Last week, I took my first international trip since February, 2020. That trip took me straight into Winter Storm Ciara, and ended up a bit of a misadventure at times. This one ended up going remarkably smoothly in comparison, despite the gauntlet of coronavirus policies to navigate. One aspect didn’t go quite according to plan, though. A last minute Air France Business Class equipment swap waylaid my trip review plan. And left me with a noticeably downgraded experience to boot.
The Original Plan
The idea for this trip took shape last August. I was getting the itch for one of my international junkets for food again; Europe this spring seemed like it had a decent chance of actually happening. In addition, I managed to find Air France Business Class award space for just 56,000 Flying Blue points. Even with fuel surcharges, that’s a good deal, especially for Paris to Dallas nonstop. And as icing on the cake, the route usually operates with a Boeing 787-9. The (relatively new) reverse herringbone design generally rates as a pretty decent product. All in all, this seemed like a good choice for a blog review.
The Dreaded Flighty Notification: Air France Business Class Equipment Swap
Right up until a couple of days before departure, everything remained set. I selected my window seat at booking, 2A, and checked back periodically for changes. Everything looked great, right up through my final checks the night before leaving home. Then, while eating dinner on Friday night in Vienna, I received a push notification from the Flighty app, informing me of an equipment change. Mind you, this was about 60 hours from scheduled departure. Usually, these don’t mean much; an A320 might swap for an A321neo, for example. This one, though, indicated a switch to a 777-300ER.
Initially, this actually interested me just a little. If it’s a 77W, I thought, maybe it’s a four-class configuration featuring La Première. You can occasionally score upgrades from Business for a reasonable cost; perhaps it might be worth it for a return visit to the La Première lounge. Upon returning to my room, though, the news was…not good. This was actually the el cheapo version of the 77W, a three-class version with angle-flat seats.
That meant the onboard product went from this…
That’s right, a 2-3-2 configuration with middle seats. Talk about a bulls*** downgrade. Fortunately, I kept the same seat, even after the equipment change. While annoying to have to climb over my neighbor to go to the bathroom, I at least kept my window. I imagine, though, that anyone who expected direct aisle access and ended up in a middle seat wouldn’t be happy.
On the other hand, it wasn’t all bad. For one, I enjoyed the lunch service. The duck lasagna in particular was a tasty sample of French cuisine.
And despite the mediocre setup, the seats themselves were comfortable. I nodded off after lunch…and woke up from my (admittedly drunk) slumber 5 hours later.
Ultimately, though, this type of configuration felt outdated the last time I flew it on American in…October, 2015. No, mileage beggars can’t be choosy. And of the 62 777s in the fleet, a material number still have the old configuration. But you can’t help feel disappointed when the swanky new Dreamliner you expected turns into a cabin you thought was lacking 7 years ago. (For what it’s worth, Air France plans to roll out a new Business Class seat soon.)
Some Parting Words for the Wise
At the end of the day, this experience serves as a lesson for anyone traveling in premium cabins, on miles or otherwise. Specific equipment is NEVER guaranteed. If you book a specific route to try a specific product on a specific plane, there’s always the risk of disappointment. Last minute equipment swaps happen. This was my first time getting burned, but I’m sure it won’t be the last. Just remember, temper your expectations, and keep the bigger picture in mind. I still thoroughly enjoyed my long weekend in Vienna and the joy of international travel again, mediocre seat and all.