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Air France Economy Class review: Hong Kong to Paris on AF185

I dislike Air France and try to avoid them, mainly because of their safety record although also because Charles de Gaulle airport and their endless labour problems can be so frustrating sometimes. My last longhaul trip with them, from Beijing to Paris last Christmas, was a very cramped flight with little food. I recently flew with them from Hong Kong and had a much better experience in every regard.

At the Airport

There was no queue for check in and indeed seemed to be few passengers checking in at the airport. Nonetheless, the (Jardine’s) checkin agent took a long time to check me in. I asked whether there was anyone seated beside me and there was, but as checkin seemed so empty, I asked whether it was possible to be moved to an aisle seat with no one seated beside it at that moment. The ground agent did this and it turned out to be a boon for me.

The bilingual boarding card was on thin card stock but very basic looking. It did not match the inflight sense of French chicness the airline strives to project.

The gate was 45. My boarding pass indicated I was in group 5, but only four groups existed at the gate and I boarded in group four.

Equipment

The flight was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER (ship number F-GSQC). It was pretty clean feeling.

Our ship after landing at Charles de Gaulle. The cowling shows the La Crevette decal first introduced by Air France’s predecessor airline Air Orient.

The seat was decently comfortable, though narrow, and upholstered in dark, elegant colours. There was a USB port and two plug sockets shared between three seats.

The inflight entertainment had a fairly wide range of entertainment in English as well as French and included some good audio options too. There was enough to keep one entertained for this long-haul flight.

At the seat was a decent blanket and a pillow which was not only a good size, but also in a pillowslip which was comfortable on the face – not one of the scratchy ones many airlines use. There were headphones at the seat.

One small disappointment was that the toilet soap was made in China, similar to what one would find on United. I would hope Air France could use some French soap. As their marketing slogan is “France is in  the Air”, I prefer them to deliver on it on these small but important details.

Flight

The economy class cabin was about three quarters full. Fortunately, both seats beside me were unoccupied, so I was able to stretch out and get a solid eight hours of sleep during the flight.

The pilot indicated that there would be some initial turbulence, which there was. Apart from that it felt like a smooth flight from what I could tell in my mostly sleep state.

On arrival at Charles de Gaulle, we taxied for well over twenty minutes to reach the gate. It was a beautiful red dawn when we landed but daylight by the time we reached the gate. We were still a smidgen ahead of schedule. There was further delay disembarking the plane and on the jetbridge due to passport checks at the end of the jetbridge. Once through that, there was hardly any queue for immigration.

Air France’s Concorde by the taxiway. I took this photograph on a different flight the same day, but share it here as the Air France branding makes it feel relevant: every time I see Concorde, even grounded, it inspires me.

Service

The crew distributed a menu before takeoff. Shortly after takeoff they came through the cabin with a proper refreshing towel. There was then a combined drinks and meal service. Air France serves champagne as an aperitif in economy class, pleasingly, but it was served in a plastic cup at the same time as the meal and drink were served.

Breakfast was served in the last couple of hours of the flight.

The inflight sales included Playmobil stewardesses

The crew that I saw in economy class were all French. There were announcements in French, English and Cantonese. The crew were smartly attired and professional.

I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful the crew were. They served happily. After the meal service, when I asked for a coffee, the steward asked if I would like another pastry and when I replied yes, he went back to the rear galley to get it for me immediately, which was above my expectations.

Food and Drink

Here was the menu and drinks list for this flight.

The menu advised that if a dish was no longer available, “it has probably been a victim of its own success”. This was consistent with the overall tone of the onboard branding  – a cheeky swagger or Gallic arrogance, depending on one’s perspective. I appreciate that as I felt it to be typically French, just like the safety video which had emphasized that wearing a seatbelt could highlight one’s elegant waistline. The menu was set in an oddly small font which I imagine would be challenging for many passengers to read.

The availability of hot chocolate as a hot drink in addition to tea and coffee was a welcome touch veruss most airlines. The wine was served in individual bottles and there was only one option for red or white. I had the red, a nondescript 2017 Pays d’Oc (Madame de Sainte Hélène). I think the wine, while acceptable, is an area where Air France could perform a bit better. For wine, I expect a French airline to be well above the average.

The dinner was excellent tasting even though the presentation was nondescript. I had the chicken. It was served with several small breads (and more was offered). The only off note was serving an Australian cheese – I would certainly expect the French flag carrier to offer French cheese.

Breakfast wasn’t as good. It wasn’t bad but the texture was a bit bland. Again, the presentation was not inspiring.

Conclusion

I had a comfortable flight mostly due to the empty seats beside me. The dinner was excellent, the crew were good and the entertainment was decent. Although not a fan of Air France, I thought this was a good flight.

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