BACKGROUND: Air France operates daily return flights from O.R Tambo International Airport to Paris-Charles de Gaulle with either an A380 or a Boeing 777. Paris-Charles de Gaulle processes nearly 79 million passengers a year.
PRE-FLIGHT & CHECK-IN: I decided to check in on the Air France mobile app which allowed me to reserve my preferred seat and order special meals. I joined a long queue for economy passengers at O.R. Tambo International Airport to drop off my luggage and receive a printed boarding pass. This wasn’t strictly necessary as I had a digital boarding pass on my phone, but I do still like to have a physical one, because you just never know. Economy class passengers are allowed to check two bags into the hold, but the airline seems to be quite strict about the weight allowance of 23 kilograms; many people with oversized suitcases were pulled out of the queue and asked to weigh their luggage before proceeding to the counter. There was another queue at security, but all in all, the process of getting airside wasn’t bad – about 45 minutes.
LOUNGE & BOARDING: Air France has its own lounge in international departures, but as I wasn’t travelling on a business class ticket, I opted to wait at the boarding gate, which was about as far from passport control as it’s possible to get (but still only a five-odd minute walk). Seating for economy passengers at gate A16 is limited given that the A380 carries nearly 400 passengers in this class and that this flight was about 90% full. But I eventually managed to snag a seat. Boarding is done in sections and passengers are called out by zone, which reduces the chaos onboard somewhat.
THE SEAT: I chose seat 30G, in the middle of the main deck. It’s an exit row bulkhead seat on the aisle in a 3-4-3 cabin layout. Upon settling in, though, I realised my mistake. Yes, there’s extra legroom and it’s close to the bathroom, but both arm rests are thick and immovable, cutting into the precious seat width that my extra-large frame dearly needs. A very kind cabin attendant managed to find me a little more room further back in the cabin and I moved to a bulkhead window seat with an unoccupied middle seat after take-off, which made the trip much more comfortable.
THE FLIGHT: We pushed back on time and I was able to watch the taxiing and take-off from the tail cam on the overhead TV screen. Drinks were served 30 minutes into the flight, with the dinner service following an hour later. The tray came with a salad, bread roll, butter, a wedge of cheese and tiramisu for dessert. I chose the chicken breast in a tomato gravy with potato and baby marrow, but I feel like the fish curry was probably the better option – the aroma wafting from my neighbour’s seat was mouth-watering. Once my tray was cleared, I browsed the in-flight entertainment, which had a wide selection of movies, TV series, music and games, on the touch-screen monitor. There was a fair bit of mild turbulence throughout the night, but it didn’t trigger the seatbelt sign. A snack bar was set up in the galley after lights out, with drinks, sweets and biscuits available for self-service. I managed to get a few hours of sleep before the breakfast service began, which consisted of warm bread and butter pudding with blueberry compote, yoghurt, fruit salad, croissant and a bread roll. A very good morning meal by my standards.
ARRIVAL: We touched down on schedule and the plane was emptied in fair time. I jumped on the train to the main terminal where I joined a very long queue at immigration. It took nearly an hour to reach the front, but once I was there, I was processed quickly and moved on to baggage claim where my luggage was getting dizzy riding the carousel.
VERDICT: A decent onboard product coupled with reliability and on-time performance makes Air France a good option for your next trip to Europe.