There are only a couple of business class airline products that make the experience really special. Qatar Airways, which top notch service and food to go along with the business class suites, is the archetypal example. EVA Air out of Taipei is another because while their seats are good, they aren’t industry-leading. However the amenities – and world-class champagnes – help them rise above most competitors.
Generally speaking, though, business class is about the seat. You have more space, and an available bed, so you can be more comfortable and well-rested rather than beaten up by the time you reach your destination. None of the ‘above and beyond’ business class products are offered by U.S. or European airlines.
At that point, then, the gradations in service matter but I do think – once the product hits a certain level of quality – it becomes more (though not exclusively) about schedule and price. I’ll go out of my way for a business class product that’s an experience, choosing Qatar’s QSuites or EVA’s Royal Laurel class, even when it’s a bit less convenient. Otherwise though I’ll go for the available comfortable seat and deal with the imperfections.
- That doesn’t mean it isn’t important for an airline to focus on quality and comfort. I don’t think Air Canada’s inflight meals are great, but having a great sit-down meal in their Signature Suite in Toronto or Vancouver lets me have the crew save my main meal until later in the flight, which is clutch on a late night long haul departure (both for maximizing sleep, and for getting enough to eat). Air Canada will save the meal, while I’ve had less luck even in American Airlines first class though the airline actually trademarked ‘Dine Upon Request’
- When United Airlines launched their Polaris service, they offered a really indulgent product with good food and encouragement to try cocktails and flights of wine. They’ve suffered numerous cutbacks, and their service and catering are generally subpar. However their bedding remains outstanding. And that bedding makes a difference in rest on a long haul flight.
It’s this framing that I had in mind when I took my most recent Air France business class flight from Paris to Dallas – Fort Worth.
- Air France KLM Flying Blue makes more business class award space available to members of their program than to partner programs.
- While they add fuel surcharges to awards, the prices are still fairly reasonable for what you get when saver award space is available.
- And with myriad flights between Paris and various U.S. destinations, I can usually find something when planning a bit in advance (and I need a connecting flight anyway since there are no non-stops from my home city of Austin to Paris).
Air France is rolling out a new business class, but for now it’s mostly their old product. The cabins are surprisingly barren. The 787 seat is noticeably more narrow than the seat on their 777s. The service is fine, and the food is good for business class at least compared to what’s offered by American, Delta, United, and British Airways.
In other words, Air France offers transportation across the Pond that I can spend my miles for to travel in reasonable comfort. That’s pretty much what I expect from most business class options.
Here’s the seat. It’s fully flat, with direct aisle access. There’s not a lot of storage space. It’s about what you’d expect.
Here’s the cabin, where’s the splash of color? Where’s the airline logo? Something to spruce it up? Barren.
The lavatory, naturally, is the lav. But prior to departure from Paris they haven’t even stood up straight the toiletries provided. There’s not a lot of attention to detail (in the cabin cleaning either) at their home base.
Here’s the amenity kit. I appreciate that there’s a pen, though as a U.S. citizen and using Global Entry I didn’t need it. Still, it feels like it’s missing comb; tissues; mouthwash; lip balm.
Here’s what Air France actually does well. Their catering. I’ve had meals on planes I’d have been equally happy with in a restaurant, but that’s in the occasional first class. For business class you want to not be hungry and for the food to be stuff you can eat. Air France matches that, and roughly speaking I find it to be a little bit better than transatlantic competitors.
I had a pre-departure orange juice, I’m not really sure why but I didn’t fancy anything else. It’s from concentrate and wasn’t very good.
Air France still distributes face masks, which is a nice touch for those who wish to partake.
They also have the best kids meals I’ve seen on a plane (my four year old eats whatever we eat, but it’s still a nice effort, which they auto-request and you can opt out of). They also distribute toys and coloring for the kids.
I had a Coca Cola (again, wasn’t really up for a cocktail on this departure just after 10 a.m.) to go along with packaged nuts – missed opportunity – and an amuse bouche.
The salmon starter was good, so was my shrimp entree and those were followed by a cheese course. I had the sorbet with a glass of port, though I’d have preferred a French dessert wine.
They presented dessert options, a trio of sorbets or of pastries.
The pre-arrival meal was tasty, though not nearly as good as the cod dish I still remember from prior to arrival in Houston last year.
Everything was fine. The flight arrived about an hour late, delayed mostly because of backed up security queues. It had taken 30 minutes from driving onto airport property to reach the curb so it was no surprise that the lines for passport control and screening were interminable – but that’s because Charles de Gaulle is a terrible departure airport, just like it’s a terrible connecting airport.
Still, I’ll happily pay about 60,000 miles for a reasonably available business class product when it’s available. Because business class is all about a decent seat.