This year we were super excited to check off a couple bucket list items on our list: Paris and Disneyland Paris! Being a first time location for both of us we researched every minor detail to no end. One of the components to this trip was how to get there. We were a little surprised that the best option price wise ended up being a direct flight on Air France. We were excited to try a new international carrier and get a head start on the French experience en route. (Hello free champagne!) Read on for all the details of this round trip flight experience…
Booking Our Flight
Whenever we travel we always research to try to find the best deals. Many times in the past booking a travel package has been cost saving by bundling components such as air, hotel, and car. For this trip packages did not help at all, and a la carte was better. Even looking at different connecting cities didn’t help the price either. So after all that research the end result ended up being pretty simple: book through the airlines, at a close to home airport, on a direct flight. Who knew?
Since we live(d) in the Washington, DC metro area, we opted to fly out of Dulles International Airport (IAD), which is about 30 miles west of downtown. During our search, there were two major airports we could fly into in Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), which is northeast of downtown, and Paris Orly (ORY), which is south of downtown. Our best option was flying direct to CDG.
When selecting our flight, we were given the option of Light, Standard, or Premium Economy. We chose Standard Economy because this included one checked bag and the difference between the two fares was less than the baggage fee. This was perfect as for our almost two week trip we were able to take 2 checked suitcases and two carry ons to avoid extra luggage fees.
We also were able to pay a little extra to select certain seats for the long flight. The cheapest upgrade option was $22.72 per person each way and made up a large majority of the economy seats. The most expensive uncharge was $54.00 for exit rows. The aircraft we were on was an Airbus A380, which is a double decker aircraft. The lower deck was where a large majority of the economy seats were. However, there was a small area of economy upstairs in the very back of the plane. The advantage to the upstairs was there were rows of two seats next to the window, which is what we went with both ways. Sitting just the two of us was nice (plus aviation enthusiast Andrew thought it was cool to sit on the upper level.)
The Airline Ambiance
The Plane Environment
The Airbus A380 was a huge plane, but we found the boarding process non stressful. We headed up directly to the second level to find our seats. On the main level it is 3-4-3 seating in economy. On our deck it was 2-4-2. The interior of the cabin felt spacious with contoured overhead compartments and accent lighting. The color scheme featured mostly navy fabrics with pops of red. When boarding there was relaxing french music playing and we instantly felt like our vacation had begun.
Something small to note that we really enjoyed was the safety briefing video. It featured fashionable Parisian women and was too cute to ignore. Another cool feature was the camera on the tail of the plane. They broadcast the takeoff on the overhead screens and you could also check out the view during the flight too.
Service & Comfort
Everyone we interacted with from Air France was lovely. From the check-in counter agent giving us recommendations for restaurants in the city, to the on flight crew gladly bringing us more wine we felt very welcomed and taken care of the entire time. We also loved some of the small extras that made the flight more enjoyable. Upon arrival all seats featured a collection of in-flight items:
Eye Mask (you can take these home with you, the graphic patterns were different so we ended up with a little collection of 4!)
We also appreciated some of the little things like the small refreshing towels handed out. And the variety of Air France magazines available in the airport to read and take home as well.
Each seat features a screen that serves several functions. While some items seems a bit glitchy (like trying to view the menu) the actual entertainment selection was very broad. You can enjoy:
Movies (both popular new releases and a selection of French films)
Radio (Julie loved listening to some French tunes to get in vacay mode)
Video Games using the attached controller
You can also message as well
There are USB chargers for your phones
(You can see a list of current entertainment offerings here)
One big thing to note is we did not have Wi-fi. We figured this would be a given and planned to connect on the flight home. This was very odd because there was literature about it and how to connect but it seems it is only on some flights. It sounds like there will be Wi-fi on all flights by 2020. You can learn more here.
Washington to Paris
We knew we wanted to try to get some sleep on the overnight flight to Europe. We paid to upgrade to an exit row and had plenty of space. The entertainment screen and tray table both came out of the same arm rest. This causes the seat width to be slightly smaller but we didn’t find it bad at all, plus it was worth it for all of the extra leg room. The downside to these seats were the lack of window and phone chargers, plus our bags had to go overhead. But we weren’t worried about that on this particular flight since we wanted to sleep most of the time anyway. Which we did (at least for a few hours!).
Paris to Washington
For the flight back, we had two seats right in front of the exit row. The advantage to this was that we could recline without having to worry about bothering anyone behind us. Also, the window seats on the top level include some spare elbow room along with cubby where you can store items. It seems the perfect place to put some extra shopping bags or reading material. We had the under seat storage and phone chargers here which was perfect for the flight home as we were move awake and using these items.
First off, it is great to note that all drinks are included with the flight. It was nice to be able to get vacation started with some adult beverages and not have to pay extra. The first drink service is kicked off with champagne. When the food is served there is another chance to order a drink. (Julie stocked up on some French wine) And after the meal is coffee service too. The drinks included items such as white and red wine champagne, Heineken Beer, mineral water, fruit juices, iced tea, soda, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Meal Service: Washington to Paris
On the way to France, the drinks and meals were served fairly quickly after departure, probably to allow passengers to get to sleep since it was a red eye flight. Prior to the service little menus were handed out which was really helpful. You could also pre order (for a fee) special meals as well.
It seems most flights feature two options: chicken and a vegetarian pasta. We tried both options on both flights and have to agree the pasta tastes way better. These meals looks like frozen meals. While the chicken basically tastes how it looks, the pasta could have passed for a non microwave meal. We were glad to order one of each though and share to get a little protein. The sides were all really tasty too. Nothing like having some bread and cheese to go with some wine. The dinner meal consisted of:
Main dish choice of Chicken and Rice or Pasta with Basil Sauce
Side dish of Edamame, sweetcorn and olive salad
A small baguette and butter
A piece of Black Diamond white cheddar
A brownie (that did not taste like coconut)
A small water
A packet of utensils, napkin, salt/pepper
Upon waking up it was a very quick drink and beverage service. There was no choice, just a little tray for everyone. While it was light with yogurt, a muffin, and juice, it was perfectly fine since we weren’t that hungry. The nice thing is everything is quite portable to take with you and eat a little later.
Meal Service: Paris to Washington
For the flight home, we were first served a small snack and drinks. The snack included a little bag of tomato and herb crackers. Shortly afterwards, we were given menus and served lunch.
Once again there was either a choice of chicken or pasta, with slightly different recipes. Once again we ordered both. The lunch included:
Main dish choice of Chicken and Vegetables or Pasta with Mushroom Sauce
Side dish of Tunips and Carrots (kind of like a cole slaw)
A small baguette and butter
A piece of President camembert
A lemon poppyseed muffin
A small bottled water
A packet of utensils, napkin, salt/pepper
About an hour before we landed at Dulles airport, we were given an additional small meal. This snack came in a cute little Bon Appetit bag which was perfect to take with us and eat some later in the customs line. The light snack included:
Small mushroom and cheese sandwich
A drinkable raspberry yogurt
A soft Madeleine cookie
About Charles de Gaulle Airport
Arriving at CDG is quite easy. We got off the plane and followed a series of corridors until we got to customs. There are bathrooms and a seating area along the way before reaching customs if needed. We arrived in Terminal 2E so it took quite a bit of walking and a trip on a people mover to get there but just follow the signs and it is easy to navigate. After clearing customs, we collected our luggage, which beat us there, and went out to get our Uber.
For departure, it was pretty easy to follow the signs to check-in. For Air France, there are kiosks for passengers to print their boarding passes and luggage tags. A representative checks your passport and shows you which line to get in to. Bag drop off was also automated. We used a handheld scanner to scan the bag tag, then put it on the scale. Once you confirm the bag is good to go, it automatically gets whisked away by belt. We did this for each bag. After that, we went through passport control then on to the people mover for our terminal. Once we arrived at the terminal, we went through security and into a large shopping area. Just like arrival, departure is easy; just keep following the signs.
We really loved flying with Air France. We have only used United in the past for long haul flights and this airline blows them out of the water. The staff were so incredibly nice. The onboard entertainment was plentiful, the food was good, and the seats were as comfortable as would be expected. The one downside was the lack of WiFi. Overall it was the perfect way to kick off our French adventure and we definitely look forward to flying Air France again.