprised to say that the overall experience I had with Air France was considerably better than the experiences on those airlines.

All in all I was very impressed with the service Air France offered and and this flight has got me re-examining how I view the airline as a transatlantic option.

With American Airlines (my usual transatlantic carrier) destroying its loyalty program and not improving its onboard service to any noticeable degree I’ve been looking for other options to try (including options outside of oneworld). And Air France just took a big leap up my list of airlines I’d love to try again…at least on the 777-300ER.

Featured image courtesy of Vincent Boyer via Flickr