Review : Air France La Première, Paris-Singapore, Boeing 777-300ER

Apart from a partial review a few years ago, it’s been a long time since we did a review of a flight in Air France La Première class, which is actually a bit unfair since it constitutes our benchmark for First Class. (Standard meter does not necessarily mean the best, but the reference with which we compare everything because it is the one we knew the earliest and that we used the most).

More than a flight review, here is a synthesis of my experiences on the Paris-Singapore flight on which we had the chance to fly in La Première class a number of times in the last years.

A fully optimized ground course

The La Première cabin experience begins on the ground. This is true regardless of the travel class, but in this case it is true to such an extent that as a customer you are as eager to experience what is happening on the ground as you are to experience what is going to happen in flight.

You check in at a dedicated area of Roissy’s terminal 2E where you sit comfortably in a lounge.

Salon la Première

A dedicated drop-off area for La Première passengers exists outside the terminal.

Enregistrement La Première

The service is attentive and personalized.

The only negative point is not specific to La Première but to Air France in general: when, after arriving at your destination, you leave on a flight of a non partner airline you are usually told that it is impossible to check your luggage from end to end, which is totally wrong. There are procedures for this and I once came across an agent who was resourceful and helpful enough to do this. Otherwise they prefer to let the customer manage than to assume a baggage problem due to another airline which is a bit of a pity in general (all airlines, even non-partners, check me in from end to end even if I end up on Air France which is not their partner) and petty in this particular case given the price of the ticket.

Well, in the worst case, you just have to mention to the reception staff upon arrival in Singapore that you have a connecting flight so that, by magic, your suitcase is rerouted while you take a shower in the lounge. But one should be able to secure this from check-in!

You are then escorted to the lounge. There is a specific line at the police and security checkpoints that magically opens when the La Première passenger arrives escorted by an Air France agent.

The formalities are completed in 3 minutes, and we finally arrive at the lounge dedicated to La Première passengers. I won’t say more because the Air France la Première lounge has already been reviewed here.

That said, I can’t totally ignore this part of the experience. Having spoken with many passengers, everyone agrees that this lounge is a major element of the La Première experience and an essential part of its value proposition. It is safe to say that Air France offers the best ground experience in the world in this category.

Many people make arrangements to have the longest possible connection to take advantage of itwhen their journey does not start in Paris, and many of those who leave Paris do so from a different location. arrive long hours before to take advantage of all its benefits and begin to cut themselves off from the outside world in a bubble of tranquility long before they take off.

The lounge experience ends with an escort to the plane, usually by car.

Technically speaking, from the moment you enter the lounge, you will not encounter a single passenger who is not traveling in la Première until you arrive at your destination (except in the rare cases where the plane is close enough to walk to it from the lounge)

Welcome in La Première class

It doesn’t matter if you arrive by car or through the terminal, you have priority and at CDG there is a gateway dedicated only to La Première passengers. It allows them to go directly to row 1 where their suite seats are located and ensures that, as others board via the other jetways, no passenger travelling in another class crosses the ones travelling in first class when boarding.

It goes without saying that the passenger is “expected”

Very quickly you’ re freed of your coat, you settle down and the first drink arrives.

Contrary to the business class you will be offered a permanent refill until the plane is ready for take-off

Cabine La Première Air France
Champagne served in La Première class on Air France is always very premium
Diner - Air France La Première

We are also given an amenity kit more premium than in business one whose design, supplier and content evolves regularly as well as pajamas (here called “nightwear”) to spend the night. However, we have the impression that over the years the quality of the kit containing the amenity kit has tended to decrease and become closer to a business class kit, even though the contents would be more upmarket.

Cabine La Première Air France
Old Givenchy Amenity Kit
Trousse de confort La Première
An old model of Amenity Kit
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Carita Amenity kit

Personal note: the latest generation of pajamas is more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing than the old ones and survives much better in the washing machine once you get home!

Very quickly you see the personnel dedicated to the La Première cabin who come to introduce themselves and get to know each other, then the main purser and the captain (who comes during the flight).

The La Première cabin on board the 777-300ER

At Air France, only the A380 and some B777-300ERs have a La Première cabin. The A380s still have (and in my opinion will continue to have for a long time to come) the old model, which has become obsolete with the introduction of the so-called “Best” cabins on the B777. Let’s talk about the cabin of this 777.

There is only one row of First, composed of 4 suites in 1-2-1 configuration.

Cabine la Première Air France
Cabine Air France La Première

The tones are soft and the overall atmosphere is soothing. Whether it is on the hard product (seat) or the soft product (cabin), we are more on hotel type experiences than on air travel.

It happened to me to have the cabin all to myself 2 years ago…an experience to live. Really.

Each seat is a “suite” that becomes totally private when you close the curtain that isolates it from the rest of the cabin. A curtain that you close to sleep but that some close for dinner or during the entire flight.

During the presentation of the cabin, many of us, including myself, doubted the relevance of the choice of the curtain at a time when others such as Singapore Airlines or Garuda, to name but a few, chose a closed cabin with a “hard” door. With use, it is a choice that I have learned to appreciate.

Cabine La Première Air France
La Première cabin with open curtains
Cabine La Première Air France
My neighbor decided to close his curtain

Indeed, as we will see below, the curtain is “heavy” and rigid enough to offer a real separation worthy of a partition. Then the choice of the curtain allowed Air France to offer something that no other airline offers in First to my knowledge: a totally closed suite!

Indeed, the choice of a “hard” cabin makes it much more complicated to close it completely upwards (even in the Etihad Residence). An argument all the more easy as for many Asian or Middle Eastern airlines it is important to be able to look over the partition to see what is going on in the suite. Nothing like that at Air France where the term “full privacy” is much more applicable.

As for the central seats, you just have to press a button to make a partition appear that will separate the two seats if the two adjacent passengers are not traveling together. But it only goes up halfway. I wouldn’t feel comfortable there if I didn’t know my neighbor.

There is plenty of storage space both under the otoman and in the trunk on the side.

Cabine La Première Air France
Cabine La Première Air France

Each suite has a closet with hangers to store your coat and the rest of your belongings once you have put on your night clothes.

Cabine La Première Air France
The locker that serves as a dressing room in each “suite” of the Cabin la Première

The screen is large, very large and of good quality.

Cabine La Première Air France

The remote control is the same as in business. It may take a little time to get used to for the “unused” customer, but it is pleasant to use and functionally rich. I really like the feature that allows you to watch a movie on the TV while displaying the flight map on the remote (or the other way around but it makes less sense to me).

Cabine La Première Air France

The selection of films available is large but not infinite either. Following the news of the releases you can quickly have seen everything that interests you and it remains far from the offer of Emirates for example.

As for the buttons that allow to manipulate the seat, I welcome the simplification effort that has been made. Instead of the complicated systems found almost everywhere in business or in first class, a few simple buttons are enough to adjust the position of the seat perfectly.

Cabine La Première Air France

Last detail, a bit of a gimmick for some, a simple press of a button is enough to close the window blinds. Gimmick ? When a seat takes up 4 windows, it is the only way to close them without having to stand up, a complicated maneuver when seated and very uncomfortable when lying down.

Catering in the La Première class

Like the lounge where Alain Ducasse’s teams serve, the in-flight service is gastronomic. Each quarter, a starred chef signs the La Première menu outbound Paris.

La Première must be the embodiment of the French art of living, so catering holds a very special place.

The menu is “rich”.

IMG_4907
Sample menu in La Première cabin

The sophisticated dishes.

Great attention is paid to the wine list.

Catering Air France La Première
Example of a wine list in the Air France La Première cabin
Catering Air France La Première
Example of a wine list in the Air France La Première cabin

Afterwards, you will think that we are being picky (because Olivier shares my judgment) but all this leaves us with a taste of unfinished business.

First of all the dishes. Yes there is research, monstrous efforts are made to offer elaborate food, ambassador of the French cuisine. And yet…

Catering Air France La Première
Catering Air France La Première
Diner - Air France La Première
Diner - Air France La Première
Diner - Air France La Première
IMG_0100
IMG_0096
IMG_0095

At the end of the day, we were rarely “dazzled” from a gustatory point of view. Yes, it is elaborate, beautiful (most of the time), good, fine but… the result does not pay tribute to the talent of the chefs nor to the work done.

When you want to be an ambassador of French cuisine, you start with an unequalled base, unique in the world, to be promoted to the customer. But you start with a lot of constraints, including the weight of history. In a word, hard work and talent can do nothing against the fact that the finesse of French gastronomy is very poorly expressed at 33,000 feet.

I have not seen a single airline that, regardless of the class of travel, deprives itself of the use of spices, chili, curry to boost the taste of a dish, allow it to invade your palate, leave a trace. Not Air France, simply because it is not part of the codes of French gastronomy. It is all to the credit of our beautiful national airline but in the end all this lacks pep. Once again, playing the finesse card at an altitude where one has lost most of one’s gustatory capacities is beautiful but useless. And unless you can prove to me that Cyrano de Bergerac, to whom we owe the tirade “it’s even more beautiful when it’s useless” is a regular customer of the Première…

Compared to the competition we also find that the choice of starters is perhaps a bit limited.

The quantities are also sometimes a little light and the presentation of the plates of random quality.

A little word about caviar while we’re at it. Its reintroduction in La Premiere was a great news widely welcomed. But over time it became a simple amuse bouche, then a small part of an amuse bouche to become just a small item on the menu. Yes, caviar is a marker of the first class, but if it’s just to show that you’re serving it, don’t.

IMG_0083
Caviar served as an amuse bouche.
Diner - Air France La Première
Caviar “diluted” in a starter

For me it is a dish that deserves better than being served as an amuse bouche in a spoon as soon as the take-off is finished. And not with a plastic spoon either! When you see that Lufthansa serves it almost by the ladleful as a starter…

It also seems to us that the wine list is in slight regression lately, an observation I made to myself after a recent flight on Lufthansa in First.

Two other constants, which are not specific to La Première but are exacerbated in this cabin that promotes excellence and the French art of living: Air France still doesn’t know how to cook beef and red meat in general and eggs for breakfast are unworthy of a canteen. The cooking of the dishes is a regular problem in the front classes at Air France!

What we miss in this menu?

1°) A menu of hot snacks to be ordered at any time.

2°) Eggs cooked on demand, for breakfast or at any time.

3°) A true tea and coffee menu.

It’s not rocket science: if the competition knows how to do it, the airline, the flagship of culinary excellence and a certain art of living, should be able to do it. Moreover, these are things that can be found elsewhere in business class!

Service in La Première class

As I said before, this is more of a hotel service than an airline service. The staff working in La Première is hand-picked and specially trained in a given type of service and a certain approach to customer relations.

When you have only four passengers maximum who paid their ticket from 5 to 13 000 euros the right to mistake is indeed null.

Air France is known for the inconsistency of its service. They know it but don’t like to hear it. But it’s a fact: depending on the crew, its mood, even the content of the horoscope, it’s on Air France that I had the best crews and the best service… as well as the worst. And this regardless of the travel class.

A flaw that is globally absent in La Première. I didn’t have any bad memories. One or two service bugs here and there but it happens and it is recovered with a smile. It is easier when you have the time to develop a contact with one or two clients instead of having to serve 30 or more! In the first place the service goes from good to really excellent and when there is a problem I am not sure, in this case, that the staff is to blame first.

If you are traveling in pairs, it is possible to dine face to face, one sitting on the otoman opposite the main seat. The shelf is made to accommodate two guests and it is a very pleasant experience that I recommend.

The dishes are made of Limoges porcelain (Bernardeau) with the Air France logo and the dishes are served by the bell. Nothing to complain about.

Diner - Air France La Première

The service in first class is “on demand“. Shortly after take-off you will be asked what you want to eat and at what time you want to have your meal. Some eat immediately, others wait an hour or two to digest the meal taken in the lounge, others wait until the end of their nap.

The service is done by the plate, each dish being individually prepared in the galley. No carts or trolleys in first class!

For the salad we choose from a list of ingredients and it is prepared on demand especially for the passenger.

If we were critical on the dishes in themselves, we don’t have much to reproach to the service even if some points attracted our attention.

It can take a while, but this is also the consequence of a very “solid” menu. And all the more so on a night flight when you leave Monsieur Ducasse’s table in the lounge.

Another factor is that depending on the number of passengers (1 to 4) there are 1 or 2 staff members in the First Class cabin. But since not everyone eats at the same time, I’ve seen a flight attendant have to prepare a meal for one passenger, a salad for another and a bed for a third at the same time! Impossible while maintaining the expected level of service. And you can’t blame the crew for that.

Another bug observed (when I say that the staff is not the cause of all the evils…) when I wanted to test the cocktail created by the chief barman of a big Parisian palace especially for the Première. Rather mixed result and perfectible realization. But cocktails are a profession, it is not enough to put a list of ingredients, a recipe and a measuring cup to transform Monique the purser into a seasoned palace bartender ! We felt our flight attendant a little embarrassed but a glance in the galley made us understand that it just lacked training and it seems to us that the airline had a little abandoned the personnel in ” read the notice and do it yourself ” mode.

But apart from these details, there is not much to criticize about the service in Première on Air France, especially since the attitude of the staff is often exemplary.

Customer relations in La Première class

We were talking about the inconsistency in the service at Air France, it applies of course also to the customer relationship itself to the attitude of the staff.

As for the service itself, there is nothing to complain about here. Of course, when you specifically select and train those who have the right to serve in First Class (at Air France, you can easily switch from economy to business class, but working in First class is reserved for an “elite” of trained and identified flight attendants.

Then the context is appropriate: with one staff member for two passengers, there is time to talk, to get to know each other, to chat about things and it is sure that this contributes to a personalized and attentive relationship.

I also find that, more in Première than in Business, the staff can more easily identify the customer who wants contact than the one who wants to be left alone.

Unless it’s the special context of the Premiere and the sense of recognition that comes with it that makes the La Premiere passenger more likely to relax, enjoy the moment, and chat.

It can happen, however, that this relationship, this closeness that is established between the staff and the customer is used to evacuate a service mistake just like “it’s just between us, it’s not serious”. Uh…at more than 5000 euros a ticket for those who can’t find a “good deal” (it exists, even in Première…) yes, it’s serious. I know that a top crew can help put everything into perspective, but in Première it’s like in a 3* restaurant or a 5* hotel: there’s no room for error, and when you make a mistake, you have to face it.

Let’s point out that if you are a frequent flyer, the staff has enough information about you on their iPad to usefully start the right conversations on the right topics.

Personally, I only have good memories of my discussions with the staff in La Première. Between aviation enthusiasts and people who work there, there is always a lot to talk about.

The night in La Première class

The night is a key moment of a flight in La Première class.

When the passenger wishes it, that is to say in general after having dined, the suite is switched to “night” configuration.

While he changes in the toilet, the staff puts his seat in bed position and adds a mattress, comforter and pillow. The Sofitel MyBed bedding used in our eponymous hotels is hotel-quality.

Cabine Air France La Première

It will then be time to “draw the curtain”, literally and figuratively, and have an excellent night. For my part, while I usually sleep very little on the ground, I sometimes have a good night of 7 to 8 hours in such conditions.

Cabine Air France La Première

During the night, the staff is always ready. A member of the “La Première” staff remains in the gallery at all times to watch for a possible request from a client. I think he must be bored waiting for someone to press the call button while we sleep like babies. On the other hand, having tested it, one press on the button to ask, for example, for a bottle of fresh water in the middle of the night and you are sure to see someone arrive within 10 seconds.

If someone uses the restroom, the person will also make sure that everything is spotless and clean to welcome a future “user” after you leave.

A night in a La Première cabin is in fact something of a paradox: nothing happens at all, but it goes so well that we all remember it!

A real cocoon in the sky.

The atmosphere in La Première

Before going any further and ending with breakfast and arrival, we must mention the special atmosphere of a flight in the La Première cabin.

Four passengers maximum for 2 crew members maximum plus the purser who comes from time to time for a look around, it’s quite intimate.

The cabin, the materials, the tones, everything is done to inspire calm and relaxation.

Between the curtains which close and a wall which is raised after the takeoff at the level of the armrest and which arrives at half height, total respect of the private bubble of the ones and the others. Everyone lives his or her life in his or her own corner in a relaxed atmosphere and occasionally chats with the crew.

It is obvious that contrary to what can be experienced in other travel classes, this is a context which, instead of generating tension, encourages appeasement.

Luxury, calm and pleasure?

Occasionally it’s always fun to pass a well-known Fortune 500 executive on the way to the bathroom and exchange a few pleasantries in pajamas while waiting for the toilet to be free.

The attention of the staff also contributes greatly to the good atmosphere in the cabin.

Breakfast and arrival

Unless otherwise requested by the client, one can sleep for a very long time and have breakfast at the last minute.

If you are lucky enough, as I was, to travel in an empty or half empty cabin, the staff will be happy to serve your breakfast on another seat than yours so that you can keep your seat in night configuration as long as possible.

Nuit - Air France La Première
That day I had the breakfast table set up on the seat next to me so that I could stay in bed as long as possible.

I have a double problem with the breakfast on the Paris-Singapore, I must admit.

The first one is more related to the airline. Air France doesn’t know how to offer properly cooked eggs and this is a recurring problem. Too dry, too cooked…. this is the problem of reheated dishes. When you see that on Garuda a chef serves fried or scrambled eggs at the minute, it makes you want to cry.

And when you avoid the eggs…the other dishes are dry, dry, desperately dry.

Petit Déjeuner - Nuit - Air France La Première

The second is the breakfast format. For a flight arriving at 4pm I personally don’t want an “early morning” type of breakfast but rather a salty snack that better corresponds to the arrival time. Here again, the comparison with Garuda’s First class is quite painful (to mention only one Skyteam airline that serves the same region…).

So for me breakfast is most often a cup of tea or coffee. Benefit: I can really stay in bed for a long time.

A stop at the bathroom to change. It has everything I need to brush my teeth, shave, rehydrate etc.

We’re ready to land.

At the exit of the plane you are taken in charge by agents who take us in an electric buggy through the corridors towards the immigration controls if you are not taking a connecting flight. Otherwise you are taken to a lounge located “landside” which has its own immigration control…which allows you to gain two nice stamps on your passport in 1 or 2 hours. And the same buggy will accompany you on your next flight.

When Singapore is my final destination the experience ends there. The officer “abandons” you in the police checkpoint line and that’s it. It would be nice to have at least a fast track.

Bottom line: Air France La Première, a great experience

With its “La Première” class, Air France aims to embody all the hallmarks of the France “brand”: luxury, gastronomy, haute couture, art of living…. and in all honesty we can say that in comparison to the former La Première cabin they are really playing in the upper division. The lived experience is therefore largely in line with the promised experience and it seems to me that customers are not mistaken.

So of course there are points that we would like to see improved. There are still two or three adjustments to be made to the crews and, in particular, to the catering offer which, beyond the fancy names, is disappointing in terms of both quantity and quality. Not that it is not good, but it is not at the level promised nor expected.

As for the recurring cooking problems, unfortunately they are not specific to Première.

You will tell me that I am quibbling about details. Not really, actually. Not all airlines that have first class have the same ambition. For some it is a “super business” that flatters their ego and that of their “captive” passengers, for others like Air France they are in the fight for excellence, where Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qatar reign… And in this little game, where Air France is the only European airline with broad enough shoulders to play, every detail counts. Air France still has a long way to go, but its competitors are generally not perfect on all fronts either. This is where the difference lies between having a “very good first” and being in the Top 3, in details such as the cooking of the eggs, the butter served in an aluminum and not a porcelain cup, the salt shakers a little “cheap”, the casual attitude of a crew member, a failed cooking, the lack of “on demand” offers ….

Today, the Air France La Première product, when well executed, is of a high standard. But there are better competitors with similar (and sometimes lower) fares and others, behind, with much lower fares. And when we see the speed with which the business classes are moving upmarket and overtaking some of the firsts, we have to admit that to stay in the race they should already be thinking about the future generation of Firsts and Businesses… And work very very hard on the “soft product”.

An experience that deserves to be lived once in a lifetime at the risk of missing something while being aware that everything is not perfect and that there are real areas for progress.

In the end, we regret that with hindsight, what makes the experience so exceptional in Air France’s La Première class is what happens on the ground, less what happens in flight.

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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