This post is the first in a series describing my recent trip to Israel with my boyfriend. Our trip included Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Pride.
Air France Flt. 39 Washington-Dulles to Paris – Charles DeGaulle, Business Class, Boeing 777-300 ER
Dep. 4:06 PM Arr. 5:15AM +1
Air France Flt. 1960 Paris to Tel Aviv, Business Class, A320
Dep. 7:15 AM Arr. 12:45PM
We left our apartment in downtown Washington three hours before our flight out of Dulles, which should have been ample time. We had picked up a one-way rental from Avis near our house, and the drive took about 35 minutes, and rental car return didn’t take too long. But Dulles sucks. There was a 5-10 minute wait at the Sky Priority check-in counter for Air France, and then security was dreadful. The priority lane at Dulles is useless, as everything merges at ID check. The lines for individual x-ray screenings were very long, and we are directed to a specific line– which unfortunately had several babies, pets, and illiterate travelers. The other lines, of course, moved at a decent pace, and then they opened up several more lines. But 30 minutes later, we were through.
We took the train to Dulles’s A-Gates, and finally we got to the Air France/KLM lounge, right across from our gate, about 30 minutes before scheduled boarding. The lounge was pretty crowded, and we had trouble finding two seats together. The lounge reminded me of a lot of contract lounges in Europe, with small sandwiches, cheese, some desserts, chips, fruits, and soft drinks. There was a full bar with decent liquor, and free code-based wifi. There was also a small section dedicated to Air France’s La Premiere (First Class) customers, but it looked like it would have felt a little cramped. The food wasn’t gourmet, but it was fine.
I tried to use the bathroom in the lounge, but alas, it was not large enough to accommodate the load of a full 777 Business cabin (one stall!). I can’t imagine what it’s like with a full A380. After waiting awhile, boarding announcements started, and I gave up, and we headed the 20 feet to the gate, where boarding was already underway.
I had low expectations of our flight, but it was the best option. This trip was booked as my farewell to Delta Skymiles. I didn’t have enough Skymiles for two business class tickets, but I had a flexible amount of SPG, Amex and Chase points, and my boyfriend had some smaller amounts of points in various programs as well. I was able to find a roundtrip ticket for myself on Air France nonstop from Dulles to Paris, and Paris to Tel Aviv on the A380 in business (about nine months out). The only downside was there was only award availability with an overnight layover in Paris on the return, but I figured I could handle that. I was then able to transfer SPG points to my Flying Blue account, which had some orphan miles in it, to book a one way ticket for my boyfriend on the same outbound flights, and then use his Chase and United miles, pre-devaluation, to book a flight from Tel Aviv to Vienna, Vienna to London on Austrian, with an overnight in London, and then London to Dulles on United, all in business. Not ideal, but decent for peak summer travel.
Air France ended up getting rid of the A380 on the Dulles route, though, so we were switched to the older Boeing 777-300 ER. It’s actually the same angled-flat seat on both planes, though the A380 upper deck trip over the pond would have been cool. There was a schedule change both ways as well, so I took advantage of the opportunity to make a change to a slightly dumber routing on the return, but one I was looking forward to, which I’ll cover in a subsequent post.
Anyway, as expected, Air France’s 777 business class was fine but nothing spectacular. The seats, which are angled flat, were showing a fair bit of wear. Business class is configured in a 2-3-2 configuration, but I had made sure we got two seats of our own on the side. Pre-departure, we were offered newspapers, orange juice or water, hot towels, and a simple amenity kit with socks, eyemask, a toothpaste, toothbrush, lotion, and a moist towelette. The quality of the items was good, but it was definitely sparser than many comparable kits, including Delta’s.
The plane was 100% full in all four cabins (likely due to a delay on the later IAD-AMS flight that led to some rerouting), but it didn’t seem like a crowded flight, if that makes any sense. Very soon after takeoff, the drink carts came down the aisle, with the full range of drinks, including the well-reviewed wine selection, as well as an amuse bouche of salmon batik with granny smith apple, and “apericrepes,” which we decided are like French cheese-filled Bugles. Tasty.
Shortly after, trays were placed on our tables from carts in the aisle, bearing a delicious lobster appetizer with wasabi mayonaise and a mango salsa, and the cheese course and dessert. Bread was passed out, and was disappointing, but it was useful as a vessel for the most amazing part: french butter.
For the main course, the options were spinach ravioli; beef with truffle butter, mashed potatoes and asparagus; and a chicken, carrot, and potato tagine, which was the special Joel Robuchon-inspired menu and our choice. I was surprised there weren’t any particularly healthy options. The chicken was a little small, and a bit fatty, as it was just a cut up chicken thigh, and pretty spicy, but tasty. The “Nougat dessert” was a small piece of cake and nothing special. I skipped the cheese.
After dinner, I perused the in-flight entertainment system, which had a smallish screen and a clunky older remote that was not very user-friendly. Finding nothing inspiring, I decided to go right to sleep.
The fleece blanket was quite comfortable, but the pillow provided was pretty small. Although the seat was angled flat as opposed to lie-flat, it was not so bad. I did have the problem of sliding down a few times, a problem as I barely fit (lengthwise) in the seat in full recline position, meaning I crumpled up towards the bottom. But for the most part, it was a fine sleeping experience, and I only really woke up for breakfast.
Breakfast was small and continental, with a tray containing yogurt and a fruit cup, butter, and jam, accompanied by a pass of a bread basket with mini croissants, and coffee or tea. I was surprised there were no refills of mini croissants or coffee, but it was fine – especially since I knew I had two more breakfasts coming. Soon enough, we were, on the ground.
All in all, the flight was totally fine, since I was able to sleep. Having now done ultra-long hauls to South America, Africa and Asia, a flight to Western Europe just doesn’t strike me as so long. That being said, it wasn’t particularly posh or luxurious, though better than coach. On my ongoing ranking of transatlantic business class, I’d place Air France above Lufthansa, but below Aeroflot, Delta, Brussels, Alitalia, and Austrian. To be fair, Air France is starting to refit its 777-300s with better business class seats, so it might be a different story in a year or two.
We landed in Paris a little bit early, and had to wait a bit to get off the plane. Our connecting flight to Tel Aviv was leaving out of the same non-Schengen area of Terminal 2E, so we just had to make a loop and head back through security, where there was no wait, before we headed to the Air France 2E- L Salon.
As it was 5:30 in the morning, the lounge was pretty empty. At check-in, the agent told me I was in the wrong terminal and needed to head to the K gates for my flight to London. I got scared, but explained I was going to Tel Aviv, and she confirmed I was in the right place. Since we had longer than expected – a full hour before boarding time – I asked about showers, and was directed right to the back of the lounge, where I grabbed the one free shower. It was the handicapped shower room, so its layout may have been sparser than others, but it was pretty functional. In the room was a cellophane package with a hand towel, bath towel, and bath mat, and little amenity kit with L’Occitane products. After a quick shower, my boyfriend still hadn’t gotten into another one of the rooms, so he just used my towel and amenity kit to take his turn.
Alas while he was showering, I realized I had left my computer charger on the plane, where I had unsuccessfully been trying to fit it into the power port. I managed to keep my calm, and went back to the front desk, and the agent immediately started making some calls. The agent at my incoming gate insisted it wasn’t there, but a manager agreed to go to the plane and check for me. Sure enough, he came back with the charger and explained it was right where I said it was. I’m not sure if it was because I was nice, because the lounge was still empty, or that’s just how they do it, but I definitely appreciated it. (It stood out in comparison to my futile attempt to get help from the lounge dragon when I left my camera on a Delta flight in Atlanta.) It’s times like that where it really shows the value of having some sort of elite status or being a premium cabin customer.
The food spread at the lounge was pretty basic, with bread, croissants, cereal, yogurt, fruit, pre-packaged snacks, and a range of drinks. I had a coffee, champagne, and bread with my best friend butter. The wifi, unfortunately, was down, but we didn’t have a long stay, and soon it was time to head to our gate.
As with most flights to Israel, the gate area was crowded and pushy, and once the gate agent spoke his first words, which were “we will begin boarding in ten minutes”), the pushing began. All of Sky Priority – elites and business class –- boarded at once.
On my last trip to Israel, I had flown Alitalia from Rome to Italy and back, so I was used to the European business class setup for the flight – the front rows of coach with the middle seat blocked off. I believe only Swiss and Turkish have anything different on their Europe-Tel Aviv flights. Unfortunately, the Air France flight was longer than the Alitalia flight and on a jankier plane. Our A320 was definitely on the older side, complete with ashtrays and old style (but at least not slimline) seats. When we had picked our seats, the only two available were in a bulkhead, which on this plane was bad, as it was less, not more, legroom. The aisle seat had a weird cutout that provided a bit of extra legroom, so I took that while my shorter boyfriend had the window.
The plane was pretty full, and alas no predeparture drinks were offered. Shortly after takeoff, the purser announced breakfast would be served in a few minutes, and menus were distributed. Yet, it was over an hour later before any food or beverage service began. Surprisingly, the meal was actually quite good – one of the better breakfasts I’ve had on a plane: an omelet with zucchini and a carrot cumin sauce. After breakfast, I went back to sleep, and woke up just in time for our mid-day arrival into Ben Gurion Airport, ready for a week in the Holy Land.