One-star business class with nothing special to mark the occasion of Christmas Eve
The AF flights that part from Paris late at night now have an “accelerated” business service, with “accelerated” actually meaning “reduced to a minimum” (so at the same level as airlines rated one or two stars). I already knew this, but chose this flight anyway because it was the only direct route on this Christmas night. So, I was neither surprised nor disappointed nor dissatisfied.
Some crew members should stop pretending that this service is the best of the best, though. What’s annoying is not that the national airline is mediocre (neither the best nor the worst), but that it goes out of its way to present itself as if it were superior. For instance, this Christmas night they recommended a tuna described as “fagottoni with season cheeses sprinkled with zucchini sauce and ground creamed tomatoes” that was actually just ravioli with canned tomatoes, which is really not the image that their marketing wants to present of their business class. Luckily, there were also some flight attendants who were more realistic on the quality of the airline, being also attentive to the passengers, and active in finding solutions to make the flight a pleasing experience.
We departed from 2E K, with its underground lounge (for those who want to discover the 2E M, with its new S4 “passenger park” lounge, which has been so much praised for its design, beware that it’s not open at night – you have to take a morning flight; also know that it’s not worth it, because it looks good in pictures, but is not very functional in practice).
Air France has recently changed the services of their lounges. It’s better, but the food is still mostly sliced cold turkey breast, which was already the main ingredient. Only the soup is hot and new. The chocolate dessert, which we have to endure since September, is very fatty and gross. For Christmas, they served champagne “from a box coming from the first class lounge.” An unsold bottle, reminding us that the airline operates on a shoestring. As for the accompanying biscuit, it was the famous and ever-present Mère Poulard biscuits. A used shoestring…
On board, we had to wait a long time for the connecting passengers from Stockholm, who arrived late at CDG. They visibly brought along the welcome drink, which was served very late, with neither napkin nor smile. Stockholm’s cold, however, had already joined us in the cabin. The new AF blanket – the gray one that was itchy and unwarming has been smartly replaced by a yellowish, half-wool, half-plastic blanket that is uglier, but warmer – is not sufficient. Luckily, we could use the IFE to pass the time and watch a movie that was often interrupted by repetitive announcements. I wonder if there is still a person who does not know that you’re not supposed to smoke in airplanes – and especially not in restrooms equipped with smoke detectors. The airlines should stop telling us that. We got the point and there are “no smoking” signs everywhere anyway. The advantage is that since I was going to Brazil I got to learn how to say “restrooms” in Portuguese.
Seeing that the Stockholm flight had not yet arrived, every crew member decided to come welcome every business class passenger. The head of the main cabin, the head of the business cabin, the intern – everybody came, with more or less warmth, but without greeting the passengers by their name as is done by the Asian airlines, which I figure are Air France’s model of excellence. We also got the comfort kit, which is the same for men and women because it’s basically just a shoe bag and socks with no right-foot/left-foot differentiation. The packaging has changed, though: there’s a big “80” to remind us of the airline’s great and beautiful history. Personally, I’m more interested in its progress in the next three years than in nostalgic memories of years past that we can download to our USB sticks if we have nothing better to do.
We take off at last, with a 40-minute delay that we will not really recover. I’ll spare you the crucial information destined to the smokers who go to the bathrooms, which are repeated at 10,000 feet in case they haven’t understood when we were on the ground. I also pass on the aperitif, served without a napkin, without a smile, and with no peanuts. They cut the peanuts to speed up the service; they cut the napkin because there were no peanuts; they cut the smile because the effort to cut all the other things was not very exciting.
We quickly get to the meal, which I already said was mediocre. The flight attendant passed and served a tray with the starter plate, the dessert, the cheese, and the cutlery. At the other end of the row, passengers appreciate the arrangement of these items, because this way they can start with the dessert. Or, more probably, they failed to understand that that was the dessert.
I had been warned, on the airnapoleon.com blog, of a minimal service to avenge my critical reviews of the airline. This wasn’t the case, because the steward took the time to remove the plastic lids from the tray before serving me and then pompously recited the menu with a pretentious air that got on my nerves: “hand-sliced smoked salmon and blini, lightly-cooked duck foie gras terrine, baby spinach.” I told him I wanted the foie gras and he answered that it wasn’t either one or the other. I unsuccessfully negotiated, then, to get some lemon to hide a little the taste of the plastic lid that was over the salmon. I then found a smart (and very dedicated) attendant that brought me some lemon slices that were in the aperitif drinks.
The principle of accelerated service doesn’t mean that you’ll get the hot dish quickly. It implies that you can gain some time by having your dessert while you wait. Fifteen minutes after finishing my starter dish, I give in and pass to the cheese. I was getting ready to eat the dessert when the flight attendant showed up. For the hot dish, I left the spaghetti to my neighbor and turned to the mathematically named “[Duckling + Chestnut + Red Currant] = Thibaut Ruggeri” that was on the menu. The description was promising: “Pure seasonal product, the chestnut reminds us of Autumn and Winter! The vivacity of the red currant, in turn, is present to bring life to the respectable duckling steak that coated in its three peppers.” The result is ugly (see the photo) and bad. I’m not obsessed with the culinary art, but I’d say that Thibaut Ruggeri made a reheated mess.
For the rest of the flight, it’s the traditional movie and slide. The AF business seat is flat but sloping; even though you have to admit that the NEV4 (the latest version of the seat) is a little less sloping that the NEV3. This business cabin also feels like paradise in comparison to the back of the plane, which I visited to give my legs a stretch. The jumbo’s main cabin is dirty and messy. The seats by the emergency exits should be removed because the legroom is occupied by the boxes of the evacuation slides. Half the passengers are directly next to the restrooms or noisy galleys placed in the middle of the cabin. It’s absolutely essential to prioritize sitting at the upper deck if you’re flying coach.
Breakfast was akin to the dinner: scrambled eggs, waffle or charchuterie, fruits with custard, industrial yogurt, croissant or warm brioche. And we finally landed in Rio, where the crew’s luggage are delivered first, and where I can spend the rest of Christmas day on the beach. Copacana, Ipanema: it was worth the trip, even in a one-star business that did nothing special to mark the occasion of Christmas Eve.
2 / 5
Value (price + quality) On the ground
2 / 5
Check-in and boarding
2 / 5
Management of luggage
3 / 5
2 / 5
3 / 5
1 / 5