Air France is upgrading its B777-300 aircraft with its latest premium economy product, already seen on its A350. This has now been retrofitted on six of its B777-300 aircraft, with the final six due to be complete by the end of the year.
This is a review of premium economy on flight AF 22 departing from Paris Charles de Gaulle to New York JFK at 0830. (Find a review of the return journey in the new business class product here)
The B777-300 features 48 seats in the premium economy cabin, arranged in a slightly staggered 2-4-2 formation.
I stayed in the Pullman Paris Roissy CDG Airport the night before in order to make it for the early morning flight. It was easy to hop on the automated people mover and get to Terminal 2E for 0620.
Air France required us to upload our Covid vaccination certificate and fill out a form – as per US security rules (though neither of these seemed to be used at any point during the departure immigration) and these requirements were officially dropped as of 12 May.
There were seven Sky Priority lanes at Zone 5. I was able to print a boarding pass and went through the fast track immigration lines, arriving at the lounge by 0650.
We were given SkyTeam priority access for this flight, which meant we were able to visit the Air France Lounge (Hall L) in Terminal 2E, located just behind the priority security lanes. The lounge is open from 5.30am-11.30pm.
The lounge was enormous, with plenty of seating options and accessible power sockets. There was quite a few people for 7am, but it was by no means at capacity.
The food offering by comparison was fairly basic, with a small selection of hot food (scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages), some bread rolls, continental meats and cheese, fruit, yoghurt and cereal, however these were refilled regularly. There were two service stations, which both offered the same choice. Drinks selections included self-service coffee machines, Heineken-stocked fridges, plus a manned bar at the end with a selection of wines and Champagne.
Beyond the main room was a selection of more interesting smaller rooms. This included quiet rooms, private meeting areas, a napping zone with sleeping chairs and drawn curtains, a Clarins facial station (for 15-minute treatments), plus showers and even a sauna.
I left the lounge at 0725 to head for Gate 34. Priority boarding commenced at 0740.
The overall cabin aesthetic has been designed to reflect the essence of Air France. The result is a mature and elegant look, with clean white walls, dark blue seats with matching leather headrests and carpets, and small flashes of red. The carpet design has a tessellated pattern to resemble that found in a chic Parisian apartment.
This was not a full flight so there was plenty of overhead locker space, however the bins did not seem to be too roomy and could have been a tight squeeze if the flight had been full.
I was in seat 25L near the back of the cabin by the window. Overall I found the seat very comfortable, with a 38 inch pitch and 19-inch width offering plenty of room. The material fabric cover was soft and comfortable to sit in, with a pillow and blanket also provided. Leather headrests could also be tilted up for comfort.
The recline is very generous at 124 degrees, with a leg rest and foot bar offering additional comfort for passengers wishing to relax or sleep. However, it does feel very invasive when the person in front reclines into your space. Even with my tray table drawn as close to me as possible, I had to have my laptop balancing slightly off in order to open it as the screen was so far into my personal space. Getting out of the window seat when the two seats in front are reclined also required some degree of limbo skills.
There is a simple selection of controls to recline the seat and release the leg rest extension, though I found the buttons very stiff to operate. There is also a handheld device to operate a personal reading light from above (there is also a flexible personal reading light by your shoulder), call the flight attendant, and operate the TV and volume. This can also be controlled via the touchscreen monitor.
Tray tables were stored in the central divider – I found this slightly awkward. It would have been better if these were stored on the opposite side to your neighbour to make it easier to get in and out (if your neighbour is using the central armrest you will disturb them to retrieve your table). It was also a little bit clunky. The armrest opens towards you – rather than the more ergonomic away from you, and then you have to find a metal hook to pull the tray out. The table itself folded out into a good size, although the flipped side had a bit of a bounce to it.
The noise cancelling headphones were excellent, akin to what you find in a business cabin, with full cushioned ear pieces and headband and effective noise-cancelling (the engine drone virtually disappeared the second I tried them on). They also offered a great sound for the inflight entertainment. These are attached to a little hook by your shoulder. Bluetooth connectivity also means you can use your own headphones if you want.
The wifi was surprisingly effective for the entire flight – I had no glitches and was able to chat on Teams, reply to email, Google images and even stream videos from Youtube. This cost €30 for the whole flight. Only one device can be connected at a time, but it was easy to switch between my phone and laptop.
The IFE touch screen is 4K, HD and “anti-glare” and a generous 13.3-inch screen. The IFE content was a bit lacklustre, including a selection of “new releases”, older films in “The Collection” and some TV shows (though not all had complete seasons). There was a good wellness selection however, with some meditation content. There is also a timer in the left hand corner showing the remaining flight duration, and the option to curate your own list of favourites.
Storage is limited. There is the traditional seat back pocket, a small area to store personal device under the screen, and an area for small items or magazines down the side of the seat. There is also quite a decent gap between the seat and the window where you could store bulkier items coats/blankets.
In terms of in-seat power there is both USB A (under the TV) and a USB C port (in the side of the seat) which can be used to charge devices.
Cabin crew came round to distribute amenity kits at 0827, which was a bonus for a premium economy cabin. These came in a stylish pouch with white and navy stripes and a red tab while the contents included dark blue socks and eye shade, bamboo toothbrush and toothpaste, and ear plugs.
The aircraft pushed back at 0847 while a safety video played, before we took off at 0859.
Breakfast was served at 1007. This was the most disappointing part of the experience, although as Sandra Ottavi, inflight experience director for Air France had explained in a presentation the day before, the premium economy product is being gradually evolved with the focus first on the hardware and soft products to be improved at a later stage. For now, premium economy passengers receive an economy meal.
There was an option of “eggs” or “apple crumble”. I chose the eggs, expecting an English breakfast-style offering, but instead received a scrambled egg mixture with lentils and vegetable offering. It was edible, but not particularly exciting, and slightly cold. It also came with wooden cutlery, which I did not enjoy. This was accompanied by a sweet roll, a fruit dish with grapes, orange and grapefruit, and another dish of apricot and cheese.
For beverages there was a selection of fruit juices, soft drinks, tea, coffee, wine and Champagne. (It’s worth noting that passengers in all cabins are treated to a complimentary glass of Champagne with the meal service).
The coffee was also particularly good and I requested multiple refills during the flight. I also learned that “white coffee” is apparently not a common term in France, as the cabin crew and my neighbour were both very confused when I requested this!
Plates were cleared at 1045 and I got on with some work. The cabin was very quiet and peaceful. This was partly thanks to it not being a full flight, but also the cabin is curtained off with no galley either side, which helped keep traffic and disturbance to a minimum.
A light refreshment was served at 1300 which included a tasty vegetable sandwich with a tangy minty sauce, a cake, and a mango smoothie which was lovely. The drinks trolley also made another round at 1500.
We landed on at 1620 (1020 local time) and disembarked shortly after. Thankfully Air France had arranged a special press pass through the diplomatic channel so we were able to avoid the long immigration queues for normal passengers.
There is a lot to like about Air France’s premium economy upgrade: the seats themselves were very comfortable for both relaxing and working, with a very impressive wifi offering and excellent noise-cancelling headphones. Amenity kits and Champagne service also help to add a premium feel. One downside is that the generous recline does impede on the passenger behind, though aiming for a front row would eliminate this. I look forward to seeing the food service improve, as this really does let down an otherwise impressive product.
8 hours 10 minutes
Internet rates for a one-way premium economy flight from Paris to New York JFK in August start from £2,620