Some regard Air France La Première in the 777 as the world’s best first class product. Though I have little personally to compare it to, I certainly can’t argue with that sentiment. From start to finish, La Première provided a truly world class experience. Note that this review covers my experience only in the 777; I plan to review my flight in the A380 separately.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my recent First Class experience to Barcelona. Click here for the trip report index and introduction.
Air France (AF) Flight 69
- Thursday, April 26, 2018
- Depart: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminal B, 17:57, 3m early
- Arrive: Paris – Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Terminal 2E, 13:34 (+1), 16m early
- Duration: 10 hours 37 minutes
- Seat: 1F
- Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER
Check-In and Pre-Departure Ground Handling
Since I had a separate ticket coming in to LAX, I allowed a little over four hours for the connection. Weather gets unpredictable in Dallas in April, after all. However, the flight arrived on time, leaving me with plenty of extra time. So, I decided to see what, if any, special ground handling Air France offered La Première passengers. To summarize briefly: even at stations outside Paris, Air France aims to keep La Première passengers in lines as little as possible.
After walking over from Terminal 5, I strangely found the La Première line completely cordoned off. I just walked up to the regular bag drop, though, and an agent there helped me promptly. She first asked if I would like an escort through security and to the lounge. Why yes, of course. She then handed me off to another super friendly agent, who brought me to the front of the “secret” Tom Bradley security line. Like Matthew, I had the checkpoint all to myself, literally.
After security, the agent walked me to the Qantas First Class Lounge. I expected to have access to only the underwhelming Korean Air First Class Lounge. So, color me excited that I got to check out the much better Qantas lounge instead. I plan to post a full review of the lounge later. Suffice to say, I enjoyed spending a few hours here.
After dropping me off, my escort asked if I preferred to board first or last. After telling her I’d like to board first, she said she’d come get me at 5:15. Sure enough, right on time, she returned to walk me to the gate, and to the La Première cabin. After showing me to my seat and introducing me to the flight attendant, I experienced another first. The captain personally came by to welcome me aboard. Talk about something seriously exciting for a travel geek!
Air France La Première B777-300 Cabin and Seating
Before getting started, you might wonder, why did this window seat enthusiast choose a center seat? The short answer is, I didn’t. I originally chose 1L, but about a week before departure, all my seat assignments disappeared. By this time, only the two center seats remained. Turns out my seatmate in 1L was a French celebrity of some kind, and I guess she wanted the window more than I did. So buyer beware, much like Lufthansa, Air France does seem to play seat shenanigans in the pointy end. In the end, I didn’t really care. I enjoyed the same great experience from the middle.
The La Première cabin on the 777 truly is one of the most exclusive premium cabins in the sky. The cabin consists of just a single row, in a 1-2-1 configuration. Overall, I found the cabin finishes beautiful. The design is modern, stylish, and looks and feels very French. I personally detest cookie-cutter “minimalist” design, and appreciated the warmth and elegance of the cabin.
Both the window and middle seats feature an identical layout, with an oversized lounger and ottoman. Seat width in the cabin is a generous 24 inches, with a pitch of 79 inches. If traveling with a companion, the ottoman is large enough for both of you to dine together. All seats feature the same oversized storage area to the side of the seat.
Perhaps my favorite part of the seat is the desk lamp. Much cooler than the usual “snake light” you get at the back of the seat. (Reader FJ chimed in with the significance of the unicorn-looking symbol seen throughout La Première. It is a winged seahorse used as the symbol of Air Orient, one of the airlines that co-founded Air France in 1933. Apparently Air France has used it as a mascot of sorts since.)
Waiting at the seat was a leather-bound amenity kit. The FA also offered a choice of medium or large pajamas. I will post a detailed review of both in a future post.
All seats come with a large TV screen built into the wall in front, so you can use the IFE from start to finish.
The first class cabin contains overhead bins only on the window sides. Though this might seem to create issues for center seat passengers, there is ample storage at the seat itself. Underneath the ottoman is a drawer plenty large enough for a laptop, purse, backpack, etc.
On the left side is a large storage area for reading material.
The seat also features two good sized storage compartments at both ends of the shelf area. The first, next to the lounger, houses the IFE controller, but is also plenty large to hold a phone, wallet, passport, etc. The second, next to the ottoman, is about the same size. The compartment closest to the seat has both a USB port and plug. The other contains only a plug. Very useful if you have multiple devices that need charging.
Compared to the complicated seats you typically find today, seat functions are remarkably simple. Though simple, it’s easy to find a comfortable position on the wide, well-padded seat.
Between the two center seats is a retractable privacy partition. With the partition raised, you’re pretty much invisible to the person next to you.
Speaking of which, while La Première does not come equipped with doors, the seats can be fully enclosed by curtains. With the curtains drawn, the effect is perhaps even better than some products with doors. You are totally closed off from everyone; not even a peephole for others to look through. If you value privacy, La Première is a top-notch product.
When it’s time for sleep, ask the flight attendant to make your bed, and relax in this fully flat space with high quality bedding and pillows. I slept soundly for nearly 6 1/2 hours. One negative: the cabin gets quite warm, especially if you like to bury yourself under the duvet. I like it warm and all, but this had even me waking up sweating.
Air France provides excellent noise-canceling headphones. Unfortunately, Air France also hardwires the headphones into the seat, so you can’t use them with your own device.
An easy-to-use handheld unit controls the TV screen.
The system includes a fair selection of movies and TV shows. The movie list featured an interesting mix of Hollywood, indie, and French films. More than enough to keep you entertained on a long flight. I watched a few wildlife and travel documentaries before falling asleep.
If it’s important to you, Air France does not offer WiFi on board the 777.
Food & Beverage
(Apologies in advance for the poor quality of the food photos. I apparently had my camera settings off, which caused many of them to come out blurry.)
Service began with the offer of a pre-departure beverage, and I asked for a glass of champagne. Air France offers Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 in La Première. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference between good and bad champagne. I only get one glass as a PDB out of habit. But $170 champagne does make for a good selfie, I think.
The first class flight attendant handed out the menu shortly after boarding commenced. Then, she came by and took orders a few minutes later.
Actual meal service began about 20 minutes after takeoff with an amuse bouche and a beverage. I switched to a glass of The Glenlivet to start off. As you’d expect, Air France uses real china.
I really dislike goat cheese, so I picked around that, but the rest of the dish was tasty. Next up: foie gras, a bread basket, and salad. I chose the foie gras because I don’t care for caviar. Foie gras is an acquired taste, one I still haven’t quite acquired. Extra points for creativity for the mango balls subbing as fake caviar, though.
The bread was fresh, and of course, I can’t resist that delicious French butter.
Meanwhile, you can customize your salad to your liking from the ingredients on the menu. I kept it simple, with mixed greens, grilled chicken, and Roquefort cheese. The salad was fresh, and quite good overall.
More bonus points for the fancy salt and pepper shakers.
Next came a cream of mushroom soup. I quite enjoyed this as well. It was rich and flavorful, and paired nicely with a glass of semillon.
I had a lot of trouble deciding on a main course. Truth be told, nothing appealed to me. I hate lamb and goat cheese, I don’t eat fish, and I really don’t care for veal, either. Going with the lesser of evils, I picked the veal. (Update: a reader pointed out something glaringly obvious that somehow escaped me until 10 months later. I distinctly recall ordering the veal. But I received the wrong dish, the lamb ribs, instead. That of course explains my dislike of the dish even more.) While the breading had decent flavor, the meat was badly overcooked, making it tough and rubbery. By this point, I was totally stuffed anyway, so I just picked at it a little. The potatoes and vegetables were fairly tasty, though.
I passed on the rest of the meal. Thanks to overindulging in the lounge, I had badly overstuffed myself by this point, and just wanted to go to sleep. I did save the box of chocolates for later though.
After waking up, the flight attendant brought my breakfast. Things started off on the wrong foot, though, with an obviously powdered cappuccino. C’mon, Air France, you can do better than that!
Things improved from there, though. Delicious fresh fruit and a nice blueberry muffin came out first, followed by more excellent bread.
But the star of the show, and perhaps the entire meal service, was the red berry bread pudding. This was ridiculously delicious, with an addictive mix of sweet and tangy flavors.
Overall, I have to say the meal service disappointed. It’s largely on me, I guess, as most of what was on the menu simply didn’t match my tastes. The food experience in both the lounge and on the A380 were much, much better, so I’ll chalk this one up to bad luck with the menu.
I’d characterize service as efficient, friendly, and refined, though decidedly hands-off. This isn’t a product where you have FAs constantly hovering over you, or the ninja-like service on Singapore Airlines, where your bed magically gets made while you’re in the bathroom without asking. (My A380 flight a few days later confirmed that this is just the La Première norm.)
But help was always at the ready. Call bells were answered literally within a few seconds, with service offered with grace and charm. And there are nice little touches, like the FA offering me both red wines to sample. Personally, I prefer the more hands-off approach offered here. I’d rather be left alone, as long as I can get what I need when I’m ready. If you prefer the more proactive service of the Asian carriers, though, you might be disappointed.
One last nugget – I’ll cover the ground experience in Paris in detail, but how cool is this? After being whisked off the plane by a La Première agent, you get driven to the lounge, up close and personal with the planes on the ramp.
Odds and Ends
We departed with 3 out of 4 La Première seats taken. To the right was the aforementioned French celebrity who bogarted my window seat. She asked the curtains to be drawn literally as soon as the seat belt sign went off, and had to be awaken on final decent to Paris. To the left was someone who looked like either Air France cabin crew, or an executive. She was kind enough to offer to take my picture shortly before landing.
The somewhat middling meal service aside, I’d say La Première deserves its accolades as one of the world’s best first class products. A great seat, an exclusive, elegant 4-person cabin, refined service, and unparalleled ground handling make for a well-rounded product. At least on the 777. As you’ll see later, the A380 doesn’t measure up, unfortunately.