Only three European carriers remain big players in the first class market: Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa (including Swiss). There’s no getting away from the fact that first class passenger numbers have fallen over the years (partly thanks to business class improvements) but that has made the product more exclusive. For example, Air France only offers first class on its fleet of B777s with the number of seats cut to eight or just four depending on plane type.
Take Lufthansa as an example. Two years ago Germany’s national airline unveiled a separate first class terminal at its main Frankfurt hub. It was the first of its type in Europe. Lufthansa passengers here are offered the highest standards of service and are chauffeured directly to their plane at boarding time.
Now Air France has followed suit with something similar at Paris CDG designed specifically for its L’Espace Premiere (the carrier’s first class brand) passengers.
Air France has just opened a special first class lounge within CDG’s Terminal 2E. Access is open only to first class passengers rather than those using loyalty card status. It’s part of an upgrading of CDG ground services for which the airline has recruited an extra 100 staff.
The special lounge is aimed at passengers departing from Paris – who can now check-in at a specific location no matter where they are flying – plus those in transit with connections of at least two hours. The new facility will be especially convenient for passengers flying from the UK as their flights arrive in adjoining Terminal 2F.
First class passengers departing CDG will have their luggage shrink-wrapped (a useful security feature) at dedicated counters within Terminal 2E. From here they are escorted through to the lounge where they will find work, relaxation and dining areas (meals and wines are served). There are also shower rooms and a Clarins massage area.
As with Lufthansa at Frankfurt, the coup de grace is the chauffeur-driven ride direct from the lounge in Terminal 2E to your plane anywhere on the airfield. Air France offers its first class product to over 100 passengers every day to 24 destinations.
Does BA have any plans to open something similar? “We have yet to finalise what we’re doing with our first class product in Terminal 5 [which opens in April next year],” says a spokesman.