This is a review of Air France’s La Première First Class Lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Air France’s La Première product is the most exclusive first-class product on the market today, making it an elusive experience for most passengers. It is a typical demand outstripping supply situation with just 76 La Première seats across the Air France fleet. Return cash tickets are prohibitively expensive, but not much more than a comparative service from British Airways. Redemptions using Virgin Points or those of other partners are blocked by Air France, while Flying Blue awards are only possible for top-tier frequent flyers. This makes it exceptionally hard to book in a cost-effective manner.
For my business trip to the US, I was due to fly on Air France’s Business Class. I had specifically selected this flight to San Francisco as it had La Première on-board and there was a chance I would be able to upgrade. I selected the longest connection I could find with a 17-hour connection, arriving at 4pm before departing the next day at 10am and spending overnight at the Yotel airside hotel.
After following this Flyer Talk thread for months, I tried to keep track of how I could attain a cash upgrade close to my departure from Air France’s Business Class to La Première. The TLDR on this is:
- Upgrades are offered during online check-in if there are minimal loads on the aircraft – it’s best to check on Expert Flyer.
- Upgrade during physical check-in at the airport.
The first didn’t happen, unfortunately, as the cabin on my Air France flight already had three out of four seats occupied. I attempted the latter, and the check-in agent at the airport advised ‘you have a great seat already, do not worry’. She meant this sincerely and the Air France Business Class cabin was going to be a decent experience regardless, but I really wanted to try La Première.
With those two options out the window, I thought the upgrade was dead. However, upon stepping off my connecting flight, I stopped by the Transit Desk to see what they could do and found they were able to help. Not the most proactive staff, but they got the job done.
After 30 minutes of waiting at the transfer desk, I was joined by a delightful member of the La Première team who escorted me through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and towards the ‘le salon La Première’. I was more than ready to make the most of this experience.
Stepping foot out of the lift and you are greeted with an empty lobby featuring a spaceship-like light above. This provides more than adequate privacy for passengers frequenting the lounge and gives lounge personnel the chance to provide a personal welcome.
When I arrived, the staff met me with a red enveloped re-print of my boarding pass. While it is a small touch, this type of personal and friendly service made you feel a little bit special while flying on Air France. As I was returning in the morning, I was able to guarantee and select my advanced reservation for a spa treatment in advance – something I wish other airlines would allow people to do.
Behind the wall which separates the entrance lifts from the rest of the lounge is an excellent display of Air France memorabilia displaying the items from the airline’s history but, unfortunately, no Concorde model in sight.
The lounge is split between six distinct areas:
- Dining area
- Relaxed lounge seating
- Sleeping/nap zone
- Sisley Spa
Compared to some airlines that may opt for a garish ‘bling’ look in their First Class lounges, Air France goes for a comparatively chic, understated, and classy design for this salon. The French flag carrier opts for a liberal use of creams throughout and splashes of their iconic red colour as well as dark greys to make it a bit more colourful.
The lounge style seating comes in an abundance for the relative lack of passengers on the day I travelled. There are enough choices regardless of the type of style you prefer, from bench style to comfortable armchairs and sofas. It’s worth noting that you could tell Air France maintain their La Première lounge to a high standard with a lack of marks on leather or mess around the place when compared to regional competitor’s offerings.
The nap zone is a little lacklustre, thanks to the quirky design that isn’t very private, when compared to sleeping rooms outfitted with proper mattresses that other airlines have. I do suspect that these never get particularly busy so you could get a few hours rest in this space.
Food and drink
I settled down in the place I knew I would be most at home, the dining area, where I sat opposite a clinically-white open refrigerator with small dishes and your choice of water. Something that crops up in every review is the selection of water available which I never knew could be so difficult to decide.
The design of the lounge means that the dining area is cleverly separated from the bench style seating, making the space feel private without ruining the ambience. Passengers can also eat in other areas of the lounge, but I prefer the more traditional seating in the dining area.
Despite initially declining, the waiter insisted I try Orezza from Corsica, which was actually pretty good for somebody who doesn’t enjoy sparkling water!
I was provided with a menu bound in red leather and embossed with the La Première logo promptly and began to browse. Both food on-board and in the lounge is designed by three-time Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse. The options offered are truly first class, and there should be something for everybody here, despite only being spread across two pages.
The waiter was extremely attentive and proactively encouraged me to try some of the cold small plates from the open refrigerator. These included an asparagus couscous and cured fish dish, both of which tasted good but weren’t to my taste preference. He served these alongside some fresh bread which would be to the standard of any French citizen.
One thing you will notice is the attention to detail Air France places on its branding throughout the experience. Whether that is the use of the red colour or its classic stylised Air France logo that features subtly on the plates and elsewhere, the airline gets their branding exactly right in La Première.
Onwards to the dishes from the menu. I began with a selection of French charcuterie, which was too much for one person but did provide something ‘to munch on’ as the menu described it. For starter, I opted for the chicken Caeser salad. While light on Caeser dressing, the chicken memorably tasted excellent, fresh, and still juicy, which was a far cry from the dry chicken and packet Caeser sauce found in U.S. lounges upon my arrival in San Francisco.
For the main course, I opted for the peppered beef tenderloin and potato puree. While it may appear a small portion on the plate, the rich flavour of the tenderloin and excellent cooking made this an excellent option to savour. Even the mash tasted great and smooth, though I tend to steer clear of it any other time. I really enjoyed this, so much so that I ended up having more the next day during the remainder of my long layover…
The following morning, the lounge offers both a breakfast menu, below, as well as the regular menu. Breakfast can be hard to crack and really differentiate. While the quality was good, the options on offer were not world-leading in the same way the regular menu is.
As such, I tried out the elbow pasta and a chicken, Comté cheese and black truffle toasted sandwich, with lots of lettuce. Both had been recommended by the previous evening’s waiter, and they were great options, if not a little rich.
I opted for a cappuccino with the breakfast, but this is certainly an area that Air France could improve on. The drinks are from an automated machine which are not usually the best quality and instead, the airline should consider having some staff trained to use an espresso machine for better quality.
To my shame, I didn’t take any pictures of the alcoholic drinks menu, but I did manage to sample three champagnes after arrival. These included Bruno Paillard Rose Champagne and Veuve Cliquot Le Grande Dame 2006. Both were excellent, particularly as I’ve had a taste for Rose Champagne recently, but the Veuve Cliquot was certainly the winner out of the two.
A dedicated bar can also be found in the lounge with a very psychedelic mirrored design which seems to differ from the main lounge design. An extensive selection of alcohols can be found, including several Johnnie Walker aged whiskies. (Author note: If you couldn’t tell already, yes, I’m not a whisky fan!). An out-of-place Nespresso machine and kettle can also be found here.
Bathrooms, showers, and a spa
The lounge offers a considerable number of bathrooms and shower suites. The toilets are found in a unique cylindrical design with more than enough space in them – British Airways hospital toilets these certainly are not! Each toilet features an interesting chandelier in the centre, while the padded walls covered in a suede material place this lounge a cut above the rest.
The shower suites are a bit more conventional but are still excellent. After a long day of travel, the showers provided a great way to refresh with them having excellent pressure and a steady level of heat. The Parisian brand Sisley provides in-shower amenities and also operate the spa.
On the morning of my departure, I went into the Sisley Spa for a complimentary massage. This consisted of a head and upper body massage which was blissfully, providing the perfect tone to begin my journey to the US. It lasted thirty minutes, which is considerable, but passengers could also select from a menu of other treatments for more money if desired.
I was initially a little underwhelmed with the La Première lounge. I had read many reviews extolling the virtues of this place and in-person it felt a lot smaller than I had expected with low ceilings but with an abundance of natural light. Underwhelmed doesn’t mean disappointed, I loved the experience because they have focussed on making the service excellent and exuding luxury throughout the whole visit. All staff within the lounge are trained to exacting standards, which ensures that guests get the most from La Première with all your needs catered to.
As the staff knew it was my first time in La Première they even provided me with several Alain Ducasse chocolate bars for my journey, in addition to the famed red leather luggage tag. Food is a high point with quality that is unheard of in many restaurants, let alone competitor lounges. With a long layover, the La Première lounge gets you set for the experience on-board and, in many ways, is a large part of why people like me choose to pay for the upgrade.
Tomorrow, this mini review series on Air France La Première will continue with a review of the 12-hour flight to San Francisco aboard the Boeing 777-300 ER, as well as the ground transportation.