Traveling long-haul is a little weird these days. That’s mostly because of all the new and changing rules, checks and general uncertainty before departure and on arrival. Have you read the testing requirements right? What about for your connection airport – do they have different rules? Are you actually allowed to enter the destination country? Have any of these rules changed since you last checked? And sometimes the check-in agents are only slightly more clued in than you. Will they interpret the rules correctly? Will there be extra checks on arrival and if so, what will they be and will there be long lines? Like I said, a lot of uncertainty.
The thing is, once you’re deemed fit to fly, on many airlines these days the onboard experience is not all that different from normal. And sometimes it’s better, mainly because planes are often really empty. (There were no more than a few dozen people on my recent flight from Copenhagen to San Francisco.) Most airlines have brought back a fairly complete service on board. Once you get used to wearing a mask for long periods (easier than I thought it would be), it’s all quite okay.
Flying Air France long-haul business class
Air France is known for its onboard service, and that’s no surprise because France is a country that takes food and drink seriously. So if you enjoy dining at a French restaurant then you’ll probably enjoy your business class flight on Air France. And it may also come as no surprise that Air France was relatively quick to bring back a more-or-less full menu offering onboard its flights.
So when I needed to get back from San Francisco (SFO) to Stockholm last weekend, I hopped on the Air France flight currently running on certain days from SFO to Paris (CDG). Another thing to note about this flight is that unlike many European airports these days, French authorities do not require any particular Covid test result for those transiting at CDG. I got a test done anyway because I think it’s a good idea, but it was one less bit of stress not to have to worry whether I had done the right type of test, within the correct number of hours before departure and had the appropriate proof.
In any case, Air France did not disappoint.
A nice way to fly
This flight, AF83, was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER. It’s a fantastic aircraft, especially forward of the wing and massive engine. It is distinctly louder than an A350, and the cabin air is drier. But I’ve never had a bad flight on one.
Flight time was 10 hours 9 minutes and we followed a fairly typical eastbound track passing over a lot of Canada and the southern tip of Greenland before making landfall over the very top of Ireland. At this time of year if you sit on the left side you’ll see that the daylight to the north lingers all night long. Nevertheless we also lucked out with a half hour or so with some pretty stunning northern lights out the window.
As far as the service goes, I appreciated the following details:
- Big, proper menus that feel a bit like the old days at this point. The Air France icon, font and logo all look great too.
- Espresso drinks on offer. These days that can be hard to find, even in First Class on some airlines (ahem, AA).
- Endless bread and as many drinks at once as you may care to order. You could say this is potentially a bad thing, allowing for our most gluttonous impulses to emerge, but if I’m flying a French airline I expect to be served a lot of bread and cheese and a range of digestifs and maybe an espresso at the same time – and here Air France does not disappoint.
The seat is a relatively classic reverse herringbone style but it looks great, is reasonably private, has plenty of space to stretch out (including as your legs), gives you two or three windows to look out of and lies completely flat – so what more can you really ask for?
Two minor complaints
Just two things weren’t great on this flight: I couldn’t find a single thing worth watching in the entertainment system, and the Wi-Fi was painfully slow. The first point is subjective, the second presumably is the result of an older system, and both are very much first world problems. But I figure they’re worth pointing out.
A special flight crew
As it turns out this flight was piloted by Guillaume Laffon, a long-time Air France 777 pilot who has a terrific Instagram account with a big following. He posts a lot of great images and videos from his flights and the cities he visits, so it’s an account well worth following. He was kind enough to come back and say hello, and he pointed out that the Captain on our flight was actually one of only two women who flew the Concorde with Air France. How cool is that? Not to be outdone, the other First Officer onboard was an experienced fighter pilot. Something of an all-star crew, as it turned out.
A slightly less empty flight
There were 100 passengers onboard this flight. That’s quite a bit more than any of my other transatlantic flights over the past year or so. And on top of that, the plane was carrying 30 tonnes of cargo (30,000 kilograms). With air freight prices what they are today, that indicates to me that this flight may have even been profitable for Air France. That’s a big deal these days with empty planes flying around and many airlines continuing to lose money. Let’s hope that’s a trend that only continues to improve.