As part of the Airways May 2019 cover story on French leisure, low-cost/long-haul carrier, French Bee, we flew with the airline from its Paris-Orly base to San Francisco, testing its Premium Economy and Economy Class products.
Outbound: Paris – San Francisco in Ecoblue
- Flight Number: BF710
- Route: Paris Orly (ORY) – San Francisco (SFO) – Papeete (PPT)
- Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
- Registration: F-HREV
- Departure Time: 1840L
- Arrival Time: 2050L
- Seat Number: 16K
Arriving at Paris-Orly’s Terminal South, I checked in just after 14:30. I was greeted by the staff at French bee with a warm welcome. As I am not a native French speaker, they seemed very pleased to help me out.
The attendant smiled when I said I was British. Whether that is because of the posh-sounding accent or the political activities of the world, I guess I will never know. But it was nice, nonetheless.
Checking in and handing my luggage over took less than 10 minutes to complete, offering great speed and efficiency. I then proceeded through to Pier F via security and passport control.
Boarding from Gate F23 began at around 17:50, about 40-50 minutes before scheduled departure. I was personally greeted by the Cabin Crew Leader and taken to my seat 16K, which is in the Eco Blue section of the cabin.
This section is configured on a tight, 3-4-3, 10-abreast layout, offering a total of 376 seats.
The Cabin Crew leader gave me a free amenity kit and a cup of water before the plane pushed back from the gate.
I got a feeling that the initiatives from the crew member were a good indicator of what was to follow over the course of the flight. I observed that the same level of treatment was given to every single passenger in the cabin, which shows how far and beyond the crew are willing to go to make everyone happy.
The Amenity kit, which is seen on Premium Economy, contained earplugs, a toothbrush, toothpaste, sleeping mask, as well as some comfortable socks.
There was sufficient legroom for me to place by largely-sized flight bag and have enough room for my legs to move around.
Alternatively, there was significant storage in the overhead lockers should I have needed it. It turned out that I didn’t need to use the storage as Seat 16J was not occupied, which gave me some extra legroom.
At 32 inches of seat pitch, there was enough space for me to stretch my legs during the flight.
The seat provided notable comfort, especially for what is going to be a long-haul flight of around 10 hours and 30 minutes.
Pushback, Taxi, Takeoff, Climb-Out:
Pushback from Gate F23 took place at 18:30, ten minutes ahead of schedule—a product of the early boarding that was encouraged by the carrier.
We spent about 10 minutes taxiing before departing from Runway 08 at 18:50 and soaring out of the clouds.
There was a little bit of turbulence on departure but the A350 did well to absorb any major hits on the climb-out.
From liftoff on Runway 08, the climb-out was rapid thanks to the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines. The climb-out had some terrific views—pure blue skies with an uneventful climb-out to cruising altitude.
We commenced a right-hand turn south of Orleans and headed towards Caen and towards the North-Western French coast. By 20,000 feet, we were only 13 minutes into the flight.
We finished the climb to 38,000 feet where U.S Customs and Border Protection cards were handed out, both in English or French.
The Economy amenity kit was handed to me, which featured a voucher for an in-flight meal, sleeping mask, and a pair of socks.
Within 40 minutes, we entered Atlantic Ocean airspace via Plymouth and the South of Ireland. I took the opportunity to extend my seat-back, which provided a very decent level of comfort.
At around 19:45 Paris time, the cabin crew began the meal service. They were very friendly when handing out food and drink, and definitely took pride in their jobs. They were very understanding and tremendously serviceable.
A voucher came with the Amenity Kit for a meal. This was to redeem the hot meal on the airline’s in-flight Blue Café.
There were five parts on offer for customers: Farfalle Pasta Salad with Diced Vegetables and Raisins; Chicken Curry and Thai Rice; Cream Cheese & Baguette; Soft coconut macaroons; and Honey-filled Wafers.
For drinks, I had a cup of water, a glass of champagne, and a Jack Daniels on the rocks. The glasses looked quite nice, with no low-cost appeal to them.
Overall, I thought that this meal tasted fresh. I found it to be very good for an Economy product. The Chicken Curry worked very well with the sauce and the Rice was very filling as well.
The Baguette worked well to mop up any Curry creamy sauce left inside the dish. The texture of the Chicken was moist enough for me to easily use the plastic cutlery, which is often a challenge on other carriers.
The macaroons tasted sharp, adding a fair flavor with nothing being too powerful. The honey-filled Wafers and the eclairs were also a pleasant conclusion to the meal.
My only criticism comes from the Farfalle Pasta Salad with Diced Vegetables and Raisins. It tasted quite rock-hard because of how cold it was. The texture felt a little uncomfortable to eat so that was a little disappointing.
Overall, I thought that, for an inflight meal, it was very delicious and definitely had a lot of value to it.
The Blue Café also offered Drink Deals and Combos, such as two alcoholic beverages, sodas, and some Crisps for €10. This was the most expensive combo out of them all.
There were Club Sandwiches on offer for around €6, as well as a Croque-Monsieur for the same price. The airline has a Daily Special for €8, as well as Noodle Soups for €4. There was a variety of Sweet and Salty Snacks followed by an extensive alcoholic and hot drink menu.
Before diving into the aircraft’s IFE, we took a step climb from FL380 to FL400 as we approached the halfway mark to the flight. At this point, we were just north of St. Johns heading over the northern edge of Canada.
In Economy, in-flight entertainment is offered at no extra cost. It is equipped with a wide variety of Movies, TV shows, Music, Wi-Fi, Games and External Cameras to look at the aircraft.
There were 32 movies listed onto the in-flight entertainment, followed by 18 TV shows, and 32 albums of music. This is around 70+ hours of content for fliers to choose from, which for a 10-hour flight to San Francisco, is more than appreciated.
The IFE also enables passengers to browse at the extensive in-flight meals menu for the flight—quite insightful as it highlighted all of the options depending on what the origin is. On top of this, there is a section for the Duty-Free shop.
The IFE also featured a USB charging point, with a headphone jack attached to the screen.
The overall operating system was very quick to respond and is very easy to get around. It is offered in three languages: English, Spanish, and French. It also has interactive buttons that work with the lights above your head.
I took the opportunity to watch a film to unwind, which was Fences, the Denzel Washington thriller of a Working-Class African-American Father trying to raise his family in the 1950s while coming to terms with the events of his life.
On board, there is an option to purchase Wi-Fi connectivity. It has four tiers that are available on the Airbus A350—cheaper than if you are flying on the carrier’s Airbus A330.
First is the ‘Hello Pack’, which is $4 for 30 minutes and offers you connectivity to messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Then there is the ‘Social Pack’, which for $9 you get two hours of connectivity.
Then there is the ‘Geek Pack’, which costs $17 for six hours and offers full connectivity. At last, the ‘Addicted Pack’ gives faster speeds for $29.
Considering Wi-Fi onboard has been an innovative thing over the last five years, it is just over the edge when it comes to affordability.
I tried the Wi-Fi with about seven hours left before arriving into SFO. On my mobile device, it worked very well as I was able to send photos and video across social media and messaging services.
Also, on my phone, I was able to stream Netflix in a significantly decent level of quality, which I found phenomenal.
I was also able to make video calls via WhatsApp and Facebook—very surprising! The other side managed to hear and see me just fine, which is an achievement given the low upload speeds.
I did a Speedtest on my computer and it produced up to 5.1mbps of download speed, and 0.6mbps of upload speed, which works well on the mobile devices and maybe to a certain degree on personal computers.
After that, it was time to use the toilet. I was not impressed by how small the A350’s toilets are with French bee. After all, it’s a high-density configuration that needs to use as much real estate as possible.
Due to the level of excitement of me ticking off my fourth city in the United States, I opted not to sleep (silly, I know).
But it was quite rewarding that I didn’t because I got to see the lovely Appalachian scenery over parts of Northern Canada, which was quite a sight to see.
Viewing on the external cameras was just mesmerizing, just seeing thousands of miles of nothing but white nothingness.
However, as we hit the two hours left-mark, the cabin lighting came back to life, waking up the sleepy passengers and getting them ready for the final part of the flight. Breakfast was served.
This consisted of a Mozzarella & Pesto Pizza Pocket, a La Petite Madeline and a variation of fruit with some yogurt. In terms of drinks, I opted for water and a glass of orange juice.
The Mozzarella & Pesto Pizza was just the right temperature and was folded like a sandwich. It tasted really good, with it being a reasonably sized portion.
The Madeline worked well as a little dessert afterward, although, with the fromage frais yogurt and fruit, there was a lot to offer for a breakfast meal.
The Fromage Frais yogurt was very bitter, probably just due to my fussy self. It tasted very light but isn’t something I personally like.
The fruit was quite nice too, although it was a little tough in texture. However, I was still impressed with that as a breakfast due to the portioning and how filling it was.
At this point, we had entered the United States, passing the likes of Calgary, Canada, and then straight past Billings, U.S.
Due to the fast winds, we were due to arrive around 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
The final cruise altitude rose to 43,000 feet (FL430)—the maximum altitude of the A350 and as seen on the exterior cameras—darkness was beginning to catch up on us as we entered the final stages of the cruise.
We were finally able to open up and see the sensational view from FL430, looking at the mountains covered by an array of vast clouds.
Descent, Approach & Landing:
With just less than half an hour to go, our descent into San Francisco finally got underway after over ten hours in the air north of Sacramento. The descent was majestic as we became ever so closer to the clouds and the mountains.
During the descent also, a toffee-like sweet was handed out by the kind cabin crew. It was the perfect conclusion to the food service onboard the flight.
While the descent was in full flow, the cabin crew were commencing final checks and also cleaning up any rubbish and making sure seat belts were tightened. Before we knew it, the sun was down and we were ready for our night approach into San Francisco.
The descent was very sharp, initially dropping from 43,000 to 33,000 in less than six or seven minutes, with some heavy right-hand turns to follow the arrival into SFO.
You could also start to see the beginning of the Pacific Ocean at FL250 as we were doing what looked like to be an overhead pass of the city before descending even further for our approach.
Unfortunately, as it got darker, photography became a little bit more difficult due to the windows reflecting onto my computer and ruining any further shots.
The descent got a little heavier before joining up for the approach and landing on Runway 28L to conclude what was an incredible flight using the economy product.
Premium Economy: Premiumblue
- Number: BF711
- Route: San Francisco (SFO) – Paris Orly (ORY)
- Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
- Registration: F-HREV
- Departure Time: 2035L
- Arrival Time: 1620L+1
- Seat Number: 7K
After having spent a few days in beautiful San Francisco, I arrived at the airport and was the first in line to check into Premium Blue—the airline’s Premium Economy product.
Agents were about 10 minutes late to begin proceedings but were very efficient in directing me towards TSA Security.
As part of Premium Blue, I am given priority boarding onto the aircraft and also through security checks as well. Getting through security was very quick, going from the check-in desks and through TSA within 20 minutes maximum.
Flight BF711’s origin was Papeete, in Tahiti, but the aircraft stops in San Francisco on the way back to Paris-Orly.
While I was waiting for the call to my flight, I got to take advantage of the brand new observation deck at SFO, which was only for passengers. I managed to catch my plane land from Papeete—a stunning sight for an aviation enthusiast!
Boarding started at 19:35, about 10 minutes behind schedule, with the aim of a 20:35 departure, giving plenty of time to get the over 300+ people onto the plane.
I then helped myself to Seat 7K, in which I was one of the lucky 35 people on the flight to be in the Premium blue section.
The Premium Economy section offers 35 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration.
As mentioned before, I was the first onto the plane thanks to the Priority Boarding on offer from French bee, which gave me a significant amount of time to get settled and relax.
I was given, once again like on the Economy flight, a very warm welcome into the cabin by the crew, while being offered two glasses of champagne.
Due to the nature of the review, the attendants again recognized where I was and who I am and offering even more formality and care to the service that they offer on a weekly basis.
Pushback, Taxi, Takeoff:
Pushback started at 20:37, about two minutes behind schedule, with the taxi taking around 26 minutes due to heavy traffic on the ground at SFO.
Then at 21:03, the Trent XWB engines came to life as we departed Runway 28L.
Upon departure, we took a right hand turn out away from Runway 28L and commenced our climb up to 37,000 feet.
As soon as the climb-out began, the cabin crew began to hand out the IFE products.
The climb to cruise was very boring, as it is literally just a dark landscape. However, we were given complimentary bottles of water.
Hand-towels, which were very refreshing and warm, were also handed out by the crew as a good way to freshen up ahead for the 10-hour flight.
Cruise, Meal Service
As soon as we hit the cruise FL370, drinks service began offering a variety of Rum, Beer, Sodas, Champagne, Whiskey, Apple, Orange, and Tropical Juices.
Step climbs throughout the flight initiated from FL370 up to FL410.
As far as food was concerned, there was the choice between Chicken Teriyaki and Thai Rice or Linguine Pasta with Baby Shrimps in a Lemon cream butter.
This came with California Sushi Rolls, Wasabi Mayonnaise, and Black Sesame as well as Camembert Cheese & Dried fruit and Blueberry Cake. All this was accompanied by coffee or tea with a Ghirardelli chocolate square and an after-dinner drink of Old Rum.
There were also wines on offer, offering a Red Bordeaux as well as a Chardonnay.
I found this menu to be considerably more significant than in Economy and for the extra money paid, you can definitely get your money’s worth.
They had, unfortunately, ran out of the Linguine Pasta so I had the Chicken Teriyaki and Thai Rice instead. This meal was very juicy and tasted very fresh. The Teriyaki Sauce worked very well with the Thai Rice.
I am not much of a fan of fish so the California Sushi Rolls weren’t touched. The passenger next to me said it was very nice, however.
The Dried Fruit was very nice, and so was the Cheese. The Blueberry Cake had exploded a variety of flavors into my mouth, which was just incredible. The Pretzels were a great snack to conclude the meal sufficiently.
I enjoyed this with a Whiskey and Coke, followed by a cup of Orange Juice. In-all, I thought that the main meals were very nice and it seemed to complement quite well.
In-flight entertainment is something that gets a considerable upgrade from Eco Blue to Premium Blue.
Firstly, the screens are a little larger, which enables better resolution when watching films and TV shows that the airline offers. It offers the same selection content to that in Eco Blue, which is about 70+ hours of entertainment.
An extended feature within Premium Blue is that an iPad is handed out to each passenger in this specific cabin.
This tablet is loaded up with magazines and newspapers from each week/month in order to keep up with the news around the world.
I found this to be a fantastic additional feature, especially if you are on a long flight and want something else to do.
Wi-Fi onboard the flight should have worked but upon trying to connect via my Mobile and my MacBook, it was not available on the list, which was disappointing. I wanted to use it to access emails and send messages.
Furthermore, the flight data that comes with the screen on the IFE also bugged out and did not provide any data. This was also disappointing as I wanted to access the data, especially as a genuine enthusiast.
Like on the screens in Eco Blue, the USB Charger and Microphone Jacks were featured on the screen. These worked really well, especially the charger, where there was significant speed to charging my phone.
With the seats onboard Premium Blue, you can definitely notice the difference in comfort. I felt as if I could sleep in the seats quite happily.
Reclination was something very significant and almost had a very Business Class-esque feel. It managed to recline to over 100-110 degrees at least which provided some really good comfort, overall.
With Premium Blue, you get an extra three inches of seat pitch, bringing it to 35 inches total. This enables further deployment of your seat to lie-down a bit better than that of the economy class.
My only critique of the seat is that when you are trying to get out, you have to move certain elements due to how large the seats are. Also, it provides inconvenience for your neighbor who also has to do the same thing.
If the seats were configured via a staggered setup, then it would be easier and more flexible to move about.
However, in the cabin of Premium Blue, there is a clear separation between the two classes, offering a unique level of separated privacy.
I managed to sleep for a good four to six hours and was woke for breakfast for about an hour and 50 minutes before arrival time back into Paris-Orly.
Breakfast consisted of a Hash Brown, Scrambled Egg, and Mushrooms, accompanied with Croissants and Bread and Yoghurt.
I thought this worked very well overall and was a very filling meal..
It was easy to wash this down with the Orange Juice and Water that I was given with it. I was well stocked up with drinks, which was a nice conclusion to a professional food/drinks service.
Descent, Approach, Landing:
With an under an hour left to go in the flight, we began our descent into Orly.
As a night flight, this was very well managed by the crew from start to finish, offering a huge level of privacy should you need it and not wanting to be disturbed if you wanted to.
The flight had some patches of turbulence but obviously wasn’t enough to wake me in my sleep. Therefore, I’d determine it to be a very smooth flight.
However, even on the descent as we started to edge closer to the North Western-French coast, there were some significant bumps that definitely woke some of the other passengers up.
The Airbus A350 dealt with the turbulence just fine.
As the descent progressed even further, the crew prepared for the approach into Orly. iPads were handed back; rubbish was cleared, and we were all strapped in ready to finish the American adventure.
To finish up, Candy was handed out by the crew, bringing an end to their service.
Before we knew it, the landing on Runway 26 was here, landing at 16:12, about 13 minutes ahead of schedule.
Consistency Is Key
Overall, this linked up with the Eco Blue product shows a very consistent product from French bee.
If everything was at its optimum in Premium Blue, it would be even more outstanding than what it already is.
I am very eager to see how this product develops over the next few years and what future is in store for the airline as we approach the new decade in less than 12 months’ time.
As for competitors, it is something that the likes of United, Air France, and Air Tahiti Nui will sweat over, especially if French bee is able to offer low prices for these products on the same routes.