This is part 3 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.
Air France Flt. 55 Washington-Dulles to Paris
B777-300ER, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 6:35PM Actual Dep. 6:29PM
Sched. Arr. 8:00AM +1 Actual Arr. 7:38AM +1
It’s been awhile since I’ve flown out of Dulles. But this experience reminded that Dulles isn’t a terrible airport to fly out of… once you get there. I decided to take the 5A Metrobus over the rail; though they take about the same length of time, the bus takes you straight to the terminal in one shot, as opposed to a long metro ride transferring to a bus. (The Metrobus option is also significantly cheaper.) I left my office at 3pm, and Uber-ed to the bus stop at L’Enfant Plaza. Despite traffic, the ride took only a little over an hour, and everyone on the bus had a seat.
As a reminder, I was flying Air France from DC to Cape Town via Paris, in business class, on a Delta Skymiles redemption. When I got to the Air France/KLM/Korean Air counter at around 4:35, there was no line on either the Sky Priority or regular line. The agent wasn’t particularly friendly, but was fine as she took my bag and printed my boarding passes. Air France doesn’t participate in Precheck, but there was basically no line at regular security, on either the “premium” or regular lane. I was through quickly and on the train to the A concourse.
I had forgotten that I actually wanted to go to the B concourse, though my flight was leaving out of A. The two are just different sides of one of the midfield terminals (one straight line with gates on each sides), which is Dulles’s nicest terminal, and home to pretty much all airlines but United and a few other randos (Frontier, Air Canada, and even some United Express flights). The terminal is modern, with lots of food options, and with increasingly fancy shopping over the years.
There’s an Air France/KLM Lounge on the A side, which I’d visited on my trip to Israel three years ago, and isn’t particularly large or impressive. It’s also one of three Priority Pass lounges in the terminal, including the British Airways lounge, which is only open to Priority Pass customers mid-day, and the newest addition (in the past few weeks), the Turkish Airlines lounge. (There’s also a Lufthansa lounge, Virgin Atlantic lounge, and Etihad lounge in the terminal.) I’d heard good things about the Turkish lounge, so figured I’d try it out. On my walk down to the Turkish Airlines lounge, I actually passed the more direct route – the South African flight to Accra that continues on to Johannesburg.
The lounge was a bit gaudy from the outside, and I had to wait to get in behind two groups of people who were trying to get access despite having no basis. But I showed my digital Priority Pass card on the app and received a friendly welcome.
It’s not a huge lounge, with two rooms. The main room has a variety of seating, computers, TVs, and a buffet. The buffet has two parts – a savory section with a variety of traditional Middle Eastern salads and dips, and had falafel, lamb meatballs, and salmon. The other section had coffee and tea, including Turkish coffee, nuts and snack mixes, bread, dates, baklava, and an incredibly delicious chocolate turtle brownie.
A narrow passageway along the windows facing the tarmac brings you to the second room, which has a full bar and some more seating, and an odd amount of plants.
Between the two rooms is a hallway with a shower room, two bathrooms, and a prayer room. The one annoying part was that the restrooms were single user, causing waits. The shower room looked nice, though.
I made myself a small plate and had a little nosh. There was a ton of staff moving around, clearing tables and making sure everything was well-stocked. I didn’t stay particularly long as it was almost time to board and I had to walk back to the other end of the terminal, but it was definitely the most pleasant lounge space in Dulles and is a great addition to Priority Pass (and also a better lounge than the Lufthansa business class lounge for Star Alliance passengers). I’ll probably use it again this summer when I’m flying Austrian.
Walking back to the A gates at around 5:20pm, the airport still seemed dead. It may have been that I was just in a lull, as I was hearing final boarding calls to Accra and Jeddah, and the Amsterdam flight on KLM had just taken off. But there was a Lufthansa Frankfurt flight and a BA London flight departing around the same time as my Paris flight.
Boarding was fairly orderly. By boarding time, there was still not a large group at the gate; I was one of the first passengers on board, and the first in the forward business cabin. The ground crew was mostly Air France/KLM staff, in a mix of AF navy and KL bright blue. I was surprised how many French natives there were working, as I would have thought Delta would supply the ground crew for this joint venture flight, but maybe it doesn’t because of how small Delta’s footprint at Dulles.
This flight was on one of Air France’s retrofitted 777-300s. The first row is 4 seats of First Class (“La Premiere”), followed by a 4-row business cabin in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, and then, behind the lavs and door, a larger business cabin. The redesigned business class seats (BEST) are a *huge* improvement over the last generation (NEV4), which I flew on my way to Israel (and would have on my next flight). Not only do the new seats go fully-flat and are wider than the previous generation, but there is a lot of privacy, direct aisle access from every seat, and storage. Next to the seat is a pretty roomy cabinet which is great for toiletries and small electronics. There are a number of pockets on the side as well. In addition to a swing-out convertible table, there was a flat space next to the seat that you could keep a drink or food on while working on a laptop.
At boarding, there was a blanket, pillow, and hanger on each seat. I don’t know why Air France puts the hangers there, but it always does. The flight attendant seemed confused that I didn’t want anything hung. “Perhaps because you are in business class you have a coat or something to hang?” I explained I didn’t, as I was going to Africa (and since it was 70 degrees in DC that day, there was no need for a coat on that end either.) He then schmoozed a little bit about my trip, and then offered to take a picture of me when I took my traditional selfie, though I declined. He also told me he was expecting an even shorter than scheduled flight time due to headwinds and would arrive 50 minutes early, although that proved optimistic.
At the seat was a packet with a shoe bag with both slippers and socks, as well as headphone covers, and a bottle of water. The noise-canceling headphones themselves were in the little cabinet.
About 30 minutes after boarding, a flight attendant came around offering champagne or juice. I imagine it was a cheap champagne, but a glass is always a good way to start a vacation. Ten minutes later, another flight attendant came by with newspapers. And then another ten minutes later, a flight attendant came by with amenity kits, in a choice of green or blue. (So many trips – does not seem efficient.) They were nice looking, made of sueded cotton with a leather trim, and two separate zipped pockets, each with stuff in them. (Somewhat surprising given how many French designers there are, there was no designer mark. They also bear a bit of a resemblance to a Longchamps bag.) The kits themselves were a big improvement over the one I had three years ago. They weren’t super well-stocked but had improved a bit as well, with a Clarins lip balm and facial moisturizer, a large Colgate mouthwash and toothpaste, and standard earplugs, toothbrush, shoe horn, and eye mask.
The cabin was a bit warm, and did not have individual air vents in business class; it did cool down a bit, but not by much. The small business cabin was mostly full, mostly with French speakers. First Class stayed empty until the very end of boarding, when one person boarded, so I was able to snap a pic prior, despite the “Acces reserve/ private access” sign on the divider. It does indeed look awesome.
The in-flight entertainment worked on the ground, though you can’t have the screen swung out for taxi, take-off, and landing. It was still pretty viewable at the slight angle, though. The screen was quite large, and the system was very easily navigable, by touching the monitor itself, or the smartphone-like remote with a mix of touch screen and buttons. There were a ton of recent French and American movies and TV. As we prepared for takeoff, I loaded up the Ghostbusters reboot.
Just before for takeoff, menus were distributed. The safety video was almost cartoonish, reminding me of the SNL “Les Jeunes de Paris” sketch, with French young women dressed and expressing in super stereotypical French fashion. Almost as soon as we were airborne, the beverage cart came out, and I was offered an “aperitif.” I had a glass of Perrier and one of champagne, which was better than that served pre-departure, but not particularly great- a Palmer & Co. 2009 vintage, which goes for about $37 a bottle. It was served along with a little box of cranberries and almonds, as well as a tasty amuse bouche of tomato, mozzarella, pesto, and olive.
Given the short flight length, it would have been good if they proceeded quickly to the meal service. It wasn’t the longest wait, but it was still an hour into flight when the tables were set with a tablecloth, followed by a single tray with the appetizers, cheese and dessert course. There was a choice of white or olive bread. The duo of appetizers was good for business class- particularly the scallop, fennel, and orange salad. The parma ham and melon was more standard fare. I got a glass of Bordeaux that was quite smooth.
For entrees, the three choices were beef Bourgogne with butter beans and risotto, a Daniel Boulud-designed lamb stew with edamame, or a porcini ravioli. I was torn between the beef and the lamb, but figured I should go with Boulud. The lamb was a bit disappointing, and wasn’t super flavorful. It wasn’t really stewy to me—more like pieces of lamb in a weak sauce, and serve with a jar of Dijon mustard. I scraped the mango jelly off the cheesecake and the rest of it was pretty good, with a graham cracker crust.
As the tray was cleared, about 90 minutes into flight, I was offered more wine or hot beverages, but I didn’t take advantage as I wanted to sleep. The cabin lights remained on, though, so I figured I’d at least watch the end of the movie before bed.
As I prepared for bed, the cabin lights were dimmed, but I slept terribly. It wasn’t the seat, which was fine, and felt wider than many similar reverse herringbone seats. I felt like the no smoking/fasten seatbelt light was particularly bright, which probably sounds weird, but I kept waking and thinking the lights were on. I was also recovering from a cold which didn’t help, and there was turbulence. All told, I probably got two hours sleep before the cabin lights were turned on and breakfast was served.
Breakfast was pretty spare, similar to coach on other airlines, but on nicer dishes. A fruit bowl, a yogurt, and a choice of bread, mini croissant, and/or an apple Danish. I had the small breakfast while watching a documentary on Cape Town, which was boring, before switching to an episode of Billy on the Street (edgy for Air France!). The coffee cup was tiny, and I was never offered a refill. After breakfast dishes were cleared, hot towels were distributed, which seemed backward. And then we were on the ground, only about 20 minutes early, with a looong taxi at CDG.
Overall, the service was pretty unremarkable. I was continually addressed in French, though I always responded in English except for the occasional “Merci.” But overall, this is a short overnight flight. The seats are comfortable and a huge step up from the previous Air France business class product. It was an express service and felt like it.