Flight Review: Air France 777 Premium Economy – Worse than Economy?

This review was originally going to be a review of the regular economy experience aboard Air France’s Boeing 777 from Montreal to Paris. However, I received a surprise upgrade to premium economy and thus had a whole new opportunity for this nearly six-hour flight.

AF347 at Gate 55 of YUL. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Pre-flight and boarding

Before the flight I spent some time at the Air France/KLM lounge just beside the departure gate. Details of that experience will be featured in a separate post reviewing the lounge.

Boarding was painless, especially as a Skyteam Elite Plus member. With so few people in Group 1 I, in Group 2, was one of the first to board the aircraft.

Boarding for flight AF347 at Gate 55 of YUL. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
AF347 was flown using a Boeing 777-300ER (F-GZNO). Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Cabin first impressions

Being seated in seat 7H I am much more accustomed to walking further back through the aircraft. This was a great surprise as I usually walk past these seats with just a little bit of envy.

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The large plastic shell seats with padded adjustable headrests looked extra comfortable and fancy compared to the standard economy experience. An extra-large IFE screen, special reading lamps and high-end headphones added to the premium experience.

The premium economy seating. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
A wider shot of premium economy seats. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
Noise-canceling headphones are hard-wired to your IFE. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Legroom was ample. However, the legs of the chair in front of me limited the width of my leg space. It meant I was definitely unable to store any large bag beneath (for easy access). There is also a footrest that can drop down – especially useful for shorter individuals.

The legroom situation. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

F-GZNO was delivered to Air France in 2012 – seven years old at the time of writing. The aircraft’s tiredness can be seen in the photo below – with a panel that would no longer stay secure. I made several attempts to re-fasten the panel but, unfortunately, the clips were too loose and worn out.

Falling apart just a little bit. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Amenities kit

The amenities kit. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The amenities kit provided was a surprise. It was a large black pouch branded as Joon – the now discontinued Air France spin-off and geared towards millennials. The pouch was made of a puffy fabric that seemed like neoprene… although I don’t know my fabric names too well. Contained in the kit/pouch were some basic toiletries as well as a shoehorn and sleeping mask.

As someone who dislikes waste, I think it’s great that Air France is finding a use for Joon material that wasn’t used when the airline was in service. You could actually think of it as a souvenir, as many of these items would no longer be made (at least with the same branding).

The Joon Amenities Kit. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Inflight entertainment

Inflight entertainment was great. The larger screen and quality noise-canceling headphones made for a pleasant experience. Although the selection was fairly good, I only watched one film during the flight.

The extra-large IFE screen. A large bottle of water is provided. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Food and beverage

The food was the highlight of the premium economy experience. Air France is widely known for its high-quality inflight meals and to go a step above to premium economy, there were certainly some high expectations.

The beverage cart makes its rounds just before the meal is served. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Here is a menu from a previous flight that was in the seatback pocket (undetected by the cleaning crew):

A menu from the previous flight. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

Shortly after being seated all guests were handed menus for the flight. I always enjoy this aspect of Air France. Even in economy, having a menu adds a little more civility than the flight attendant surprising you at the last minute by saying “chicken or pasta?” (I had the chicken).

The inflight menu. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The inflight meal. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The main meal (shown above) was quite delicious and lived up to my expectations. The chicken, rice, foie gras, and the mango mousse panna cotta were all amazing. The breakfast was quite simple and seemed quite ordinary. I imagine everyone in standard economy received the same: a muffin, yogurt, and a cup of orange juice.

The inflight breakfast. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

The biggest issue

The biggest issue I had with my flight experience was the seat. As mentioned above, these seats are completely contained within a plastic shell. Instead of the chair actually reclining back, these premium economy seats slide down and forward. The one benefit is that you’re not being bothered nor are you bothering anyone behind you when you adjust your seat. So instead of reclining its more of a slumping down and forward of your butt.

It is comfortable for sitting but not at all comfortable for lying down. A review by The Points Guy mentions the same thing:

“I would nearly consider Air France’s premium-economy seat less comfortable than an economy seat.”

This other “recline” position is not comfortable at all. It actually feels as though your lower back is being unnaturally compressed. Even with the larger premium economy pillow beneath my back, I could not get comfortable and so I barely slept on the flight. I think the main issue is that your upper back and neck don’t actually change angles… they remain upright while your lower body “reclines”.

As I’m not the only one to experience this, it leads me to believe that these seats weren’t fully tested before being chosen. It just seems so, so, so obvious that these seats are uncomfortable!

Conclusion

It pains me to write these criticisms for an experience that was a complimentary upgrade. I am grateful to Air France for the opportunity (and I would certainly welcome it again)! However, it would also be unethical to hide the fact that this was not a comfortable flight.

Thankfully Air France seems to have quite a robust reporting system and you can provide feedback about all aspects of your journey – hopefully, they are actually reading feedback and responding accordingly.

In conclusion, if you’re debating spending the extra money to fly premium economy with Air France, you should really take this into consideration. If you don’t sleep much on flights anyways or its a daytime journey, maybe this seat isn’t an issue for you. However, if you do plan to sleep then you’ll have to seriously consider whether or not the slightly better food is worth the discomfort. That’s a pretty tough choice to make!

23 comments
  1. Excellent review – thank you! Well written and simple to follow. One question I have is – how was the service? Sounds like these seats should be removed!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Dennis! I’m glad you found it simple to follow. The service was great in my opinion – although I’m a fairly easy to please and low maintenance individual. But I found the flight attendants pleasant and friendly!

      1. Chris did you remove the skid under the seat to take those pictures? and the amities is really from this trip on AirFrance Fly… Because I talk with some Colleague in CDG recently , they confirmed that they already remove everything from the Joon Brand. Your ” humble” review look like more ” french Basching” No ?
        Grettings from Stockholm/Arlanda
        Try the 330 from SAS or the A350 from Finnair.

        1. Hi Niklas,
          I’m not sure what you mean by skid – but nothing was removed to take my photos.
          My flight was on July 23rd so maybe they hadn’t removed all the Joon branding by then? I wouldn’t make a false claim like that 😛

          In my opinion no, I don’t think I’m french bashing. I was trying to be as fair as possible on a flight where I felt physical discomfort most of the time – so I think there was an opportunity to be even harsher but I tried to stay positive.

          Thanks for the airline recommendations! I’ll keep them in mind!

  2. Thank you Chris for this article. Good to know and will definitely not choosing Air France for P/E as my sleep is important for long haul.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! Aircraft type is important though. Perhaps seats are different on their 787s and A380s and other 777s – so I wouldn’t rule Air France P/E out completely!

  3. My 2 cents (been flying long haul since 1964 when I did JNB to YVR). Best seats recline both with the bottom sliding forward and the back going backward, regardless of class. Do many airlines install these? – no. The only comfortable ones for sleep are lie flat for side sleepers. You did not mention whether you are naturally a side or back sleeper – this is relevant to your personal experience and how a reader can relate to it. My experience as a side sleeper, for example, is that the floor in front of a row of 4 seats was more comfortable than any seats in whatever class that were not lie-flat. Back in the days when the airlines allowed that. Personally I have found that I do not use the recline at all unless my bum moves forward (more comfortable for me and also for my fellow traveler). So – what the benefit of these seats – its the width and the legroom. I can move about in them with bumping hard objects or getting accused of sexual harassment with my body. Over a true long haul flight (or consecutive ones that I do) not the short haul one that you did, this makes a big difference. Other comments – it would be great if you included the actual layout you encountered in your flight (AF have 4 different ones for the 777-300 that you flew in): so that besides the easy boarding that you mentioned then the proximity of galleys and toilets could also be considered – all of which change the experience on a long haul flight. All in all I think that your experience in Economy would have been worse given your criteria. So the answer to your question is NO. Premium Economy is clearly better than Economy. I flew AC LHR-YVR in 777-300 in Economy with same layout as AF a few months ago – my elbows still have the bruises from the flight attendants/food carts bumping them with 17″ seat width and super narrow isles; recline just meant that I had my lunch in my lap and the IFE screen inches from my nose – have to get those glasses fixed “again” with a new focal length?

    1. Thanks for your opinion Keith. I used to be a pretty constant side sleeper but I think I’m transitioning now to being a back sleeper. Lav proximity was good – but there really was only just one that was closeby which then felt like there was always a line-up of at least 1, if not 2 people waiting.

      I’ve had to fly Air France economy numerous times. Feeling squished has been more common for me on their old A330s – and always having my leg space cut in half by the IFE box under the seat is annoying. But I think i would still prefer a back-going-backward seat for anything more than 5 hours rather than a bottom-sliding-forward-only seat.

  4. For a 6 hour flight I would ignore the seat drawback, and ask for REPEAT on the Foie Gras, which looked superb on your picture.

    1. Please don’t do that. Foue Gras is made by shoving tubes down the throat of caged geese and force feeding them. It’s incredibly cruel.

  5. Hi Chris,
    Certainly a bit patriotic here, but maybe the title of your article is a bit hard for Air France, as you seem to have enjoyed your flight with them, isn’t it ?
    On the other hand, the seats indeed looks a bit old fashioned and new seats are certainly more comfy !
    Appart from that, nice review, thanks !

    1. Hi Vince! Thanks for your feedback. As I said with a previous response to a comment – comfort is just such a huge factor when you’re spending over five hours in the same place and position. Perhaps its more difficult when it’s labelled “Premium Economy” so already the expectation is high to have a better experience in all aspects compared to Economy.
      I enjoyed the food yes, but I really wished that I was able to sleep properly without being in discomfort.

  6. I’m not an AF fan, I think their crew can do with some hospitality training and their cabin interiors are outdated. And (as a frequent business traveler) I’m not even mentioning their unreliability due to their strikes every three months. You never know if you actually get to fly if you book a ticket.
    However, I think your review is focused way too much on just the seat. All other aspects you mention are positive: crew, food, in flight entertainment etc, yet your conclusion is a negative one. There is more to a flight than just the seat. I think your conclusion could have used some balance.

    For someone who cares for the environment (…”As someone who dislikes waste”………) it is not really fitting to order foie gras by the way. It makes your review less objective since your words are not in line with your actions. Amazed by the way that Air France still serves foie gras on their flights. Talk about old fashioned…..

    1. Thanks for your feedback Anton. The seat was just such a big issue for me that it overshadowed all the other positive aspects of the flight. Despite the good food and nice crew, not getting any sleep due to a painful seat is hard to forget and I think it’s something that needs to be highlighted for future/potential travelers.

      As for the environment/meal choice – it’s something I have a challenge with. I’m not perfect. I’m reducing my meat consumption overall but I love traveling and experiencing foods from all over the world. It was too hard to say no to. Also – looking at the vegetarian option, it sounded pretty bland comparatively. If it was something involving mushrooms I probably would have been all over it 🙂

    2. Sorry but seat is most important thing.
      You will spend there entire flight.
      And the reason why premium exist is the seat. Or you would rather fly in economy seat with service from first class? Or rather fly in lie flat seat with service from economy class?

  7. I flew Air France from SFO-CDG last November in Economy in a 777 and was absolutely miserable. The seat pitch just was way to small for me and it was impossible to get comfortable. On the return flight the 777 had several mechanical issues and departed from the gate late. The flight was eventually canceled while we were holding short of the runway, and I ended up flying the route the next morning on United on a 787. The food wasn’t as good, but the hard product was far nicer.

      1. I tend to stick with Star Alliance, but just for status. The Air France flight was for convenience because I would normally have stuck with Lufthansa or United, but, I had business in Barcelona and Paris and got to check out the Joon product before it was wound down.

        Honestly, with load factors at what they are these days and cycle times for aircraft, there are always going to be mishaps. I had an Air Canada Rouge flight from YVR to KIX which was canceled in a similar fashion a year ago with my whole family already on the airplane. We had to wait until the next morning until they had fixed the plane. That was a 767 which believe it or not had a similar seat pitch to the Air France 777, but with the 2-3-2 seating instead of 3-4-3, it’s a lot more comfortable.

        1. Cool! Are you Canadian/from Vancouver by any chance?

          The main reason I fly with Air France (and SkyTeam) is for status as I’ve had a lot of work trips to Africa recently and AF and KLM service both east and west Africa quite well. Kenya Airways having a lot of connections within the continent.

          Now that I’m in Kuwait and not making so many trips to Africa I’m not sure if SkyTeam will work as well for me… it’s a little more challenging going east!

  8. I love Air France and fly them frequently (I own a home in France) but I agree that Premium Economy on the 777 is less comfortable than Economy. Those non-reclining seats are AWFUL, whereas the Economy seats have a fairly good recline. Apparently the Air France A330’s have a great new PE, but sadly that aircraft never seems to be used on the routes I fly.

    1. Interesting! I’ve only ever flown their A330s in economy (once to Freetown, Sierra Leone and another time to Lomé, Togo). Both times the seats and IFEs were worn down and dated.

  9. My partner and I flew five long haul flights over the past 18 months in Premium Economy, three of which were on Virgin Atlantic (LHR-JNB-LHR: 787-9; LHR-JFK: A340-600); the other two on China Airlines (JFK-TPE-JFK: 777-300ER), with Virgin Atlantic’s PE seats recliners, and China Airlines’ shell seats similar to those Air France uses for its Premium Economy, as discussed by the reviewer, Chris Loh.

    So, with a pair of 11 hour red-eyes (LHR-JNB-LHR) plus 8-hours on the 8pm (20:00 hours) LHR-JFK flight where getting a decent amount of sleep was not as important to us in Virgin’s PE seats versus 16 or so aboard China Airlines’ 777s, with both flights being red-eyes (outbound departs JFK around 12:30am; return around 6pm), sleeping was VERY important to us, especially with an itinerary that had us connecting in TPE for MNL, followed by another connection in MNL after clearing customs and changing terminals (NO small feat in traffic clogged Manila) to a domestic flight on Philippines Airlines to Bohol.

    And absolutely, Chris is 100% spot on about how uncomfortable the shell seats are compared to traditional recliners.

    In fact, it’s NOT even close: the shell seats SUCK – and they are the only thing we disliked about China Airlines as we loved everything else on the two long haul flights we took with them, as well as the two short-haul connecting flights in regular economy aboard their Airbus A330-300s.

    But yowza – those shell seats are terrible. And we were spared the even worse misery of being stuck in a standard row, as my partner’s reduced mobility arising from Polio he had as a young child, allows him to request bulkhead row seats when he flies.

    So, we had a lot more space to work with than those seated in regular rows – and could use our backpacks as footrests/ottomans to at least slump down/slouch in our PE seats when hoping to sleep.

    So, we did manage to get some sleep on those grueling 16 hour slogs between NYC and Taipei (him more than me as he’s not as tall as I am – and at 5’ 8” I’m hardly tall!).

    But, when compared to our 11 hours to/from JNB aboard Virgin Atlantic’s 787-9s with their much, much comfier PE recliner seats, falling asleep and getting a decent amount of restful sleep at that was NOT a problem.

    If anything, we got several hours of decent sleep on both flights, which allowed us to get through the day after we arrived in Johannesburg and London, respectively, without feeling depleted or needing to take a nap – which is very important when traveling since time is the most important thing, and time wasted to get sleep because you’re too tired to be out and about, be it for work or pleasure, is probably the worst thing to deal with when overseas and our schedule is already full.

    But again, one note of caution when flying airlines that have recliners in PE: we were in the bulkhead row for all three of our Virgin Atlantic flights, so we had that airline’s awesome footstools/mini-ottoman’s, that are not just super comfortable, but for my partner allowed for a degree of comfort never experienced before when he flies because finding comfort when one has reduced mobility, and their leg(s) are prone to frequent cramping, seizing and stiffness poses challenges to him that most others cannot imagine until they either experience it themselves, or see the additional hardships it creates for loved ones they travel with.

    So, for us, and just as with China Airlines’ PE seats, we were in the bulkhead row, which apart from additional legroom and Virgin Atlantic’s super comfy footstools/ottoman’s that are available only in the bulkhead rows after take-off until the last 20-30 minutes before landing, meant we did NOT have a row of seats ahead of us and that’s an important thing to keep in mind because those seated in the 38” pitch rows behind us had to deal with vastly decreased space if the person in front of them pushed the recline button and went to the maximum recline possible.

    And I mean, DECREASED SPACE – with the seatback IFE screens nearly, or perhaps even as much, close to their chins as in standard economy rows when the person in front hits the recline button and goes to the maximum degree of recline.

    So, just beware of that when in any row other than the bulkhead if flying an airline that has recliners for its PE seats that are spaced at 38” pitch as those seats, if/when reclined by the person ahead of you, will also feel very tight – with the person seated away from the aisle also requiring their row mate seated on the aisle to get up for them to get past a PE that’s in the fully reclined position in the row ahead of them.

    Of course, even so, a PE seat with its additional width, and 38” pitch versus a 17”-17.2” wide economy class seat in a 31”-32” pitch row in ANY type of seat, be it China Airlines (or Air France & Aeroflot, the latter of which my partner flew SVO-JFK, too, and found to be the same as China Airlines’), or Virgin Atlantic’s recliners is better than ANY super narrow, teensy weensy, kneecap crushing/smashing seat on a 10-abreast densified Boeing 777, 9-abreast Boeing 787, or any “densified” anything!

    TBH, the real issue is that for PE seats to work at their best, they probably need to be spaced at NOT less than 40”-42” pitch – but we all know that apart from maybe one or two airlines (JAL?), that’s so NOT going to happen! 😉

    Hope this comparison of shell versus recliner for PE seats is informative!

    Cheers!

  10. To clarify in the above:

    Sleep was very important to us for the two 11-hours flights to/from Johannesburg, South Africa aboard Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787-9, where we were able to fall asleep easily, and stayed asleep longer (much longer for me than on our China Airlines flights in that airline’s far less desirable shell seats, which I found difficult to sleep in for more than a few relatively short intervals at a time), to arrive feeling rested enough to get through our days without any sense of fatigue in both Johannesburg and London (perhaps being aboard Boeing 787s for those flights was also a factor – but hard to compare on that with China Airlines even if those flights were Boeing 777s because those shell seats really are dreadful…).

    However, for our JFK-LHR flight, sleep was NOT much of a concern for us, as we were heading home and arriving around 1am NYC time, and actually wanted to be as tired as possible to better overcome the time difference and avoid waking up at 3 or 4am NY time anyway.

    So, it was only for that Virgin Atlantic flight where getting sleep was not a priority for us, whereas for the pair of LHR-JNB-LHR flights, apart from avoiding the claustrophobic cabins and hideous 17.2” wide seats on a 9-abreast “densified” Boeing 787 (or for China Airlines, it’s equally horrible 10-abreast Boeing 777), the chance of possibly being able to get a decent amount of sleep on our long haul flights at a difference in airfares where the cost-benefit was a trade-off that made sense (especially for my partner who is prone to very intense spikes in pain that can last days or even weeks after “bad flights” [even being sidelined in bed or a couch potato after one particularly bad trip]) the chance of being able to get some sleep was VERY IMPORTANT to us when deciding which airlines to fly – and at what fares.

    In fact, even with the lousy shell seats, the hybrid fares on China Airlines that allows for PE long-haul and regular economy for short-has connections is an EXCELLENT value, that given how much we loved everything else about our four flights on China Airlines, we’d buy tickets for again in a “NY Minute” the next time we head to Asia (hopefully soon 🤞😉)

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