Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Air France New Business Class Review SIN-CDG (AF259)

In November last year, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on board Malaysia Airlines' Business Class to Sydney. We thought the service was nice, the food was good, and the seats were comfortable. MH's offering is quite last-gen now, though - which is partially why we managed to get the ticket at such low cost in the first place - so we're absolutely thrilled to bring you a review of a more current-generation business class experience. Enter Air France's (new) Business Class cabin, on flight AF259 from Singapore to Paris!

Air France New Business Class Cabin

Première partie (Part One) - Before the Flight.

Air France flies from Changi Airport Terminal One. Business-class check in is, as expected, a quick affair and the efficiency of Changi's Immigration and Security means that you're airside* within 10-15 minutes. Since AF only flies one flight a day to Singapore, the lounge is contracted to dnata's Skyview Lounge - it's a fairly comfortable lounge and overall slightly better than MH's offering in Changi.

* 'Airside' - a term describing the common area past customs & immigration, used mainly by frequent flyers to portray an air of superiority to the less frequently travelled.

Skyview Lounge Changi

Clearing security at the gate is a breezy affair too, because AF allows First and Business class passengers to skip to the front of the security line. Naturally they also get to board 'at their convenience' once the cabin is ready. As each row only has four seats in a 1-2-1 configuration ('every seat has direct aisle access' in AF's marketing), there's plenty of space in the overhead compartments for a bag or three.

Deuxième partie (Part Two) - The Seat.

On to the cabin and my little cubicle for the next thirteen hours, then! All 19 rows (76 seats) in the cabin are laid out in a reverse herringbone* arrangement. This provides a remarkable level of privacy - after you're seated, you really can't see any other passenger (except those walking past you in the aisles).

* 'Reverse Herringone' - a term describing an airplane cabin whose seats are angled away from the aisle slightly such that nobody can see anybody else. Used mainly by frequent flyers as a shortcut to avoid saying "the cabin had seats which were angled away from the aisle slightly such that nobody could see anybody else."

Air France New Business Class Seat

You get a nice, comfortable, decent-sized pillow, a blanket, and a hangar to hang your coat on. The flight attendants then take your coat, stow it away in a closet somewhere (or maybe the pilot puts it on if he gets cold) and hands it back to you at the end of the flight.

Air France New Business Class Seat

The seat reclines from an upright position to a fully flat, parallel-to-the-floor bed - and in any lounging position in-between as you decide. If you noticed, your lower legs go into the little 'hole' area underneath the table/desk area of the seat in front - Air France says this results in almost 2m (6'5") of length. I found the seat insanely comfortable, especially when in bed mode. I managed to get a very restful ~7 hours of sleep - MH's angled, wake-up-every-1-hour-to-push-yourself-back-up seat felt almost like premium economy in comparison.

Air France New Business Class Seat

I also really liked the little cubby on the side, and especially appreciated the elastic straps on the 'wall' which I used to strap down my passport and phone. Oh, there's a vanity mirror too, which some of you might find more useful than I did.

Air France New Business Class Seat

Next to that there's a (very cool white) reading light and the Android-powered handset for turning the lights on and off, calling the flight attendants, and controlling the in-flight-entertainment.

Air France New Business Class Seat

You also get a USB power slot (which didn't work for me) and a 120v power supply - enough juice to power all your devices throughout the entire flight. Unless you own a new MacBook, in which case you had better make sure your USB slot works.

Air France New Business Class Seat

The 16" screen is sharp and crisp and pops out towards you. Here you get a better view of how spacious the foot cubby is - I can't speak for the giant 7-footers among you, but if you're around or slightly over 6 feet tall you'll be perfectly comfortable.

Air France New Business Class Seat

Troisième partie (Part Three) - The Experience.

So far so good - having established that the hard product* is amazing (the cabin is stylish, the seat is gorgeous and the privacy is top notch), we move on to the more subjective parts of the flight.

* 'Hard Product' - a term used by frequent flyers to describe the seat, cabin and aircraft, as opposed to the "soft product" which is the service from the flight attendants, the food, and other unquantifiable measurements.

Air France New Business Class Amenity Kit

Before take-off, we're offered a choice of orange juice or Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne. I don't drink so I can't comment on the bubbly, but my sommelier friend Monsieur Google tells me it's a very highly rated 'budget' Champagne. We also get a small amenity kit with everything any air traveller might need - a toothbrush, toothpaste, ear buds, eye mask, moisturizer, lip balm, etc. I find myself more excited at the (in my opinion) rather stylish pouch than what's contained inside.

We're also given some disposable socks and slippers to keep your feet warm when you're in your seat, and clean when you're in the toilet.

Air France New Business Class Slippers

As we start pushing back from the gate, the safety video comes on and it's indescribably awesome! "... your seatbelt must be securely fastened. It will elegantly highlight your waistline while ensuring your safety." How adorable is that?


Air France supplies a generic brand of noise-canceling headphones which work well enough to drown out most of the engine noise and the snores of nearby passengers.

Air France New Business Class Noise Canceling Headphones

The in-flight-entertainment system is fast, quick, and has a decent selection of English movies and TV shows. Not as comprehensive as Singapore Airlines or Emirates offerings, of course, but for an overnight flight it's more than good enough. I also liked being able to see the flight map on the control set while also watching Jeremy Clarkson before he went crazy and got himself fired!

Air France New Business Class In Flight Entertainment

What I didn't like so much was the service. The flight attendants were ... clinical and competent, but they never did seem particularly interested to please. Maybe if I was a French-speaking Frenchman it might be different, but I couldn't help but get the feeling that they were all "sacre bleu! What eez deez le smelly chinois doing in my sophisticated French cabin?!?" One of the attendants working my aisle didn't even speak English, so her communication to me was only a series of pointy fingers and impromptu sign language.

Quatrième partie (Part Four) - The Food.

Sometimes I'm not too sure how Airline bigwigs plan meal services. AF 259 departs at 12.25am Singapore time; and about 45 minutes after that a full dinner service starts. Now I realize that it makes perfect sense to have dinner at 7pm if we're on Paris time, but ... we're still in Singapore, and it's 1.00am! My body and stomach just want to go to bed, but my hidden kiasu spirit says 'screw sleep, eat food!'

Air France New Business Class Menu
Air France New Business Class Menu
Air France New Business Class Menu

Amusingly enough, Air France serves the Appetizer on a tray together with the cheese plate, fruits and dessert. Once you're done with your appetizers they clear the plate and serve your main course. So if you weren't paying attention you could totally find yourself being served a grilled steak after you're halfway through your chocolate mousse.

Air France New Business Class Dinner Service

Although I wasn't in the best frame of mind (or frame of stomach) to eat, I still did very much mostly enjoy the food. I say 'mostly' because like most airplane breads the mini baguette was a little hard, and I find foie gras terrine (one of the appetizers) utterly disgusting. Don't get me wrong, I *adore* foie gras when it's sliced, seared properly and served hot, but when it's minced and served cold it's just one mushy mess.

Air France New Business Class Dinner Service

After heroically finishing everything on my plate I took a 7 hour nap, and woke up to a hot towel, steaming cup of espresso and some delicious lemon sable cookies. I'm totally upset that I didn't get the brand/manufacturer name (and I can't find it on google either) - gotta make a mental note to grab a box or two on the return flight.

Air France New Business Class Coffee and Cookies

For breakfast I went with the Cinnamon Apple Crepes which were sort of just OK.

Air France New Business Class Breakfast Service

Pour Conclure (In Conclusion)

Air France's new Business Class product is amazing. The seats are comfortable and private, food's pretty good and you can easily get a full night's rest. Service is a little aloof compared to the more service-focused Asian carriers, but it's adequate and I never did go hungry or thirsty throughout the flight. The timing is perfect, too, as you land in CDG at around 7.30am, just right for a full day's work in Paris (or to catch the early morning shuttle flights to the nearby European cities).

Air France New Business Class View of the Graian Alps
Nice view of Mont Blanc and the Graian Alps

Air France flies once daily from Singapore to Paris (and back). Indicative Air Fares are around s$1.2k for Economy and s$6.8k for Business Class (I flew on corporate discounted rate which was significantly lower). Hope you enjoyed the review!



** slightly off topic **

Having experienced AF's current gen Business Class product and comparing it to Malaysia Airlines, I think I can now understand why MAS' new CEO Mr Mueller is trying to cut down on long haul flights. MAS' premium cabin simply isn't competitive, and most people won't pay premium money to fly a subpar product. So it makes sense for MAS to concentrate on regional, medium-haul routes where other competitors also still fly older cabins.

Anyway as a Malaysian I have lots of memories flying on MAS, so I wish all the best to Mr Mueller and hope his turnaround plans work wonders!

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