Earlier this year, Air France announced some exciting upgrades to its business-class seats for its long-haul flights. The French airline’s previous (and, on some routes, current) business-class offering already used a pod-like, lie-flat seat and continues to do so in this latest upgrade. However, new seats now include a retractable door between each pod and the aisle for additional privacy, a do not disturb button, and Bluetooth connectivity to the personal entertainment screen. Bulkhead seats also swap the footwell for an ottoman, where a passenger can sit.
Recently, I flew Air France to test out the new business-class seats. Here’s what it was like.
Although initially available on only a handful of flights between Paris’s Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and New York City’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) airports, the new seats have been slowly rolling out across additional routes. They are now also available on select flights from Paris to Los Angeles (LAX) and Paris to Washington, D.C. (IAD). For my flight, I first flew from San Francisco (SFO) to Paris (CDG) in its previous business-class offering (the new seats are not yet available on this route), then from Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK) in the newer seats.
Airport experience and lounge
The upgraded experience began before I even stepped on the plane. Business-class passengers with Air France have Sky Priority access. In Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, this allows them access to a dedicated, and faster, lane both when passing through security before boarding and when clearing customs after landing.
After clearing security, all business-class passengers have access to Air France’s lounges (there are five in total in Charles de Gaulle). I went to the newly updated lounge in terminal 2E, a large, modern space with ample seating; at 7 a.m., there were only a few dozen other passengers. Amenities included access to a self-service buffet full of French specialties (breakfast offered crepes, baguettes, pastries, eggs, and fresh yogurt, among other items); a bar serving wine, beer, and cocktails; a kids play area, complete with an impressive video game setup; free W-Fi; showers; a sauna; and—perhaps the most distinctive—a spa by Clarins. One highlight of the spa (open from 7:40 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily except Sunday): guests have access to complimentary, 20-minute facials available on a first-come, first-served basis. I arrived too early to make use of this particular amenity but appreciated the breadth of services available within the lounge.
The seats and on-board experience
After boarding the flight in the first group, I took my seat—11A—a window seat on the left side of the aircraft, a Boeing 777-300. This aircraft had a one-two-one herringbone formation, with privacy partitions between the pairs of seats in the middle of the aircraft, and an external door between each seat and the aisle. The business-class section was split in two, with a galley in the middle.
Each seat was equipped with a large table area, either between the seat and the window or between the pair of seats (for those in the middle of the aircraft), as well as a small cubby with a pair of noise-canceling headphones, a USB-C outlet, and a mirror. Although the headphones took up a fair amount of space, I was still able to fit my water bottle and a small toiletry bag in the cubby. There was additional storage via a pocket below the table, which contained safety pamphlets and a water bottle, as well as a USB-A and a universal plug outlet for charging even more devices.
A pillow and a warm, quilt-like blanket at my seat were ready for me to use as soon as I sat down. Flight attendants came through shortly after boarding to hand out amenity kits, which included an eye mask, ear plugs, socks, a compostable toothbrush, toothpaste, pen, and two different moisturizers by Clarins.
Although my head was angled toward the aisle and feet toward the window, I immediately felt like I had a fair amount of privacy—even with the door open—and could only see the feet of the passenger to the immediate right of me. Closing the door allowed even more seclusion but, since it’s the same height as the seat, it wasn’t total privacy. Although I couldn’t see into my neighbors’ pods while seated, I was able to look over the door into pods (though I tried not to, of course), when walking or standing in the aisle. Additionally, closing the door automatically triggered a “do not disturb” light, signaling to flight attendants that I wanted to be left alone—a feature I most appreciated while trying to nap. One tip: When shutting the door, guide it with your hand rather than simply pressing the “door close” button to avoid it slamming aggressively into the wall.
In flight, I was able to recline my seat to a fully flat position. In this position, the seats are a spacious 6.5 feet long. At 5’3” tall, I could lie down completely with room leftover.
I also noticed that one passenger in a bulkhead seat was traveling with his young toddler as a lap child (meaning: they were sharing the seat). It seemed like the new ottoman feature was particularly well-suited to his situation—in-flight, he could sit comfortably in the main seat while his son played or sat on the ottoman.
Although the entertainment options on the new versus old business-class seats were the same (and include a delightful number of French films and TV shows to help get passengers excited about their destination), the new glare-free TV screen and the Bluetooth connectivity were two major differences. I struggled to connect my device while we were taxiing but was able to connect easily once in the air. That said, it was about as perfect as any Bluetooth device: mostly functional but a tad finicky. I had to reconnect to the TV every time I removed my headphones and put them back in, but, once connected, it never dropped or disconnected unexpectedly. Overall, I was excited about this new addition and enjoyed being able to use my own headphones.
Food and beverage
As for food, this is one of the areas where Air France really shines. Its in-flight menu was designed by a collection of more than a dozen French chefs, including some from Michelin-starred restaurants, and includes a selection of vegetarian, fish, and meat entrées. Since I was on a morning flight, they served a sizable brunch featuring an English muffin topped with salmon lox, a warm mushroom and spinach frittata, fresh fruit, and plain yogurt with granola. Toward the end of the flight they also served a light snack that included a savory, puff pastry dish, an almond financier, and more fresh fruit. A selection of packaged snacks, including a gourmet chocolate bar, were served between meal service.
Those who are flying during dinner service can expect an even more exciting selection of dishes, which, depending on the day, could be a savory beef filet with port sauce and carrots or a vegetarian risotto with artichokes and mushrooms.
Naturally, the French airline also offers an excellent array of wine and champagne, selected by sommelier Paolo Basso to complement the meals. With my snack, I chose the 2021 Chablis Jean-Marc Brocard Vieilles Vignes De Sainte-Claire, a refreshing white wine.
The bathrooms were pretty standard, though the cabin had one larger, accessible bathroom with a full-length mirror toward the very front. One nice touch: Each bathroom had a bottle of Clarins Eau Dynamisante, a bottle of hydrating toner, and cotton pads for a little extra in-flight skin refreshment.
Booking and price
A recent search for business-class flights on Air France’s New York-JFK to Paris-CDG route for April 2024 showed fares starting at $2,592 round-trip, and that the fares were comparable to other airlines flying direct on those dates. Of course, fares can fluctuate anywhere between $1,500 and over $5,000, depending on your date of travel and how far in advance you are booking. Business-class seats can also be booked using points or miles (generally agreed to be the most economical way of procuring a business-class seat) or by upgrading with points or cash from economy—though that’s always a bit riskier.
Overall review: was it worth it?
If you’re able to find a fare or upgrade that works with your budget, flying on Air France’s new business-class offering is absolutely worth it. I was very impressed by the in-flight dining and enjoyed how much thought it put into getting passengers excited about traveling to France with little touches like the food and beverage offerings in the stateside lounges and the entertainment onboard.
The new privacy doors and Bluetooth connectivity were super nice to have, but you’ll find the best parts about the experience—the lie-flat seats, priority lanes at customs and security checkpoints, excellent in-flight dining, and beautiful lounge at Charles de Galle—on every long-haul business-class seat with Air France. The main reason why I would want to specifically book a seat in its new cabin over the old one is for overnight flights where I’m making sleep a priority.