Coming home from my quick trip to Vienna, I hopped over to Paris to fly Air France home. Occasionally, Flying Blue offers pretty good mileage deals, and this definitely qualified as such. I booked this nonstop for just 56,000 miles plus $381.12 in taxes and fees. In addition, I transferred Amex points during a 30% bonus, so really, it cost just 44,000 Membership Rewards points. That seemed a great deal, especially on the new 787-9 Business Class scheduled on the route. However, as I alluded to earlier, an equipment swap scrambled things noticeably. The old-style Air France B77W Business Class is a decidedly mediocre hard product. And a significant downgrade over the 787 or other newer configurations.
Air France (AF) Flight 146
- Monday, May 9, 2022
- Depart: Paris – Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG), Terminal 2E, Gate L34, 10:26, 16m late
- Arrive: DFW International Airport (DFW), Terminal D, Gate D14, 13:39, 4m late
- Duration: 10 hours 13 minutes
- Seat: 2A
- Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER
Check-In and Boarding
While I checked in online, the actual process of getting to the gate was something of a fustercluck. As it too often is at CDG. It took about 20 minutes to get from my airport hotel to Terminal 2E. Bag check at Terminal 2E was easy enough, but that’s where the fun started. First off, it took several tries for the automated passport reader to recognize my passport. After making it through, I saw what looked like an hour long security line to enter the terminal. Fortunately, that line headed for the K gates. So it was time to pack like sardines onto the train to head to the L gates. Priority security here wasn’t terrible, taking about 10 minutes to get through. All told, it took about 45 minutes to reach the lounge.
About 15 minutes before scheduled boarding, I headed over to the gate. On the way, I made time to check out this Air Mauritius A350 taking a rest before heading back to the island.
Boarding began on time, and I headed left to my seat in the forward Business Class cabin. Once onboard, though, we took a roughly 15 minute delay due to delays loading cargo.
Air France B77W Business Class – Seating and Interior
These “ghetto birds”, as my friend Matthew calls them, certainly feature an old-school configuration. Business Class in this configuration features 42 seats over 7 rows in a 2-3-2 layout. Yes, that means no direct aisle access from window or middle seats. While this layout does provide 12 more seats than the 789, the loss of aisle access for those in windows is irritating. Hopefully nobody originally in a window or aisle got booted to a middle seat, at least. The nearly 6-year old cabin was in pretty good shape, though some signs of age appeared, notably the wrinkled headrests.
Needless to say, privacy isn’t these seats’ strong suit. Only a small divider separates you from your neighbor, whichever seat you choose. In addition, getting out from the window or a middle requires an awkward climb over the aisle seat. With the seats fully or partially reclined, it’s possible to get over the seat without waking a sleeping neighbor, but it requires some gymnastics. On the other hand, if traveling with someone, there’s plenty of options to choose from.
Meanwhile, the seats are 21.5″ wide, with 61″ of pitch. These old angle-flat seats do have one noticeable advantage over modern seats. That’s the lack of a tapered footwell, making foot space fully unconstrained.
In bed mode, these seats don’t recline fully flat. Rather, they recline roughly 170 degrees. As a shorter person, the problem with these seats is the tendency to slide down when sleeping. The fabric covering on these seats helps a little, though. I didn’t slide quite as much as I usually do.
Seat controls are fairly basic, and located on the armrest. There are preset buttons for landing mode, relax mode, and sleep mode. Otherwise, up/down adjusts recline and leg support all at once.
Despite the subpar layout and relatively basic controls, I found the seat comfortable in all modes. It’s well-padded, and the substantial duvet makes for comfortable sleeping, even with the mediocre pillow. I ended up sleeping for a good 5 hours. Admittedly, this came after over-imbibing a bit, but still.
Storage space is quite limited in these seats. Besides the footwell, there is a small storage cubby between seats. I did appreciate the full-size clothes hangers, a rarity even in business class.
The side of the seat includes a small compartment to store a water bottle. This also includes the IFE controller. Or a wallet or passport if you’re not prone to forgetting things like me.
If you need extra light, there’s a snake light at head level.
As far as amenities, waiting at each seat was a small bottle of Evian, along with an amenity kit. The amenity kit resembled a miniature version of the one found in La Première.
So overall, in the comfort department, these seats are just fine. It’s just the layout felt outdated – in 2015, when I last flew in a similar layout on American. Considering the downgrade from the 787-9 layout, it left me feeling disappointed overall.
Air France B77W Business Class – In-Flight Entertainment
Like the seat itself, the first impression of the in-flight entertainment is the outdated setup. Namely, a woefully undersized monitor. The resolution isn’t bad, but compared to the giant screen on Air Canada’s 787s, for example, they’re tiny. The system also lacks modern features like the ability to watch different programs on the screen and the IFE controller.
At least the selection itself is good, and there’s actually a really cool feature you don’t see that often. Air France offers a nose camera in the IFE system on this plane. I’ll admit, I spent way too much time looking at both of these. First, to admire the view in front of us during taxi and takeoff.
Later, thanks to a crystal clear day over northern France, the camera provided an awesome view while crossing the French countryside, and then the French coastline.
There’s also a moving map, of course, with most of the same features available on modern systems. Like American’s moving map, you can choose a variety of viewpoints. I switched to the horizon view near landing, to watch our plane fly pretty much right over my neighborhood.
The movie and TV selection, meanwhile, is pretty good. Air France is especially generous with the independent (Cannes festival) and international movie selection, if that’s your thing.
The TV selection includes a decent selection of both French and English titles. There’s a particularly large documentary selection, again with both English and French options.
One show in the kids section caught my eye; in fact, I did a double take when I saw it. That’s the cartoon version of Belle & Sebastian, a show I watched on Nickelodeon in grade school. I still remember Sebastian’s exploits staying one step ahead of the police, who were busy trying to capture Belle, the Great Pyrenees, falsely accused of attacking people.
I settled in for a few episodes of Tbe Explorers, a French documentary series focusing on nature and anthropology. This episode focused on the Arctic.
Air France provides noise-cancelling headphones to all Business Class passengers. These are quite good, comparable to mid-range or better units on the market. (Note that Air France’s new Business Class product includes Bluetooth connectivity for the IFE system. So, you can use your own if you’re flying in the newer setup.)
Even these old seats include USB and 110v ports. Apparently I forgot to take a photo, but they’re located on the bottom half of the right-side armrest.
These older 777s do not offer WiFi, so if your flight is operated on one of these ghetto birds, plan ahead if you need to work on board.
Air France B77W Business Class – Food, Beverage, and Service
Air France offers a proper glass of champagne as a pre-departure beverage in Business Class. On today’s menu was Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royal Brut. This is a decent mid-range champagne, which retails for about $45 a bottle in the US.
Shortly after coming by with pre-departure beverages, the FAs handed out menus. Air France’s offered menus designed by French celebrity chef Regis Marcon. Aside: I find these celebrity chef partnerships kind of pointless, because even the best airplane food is hardly superb. But in this case, the offerings actually were pretty good. It’s also interesting that menus appear custom made for each individual flight. The cover page specified “Paris to Dallas”, for instance.
As you’d expect, Air France offers a solid wine list, along with a decent selection of liquors, soft drinks, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. The liquor selection in particular contains several uniquely French items, such as triple malt whisky, pear brandy, and green chartreuse liqueur.
Air France offers the option of an “express lunch”, whereby you receive everything on a single tray. Since this was a daytime flight, I elected to take the standard meal service.
About 30 minutes after take-off, the FAs took drink orders, and offered a small snack. Today’s snack on tap – Gavotte’s Crêpes Fourreés, basically a cheese puff. I found these quite tasty (and addictive).
For my first drink, I ordered the Bellevoye Bleu triple malt. The flight attendant at first didn’t seem to understand what I wanted, so I pointed to it. At which point, she seemed legitimately shocked a gringo wanted to try it. Perhaps that’s why she gave me a REALLY generous pour.
That generous pour probably contributed to my 5-hour nap later…
About 20 minutes later, the FAs served the appetizer plate, consisting of shrimp tartare with pea cream, lemon, and ginger. The course also included a small side salad, and a (really delicious) baguette. (There’s really nothing quite like a good baguette with French butter.) To drink, I switched to a glass of the Chardonnay.
I’d rate the appetizer course decent, though not spectacular. I actually found the pea cream the best item here. Though I expected something bland, it was actually pretty rich, and made a nice sauce for the shrimp. There were two issues with this dish, though. Neither the pickled ginger on the pea cream, nor the diced mangoes on the shrimp, really worked with their parent dishes. As for the Chardonnay, it’s perhaps a little too tart for my taste. But the vanilla notes are nice.
For the main course, I ordered the duck lasagna.
It’s more cannelloni than lasagna, but most importantly, it was delicious. The pasta was cooked nicely, the duck moist, and the black currant sauce fantastic. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected, with a taste more like a Bordelaise. The veggies – spinach, mushrooms, and sugar snap peas – were also nicely seasoned and fresh.
After the main course, we received a cheese plate with three French selections. On today’s menu – Crottin de Chavignol (goat cheese, at top), Fourme d’ambert (a type of blue cheese), and Cantal. The Cantal tastes like a buttery white cheddar, and was probably may favorite of the bunch.
Meanwhile, desert consisted of three mini-deserts – a macaron, a Paris-Brest cake (praline-cream filled pastry), and a brownie.
I appreciated the right-sized portions. While delicious, I can’t down sweets like I used to in high school.
For a digestif, I debated between a red port and a calvados, eventually settling on the calvados.
Meal service was completed roughly 2 hours after take-off. While certainly a leisurely pace, I found it appropriate for a daytime westbound flight. Especially one with a 10+ hour flight time.
About 90 minutes before landing, the cabin crew offered a pre-arrival drink and snack. I ordered a cappuccino, completely forgetting that Air France offers the powdered stuff. Ugh…
For the meal, I chose the comté cheese ravioli, served with an almond butter cake and a parfait.
The presentation here left much to be desired, especially the cake and parfait. Nothing says “premium cabin” like a boxed dish with the label still attached. The ravioli wasn’t great; it was overcooked, with crunchy pieces, and the cheese had largely turned to glue. I found the cake and parfait much better, though.
Overall, I rate the meal service above average, on the strength of the wine list and the main course. It’s decidedly inconsistent, though, with the appetizer average, and the pre-arrival meal not very good.
As far as service goes, it’s a little hard to describe. On the one hand, I found the crew reasonably friendly. And I appreciated the generous pour of triple malt. But they also felt – I don’t know, detached? It felt like they were going through the motions, but not particularly excited about jobs. There was also no welcome or departure greeting to speak of. It just all felt decidedly average.
With a daytime flight and clear weather, this flight made for an excellent flightseeing session. Charles de Gaulle is a basket case of an airport, but there’s always lots of neat planes around. First up, a gorgeous Air France A350-900. I really like the nose and wrap-around cockpit of the A350.
Then, we passed the A350’s older cousin, an Air France A330-200.
And then AF’s SkyTeam partner made an appearance, with a Delta A350-900.
In the distance, I spotted an ITA Airways Airbus (I think an A320 based on size) just taking off. That dark blue livery truly is gorgeous.
Next up, a Hop! (Air France’s regional subsidiary) Embraer E190.
As we continued our long taxi around CDG, another Air France jet crossed our path, this one in special SkyTeam livery.
As we neared the runway, the more exotic planeporn of our joyride around the airport came into view. First up, a Japan Airlines Dreamliner.
Next on the spotting list was a Sunwing 737-800. While Sunwing is a Canadian low-cost carrier, in the summer, its 737s to Europe to operate on behalf of TUI.
The next 737 was from yet another company I’ve never heard of – ETF Airways. ETF is a Croatian airline offering charter services throughout Europe.
And I saved the best for last – an Air Austral Boeing 787. Air Austral is the airline of Réunion, a French island territory east of Madagascar. Naturally, I now have an obsession to actually travel to Réunion someday…
After take-off, an unusually clear day led to a terrific view of the French countryside as we headed northwest out of Paris.
It didn’t take long to reach the French coast. On this day, we crossed near a large wetland/delta of the Somme River near Abbeville.
After crossing the English channel, we crossed the English coast southeast of London.
We even passed close enough to London for a great view of the city.
Finally getting closer to home, I spotted a familiar friend, the Mississippi River north of Memphis.
And finally, as our plane prepared to touch down on DFW’s runway 35R, I managed a shot of 13L looking southeast towards Las Colinas.
As I exited the plane to hit customs and head home, I got one last photo of the 77W that brought us here. Maybe it doesn’t have the snazziest interior, but it’s still a pretty plane from the outside.
Air France B77W Business Class – Final Thoughts
Needless to say, I found myself disappointed at the last minute downgrade from the newer 787-9 to this 777. In the end, though, I give Air France’s Business Class product an average grade based on this experience. The older configuration just isn’t competitive in today’s market. Though in fairness, Emirates continues generating hype for itself despite a similar product. Service also felt detached. The seat itself, however, is quite comfortable, and the food and beverage service is decent. I certainly can’t complain for 56,000 miles.