BACKGROUND The recent Open Skies agreement has led to a raft of new transatlantic services departing London, not least the first route by a European carrier from Heathrow to the US. This new service by Air France, direct from Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR), is in addition to its three-times daily service from LA to Paris. I had already checked in online at airfrance.co.uk and had selected window seat 8A for this 2025 departure. At present there are a total of nine daily flights from Los Angeles to London, and the Air France flight is one of the latest, with only British Airways and Virgin Atlantic departing later.
Air France is codesharing on this flight with Delta Airlines. The flights are: AF061/ DL8399, which departs LA at 2025 and arrives at 1440 the next day (ten hours and 15 minutes flying time), and AF060/DL8306, which departs London Heathrow at 1700, arriving into LA at 2015 (11 hours and 15 minutes flying time). The product is three-class on a Boeing 777-200ER, with economy (Tempo), business (L’Espace Affaires) and first (L’Espace Première).
CHECK-IN At LAX there are extensive plans for expansion for the entire airport, but at present if you have hold luggage you have to go to check-in where you will be given a boarding card, you then have to take your bag to the scanner yourself. From there it is a short walk to immigration, up the escalators, and finally through the full security check (shoes and jackets off, laptops out of bags).
THE LOUNGE Once airside, the business class lounge is for general Skyteam use (signposted Northwest) on the upper level. It can get extremely busy, although at this time of day for the Air France departure to London at 2025 it should be easy to find a seat from the 90 available (unless other flights are delayed), and so it proved this evening, during the first week of the Air France service. The lounge has both soft and alcoholic drinks, free wifi and a good selection of magazines in both English and French.
BOARDING A separate queue for business and first class passengers meant we were quickly on board. Jackets were taken, drinks offered (including champagne), and because the plane had a light load of passengers it was possible to move to another seat after take-off.
THE SEAT The business class seats are configured 2-3-2 and are angled lie-flat rather than fully-flat, reclining into their own shell. They have several pre-set positions including reclined seating, reclined for sleep or upright for work, and there is a decent-sized table and a power socket for laptops taking both European and US plugs. Although this is said to be only to retain charge rather than actually charging, I found that during the course of the flight it did gradually recharge the battery, allowing me to work for several hours.
THE FLIGHT Shortly after take-off a full meal was served, with a choice of starter (dried beef and salad with fresh herbs or salmon duo terrine) and main course (beef or scallops with lobster bisque), although there is also a plat du jour, which in this case was a tasty lamb tajine with apricots. Passengers were then offered a selection of cheeses, desserts and the option of teas and espresso coffee.
The Air France magazine details the main entertainment channels offered, although a new system is currently being phased in on all three classes across the aircraft, so you might have, as we did on this flight, a slightly older version with a choice of around eight films instead of the dozens you get with the newer product. Both systems do, however, allow for stopping and starting the films (AVOD). The 10.4-inch screen is set in the back of the seat in front.
The cabin lights were dimmed shortly after the meal service concluded and I had no problem sleeping for a few hours before continuing to work. About two hours before our arrival time a breakfast was served with a choice of omelette or pancakes.
ARRIVAL We landed on time and after a long taxi were quickly off the plane. I had hand luggage only and used the IRIS machine to depart, although this was very slow, with each passenger in front of me taking between ten and 15 seconds to proceed through, so it would probably have been quicker to simply use the EU passport queue.
VERDICT This is an excellent product which is competitively priced. The lie-flat bed is not as comfortable as a fully-flat bed but is also not as expensive. (It is particularly good value at present as Air France is new on this route and because summer is approaching.)
PRICES This is the important bit. Air France’s big selling point for LHR-LAX is that its business class fares have NO Saturday-night stay restriction (see online news February 4). This is true. Business Traveller checked the fares (using Travelocity) for a return including a Saturday-night stay and this is the result:
Depart Wednesday July 9 to return Wednesday July 16
British Airways (BA) £1,362
American Airlines (AA) £1,613
Air France (AF) £1,620
United Airlines (UA) £1,620
Virgin Atlantic (VS) £2,108
Air New Zealand (ANZ) £2,851
But when a Saturday night stay is NOT included, the prices change dramatically:
Depart Sunday July 6 to return Thursday July 10
For a review of first class with Air France on this route see the May 2008 issue of Business Traveller.