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

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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.

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.

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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).

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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):

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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:

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“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!

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