I quite possibly anticipated the ground transfer at Paris during my La Première experience the most. “La Première Ground” might rank as the most hyped and exclusive transfer service anywhere. And I have to agree. This might just qualify as the best airport transfer service in the world, from start to finish. To sum it up briefly: it succeeds in completely eliminating lines and stress.
To fully test La Première Ground, I intentionally booked one long layover, and one short. I wanted a long layover because I wanted to indulge in the full lounge and meal experience. I also wanted a short one to see how it improved the stressful experience of a tight connection at CDG.
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.
Arrival Into Paris – Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)
Upon arrival at Paris, Air France representatives personally meet all La Première passengers at the door. They immediately whisk passengers into a waiting Jaguar for a drive across the ramp to the lounge. (Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Air France uses a British car to transport passengers?)
Depending on traffic, you might get your own car, or share a ride with another passenger. Arriving into Paris, each of the three passengers on my flight received separate escorts. On the way out, though, I shared a car to and from the lounge with another passenger on my flight from Barcelona.
Meanwhile, enjoy fantastic aircraft views at ground level on the drive over. I spotted both of Air France’s large long-haul birds, the 777-300ER and A380.
Once you arrive, the La Première lounge includes a dedicated passport control process. Your escort takes your passport, has it stamped, and returns it to you in the lounge. No waiting, no lines – you don’t even see a passport control officer. Just enjoy a drink while waiting. In this case, a refreshing Glen Grant.
The Air France La Première Lounge
You exit your ride on the ground floor of the lounge; your escort then takes you up the elevator the the lounge itself. You are then given a brief tour of the lounge, and an introduction to the chef and the manager on duty. First impression: it is a smaller space than I expected, especially compared to the huge Qantas First Lounge at LAX. But it is modern and stylish, perhaps a little avant-garde, with a good variety of seating options.
Also, the La Première lounge has some of the most strict access rules in the business. Passengers departing Paris receive access to the lounge only when traveling on a long-haul flight in La Première. When connecting, you most both be flying La Première on a longhaul flight, AND connecting to another Air France-operated flight, to access the lounge. This keeps the number of passengers using the lounge at any one time quite low, so the small size doesn’t matter as much.
NOTE: Air France does allow Business Class passengers on a long-haul flight without First Class to purchase La Première ground services. However, this was recently restricted to those who have flown La Première at least once in the last 12 months. Thus, I suspect you don’t see too many people taking advantage.
As you enter from the elevator, the main room extends out in front of you. This area consists of both quad chairs and larger couches.
A few couches along the window pass as window seating.
This might qualify as my one complaint about the lounge – no real views. You can sort of see the airport at work from the windows, but the view is obstructed by the shades.
This area isn’t particularly private, but the lounge hardly gets overcrowded. During my mid-late afternoon layover on the inbound, I saw maybe 3-4 other people. At times, I had the lounge entirely to myself. On the return around noon on Sunday, I saw maybe a dozen others. Hardly busy, in other words.
Nevertheless, if you prefer something more intimate, immediately behind the main seating area is a smaller, separate room. Only a few couches, and some interesting artwork creating a barrier from the main seating area, make this room feel much cozier and more private.
Large couches make this a perfect area for those traveling as a couple.
Turn right before reaching this room, and the corridor leads to a swanky bar. The stylish bar features an excellent selection of top-shelf liquors, including about two dozen single malt whiskeys. Enjoy a drink in the red mood lighting, or take it to enjoy at your seat.
Continue straight from the bar to find a cool magazine rack with a large selection of magazines and newspapers, mostly French.
To the left, behind the magazine rack, is a solitary large couch with a glass desk. And a piece of modern art hanging from the ceiling.
Incidentally, go behind the left-most side of the wall to find the duty manager’s station.
Head to the right of the magazine rack to find a meeting room of sorts. Eight seats surround a large mirror that doubles as a presentation screen, with a sparkling red wall as a backdrop.
Behind the bar, turn left to reach the restrooms, relaxation area, and showers. After a short walk past the service elevator, head left again for the restrooms. Each restroom features ample personal space, with a separate sitting area.
Instead of turning left, continue straight ahead to enter the “relaxation area”. This dimly-lit area provides quasi-daybeds to catch a little shut-eye if you wish. I do think Air France missed an opportunity here to some extent. Other airlines, such as SWISS, offer full, private sleeping rooms. The “sleeping cubicles” here aren’t bad, but pale in comparison to a room with a real bed. I saw nobody using these seats on either of my visits.
Behind the relaxation area are the shower suites. Showers are available on a first come, first served basis; no sign-ups needed. The spacious suites include a toilet, and even a plush bathrobe. Amenities are the same Carita-branded products found in the La Premiére amenity kit. And of course, they were spotless.
At the end of the hall is the Biologique Recherche spa. La Premiére passengers can avail themselves of one free 15-minute back or foot massage. The spa also offers numerous other options, but treatments are pricey. You can ask the duty manager to book a treatment for you, or you can call Air France to book a time in advance. The day I visited on the inbound, I just walked in without a wait for a back massage. I’m not really in to massages, but I did find the back massage relaxing. The masseuse provided a firm touch, but didn’t “bring the pain” as some tend to do.
Food & Beverage
The lounge offers a separate dining area in front of the main seating area when you’re ready to dine.
However, you don’t have to eat in the dining room. If you prefer, the wait staff will serve you at any location within the lounge. Just be aware, the low-slung tables in the seating areas make it a little awkward to eat.
Anyway, the lounge provides both a buffet and full a la carte option. The buffet starts with perhaps the largest selection of bottled water I’ve ever seen, along with some assorted canapés. Still is on the left, sparkling on the right.
Next to that is some cheese, baguettes, fruits, and pastries.
Finally, a few finger foods and some quiche.
If the buffet looks nicely presented but underwhelming, don’t fret, because the a la carte menu makes up for it. The menu, designed by French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse, offers a full selection of appetizers and main courses. (My apologies, as I apparently forgot to photograph the menu.) I started off with an appetizer of grilled chicken sandwiches with cheese and truffles. These were delicious; perfectly grilled, with the truffles providing a nice flavor profile.
For the main course, I ordered the peppercorn-crusted beef filet in a beurre blanc, with whipped potatoes on the side. Not only was the filet beautifully presented, it was a terrific steak. Perfectly cooked medium rare, with the peppercorns adding a welcome shot of heat. I also enjoyed the whipped potatoes, but was too stuffed to finish it.
Not pictured – I also enjoyed a couple of glasses of a fine Bordeaux with my meal, which paired nicely with the steak.
No, I won’t pretend that it’s the same as dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. But it’s easily the best meal I’ve had in an airport lounge, period. And if you don’t have enough time to order a proper meal? The buffet offerings actually aren’t bad. The cheese and baguette hit the spot on my short layover back to New York.
The wait staff will also prepare coffee drinks made to order. The cafe au lait was pretty good, FAR better than the powdered cappuccino I endured on the flight from LA.
Departure from CDG
Anyone who’s transited a large European hub, including CDG, knows about the often painful transit experience. Moving from a non-Schengen to Schengen flight, or vice versa, means dealing with passport control, switching terminals, and transit security. Transiting to a US-bound flight also entails the annoying security theater of enhanced bag and electronics searches. Long walks and long lines are almost a given.
If you’re a La Première customer, though? Throw all of those worries out the window. La Première passengers are treated as remaining in the “secure” zone throughout transit, because they are under the control of an Air France employee at all times. Thus, passengers need not go through transit security, even on US-bound flights. (A security officer asks the usual questions when leaving the lounge. However, passengers are not subject to bag or electronics searches.) When arriving at the lounge, your escort asks if you prefer to board your next flight first or last. When it’s time to go, they return to take you directly onboard your next flight, again via Jaguar. Once again, no lines, no waiting, no hassles.
More than anything, this adds some real value to the travel experience. Charles de Gaulle is a messy airport for transfers. Air France and Delta love to shoehorn you onto 70-90 minute connections here. But good luck getting through that without feeling stressed thanks to all the hoops. With La Première, though, my hour and ten minute connection was a breeze. I get (irrationally) nervous about connections; an hour and ten minutes would normally make me a nervous wreck. But this time, I didn’t even break a sweat.
La Premiére Ground Transfer – Service
As on my two La Premiére flights, service is efficient and highly refined throughout the process. Just like in flight, you don’t have someone hovering over you every second of your transfer. But if you need something, just ask an agent in the lounge, and they’ll ensure you get what you need quickly. (The staff-to-guest ratio in the lounge is high enough that you’ll never have trouble finding someone.) These guys know what they’re doing, and you can definitely sense the air of confidence and pride in all La Premiére employees. I really appreciate that.
Is the La Premiére lounge the most outstanding First Class lounge in the world? Perhaps not. The Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt probably beats it. And lounges like the SWISS First Class lounge offer better features, like the sleeping rooms. But for the overall experience, I think this might be the best out there. Air France does everything possible to eliminate the hassle of transiting in Paris. No lines, no waiting, no security checks – just a lovely space to relax before your next flight. Combine that with the terrific dining, and it’s a perfect complement to one of the world’s best First Class products.
If you do find yourself on La Premiére, make sure to give yourself at least 3 hours in one direction or the other to fully enjoy the lounge. You will need at least an hour to dine, a difficult task on a tight connection.