Today’s reader review is from regular contributor Jason. This is his review of flying Business Class from Paris to Mexico. If you like this review, you can read more about his LATAM business class Rio de Jainero – São Paulo – London trip here.
While planning our annual visit to Brazil to visit our family, my partner and I decided to mix it up a little and visit somewhere new enroute. 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 Paris CDG on Air France and from MEX down to Sao Paulo on Aeromexico.
At the airport – Barcelona
Our flight was departing at 6:15am for CDG, and we arrived at the Air France counters just before 5am. Normally I can 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 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 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 enthusiastic 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 most other European airlines – the middle seat of three is simply blocked out. 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 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 on the issue.
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 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 I was of the mind that it’s unacceptable not to 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’ a much more comprehensive tray. I’m not sure why, perhaps they were higher in the frequent flyer pecking order than us (lowly KLM Silvers).
I did contact AF about this during the time of travel in early September. After a considerable length of time I received a reply offering 4,500 flying blue miles as compensation.
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. There were no major queues anywhere and where we needed to go (pier L) was well signposted. 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 long-haul flights typically depart from K, L or M piers, each with its own 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, 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. The food was OK. In fairness, a breakfast spread is never a time an airline really shines in the gastronomy stakes.
CDG – MEX – B777-300 – 10hr50min – Seat 14A
We made our way to the gate at the boarding time 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 eight 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 €1950, which I politely declined.
My first thoughts of the cabin were that it felt 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 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. I have seen the press release pictures of the re-configured 777-300’s still in the hanger, and these look much more colourful and branded.
There was definitely a very different vibe from the crew on this flight compared to our cheery crew on the short flight. First impressions were not great. There was no real welcome. Two different crew 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 and polite. Not so lucky were the passengers on the other side of the cabin. One of the crew was like they were completely distracted and somewhere else, the other verged on being aggressive. There were also two crew predominantly working in the galley that would make appearances in the cabin from 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 glass all the way through take-off. The passenger across the aisle from me had his seat virtually in flatbed mode. I found this quite shocking.
After takeoff, 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 €9, full flight €18 or full flight ‘stream’ €30.
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 cleared, and a small cheese plate was offered. And following, 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 of 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.
I really enjoyed my flights on Air France, and the catering on the long-haul flights was a real highlight for me. I also found the reverse herringbone seats very comfortable, although the cabins could do with a generate update (which Air France is commencing). The crew were a bit of a mixed bag but what I found most concerning was a few instances where safety protocol didn’t seem to be paid as much attention to as it should.
Great article @Jason . Totally agree that a reclined ( to any degree) seat is shockingly poor. Not to mention in breach of several rules/ laws.
My sympathy for the little ‘aisle runners’. It get very tiring and it always frustrates me when parents act as if they’ve clocked off at the point of boarding a plane and/or if CC don’t politely encourage mom & dad to get little Timmy or Suzy to sit down after 5 or so minutes but hey-ho 1st world problems I guess.
Jason is a handsome man…
Hangar not hanger.
I flew back from Gibraltar to LHR on Saturday evening, and after my supper I asked for a cognac and was duly served by the very charming Purser ~ Otard VSOP!!! She was not sure whether this was the norm as she was not familiar with “brandygate”. However due to a ‘techy’ the original aircraft was swopped with a 2 hr delay added to our flight, so who knows?
The cognac of course was as delightful as ever………….Bring it back!!!
That sounds like great news!
I had a similar experience GRU-CDG on a brand new A350. Decent food but the crew were just miserable. The flight down to Brazil was on KLM and as always with them a truly delightful crew who took pride in their job. Air France, look to your partner to see how the job should be d!
Hey Andrew. The Air France crew were not all bad on my flight thankfully. I think with many airlines it is luck of the draw on the day and when you have two extremes like I did the contrast was very stark. The Purser on my short flight from BCN to CDG was SO friendly and enthusiastic (maybe to the point of being a little OTT). I am sure part of reason she was SO friendly and obliging is that she knew she would have to recover the catering issue later in flight. Then it was onto the long haul flight where one of the crew was OTT miserable to the point it was almost funny.
I just flew KLM from AMS to MEX and I completely concur with what you say. One of the most friendly, hard working crew I have ever experienced. The inflight crew were definitely the highlight of that flight. I will have a write up of that flight also. Jason
As super critical as I can be about BA, crew are usually excellent and consistently so. Air France are always a little stuffy and formal on every flight I’ve had with them.
By the way, Mexico City is a great place to visit- stacks to see and a great addition to a beach holiday- three nights would give you a taster.
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