After seeing much promotion for Air France La Premiere it seems only fitting that I am now able to write an Air France First Class review.
With over a million miles on my Flying Blue frequent flyer scheme I felt it time for an upgrade or two. I opted to upgrade the long haul flight from Shanghai to Paris for my visit in November 2014.
My only long haul First Class experiences were with Emirates so Air France had a lot to compare to.
On arriving at the Shanghai Pu Dong airport there was a clearly signed Meeting Point for First Class or should I say La Premiere customers. This really made it a First Class experience with Air France for me from the off. No queuing at check-in or baggage drop.
I was immediately greeted by uniformed staff who first checked my boarding pass print out to confirm I was indeed an Air France First Class customer.
I was then given a verbal welcome and directed towards the closest check-in counter to drop off my luggage.
My printed boarding passes were presented in a red La Premiere envelope. Red is considered a lucky colour in China so this touch really complimented the Air France First Class experience with Chinese culture.
I was then personally escorted towards the boarding pass checking area to then proceed through passport control.
In Shanghai Pu Dong Airport this and every checking stage can be tiresome but not as a First Class customer. I was escorted through every stage:- initial check of boarding pass, passport control (dedicated desk) then security check (another dedicated channel).
I must admit in recent years I’ve spent more time queuing at passport control in Pu Dong Airport than playing chess so it was great to skip the lines.
At the other side of Passport Control I was then personally escorted (doesn’t that sound a bit weird that I had an escort?) to the Shanghai Airlines First Class Lounge of Terminal 1 of Pu Dong Airport. My personal assistant (I’ve decided that sounds a lot more respectable than “escort”) advised me that she would come to accompany me to the plane once boarding was called.
The lounge was small but also very appealing and exclusive. The room was filled with a set of comfy blue, soft furnishing chairs. I also noticed tablet computers by tables which by default showed video images of the Air France First Class cabin.
The Receptionist was very attentive and without even asking she provided me with a glass of water, refreshing face towel and a plate of fruits.
At first the lounge was empty and I was able to avail myself of the limited but fresh range of food. (I dare say the food I was about to experience on board was not to be missed so no point over indulging at 9am!)
Pretty soon 4 French travellers arrived in the lounge, I suspect a family. The elderly lady had a scowl look on her face when she stared across at me. I wonder if she thought that I was not worthy of the exclusive First Class experience? I was sat in comfortable clothing for flying and taking the odd picture here and there with my compact camera. Did she not know that I am The Guy Who Flies?
On reflection it was quite amusing. Either she was on a different flight or sat in Business Class. There was only myself and one other gentleman taking seats out of the eight available in the First Class cabin of the Boeing 777-300ER flight.
The best massage chair in the world
Well I don’t know if that is true or not but it certainly is the best massage chair I’ve experienced.
The Shanghai Airlines First Class Lounge had a Ogawa 3D Zero Gravity Massage Chair also labelled as Smart Aire Plus. I was keen to give it a try before the lounge became busy and I lost my chance.
I’ve experienced many a massage in China and this was up there with the best. At first the chair scanned my back and seemed to immediately identify the knots in my back. Then I had 15 minutes of firm and invigorating massage. My feet, arms and shoulders were gripped during various stages as I was treated to fabulous relaxation. I can now only dream that one day I afford one of these for my home.
The bathrooms of the First Class Lounge were of course immaculate. The toilet had an electric system for a hygienic seat. I’m not quite sure how it worked but it looked impressive.
There was also a selection of shower cubicles. It was still early morning and I’d already showered in the hotel so I had to give these a miss.
Wifi was also available in the lounge although I must admit that I only used this for around 10 minutes.
Boarding for a First Class passenger
Pretty soon my little assistant lady came along to advise me that boarding had begun. She then escorted me to the gate and even down the boarding ramp. This was a little bit of a novel experience even for a frequent flyer such as myself. She led me straight past everyone on the boarding ramp and straight up to the door of the aircraft 🙂 (I’m liking this.)
I was greeted by cabin staff and directed to my seat. Not difficult really since it was seat 1A.
I was quickly assisted as they took my jacket away to hang and offered me a refreshing drink.
It is not too often that I have chance to write an Air France First Class review so to mark the occasion I opted for champagne. This was no cheap champagne though it was Bollinger none the less. (A little lost on me perhaps since I’m no champagne connoisseur but I appreciate the luxury label.)
I was then presented with a very fancy black amenity kit. This is far more classy than the one I previously received in Business Class.
I had a little poke around my seating area to see what I could find. Immediately I discovered the Bose headset (I like the sound of that).
There was also an electrical plug socket nearby. I thought it would be easy to use however was soon advised that you need to twist your plug as you insert it. “It’s a little bit tricky” advised the cabin crew who helped me.
I was personally greeted by the Captain of the plane. I thought this was a nice touch. However I think he was a little bit thrown when I responded to his French greeting with a response in English. Politely and a little flummoxed he said “Welcome, we will have a safe flight.”
I was also greeted by the flight purser, Isabel. She quickly identified that this type of Air France First Class experience was new for me. However I admit to feeling a little bit disappointed when she advised me that this was the old style Air France First Class cabin. Aircraft are gradually being upgraded to the Air France new First Class experience with personal cabins. It will all be very different she said. I guess that the Emirates First Class and Singapore experiences have set a benchmark.
No bother, it just means that I’ll have to redeem some more points in the future to compare the two 🙂
I was offered some in flight pyjamas. These certainly came across as very comfy and I’m always happy to add to my collection.
The area in front of my seat featured an ottoman style seating area which included a seat belt so a guest could stay and chat with me. I didn’t have a flying buddy on this trip so are there any takers?
There was quite a large storage draw under this seat. Inside were the blanket, slippers, flight socks and even a shoe horn!
Once we’d taken off I was offered another drink and given a little selection of hours d’oeuvres. The menu was also presented although the cabin staff asked as to when I would like to be served the food. (I like the idea of eating at my own pace.)
The menu selection on Air France First Class consisted of:-
Mise en bouche (turnip and scallops)
Fresh seasonal salad
Mushroom veloute soup with morel mushrooms
Smoked Sturgeon with caviar (my choice)
Chinese Noodle Salad
Grilled Tournedos of Beef
Fillet of Halibut (my choice – very pleasant although towards the end it felt a little dry)
Spinach and Ricotta Cheese Cannelloni
Special dish of the day (Taiwanese-style sautéed chicken)
A selection of cheeses
Chocolate-Banana cake (my choice)
Fruit Beggar’s Purse (what a great name)
Since this was a long haul flight the menu indicated further meal selections.
Firstly a gourmet snack would be offered during the flight plus an option to “visit the bar to be tempted by our varied selection” – I’m not sure there was a bar, I suspect they mean the galley.
Then there was a further meal selection:-
Fresh seasonal salad, smoked salmon
Linguine Pasta with Pesto
Fresh fruit salad
The wine selection on Air France First Class consisted of:-
Champagne – Bollinger La Grande Annee 2004
Rivesaltes Ambre 2001 Domaine Cazes – Roussillon sweet white wine
Chablis 1st Cru Vaillons 2011 Joseph Drouhin white wine
Chateauneuf-Du-Pape Clos De L’Oratoire Des Papes 2010 Ogier Vallee du Rhone – red wine
Margaux Chateau Cantenac-Brown 2008 – Bordeaux red wine (this was my choice and the wine was fair compared to my preference of Australian Merlot)
On board entertainment in Air France First Class
As far as I could tell the TV and video selection on board was fairly consistent with that you’d experience in Business Class. The selection of films is certainly not as extensive as you’d find with such as Emirates or Malaysia Airlines (who I find tend to have a wide choice).
The personal TV monitor also did not appear to be exceptionally larger than that found in business class.
Feature films during November 2014 included such as:-
Sex Tape (actually a better film than I expected. Cameron Diaz is quite funny pretending to be high.)
And So It Goes (Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton)
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson)
Blended (Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore – I watched this and it was typical American light entertainment. It claimed to be a comedy but I don’t remember ever laughing)
Plus some traditional classics such as:-
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (was this really a classic?)
Taking a nap
The Shanghai to Paris flight is definitely long haul so the cabin crew offered to convert my chair into a full flat bed. When the time was right I agreed and two crew worked away for a couple of minutes. They reclined my seat into a full horizontal flat bed. They fitted a mattress and a duvet. A blanket was also placed on top.
I must admit I didn’t feel very sleepy at first but once I laid down I was very comfy. The cabin was also very dark at this stage so I’m sure that helped too. The real bonus here was that I actually had some elbow room. Often in Business Class seats a lot of the benefit is lost through lack of elbow room, you have to keep your arms straight down your sides. Not on the Air France First Class seat, that was nice.
I varied between working and snoozing for the remainder of the flight.
Just before landing I was advised that once we arrived a lady named Georgia would greet myself and the other First Class passenger and attend to us on the ground.
I was then advised, for maybe the sixth time that I was in the old style First Class cabin. Staff were keen to point out that the refit for this route would be complete by the summer of 2015. After seeing the new La Premiere features on the Air France website I’m very keen to try it out again.
Once we’d landed, Georgia met us at the doorway and led both myself and the other passenger to an elevator actually connected to the jet ramp. This fellow passenger was already excited and told me that I would really like what was to come.
Once I discovered what lay ahead I fully agree!
The elevator took us down to ground level where we had our very own limousine waiting for us! Georgia proceeded to drive us to the terminal, but not to any entrance, our own, private, VIP entrance door.
We entered an exclusive security check area at Charles De Gaulle Paris airport. We were the only passengers going through it, no queues! I began to think how amazing this was.
Then we were taken upstairs in an elevator which brought us straight into La Premiere Lounge.
This was one heck of a fancy first class lounge and it was empty! No other passengers were there.
The fit out was stunning with gentle bright colours and it looked as if it had only been open for a few weeks.
Georgia gave me a quick tour of the place.
The main dining and resting area had lots of wonderfully laid out tables. Meals were fresh, made to order from the menu.
There was a small lounging area with some obscure work of art. Apparently the art work changes each month.
A little further down is a corridor leading to a quiet sleeping area. If jet lag has got the better of you then this place looks like amazing comfort.
Like the Air France business class lounges there is a salon where you can go for facials and massages etc. I’d have loved to have taken the opportunity to benefit from this. Sadly our arrival time was a little too late and it had just closed for the evening.
The toilets and showers areas were also exclusive and stunning in design.
Then to round it off there is a cocktail bar area.
With barely an hour until our boarding call I opted to try the fine cuisine dining option. Freshly cooked food will always beat on board food no matter what your class of travel.
Waiter service (none of this Business Class self help buffet stuff) applied here with the most polite staff imaginable. I opted for some succulent lamb which really was melt in the mouth stuff. Plus some French red wine. I even sneaked in a crème brulee during this moment of indulgence.
Whilst enjoying this meal I chatted away with the other La Premiere passenger. He told me that he’d opted for Air France on this trip because La Premiere (First Class) had actually been cheaper than flying Business Class with British Airways. At first I thought this a little surprising but then again I know BA can often appear expensive. Their loss in my mind. This La Premiere experience was turning out to be truly amazing.
We were offered the chance to walk to the gate for our flight to Manchester or take the car. Well I definitely wanted a picture of the car so I took that option.
Just as we left the lounge we were then presented with gifts of a box of chocolates from around the world. What a lovely gesture, thank you Air France.
Our private car took us right up to the jet ramp. Georgia escorted us to the front of the plane, past the other passengers, and introduced us to the cabin crew as we then took our seats.
After saying goodbye to Georgia I then realised the stark difference in the two planes and classes of travel.
Here I was sat in seat 1C (business class) on a Boeing A 321. Already it was noisy with the sounds of the guy to the left of me sniffing and making chomping noises with his mouth. Whilst two people in the row behind and to the right of me talked for the duration of this flight.
All of a sudden I missed the tranquility, space and luxury of La Premiere.
Even though this last flight was Business Class (there was no First Class option for the flight) we were still personally greeted and escorted through Manchester Airport on arrival. There was no real chance to speed through passport control although we were one of the first there.
However our luggage was the first onto the luggage carousel and it did come out promptly.
At this stage I expressed my most sincere gratitude to the assisting staff and headed off to meet my awaiting lift home.
Concluding my Air France First Class Review and how does La Premiere with Air France compare to Emirates First Class?
This is my first long haul First Class Air France experience. So how did they compare?
To be honest, the fit out of the cabin on my Emirates flights was nicer. The fully sectioned off private area was amazing. The TV screen was bigger, a much wider entertainment selection and even having your own personal refreshment selection at your side was fantastic.
Yet in saying all of that the Air France fleet is in the process of being updated. I’ve no doubt that the new La Premiere First Class cabins will rival these.
As for service. On board both sets of staff were very polite and nothing was too much trouble. Not that I caused a fuss about anything anyway. Some blogging friends of mine think the Emirates personal service has some scope for improvement.
However, on the ground is where I noticed a big difference. For me there is little doubt that Air France wins this comparison.
Firstly, being personally guided from check in, through security and passport control and walked to the lounge (or even driven) is superb. (I do have some experience of being driven to the terminal before but it just felt nicer with Air France.)
With Emirates, if you are not in Dubai for the start of your First Class flight then you are likely to be in a Business Class Lounge. This was the experience of both my First Class flights (one from Manchester and one from Melbourne).
Also, with Emirates once you get off the plane I didn’t feel as though I was recognised as a First Class passenger anymore. I’d held my boarding pass and went to the First Class lounge saying I’d just gotten off a First Class flight. I was denied access and told that since my ongoing flight was Business Class I had to use the much busier Emirates Business Class Lounge at Dubai Airport.
This was not the case with Air France. I was able to use two First Class Lounges, at each side of my La Premiere flight. The lounge at Paris CDG just blew me away.
Once Air France complete their roll out of the new cabins then I think there is one clear winner for me. Well done Air France, for me you shine with excellence. To conclude my Air France First Class review I can’t wait to try the Air France new First Class.
If Air France First Class is beyond your travel budget then maybe consider Premium Economy? You can read my Air France Premium Economy review here.
If you found this review interesting/helpful then please sign up for my free newsletter where I feature many more air travel reviews. Also please consider sharing this article with your friends.