In June I took our two older kids to Paris and Luxembourg for a week, arriving at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport from the Bay Area by way of Seattle (SEE: Delta 777 Economy Review: Seattle to Paris). You can read all about our adventures in the French capital in three installments (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). We then spent a day and a half exploring the tiny country of Luxembourg. Our last night was spent at an airport hotel (SEE: Holiday Inn Express Paris CDG Airport review) before our nonstop Air France A380 economy flight home.
Arriving at CDG for our flight
We left the hotel at 7:05 a.m., walking the short distance to the CDGVAL train to head to Terminal 2. If you’re not familiar with the CDG airport layout the CDGVAL is the free train that connects the terminals and garages of the airport. We made it to the Air France check-in area in Terminal 2E check-in at 7:30 a.m.
Since my kids were on a separate PNR than me, I’d had issues checking in. This was an artifact of the points we’d used to book the tickets, which was a combination of Merrill+ points and Ultimate Rewards redeemed for 1.5 cents per point through the Chase UR portal. We also had a bag to check. It is nice to have both hands free when traveling solo-parent-style with more than 1 child.
Check-in and security
Using the screen at the entrance to the Terminal, we determined we needed to check in at Desk 3, which was very close. After being waived through by an Air France employee, we used the automated kiosk to get the kids’ boarding passes. I figured we’d have to check in with an actual person, given the fact they couldn’t be checked in via the app or online. But it worked. Yet for some reason, my bag tag wouldn’t print. We were also faced with a seating issue. Since I wasn’t able to check the kids in, and we were on separate reservations, we’d not ended up together. This was in spite of assurances that our reservations were linked.
Thus, we had to wait in line to speak with an Air France employee. He was a bit gruff, but after explaining our situation, he handed back a bag tag and a new boarding pass for me that seated me next to my kids. I figured he’d stick us all in 50ABC, which was near where I was checked in. But I ended up in 20F instead, next to the kids original seats and much closer to the front of the plane. How he’d managed thsat was beyond me, but I was happy.
A lady checked our passports while we waited in the baggage drop line. She asked where we had visited, and when we had arrived in Paris. She seemed incredulous when I told her that my son and daughter are my kids. Yes, I know. They look nothing like me. And I am a bit young to have a 7 and 11-year-old. But please believe me!
Then it was time to drop the bag, which was completely automated. I scanned my boarding pass, set the bag on the scale, (knowing the weight was fine), and the machine presented me with a button to send it on its way. Easy peasy.
Then it was off to passport control. On our way we walked past the Sky Priority check-in line, which was much longer than the peon line we’d been in. LOL.
The passport control line looked long, but it moved quickly. We waited about 10 minutes to get through. Not being familiar with CDG and knowing it is a huge international airport, I’d given us a lot of time to make the flight. After passport control, we ran into this sign, which seems to be oh-so-convenient advertising for Air France’s sister company.
From there we took *another* train to the M gates. I’m beginning to think I could actually get lost at Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s massive. Not sure I’d want to connect here with less than 2-3 hours of scheduled time.
At least the train to the other gates gave us a view of some of the Air France aircraft. This is the part of visiting new airports that excites me. I got to see Kenyan Airways and Alitalia aircraft for the first time ever.
The security checkpoint was located here as well prior to the gates. Again here, the line looked long, but it moved fast. We the. Made our way to gate M48, arriving at 8:35 a.m. Total time since leaving hotel: 90 minutes on the dot.
Killing time at the gate
From our brief experience, I’m not a huge fan of Charles De Gaulle Airport. It takes you forever to get anywhere. The only nice part was once we were seated near our gate. The M gates have spacious seating areas and even have a play area for kids! Totally fine for spending 45 minutes prior to boarding.
There is power available at many of the seats. Just don’t forget your universal adapter like I did. The kids enjoyed Playstation game area and the interactive video games.
If we’d had a *lot* more time, I probably would have opted to try the Yotel lounge with access from my Priority Pass card. But since it is located near the L gates and we would still have to take the train and clear security before our flight, it just didn’t make sense.
While the kids amused themselves, I sat and looked out the window, enjoying the view of a few different Air France and Delta aircraft, including the A380 that would be taking us back to the Bay Area.
Boarding our Air France A380 economy flight
Boarding started about 15 minutes late. As we were in line, the departure time changed to reflect a delay of that amount. Given that over 400 people had to board our Air France A380 flight, and everyone was in one giant queue, we had to wait in line for a good 20 minutes.
There were three boarding doors for the massive A380. One for the upper deck, and two for the lower deck. The first one on the lower deck was for La Premiere, Air France’s exclusive first class. Maybe I could pretend I don’t know what the sign is saying and we’d end up in the wrong section? Just for a minute?
We took our economy jet bridge and quickly found our seats in the center section of row 20. There was a lady seated on the other aisle. However, she was re-seated several minutes later. It made me wonder if she asked to move, given that she was seated next to my kids. Her original aisle seat flew unoccupied.
The kids were excited again to be flying! I hope it remains fresh for them like it does for me. I still get a thrill out of any long-haul and was excited to be flying Air France A380 economy.
Air France A380 economy seat
The Air France cabin interior features dark blue seats with red and white accents, mimicking the French Tricolore. Each economy seat had a red pillow, a blanket and a headphone/sleep kit typical of long-haul flights.
The tray table has a recess for a cup and is large enough to be comfortable to work from. The design of the seats also doesn’t result in quite as bad of a laptop “pinch point”, where you risk having your screen shattered when the person in front of you jolts backwards.
One feature that was a first for me is the separate drink holder on the underside of the tray table. It would be nice if more carriers add this to their seat design. There have been many times on other flights where I’d like to fold a tray table up, yet still wish to hold onto my drink.
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) has a controller in a dock in each seat, but it also a touch screen. As the kids were less-than-gentle with the touchscreen, I made sure I showed them how to use the controller to navigate, as I didn’t want them being disruptive to the person seated in front of them.
While it would have been cool to be seated in the upper deck economy “mini-cabin”, I hadn’t wanted to pay the extra seat assignment fee. We went with what we were assigned, which ended up being in the forward part of the main cabin.
The final thing I want to mention is the footrest. Each Air France A380 economy seat has a footrest, with the exception of the bulkhead rows. I was quite happy that this is a feature in economy, as it made trying to nap a whole lot more comfortable. Reading reviews online, this is one of the most appreciated features.
Passing the time
We pushed back about 20 minutes after we boarded. Takeoff was slow and lumbering. This ain’t no regional jet where you can just gun the engines! It was slightly hard to tell when we were airborne. I’d forgotten how smooth the super-jumbo is since I’d flown it last on my way to Australia (SEE: Asiana business class review Seoul to Sydney). I’d also forgotten how quiet the A380 is. Cabin noise is so much less than on other aircraft.
We encountered some moderate turbulence about 10-15 minutes after takeoff, including several fairly large jolts. The captain kept the fasten seat belt sign on for quite a while.
The kids amused themselves with games and movies from the get-go. This is about the only time they get to binge watch anything. We found the in-flight entertainment movie selection to be generally very good, with a large number of family choices.
Recent movies included Coco, Ferdinand, The Last Jedi, A Wrinkle in Time, Peter Rabbit. Other good choices included Zootopia, Cars 3, and Monsters University. The kids also enjoyed the selection of games.
I decided to screen A Wrinkle in Time for them, being completely unfamiliar with the story. With a flight time of over 10 hours, they’d be able to fit in at least 3 movies. It was an overall lousy movie in my opinion, but a harmless kids feature, so to my daughter’s delight I told her she could watch it.
One thing that surprised me is the lack of WiFi on the Air France A380. With even low cost carriers (*cough* Norwegian) rolling out WiFi on their aircraft, I kinda assumed that it would be a staple of the full-service carriers. Not that it mattered on this particular flight, but I do want to note it for other travelers. I’m not even sure if WiFi is in the works for the Air France A380.
Meal service in Air France A380 economy
Meal service started with an aperitif of champagne and tiny bag of biscuits about 40 minutes into the flight. Having never had champagne before, I decided to give it a try. When in France. 😉 It made me super sleepy.
The full meal service was offered about 90 minutes into the flight. We all looked at the menu to decide what we’d like for our main course.
Here is the drink menu for those interested.
The “main course” choices consisted of either chicken or pasta. I went with the chicken while my the kids asked for pasta. In general, I’m pretty forgiving of airplane food since, hey, there’s not a lot you can do when preparing meals for 300+ people all stuck in a metal tube 35,000 feet in the sky. But I did have one utterly terrible experience with airplane pasta a number of years ago and have avoided it ever since. Chicken always seems safe.
The accompaniments included quinoa salad, a roll, and a tart for dessert. Overall, a satisfying meal. Again, the wine was free, and I decided to try a Merlot.
With dinner over, I settled in for a nap. Since this was a 100% daytime flight, I planned to only rest my eyes for 30-60 minutes. With a 5 hour drive ahead of us after landing, it was going to be a really long day.
The middle hours
The cabin was darkened about 3 hours into the flight. My movie had just ended so I decided to try to nap. The kids were still occupied with a movie and games. After two hours of dozing a bit on and off, I called it quits. Gone are the days of being able to get any real sleep on an economy flight.
Since we were now over northern Quebec, I decided to give the cameras a try. I had forgotten about this cool feature of the A380. However, every single camera was glitching out. Images would flash by briefly, and then it would be black for a few seconds, followed by more flickering images. I was a bit disappointed.
Then it was time for a second movie, which I hoped would carry me through until dinner. Or should I call it second lunch?
The Air France A380 economy lavatory is better than those on narrow body aircraft I’ve flown lately. It is definitely a bit more spacious. We could probably almost lay our toddler out and change him on the table, if needed.
During the middle of the flight I decided to take a walk. At least as much of a walk as you can get on a plane. I eventually made it to the back staircase and poked my head up into the cabin above.
I know. It’s a staircase. But it’s a staircase on a plane!
Final service and landing
The cabin stayed dark until about 90 minutes before landing when the second meal service began. The second meal consisted of a lentil salad, spinach risotto, and a cup of liquid quark cheese (???) and fruit.
The risotto and fruit/cheese cup were okay. I didn’t care for the lentil salad, ‘cause, well, they’re lentils. Definitely not impressed with these catering choices. The kids hardly touched theirs.
The meal was followed by coffee and tea service, during which the captain announced our approach to San Francisco. I’d been tracking it on the IFE, so I knew we were less than an hour out. When we were nearing the Bay, I gave the tail cam another try. It worked this time!
Soon enough, we were once again on terra firma at San Francisco International Airport. Customs was fairly quick. I took advantage of the ability to interview for Global Entry on arrival and finally got that checked off my list. Amazingly, this was my first time since 2008 that I have gone through customs at SFO. We’ve always reentered the U.S. through some other airport.
I’ve concluded that Air France A380 economy class is the best way I’ve crossed the Atlantic. Second has to be our flight on a Delta A330 when my wife and I went to Europe in 2016, and this was only because we were the only two people in a row of four (which made napping much easier). Taking that out of the equation, Air France comes out ahead. The seats are comfortable, and the footrest is a great feature. I don’t understand why U.S. airlines don’t install them. The IFE offers plenty of selections. The main meal service was good as well.
I’m amazed that you can fly on Air France’s A380 out of San Francisco for less than $500 during the best fare sales. This likely won’t be a simple nonstop to Paris, for which Air France will charge a premium. If you’re willing to connect, though, I’ve seen other cities on sale, such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and Rome, for which tickets are sometimes available ~$450. For a quality full service carrier, this is a great price.
If given the chance, I’d happily fly Air France A380 economy class long-haul again. I’m usually in the mood to try new airlines and new products, but if I was looking for the most comfortable economy experience, I’d book this. However, I’ve yet to give Virgin Atlantic a try, which is also on the short list.