Crossing the pond in an Air France Airbus A350

Air France Airbus A350-900
Air France Airbus A350-900, © Airbus

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PARIS - Air France will be renewing half of its fleet until 2025. An important step in this project is the introduction of the A350, of which the first has been delivered in September and the second is operating since early November. After an internal fleet swap with its partner KLM it is Air France that will now receive all 28 A350s ordered until 2025.

Initially the first ten aircraft were earmarked to fly under recently abandoned brand Joon. Their cabin configuration couldn’t be changed anymore, so Air France now offers not less than five different products in Business Class on long haul routes.

Quite a few of them still don’t have full-flat seats, from the A340 (leaving soon) and the A380 (remains until late 2022) to half of the A330 fleet as well as all Boeing 777s in a 42-seat layout.

It will still take until early 2022 for all long haul aircraft to be offering full-flat seats with the exception of the A380. In this respect Air France ranks far behind all other major carriers as it hadn’t been investing for a long time.

I am a guest of the first North American flight of what is the sole A350 at the time. It was initially deployed on West Africa routes, later A350s will also fly to Cairo and Seoul. I am traveling with a cabin bag only and have checked in online. After arriving at Terminal 2F of Paris CDG I am making my way on foot very swiftly to Terminal 2L even without having to use one of the automated people movers.

Air France Airbus A350-900
Air France Airbus A350-900, © Airbus

On a rainy Sunday during mid-day no one queues up at passport control – surprisingly as I have seen it packed with hundreds of people lined up. As a result I have almost two hours to spend before departure and do that in the newest Air France lounge.

Besides the spacious main area there are very appealing quiet zones with actually low-noise levels while the front-of-house is buzzing. There a chef in a show kitchen prepares fresh warm dishes while a buffet offers cold food as well as wine and also champagne for self-service.

I board the aircraft as one of the first passengers on purpose to be able to observe the cabin. As the boarding procedures are pretty swift I don’t enjoy this privilege for long.

In total the A350 of Air France boasts 324 seats, considerably more than the 293 at Lufthansa. And that despite the fact that Business Class is much more spacious, spread over nine rows in 1-2-1 configuration with 34 seats in total instead of the antiquated 2-2-2 configuration at the German carrier.

Air France Airbus A350 Business Class
Air France Airbus A350 Business Class, © Andreas Spaeth

The cabin comes across as fairly sterile looking as any contrasting color is almost entirely missing. That’s surprising given it was destined for the somewhat brighter, youthful Joon brand. A dark and a lighter grey are dominating with a bit of white and metallic added.

It is unusual that all aisle seats are positioned in a slightly diagonal position towards the direction of flight while the others are facing straight to the front of the aircraft.

Flight Report Air France
Air France
Aircraft type:
Airbus A350-900
Business Class
Ocotber 27, 2019
Paris CDG - Toronto
Among the single seats on the sides there are real window seats only in every second row, which are clearly the preferred ones for single travellers. In the first row there are only two seats, 1C and 1J, which are positioned near the windows.

They are offering most foot space with bigger foot-wells, but on the downside they are located close to the aisle and the galley, also fairly far away from the windows. Also, these seats are positioned inward-facing, looking into the cabin.

With their proximity to the aisle they offer remarkably less privacy compared to the single seats in even-numbered rows between two and eight, e. g. 2A and 2L, 4A and 4L and so on. These are not only standing straight and at the windows, but also offer more separation towards the aisle due to their table monument as well as an extendable aluminum privacy screen, which strangely is not offered on the seats being already closer to the aisle.

Air France Airbus A350 Business Class
Air France Airbus A350 Business Class, © Andreas Spaeth

At the center seats there are pairs of seats close to each other, which can achieve privacy pretty effectively by extending a major separation screen in the middle, the best are 2E and 2G, which additionally offer the largest foot space. And then from 3D and 3H onwards these are alternating with two center seats located far apart and facing slightly outward, offering significantly less privacy.

The seats are of the Optima type from Safran (formerly Zodiac Aerospace), using the same base as for example United’s Polaris Business Class. With a headrest clad in white leather, dark grey seat covers and the small red slash from the Air France logo they appear elegant but very subdued.

I am sitting on 2A, one of only eight seats directly at the windows, and I am quite happy with my choice. On my right at shoulder level I find the spacious cabinet, opening by pulling on the leather loop.

This all appears as very high-quality, inside the cabinet is covered in beige leather, it’s here were the noise-canceling headsets are hung up, there is also a water bottle and the mirror of the inside of the door is as big as a tablet computer. One of these would also fit in here, but not a laptop.

What one needs to get used to is that the remote control for the IFE is also hidden inside the cabinet, its console is nice and simple with just four buttons. The power outlets, however, are also hidden but hard to find, and not always working flawlessly as the colleague behind me experienced.

The window blinds are not dimmable unlike on the Boeing 787, but in the Air France A350 Business Class there are two switches appearing as arrows above the windows through which one can lower first a translucent blind and afterwards a light-absorbing one.

This is what Lufthansa for example only offers in First Class. My favorite part of this seat is clearly the pullout-table, the best I have ever encountered! I have often been annoyed by tables that were a mystery in their extension and stowage procedures or where wobbly or too small or simply impractical.

This one is different. One can handle it intuitively and also only partially extend it to just put a glass or other small items on it without curtailing the freedom of movement too much. Bravo! Above it the 18.5’’ screen. On which I switch on the live feed from three cameras on the ground and during takeoff and landing.

In flight I use the interactive 3D flight map while listening to first-rate music from the lavishly content-filled IFE system, while I don’t care too much for the 328 films it contains.

Air France Airbus A350
Air France Airbus A350, © Air France

Before takeoff champagne (Heidsieck Brut Reservé) or a very tasty berry juice is offered. Nine minutes behind schedule we push back, until rotation we are 33 minutes past our departure time, there were problems with the passenger count.

In the meantime amenity kits have been handed out, there is a choice between four different colors of the leather bags, which have zippers on both ends. They are very worthy, also its contents, and practical, first time I find a cloth for cleaning glasses, very useful.

After 45 minutes in the air drinks are offered. I opt for the exclusive signature cocktail from the bar of the Parisian Hotel Lancaster, the drink strangely has no name. Rosemary liquor, white peach juice, lime and Martinique dark rum topped up with champagne. What a concoction! Extremely yummy but unfortunately also quite a knock-out. As the day will still be a very long one I heavy-heartedly don’t take the offer of a second one.

Of course Air France is known for superb food on board. But I am honestly a bit sobered this time, especially in comparison to what I was served on a long haul from Paris in Business Class of Air Tahiti Nui recently. Even the big name of star chef Guy Martin at Air France doesn’t really help.

The appetizer (beet mousse) is so tiny that you hardly notice it. The appetizer (a wafer-thin slice of foie gras with onion confit, here Air France has obviously cut back) plus a piece of decorated artichoke, fairly average.

Air France Airbus A350 Business Class
Air France Airbus A350 Business Class, © Andreas Spaeth

There is a choice between four main courses: Lamb stew with veggies, chicken confit, shrimps with broccoli and butternut squash or zucchini cannelloni on bell pepper cream. I opt for the lamb. The meat is superb, but the veggies are unfortunately mushy and overcooked.

Also the cheese selection and its presentation under a plastic cover from the tray that’s served early on is truly substandard – especially in direct comparison to my other experience ex Paris. Only the dessert offering makes good a bit: A few tasty bits of mango passion fruit or opera cake are among the choices as well as (nicely presented) fresh fruits and Air France’s famous mini sorbets.

After lunch I use the onboard WiFi offering. I had received a free voucher code on the occasion of the inaugural flight and it’s easy to use the internet access and also nice and fast.

For all passengers the use of messenger services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are free, a very good offering. Otherwise there is a charge, even in Business Class, of 8€ per hour or 18€ for the whole flight to access the internet, a Streaming access at high speed costs 30€ for the entire flight.

Air France Airbus A350 Business Class
Air France Airbus A350 Business Class, © Andreas Spaeth

I then try to sleep a bit. For this both armrests of my seat can be turned upright to create a bit more bed width. Even though I’m only trying a nap here - what’s definitely missing, as there is a fairly big gap between seat pan and seat back, is a mattress cover to patch it over. This will be introduced in 2020, according to Air France.

As North America comes closer a second meal is served, butternut squash and carrot flan as well as goat’s cheese and pear on toast, plus a big bowl of natural white quark cheese (this is a mystery to me) and two small pieces of cake. Not impressive.

While the colorful mood lighting in the cabin later definitely impresses. As we have landed in Toronto after seven hours and 36 minutes, the purser quickly shows off after this day flight what an Air France A350 can do by night.


The sheer number of different Business Class products at Air France is puzzling for customers. In their newest cabins with full-flat seats the French, however, have an equally high standard, and the A350 fits in well.

Small improvements like the currently missing mattress cover can increase the degree of perfection still, and the A350 already offers a much improved flight experience compared to older jets. The hope remains that Air France will also get back to their usual and expected culinary heights.
©, Andreas Spaeth | Abb.: Air France-KLM | Dec 6, 2019 12:59

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