Note: This flight was booked and paid for by French Bee, but the opinions in this review are the author’s own and were not altered or subject to review by the airline.
LOS ANGELES – Today, Airways is onboard French Bee’s (BF) inaugural flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris (ORY), a major step for the low-cost airline’s ambitious plans to expand into the North American market. Follow along as we showcase the inaugural flight celebrations and inflight experience.
French Bee will serve LAX three times weekly, with an increase up to six flights weekly by July. In addition to LAX, the airline flies to San Francisco (SFO) and New York (EWR) in the United States. Flights to EWR were only launched last summer, a part of the airline’s expansion to the U.S. market.
French Bee’s President, Marc Rochet said “As summer travel demand surges for international trips, we are thrilled to expand our U.S. network and ad Los Angeles as our third nonstop route to Paris.”
He continued, “Affordability continues to be a top factor for our customers as well as our new Airbus A350 fleet, which makes long-haul travel efficient and comfortable.”
French Bee’s Fleet
French Bee operates a fleet of four Airbus A350-900 aircraft in addition to a single Airbus A350-1000 that was delivered to the airline in 2021.
The airline boasts the A350’s advanced technologies that contribute to an enhanced passenger experience. These include specialized cabin pressurization, ambient lighting, high ceilings, and temperature-controlled air quality.
The aircraft also aids in minimizing long-haul fatigue through the use of mood-lighting to mimic sunrise and sunset, a particularly advantageous perk for the airline’s solely long-haul operations.
While the aircraft’s features aid in comfort for passengers, the cabin configurations further contribute to the airline’s a-la-carte, low-cost business model. The A350s are fitted with 411 seats, including 35 in ‘Premium’ and 376 in ‘Eco Blue’.
An A-la-Carte Experience
At the core of French Bee’s business model is the array of ‘A-La-Carte’ options available to passengers for maximum customization based on each passenger’s needs.
Ticketing options for passengers include ‘Basic’, which includes one carry-on bag, ‘Smart’, which includes a checked bag and inflight meal, and ‘Premium’, offering two inflight meals, baggage service, Premium cabin seat choice, ‘line jump’, priority boarding, and priority luggage delivery.
The airline also offers inflight WiFi packages of various sizes to allow passengers to only pay for what they need. The cheapest package ($4) is catered to passengers who wish to utilize messaging apps, while the most expensive ($17) offers full internet and email capabilities.
Additional options include extra legroom seats, priority luggage delivery, additional luggage, inflight meals, lounge access at Orly Airport, and a travel kit with a blanket, socks, a neck pillow, eye mask, and headphones.
- Flight Number: BF 731
- Flight Duration: 9:59
- Takeoff Time: 8:06 PM
- Landing Time: 3:05 PM
- Aircraft Registration: F-HREY
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-941
- Aircraft Age: 2 Years
Check-in and Ground Experience
Today, BF begins operating flights between Los Angeles International Airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal and Paris Orly Airport Terminal 4. The airline utilizes check-in area C at LAX, with the airline’s logo already present on various screens in the vicinity.
Check-in began at around 4 PM, with seven desks available to assist passengers. Long queues of passengers had already begun to form, suggesting strong initial demand for the route.
Ticketed with a ‘Premium’ reservation, I was able to use the single check-in desk designated for Premium passengers, helping me avoid the long lines. However, BF does not participate in TSA PreCheck, which meant I needed to go through the busy TSA lines, taking around 20 minutes.
Boarding, Taxi and Takeoff
At 7 PM, boarding commenced for BF 731 initially with passengers in premium class and families with children and anyone who needed extra time to board. Just before the entrance to the jetbridges, passengers were greeted with a spread of French macaroons to celebrate the inaugural flight. The boarding process, however, was quite hectic and disorganized due to the lack of separation between boarding groups.
Some unprepared passengers were delayed in boarding due to the airline’s mask policy requiring passengers to wear medical-grade masks. French Bee’s policy is a far fetch from the United States’ updated policy which makes masks optional on all domestic flights.
The boarding doors closed promptly at 7:45PM after a swift boarding process was completed through two jet bridges. At 8:06 PM, flight BF took off from runway 24L in gorgeous sunset light that radiated vibrantly through the cabin.
The departure course took us West over the Santa Monica Bay, before banking left, flying over LAX airport and heading North East. The aircraft maintained an initial cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, before climbing to 39,000 feet, and eventually 40,000 feet.
In Premium Class, each seat is fitted with an inflight entertainment screen loaded with movies, television, music, duty-free shopping catalogs, dining options, games, and external cameras, a favorite feature of many travelers.
The inflight entertainment options included 82 movies and 23 television episodes, along with 141 albums and three different external camera feeds. In total, the wide variety of English and French options was more than sufficient for the long 10-hour flight.
Some of the options offered include recent releases such as ‘West Side Story’, ‘The Many Saints of Newark’, and ‘King Richard’, along with older, yet popular, releases like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Avatar’. The television selections were sparse and included, at most, three episodes of each show.
After takeoff, the cabin crew also handed out iPad Minis loaded with 19 English magazines, along with 10 French newspapers and 16 magazines. The digital content is especially welcome during COVID when airlines have strayed away from printed media on board.
Food and Drink
Shortly after takeoff, cabin crew commenced drinks service and offered passengers a choice of champagne, whisky, rum, beer, soda, tomato, apple, tropical and orange juices, along with a selection of wines.
Dinner was served on a single tray, and was a choice of beef stew with mac and cheese or lemon butter shrimp linguine, along with a California sushi roll with wasabi mayonnaise, a small portion of camembert cheese and red grapes, a chocolate brownie, and Ghirardelli chocolate square for dessert.
Although the combination of sushi with pasta was quite curious, the quality of the food was solid and comparable to economy class meals on other full-service carriers.
Following dinner service, the cabin lights were dimmed to allow passengers to sleep, but the cabin crew frequented the cabin to offer drinks, and a service cart had been set up in the forward galley for passengers to self-serve soft drinks.
An hour before landing, cabin crew offered two choices for breakfast; an omelette or French toast. Also included in the breakfast tray was a pastry, yogurt, and a bread roll. Also offered was coffee or tea, along with juices.
Although the quality of food wasn’t the highest I’ve encountered on premium economy products, the meals were filling and had elements that shined in their quality, including the California rolls and pastry offered as part of the breakfast tray.
Seat and Amenities
In Premium Class, each passenger had a pillow, blanket and water bottle waiting at their seat upon boarding, along with a welcome drink of champagne offered by cabin crew.
Just after take-off, cabin crew passed out amenity kits to all Premium passengers, the contents of which are on par with amenity kits offered in premium economy on many full-service airlines. The contents included a French Bee branded eye mask, blue socks, wired earbuds, a small toothbrush, and earplugs.
Each Premium seat, with 36 inches of legroom and a width of 18 inches, features a tray table stowed in the middle console, footrest, setback screen, and seatback pocket. The seats were comfortable and reclined very far back, so much so that it encroached on the space of the passenger behind. In fact, since the passenger in front of me reclined her seat all the way, I was unable to open my tray table.
With generous legroom and reclining capabilities, the Premium seat offered by BF provided a comfortable flying experience, especially for a low-cost carrier. The extra amenities, along with the friendly cabin crew, were nice perks of flying with BF.
Landing & Final Thoughts
After almost exactly 10 hours in the air, BF731 made a smooth touch down at Paris Orly’s runway 06 at 3:05 local time.
This was my first time flying long-haul, low-cost, and my experience matched the airline’s philosophy of providing “low fares with high standards”. While the food, amenities, and inflight entertainment were of moderately good quality, it met my expectations of the low-cost experience.
The core of the low-cost business model, shared by almost all low-cost airlines flying today, is to provide customers with the most options and affordability to attract passengers, and this is what BF does right through the myriad of ‘A-la-carte’ add-ons they provide.
Paired with an enthusiastic cabin crew and a modern fleet of Airbus A350s (and their glorious external cameras), the airline was able to provide a comfortable experience for me.
A couple of the letdowns for me were the hectic, disorganized boarding process (which was the case both between LAX-ORY and my return flight from ORY to Newark (EWR), the strange combination of cuisines offered for dinner, and the minor issues with my seat. These are surely areas where the airline will be able to make improvements as it continues to grow.
Featured image: French Bee exterior, Airbus A350. Photo: French Bee