This is my sixth A380 trip having flown A380s operated by Singapore, Qantas, Emirates, Korean and Lufthansa.
Air France was one of the launch customers for the A380 in 2001, ordering 12. They got their first A380 in October, 2009.
Booking: 10 out of 10
Upon searching for economy airfares from the USA to Europe and back, I found Air France was offering a sale on its Premium economy product (Premium Voyageur) so I treated myself to that. Booking, payment and ticketing was very straightforward. Unfortunately the very small premium economy cabin had only two seats left. Both were in the middle section of the cabin. I like my window seat! I kept monitoring the website up to check in time but the seat situation did not change.
Check in: 10 out of 10
I was very very early for check in as my inbound flight into JFK got me there 12 hours before my flight was departing. Because I had been Christmas shopping in the USA, taking advantage of the strong Aussie dollar, I had two bags to check in. One was my regular bag and one was full of presents, neither of which I wanted to walk around NYC with. Air France allowed me a very early check in.
Premium Economy passengers can check in via a priority queue. The process was efficient and straight forward. This gave me a few hours to explore NYC without the bags. The very friendly agent issued the boarding pass for the flight. Alas no window seats had opened up.
I gave Emirates (EK) 10/10, Korean (KE) 10/10, Qantas (QF) 9/10, Singapore (SQ) 8/10 and Lufthansa (LH) 7/10 for their A380 Check in processes.
Boarding: 6 out of 10
In contrast to the very smooth check in, Boarding was a disaster! The lounge area was chaotic. There were (I think) ostensibly two lines – one for Premium and one for economy but where these lines started and stopped was very unclear. Two security guards were attempting to funnel people into the right line. The trouble is that each of the two guys was contradicting the other so passengers were totally confused. It was an appalling welcome.
On previous occasions, Air France has had a whiteboard at the head of the line with pertinent and interesting information such as plane serial number, pilots’ name, meals options, flight time. This was missing on this occasion. I am not sure of AF no longer does this or it is not used on this sector or it had been hidden by a security guard!
At the gate, passengers separate for entry into the lower and upper cabin lines. I followed my way up to the upper cabin. Greetings at the door were in English and French and cabin crew greeting passengers through the plane.
Boarding in the Premium Economy and Economy cabins felt stressed. The economy cabin ran out of luggage space and passengers from that cabin were competing for the remaining luggage spots in the PE cabin.
EK: 10/10, KE 10/10, QF: 9/10, SQ 7/10, LH 7/10
On Board: 5 out of 10
When Air France released its A380 and on board products, the critics and public were underwhelmed, I can see why. I thought the colour scheme dull and unexciting.
The airline has chosen to squeeze 538 people in four classes. Originally, the upper deck had a mix of Business seats and Economy seats. Some of the Economy seats have been replaced with newer Premium Economy seats. The result is The Premium Economy cabin which is five rows in a 2/3/
3 arrangement followed by a small Economy section squeezed at the back of the plane. I found this arrangement illogical, uncomfortable and cramped. It would seem to be better to expand the Premium economy cabin and business class by a row each to fit the space. It would allow Air France to offer PE customer their own lavatory .
First and Economy cabins on the lower level with 9 First suites at the front of the plane (I didn’t see them) and Economy seats in a 3/4/3 arrangement.
Take off was followed by the distribution of an amenity kit which included some Clarins moisturising cream. I am not sure what the economy offering was.
Service through the flight was predominantly at meal times. At other times, I found crew aloof and absent.
EK: 10/10, KE 10/10, QF: 9/10, SQ 8/10, LH 7/10
The Seat: 3 out of 10
Air France has installed a fixed-shell seat for the Premium Economy cabin. It is 19 inches by 38 inches. Compare that to Economy where the economy seats are 19″ wide with a 32″ pitch between the seats. Air France make a big deal about the extra 40% more leg room but I was underwhelmed. I could not get comfortable in this seat. I felt claustrophobic and the width is pathetic. The seat has a 10.4 in (26 cm) video screen. With the seat was a noise-reducing headset, electronic PC outlet to recharge computers and a supposedly wider seat-back tray table. We also were given a pillow and a blanket.
Takeoff: 10 out of 10
The A380 performs takeoffs flawlessly. With a leap and a bound we were out of NY air space.
Meals: 10 out of 10
I always have confidence in Air Frances’ meal and frankly as the flag carrier of France, you could not afford ti have a bad meal. The food is always served with generous toppings of French wines and ample servings of a wide selection of breads. The good thing about bread is that its cheap for an airline and filling!
EK: 10/10, SQ 9/10. LH 8.5/10, QF: 7/10, KE 6/10
Entertainment: 8 out of 10
Air France has It offers Movies, Short films, Music (Approx. 500 albums), A Children’s World, games, and in-flight duty free shopping functioned well but I felt the quantity of TV programming was a bit limited. While there were a lot of albums, there were not many that ended up grabbing my attention.
SQ 10/10, QF 9/10, EK: 8/10 LH 7/10
Landing: 10 out of 10
We landed early into Paris Charles de Gaulle with a perfect touchdown
My rating overall: 78%
Out of all of my A380 flights, this was the most disappointing. particularly galling was that I had paid for a premium economy product that I think is eclipsed by the Economy product of Emirates, Qantas and Singapore. I gave Air France an overall rating of 3.8 out fo 5 which to my mind makes it an average airline.
Ratings for my A380 flights are EK: 92%, QF: 87%, KE 86%, SQ: 83%, LH 80%,
Positives: Booking, check in, meals
Negatives: Boarding, layout of A380, On board service
Would I fly them again? Frankly, maybe. It would depend on price and competitor.
If I was choosing between Air France and an American competitor, I would lean toward Air France. By contrast, I would choose some European carriers eg British Airways, Lufthansa, Swissair, Malev, over Air France. The prospect of that nice bread doesn’t win over.