Thank Air France for a near-flawless Business Class experience!
PHOTO: My seat in the new Air France Business Class (c) Sery Kim
After hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel, I'm pretty hardened from being impressed by an airline. After all, much like reviewing Michelin starred restaurants, sometimes the little extras which make elite food and travel special becomes mind-numbingly boring.
Frankly, for someone like me who has traveled business class more times than I can remember, the degrees and dimensions of difference in business class is excruciatingly important. Sure, this may sound like one of those annoying "first-world complaints" but you know what? They are *MY* first world complaints -- my job in fact -- and, thus, for me really important.
For instance, I've been on business class flights where the bed does not do a full recline (an old KLM plane), negating the whole point in having a business class flight. Additionally, I've been on business class flights where the service and attention was absolutely wretched (too many to name), and the only thing worse than the staff was the food.
Other complaints I have had about my previous business class flights are (1) old planes, i.e. hideous bathrooms and hardly any cushioning on the seats; (2) no entertainment system -- South African really needs a full update of their entertainment options; (3) tiny pillows -- when I review hotels the first thing I check are the pillows; (4) headphones -- I can not tell you how annoying it is to pay thousands of dollars for a business class seat and get crummy, small earbud plugs. I could have just picked up some great ones at TJMaxx for $12 if I knew this was going to be the option; and (5) bad desserts -- not entrees, which are always dicey, but bad desserts.
Oh. Almost forgot. I absolutely hate it when, in business class, I am nitpicked about details such as putting my seat fully upright (my seat is NOT inclined AT ALL so please pay attention Swissair!), taking away my headphones and turning off the entertainment system with 20 minutes before landing and all during taxi-ing (seriously La Compaigne?!), and when I ask for one more bottle of water you do not smile (again, too many airlines to count).
PHOTO: Business class flat-bed courtesy of Air France Corporate
So imagine my great surprise when I boarded Air France's new business class and I had a spectacularly flawless experience. All of my complaints from above? No problem there. My seat fully inclined to 6.5 feet long and was quite plush. My earphones were not buds but already plugged in (thank goodness I don't have to jam them in) and very cushy. The entertainment system had plenty of options, as well as a larger screen. And, of course, the staff were super helpful and friendly.
PHOTO: Entertainment screen is the same width as the pull-out table (c) Sery Kim. Apologizes for the poor photo quality onboard! I took photos casually on my iPhone, rather than professionally, since I was enjoying my flight so much!
However, for me, the most important differentiator between the new Air France Business Class and every other airline I have traveled on the last two years is the XXXL pillow and extra thick blanket. Not even on any of the Gulf Carriers (Qatar, Emirates and Eithad) do I remember getting a near standard size pillow and a plush blanket. Quite impressive.
Also, to be noted for configuration and privacy purposes, each seat is their own "pod" so you are fully immersed into your own experience irrespective of whether you are seated in the middle. Thus the 1:2:1 configuration really is a 1:1:1:1. No seatmate watching everything I do?! YES! Very nicely done Air France!
PHOTO: Each seat in business is configured in its own pod courtesy of Getty Images via Google Images
PHOTO: Menu in Air France's new business class (c) Sery Kim
Now to the food.
Let's start with the amuse bouche or "Mise en Bouche." Air France presented Prawns and piquillo chili pepper cream. Served super cold, this was quite refreshing and surprisingly a bit of a palate cleanser. Nothing fancy just solid. For me, the real star of this section of the meal was the Petites Galettes Tomate-Olive. Before each trip to France, I make a note to stop by a grocery store to buy some of these goodies in bulk but I always forget so, inevitably, I am asking Air France for extra boxes, ha!
What makes it so good? The texture is crunchy like a tight biscuit yet it has a forceful zing of tomato and olive, a combination I love. I only ate two boxes on this trip because I had eaten so much foie gras while I was in Paris -- normally I eat about five!
PHOTO: Mise en Bouche (c) Sery Kim
Next course was "Gourmet Appetizer and Seasonal Salad." Foie gras terrine, apple-apricot chutney, fillet of salmon, wakame salad, and yellow sun-dried tomato. I had the least fun with this course because everything in this course contained elements which I like to consider myself to be a true aficionado and all were lacking in either taste, texture, warmth or flavor. Take for instances the foie gras.
As I mentioned previously, I ate quite a bit of foie gras during my Paris trip but, generally in life, I think I am comprised of about a tenth of foie gras. Not sure what it is about this special kind of liver which makes me swoon with lust -- I don't like plain American liver -- but it does. So with this as a baseline, the foie gras presented on the plane was just as cold as the amuse bouche which, for me, is fundamentally the wrong temperature. In order to have served this dish correctly, the team onboard should have pulled out the foie gras while they were going around doing the drink orders thus bringing up the temperature about 7 degrees. This would have kept the foie gras cold but not icy.
And it had a bit of residual taste after swallowing. Not what anyone wants!
PHOTO: Gourmet Appetizer and Seasonal Salad (c) Sery Kim
For the main course, this flight had four options: sauteed veal with maniguette pepper and organic corn penne pasta; chicken thigh with creamy forbidden rice, fondante carrots and turnips, verbena sauce; pan-seared shrimp with shellfish jus, broccoli with ginger, butternut squash puree, Italian parsley; and mashed potatoes with turmeric and hazelnuts, morel mushroom cream sauce, sauteed zucchini and vegetable batonnets.
Crafted by Guy Martin, Michelin starred chef and owner of Le Grand Vefour, Martin created two of the four entrees (veal and shrimp) to reflect the autumnal season. I didn't want either because I always like to see what the in-house team does and, quite frankly, I thought my chicken thigh with creamy forbidden rice (black rice), fondante carrots and turnips (small vegetables), and verbena sauce was tremendous for an in-flight meal. I would have requested another dish if it wasn't so terribly socially awkward of me THAT'S HOW MUCH I LIKED IT (all caps, exclamation point)!
Truly the best meal I have ever had onboard a business class service.
PHOTO: Chicken thigh with creamy forbidden rice, fondante carrots and turnips, and verbena sauce (c) Sery Kim
My sole complaint from the food service is I did not like dessert. Comprised of mini mirabelle plum clafouti, praline cream puff with almonds, and peaches with berry couilis, I found both pastries to be too soft and the plum center to be weirdly garnished with too big slivers of untoasted almonds. I mean, this is France where pastries are as legendary as the Chefs who make them so I expected something chocolatey and beautiful. No such luck ... thankfully at least the cranberry sorbet was tartly sweet.
PHOTO: Desserts onboard Air France (c) Sery Kim
Other than the dessert course, I found my overall business class experience onboard Air France to be a real eye-opener. This flight is what people expect when they pay the price to be placed in business class and Air France should be commended for not only setting the bar but elevating the experience for any business class traveler.
Merci et vous Air France!