Air France review BCN – CDG – MEX

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  • rferguson
    Participant

    While planning our regular jaunt to Sao Paulo to visit family my partner and I decided to mix it up a little and visit somewhere new en route. Neither of us had been to Mexico City and although not quite ‘on the way’ we were able to formulate a plan flying Barcelona to Mexico via CDG on Air France and from MEX down to Sao Paulo on Aeromexico. We had been very loyal OneWorld Flyers (predominantly BA and Iberia users) and both hold Gold status with BA. But disappointed with the still ‘cos of COVID’ service provided by BA we decided to look elsewhere.

    BCN – CDG.

    At the airport – BCN:

    Our flight was departing at 6:15am for CDG and we arrived at the Air France counters just before 5am. Normally I am able to skip the airport check in desk step – I avoid checking in a bag at all costs – and can just proceed to the gate. On visits back to Brazil I usually have a load of gifts for family so checking in a bag is a must. Check in was done within five minutes at the premium counter and security was absolutely blissful compared to scenes encountered at UK airports.

    AF uses the Pau Casals contract lounge at BCN which seems to handle most of the airlines here. I used the same lounge a few weeks prior when flying Lufthansa to Frankfurt. It’s definitely one of the better contract lounges. Very large, plenty of seating, nice decor and decent food and beverage. We had a few coffees in the lounge before heading off to the gate to board our flight.
    The flight boarded bang on time.

    On board – A321. Seats 1A and 1C. 1hr40min flight time.

    We were given a very VERY friendly warm welcome by the Chef de Cabine at the door and took our seats on the first row of the aircraft. AF configures Business Class on flights within Europe the same as pretty much all other European airlines do – simply block out the middle seat. Some airlines install a removable cocktail table or such on the blocked seat however this was not the case on this aircraft. Each seat did have a USB port. There was a Wi-Fi symbol on the door of the aircraft and the bulkhead, but it wasn’t functioning for the flight. On this particular flight there were only two rows of business class. The flight was completely full throughout.
    The Chef passed out moist packaged towelettes and bottles of water on the ground again welcoming business class passengers.

    We were closed up and pushed back two minutes before our scheduled time of departure. Announcements were made in French, Spanish and English by the Captain and the Cabin Chef including that masks were now optional and a request to respect everyone’s individual choice.
    Breakfast service got underway and whilst I wasn’t expecting much (breakfast isn’t really a French thing) I was taken by surprise when the Chef advised myself and my partner that there was a ‘catering shortage’ and she offered a ‘crew meal’ instead. We were the first two passengers to be served and she was extremely apologetic about the situation. On the one hand I felt guilty about accepting a meal that was for the crew, on the other hand was of a mind that it’s unacceptable to not be able to provide any business class catering on a flight. I accepted and my partner declined. The couple sat at row 1 on the opposite side were also offered a crew meal. The two gents in the row behind me were offered the ‘real deal’. I’m not sure why, perhaps they were higher in the frequent flyer pecking order than us (lowly KLM Silvers).

    Transit at CDG and lounge:

    We landed on time at CDG and this would be my first time ever transiting there. I’d read horror stories online about the complexity of it yet was reassured by a 3hr45min transit time. In the end, the transit was absolutely fine, was pretty efficient as we were spat out from the process at 2L gates where our flight to MEX would depart. I’d researched the AF lounge situation at CDG in advance so was pleased with our on the day gate allocation of ‘L’ gates. AF longhaul flights typically depart from K, L or M piers, each with their own AF lounge and great difficulty in accessing a lounge not in ‘your’ pier. Pier L supposedly had what is considered the better of the three lounges in these piers having been the most recently refurbished. I will admit, after reading the glowing reviews online my expectations were high. And I was a little underwhelmed. I was looking forward to trying out some of the advertised facilities, namely the Clarins Spa, the Detox bar and eating a decent croissant. None of these were achieved. We entered the lounge at 8:15 and the first Clarins Spa appointment was 12:00 (seriously, what is the point of these spas?), the ‘Detox bar’ was a deserted area with some herbal tea bags and the croissants were rubbish. By no means was the lounge poor – it was fine, definitely better than your average BA Club World lounge at LHR or Lufthansa Business Lounge at their hubs. Food was OK. In fairness, a breakfast spread is never a time an airline really shines in the gastronomy stakes.

    CDG – MEX. 777-300. 10hr50min. 14A.

    We made our way to the gate at the boarding time was indicated on our boarding pass and it was in progress when we arrived at the gate. Again, the flight was completely full. This 777-300 was configured with 8 seats in First, a large 70 seat Business Cabin. premium economy and economy. Business and the economy cabins were full. I was invited to upgrade to First at check in for the pricely sum of EUR1950 which I politely declined.

    First thoughts of the cabin was that it felt a little dated and tired. The seating was great, all seats with direct aisle access yet at the same time it looked like it could have done with a bit of a re-furb. Now i’m not one for Emirates style faux walnut finishes or gold trim but I do find Air France cabins to be extremely drab. Of course, this is down to personal taste (a french friend was horrified when I said this, replying it is ‘refined’ and ‘sophisticated’) but blue seats with off-white seat shells and side walls and bulkheads with blue carpet and crew in blue uniforms to me is just a little – meh. A little bit more of their signature red, maybe on the bulkheads or somewhere, would add a nice bit of much needed colour and a bit of a contemporary feel.

    There was definitely a very different vibe from the crew on this flight as well. First impressions were not great. There was no real welcome. Two different crew members provided the only two service aspects on the ground – and two opportunities to welcome their customers and make them feel welcome. First came the menus. No ‘good afternoon, here is your menu’ (in any language), instead, the menu was just passed with no words. Then, the pre departure drinks (water, OJ, Champagne). There was again zero words. No ‘would you like something to drink’ instead a tray of beverages just placed in front of your face to help yourself. Not including the Chef de Cabine, I counted six crew working in the Business Cabin. The two ladies working my aisle warmed up slowly during the flight and both were professional, efficient and polite. Not so lucky were the passengers on the other side of the cabin. One of the ladies was like she was on another planet, the other verged on being aggressive. There were also two crew predominantly working in the galley that would make appearances in the cabin time to time. One was very nice, the other could be mistaken for being a mute.

    We were closed up and pushed back on time. The safety video was played and one thing I noticed is that the crew did not secure the cabin properly at all. I was left with my pre departure champagne glass all the way through take off. The passenger across the aisle from me had his seat virtually in flat bed mode. I found this quite shocking.
    After take off service kicked off with hot towels. It’s been a while since i’ve had one of these! Meal orders were then taken, or in my case my pre-ordered main course confirmed.
    Wi-Fi was also activated and there were several plans available including a free messaging option. One hour of ‘surf’ was E9, full flight E18 or full flight ‘stream’ E30.
    The drinks trolley made an appearance, and I ordered a gin and tonic which was served with some boxed cheese snacks. The box doesn’t look particularly premium but i’m a substance over style kinda guy and what was in it was delicious.

    Once the drinks round was complete the meal cart was rolled out. I know a lot of people like the ‘restaurant style service’ of crew pacing up and down the aisle to and from the galley with no trolleys in sight. But an airplane isn’t a restaurant. And while the ‘hand run’ service could work well in a small business class cabin I much prefer the old school trolley style Air France used. It was efficient and everything needed was there on the cart.

    The crew laid a tablecloth and then presented the meal tray which had the starters and side salad. I much prefer how Air France gives you a small portion of two starters instead of some other airlines which ask you to choose one from a variety of starters – there’s no chance of them running out of your choice here! The starters and side salad were excellent, very tasty and using high quality tasty ingredients. Wine and water were also offered. The starter dishes were then removed, and the main course was delivered. I enjoyed my fish although it was a little dry. The whole meal tray was then removed, and a small cheese plate was offered. And then, dessert. Dessert is delivered the same way as the starters – a variety of three small portions which again is a winner for me. Tea, coffee and digestives concluded the lunch service.
    I really enjoyed the lunch, and the catering was probably my favourite element of flying Air France. Despite it being a full gastronomical experience, it was served in a really timely and efficient manner.

    Having had a very early morning I was hoping to get some shut eye but it wasn’t to be. There were a lot of families on the flight and some of the kids were literally running up and down the aisles and climbing over seats the whole flight (cans of Coke in hand) while their parents looked on.
    A couple snack stations were set up in the galley but snacks were only limited to some packaged nuts, chips, biscuits etc. I was very appreciative that they served espresso coffee onboard and had a couple in between services.
    The pre-landing meal wasn’t served until 1hr20min before landing in Mexico City but the duck shepherd’s pie was absolutely delicious and one of the tastiest things i’ve ever eaten on a plane.

    The cabin was then prepared for landing and we were on stand at Mexico City ten minutes before scheduled arrival time.

    Final thoughts:
    I enjoyed my flights with Air France and the highlights for me were the punctual timings and the onboard catering as well as the staff service on the BCN – CDG flight. Areas for improvement – i’d love to see the aesthetic of their cabins updated a little and some of their crew could definitely have some retraining in both service and safety.


    esselle
    Participant

    Thanks for the interesting review.

    When you mention 8 seats in first on the 773, don’t you actually mean 4?

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    rferguson
    Participant

    Thanks for the interesting review.

    When you mention 8 seats in first on the 773, don’t you actually mean 4?

    Apologies, you are of course right. Four seats.

    Expertflyer was showing all four as unallocated a day prior to the flight.

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    esselle
    Participant

    Thanks for the interesting review.

    When you mention 8 seats in first on the 773, don’t you actually mean 4?

    Apologies, you are of course right. Four seats.

    Expertflyer was showing all four as unallocated a day prior to the flight.

    La Premiere is my absolute favourite first cabin. They are due do be introducing a new, improved cabin soon. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    PatJordan
    Participant

    Great review as always rferguson! Thanks for sharing.

    Pat


    Inquisitive
    Participant

    Thanks rferguson for the detail review.

    After reading a review of Le Premiere quite sometimes ago from esselle, one of my wish list is to travel in that class.

    However reading other reviews including this one about the safety culture, crew behaviour etc., wondering if it will be worth the money.

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    Mark
    Participant

    Had the most Amazing crew on a HKG-CDG flight in J just before convid played out.
    Couldn’t do enough for passengers, gave me gifts and chatted in the F galley whilst stuffing all the posh food not eaten by the sleeping First class passengers.
    Ist time long haul with AF was just as good with superb crew and invited onto flight deck mid flight.

    Guess my luck will run out………

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    MartynSinclair
    Participant

    Ist time long haul with AF was just as good with superb crew and invited onto flight deck mid flight.

    That’s nice to hear ….. only other airline I heard about an invite to flight deck mid flight (post 9/11), was, very interestingly, El Al, when my nephew asked a few years back and his wish was granted…

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    CathayLoyalist2
    Participant

    This is going to sound picky but the fact that the cabin crew did not secure the cabin on your CDG-MEX is a serious matter. Coming on the back of recent safety issues what was the Head of Cabin Crew doing?

    1 user thanked author for this post.
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