Air France’s Business Class product is undergoing renewal, with 90 percent of the seats currently being converted to full-ﬂat beds. The remaining seats are expected to be upgraded by the end of 2023. With the ongoing refurbishment, how does the airline’s new Business Class product stack up against its competitors?
Having booked my ﬂight late, I was relieved to secure a coveted single window seat, 5L, available to me at no additional cost during the booking process. However, Air France has recently implemented a new policy, effective since April, which levies a charge of $77 to $99 per ﬂight for seat selection, even for Business Class passengers, depending on their chosen route. Despite this new policy, ﬂights to North America remain unaffected, and numerous exemptions are granted to frequent ﬂyers.
A day before my long-haul Air France ﬂight to Europe, I checked in online and boarded a domestic ﬂight to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
I reached the Business Class counter with ease and without encountering any other customers. The pleasant and efficient staff attended to me promptly, ensuring a hassle-free check-in experience.
I proceeded through security quickly, albeit without the beneﬁt of a priority lane. I later arrived at the SLOW Lounge, a third-party establishment I consider the best option at OR Tambo. This spacious and comfortable lounge provided ample seating even during peak hours, and the impressive spread of tempting food and beverages, along with stunning airport views, was an absolute delight.
With my 6:50 p.m. ﬂight displaying a “boarding” message, I went down to the gate. Upon arrival, I noticed that the Economy class passengers were already beginning to board the plane. Despite this, my boarding process was relatively seamless, and I was soon settled onboard Air France’s Boeing 777-300ER.
Only a few days had passed since the summer schedule commenced, and Johannesburg was already the fourth destination to debut Air France’s novel long-haul product, previously available on ﬂights from Paris to New York-JFK, Rio de Janeiro and Dakar. The alluring new Business Class cabin features an elegant navy-blue and white color scheme, while the innovative Versa seats by Safran are at the forefront of design. These seats are notable for being among the few to offer sliding doors—a must-have feature for all new premium products.
Business is spread across two cabins divided by the mid galley. The forward cabin has 28 seats in seven rows, whereas the second has 20 in ﬁve rows. All are laid out in a 1-2-1 conﬁguration.
The bulkhead seats in rows one and nine are the best because of their outstanding legroom and enormous ottoman. While these preferred seats are reserved for Flying Blue Gold and Platinum passengers up to 72 hours before departure, after that every Business passenger can snatch up the remaining bulkhead seats for free.
My seat was impressive. I was delighted by the very spacious footwell, the ample counter on the side with integrated buttons, and the spacious storage compartment behind my shoulder.
The illuminated hippocampe, a symbol of the airline’s history and prestige, is a sight to behold in the new cabin. The backlit seahorse logo takes pride of place, emanating a warm and inviting glow.
Passengers can luxuriate in fully reclining seats that convert into spacious ﬂatbeds spanning almost seven feet in length and two feet in width. The generous dimensions allow larger passengers to stretch out and ﬁnd their perfect sleeping position. In addition, the retractable armrests near the aisle ensure no obstacles hinder movement, allowing passengers to relax and unwind fully.
As the entertainment center of the seat, the 17.3-inch 4K HD screen provides a visually stunning and immersive viewing experience. However, it is frustrating that the screen cannot be adjusted or turned, limiting its positioning ﬂexibility. Additionally, the lack of secure storage space for larger items such as laptops can be a drawback. Despite these minor shortcomings, the cabin is a remarkable space of luxury and comfort that caters to discerning travelers’ needs.
Despite the cabin being full, we commenced our journey on time. The crew demonstrated exceptional efficiency and amiability, synonymous with Air France and not commonly observed among other European carriers.
The in-ﬂight entertainment system boasted extensive options, including various movies and albums. However, the ﬁlms were categorized and presented in a perplexing way, prompting me to gravitate to my preferred albums instead. Equipped with top-of-the-line noise-canceling headphones, the IFE also featured a Bluetooth function, allowing passengers to access the content on the system effortlessly.
As this was a nocturnal ﬂight, I did not avail myself of any Wi-Fi options costing $9, $20 or $33, with the latter offering a high-speed streaming experience. All told, the most delightful aspect of this new cabin was the magniﬁcent mood lighting, which cast a mesmerizing tricolor hue across the cabin walls, promoting the ethos of France. The crew served a glass of Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut champagne and a bag of trail mix that failed to meet premium standards. It took 70 minutes before a mouthwatering starter of grilled shrimp in pineapple and pepper sauce was ﬁnally presented.
Despite Air France’s constant appeals to preorder meals online to prevent wastage, the crew could not locate my order on their tablets. Nonetheless, I ended up ordering the kingklip ﬁsh on the spot, which proved to be a delectable choice. After indulging in a cognac, I settled in for the night, drifting into a decent slumber.
The clock read 5:30 a.m. as our aircraft descended toward Paris, landing 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Upon disembarking, I found that Terminal 2E was deserted. Next, I proceeded to Terminal 2F, eager to indulge in the delightful offerings of the brand-new two-story Schengen lounge, which boasted a quiet nap room and a delicious French breakfast spread. After
this refreshing interlude, I continued my journey to my ﬁnal destination, feeling rejuvenated and invigorated.
Despite the ongoing refurbishment, the new Business Class product has already set the bar high for its competitors. The airline’s attention to detail is evident in the exquisite style, design, comfort and connectivity provided to its passengers. It’s safe to say that there is currently no transatlantic Business product that can rival Air France’s exceptional offering. While it’s only logical that the airline may charge a premium for the coveted bulkhead seats, they are still available at no extra cost for now, so be sure to seize this opportunity before it’s too late.
Best for: A reﬁned and elegant product with efﬁcient delivery
Flight time: Ten hours, seven minutes