I flew in business class on Air France's Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger jet, and the experience is what I imagine the golden age of air travel was like
- Flying in business class on Air France'sAirbus A380 round-trip between New York and Paris was a treat.
- The airline has only five superjumbo jets in operation, and Airbus recently announced it would cease making any new ones.
- Travel junkies have lauded the A380 for how quiet it is. I couldn't believe how soundproof the mammoth double-decker plane was.
- Here's what the journey was like, from check-in to the lounge to the flights themselves.
- For more, go to Business Insider SA.
I'm rarely excited to get on a plane. These days, flying feels more like a chore. Airlines are packing more and more seats in planes to boost profits, and passengers are crammed in as tight as can be. If you didn't know your neighbor before you got on the plane, you sure do by the time you get off.
But for a recent trip to Europe, I flew in business class on Air France's Airbus A380-800, the legendary superjumbo jet. I'd never been on a double-decker plane, and I was so excited!
From check-in to the airport lounge to the seamless boarding process to the plane ride itself, Air France's attentive service, delicious food, and thoughtful amenities made flying a luxury.
But the A380 is a dying breed. Airbus announced in February that it would discontinue production of the model, and Air France said last fall that it would get rid of five of its 10 superjumbos and retrofit the other five. As Business Insider's correspondent Benjamin Zhang has written, the plane is simply "too big, expensive, and inefficient for most operators."
I usually fly Delta, and we booked round-trip tickets between New York and Geneva through it, so I ended up getting almost 14,000 SkyMiles for my flights. Air France and Delta are partners in a transatlantic joint venture that allows them to jointly market their flights and share costs. The highlight of the journey was flying on the superjumbo from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Here's what it was like to fly in business class round-trip on Air France's A380-800.
After I whisked through priority check-in and TSA PreCheck, then waded through the hustle and bustle of JFK's Terminal 1, the Air France lounge beckoned with the promise of exclusivity.
The Air France employee at check-in asked if I wanted my dinner in the lounge or on the plane. The airline now offers this "night service" option for its two latest overnight flights, AF009 and AF011, so you can go right to sleep once you board.
Source: Air France
I arrived as the sun was setting over the New York skyline, and the atmosphere felt truly magical. I was surprised by how few people were in the lounge when I arrived, but it filled up as we got closer to takeoff.
It seemed as if upstairs was reserved for those in business or first class who were having dinner, while downstairs was open for other passengers with status, but I couldn't be sure. There was better food upstairs too.
A recurring theme of flying Air France was that everything started with Champagne.
There was also a full bar available, with liquor, wine, water, soft drinks, and coffee from the Nespresso machine.
Menus for everything were in French and English. All the employees I encountered in the lounge and on the planes were fluent in both languages too.
The bread selection was divine. New York water plus French proclivity for making bread for the win.
The salad bar was probably the best I've ever seen in an airport lounge, full of fresh ingredients.
The cheese and dessert bars were equally as impressive. The toffee tart was my favorite thing I ate in the lounge.
Time for the main course! We opted to have our dinner in the lounge since we were there so early and wanted to eat at a real table. The options were beef brisket, vegetables in tomato sauce, pollock, or chicken.
I chose the pollock and immediately regretted it. It had an overwhelmingly fishy taste, and I abandoned it after two bites. At least the pesto was vibrant and the potatoes were tender. I was also surprised it was simply an airplane meal on a nice plate. I was expecting something more restaurant-quality.
Luckily, there was enough to fill up on with the salad, cheese, and dessert bars. I also figured I could eat a proper main course on the plane.
When boarding, passengers on the upper deck went into one gateway, and those on the lower deck went into another. Being in business class, we waltzed right in with no line.
Here's what an Air France Airbus A380 looks like in daylight.
Time for the flight! Here were our seats; I was by the window. Air France A380s boasts 80 business-class seats, all on the upper deck. In total, the plane has 516 seats, including nine first-class suites.
The business-class cabin had six seats per row, in a 2-2-2 configuration, so everyone had ample space. I would suggest choosing one of the two window bays if you're traveling with someone, and choosing the middle bay if you're alone. The middle bay has two aisle seats, so you don't have to climb over someone you don't know (or have them climb over you).
One of my favorite features was that a labeled hanger was left at every seat. It avoided the awkward moments when you're holding your coat wondering whether a flight attendant will take it.
I could not believe that the bin by the window fit my entire giant travel purse, which I originally got for an old 24-inch laptop.
In total, each seat had five bins: two between the seats, one under the footrest, one next to/behind the seat, and one by the windows.
I was kind of bummed by how small the tray was and that it was the kind that came out of the armrest. But the flight attendants put a tablecloth over each one for meal service, which classed it up.
While I remembered the seats being advertised as "lie flat," I found that it was only partially true. We decided that the seats do reach 180 degrees, but they're canted at an angle. Air France's website calls them "angle flat" seats.
Source: Air France
You can lie almost flat. During the night, I found myself slipping down toward the footrest a few times. That and the turbulence interrupted my sleep a few times.
But I loved the cocoon-style seats. Anything that makes it so the person reclining their seat in front of you doesn't impede your space is a win in my book.
I always find airplane seat material scratchy. Since Air France doesn't offer sheets, I scored an extra blanket to line the bottom of the seat so I could lie on it for extra softness and cushion. I also got an extra pillow to make it feel more like a bed.
The amenities were of good quality. Each business-class passenger got a set of socks and slippers for the flight.
The amenity kits had a sleep mask (thank God since I forgot mine!), a pen, earplugs, a floss pick, a mini hairbrush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and Clarins lotions.
Source: Business Traveler
The TV screen was a good size — here's a magazine for scale. While the entertainment options weren't nearly as varied as Delta's, there were still a handful of new releases in English that I wanted to watch.
One cool feature was that you could add shows to your list of favorites before takeoff so your choices were all queued up by the time you were ready to watch them in the air.
The dinner selection onboard was slightly different from the lounge: Wagyu beef, chicken, and an altered vegetarian option.
The wine selection, as I would expect on a French airline, was superb.
Once we got seated, flight attendants offered Champagne. I was drinking it when they were drinking Champagne on the flight in "Crazy Rich Asians" too!
I asked if I could have the chicken since the fish in the lounge was bad, and after first apologizing and telling me they had only enough plates for the people scheduled to eat on the plane, the flight attendants found me a plate of the chicken! Such service.
My dad had asked for just a salad, and they ended up giving him the Wagyu beef too. Both dishes were served with expertly reduced sauces and came with the option of warm bread.
Mood lighting, which changed throughout the flight, had a calming effect. While the lights were mostly out during the night, I still could get only a few hours of interrupted sleep with all the turbulence. But it's true what they say about how quiet the upper deck of the A380 is! It's noticeable.
Before I knew it, breakfast was served. The croissant was warm, while the fruit salad and juice tasted fresh. I always struggle with wanting to eat breakfast on overnight flights when my body thinks it's 3 a.m., but this was a nice snack to wake up to.
I snapped a shot of one of the bathrooms, which was a standard airplane bathroom. The one on the other side of the plane was much larger — you could even turn around in it without hitting the door or the toilet.
We asked one of the flight attendants where the stairs were, and she took me over to see them, then insisted on taking my picture. How fun!
Other than the stairs and the dual-jet-bridge boarding process, you couldn't really tell you were on a double-decker while you were on the plane.
While Emirates and Etihad fit first-class showers by the top of the front stairs on their A380s, Air France used the space for a weird screen area. It seemed to feature information on France. I can't imagine many people using it.
After roughly seven hours, we reached France, and the sun was shining over its farmlands.
The flight attendants returned our coats to us, and we got to watch the landing on the cameras attached to the plane's nose, tail, and bottom.
When we pulled in to Charles de Gaulle Airport, two of Air France's five A380s were parked at the gates next to us. It was awesome seeing so many in the same place.
On the flight home, I got to check out the massive Air France lounge at its home terminal at Charles de Gaulle. It was one of the biggest I've been in. (Virgin's at Heathrow takes the cake, in my experience.)
But as big as it was, the place was packed. I did a loop around the entire thing before finding a good seat.
Sadly, the food was not nearly as varied as it was at the JFK lounge. This could be because I got there between lunch and dinner. But there was still plenty of alcohol available.
The bathroom had sweet lighting that was very flattering.
Once I got to the boarding area, I could not have been happier to be in business class, which meant I was boarding first, in zone one. The line was a nightmare.
It was immediately clear how difficult it is to get up to 516 passengers on a plane in under an hour. Air France allotted 45 minutes to board on the way there and 55 minutes on the way back.
I had only a few people in front of me and had headed up the escalator to the upper deck within minutes. I think it's so cool seeing how mammoth the plane is when you board on three jet bridges.
Lunch on the flight back was delicious. After an amuse bouche of a single scallop, we started with a salad, a pea puree, and shrimp tartare with mango. Everything was flavorful and paired nicely.
The guinea fowl was tender, with another flavorful sauce, and lovely mushy potatoes. Both flights had Sancerre, my favorite wine, and the flight attendants refilled my glass multiple times.
Dessert featured a scrumptiously tender blueberry cake and chocolate cake. I also opted for what was hilariously translated on the menu as "very old" Calvados. It was strong, and I got a huge pour! I couldn't finish it all and immediately took a nap.
The other main dishes besides the guinea fowl were veal, cod, and vegetarian lasagna. There was also a chicken tortilla with another dessert served before we landed, but I wasn't hungry then (because of the time change, my body thought it was 1 a.m.).
Landing meant getting to watch the feat on the TVs again. I got so excited every time I got to do this. While the first landing was bumpy (and made it clear we were putting the world's heaviest passenger plane on the ground), the second was fine.
Overall, my round-trip flights in business class on Air France's Airbus A380-800s were divine. The service was attentive and felt so much warmer than anything you get on any US airline. It's as if employees are genuinely happy to help you. It harked back to the golden age of air travel, when flying was a luxury instead of a chore.
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