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Gimpy Geezer and Wife Fly Air France A380 Premium Economy from DC to Europe

Gimpy Geezer and Wife Fly Air France A380 Premium Economy from DC to Europe

Oct 23rd, 2014, 07:27 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 465
Gimpy Geezer and Wife Fly Air France A380 Premium Economy from DC to Europe

This is a report of a recent trip my wife and I took in Premium Economy (PE) class on Air France’s (AF) Airbus 380 between Washington Dulles and Paris Charles de Gaulle, with connections between Paris to Verona and Bologna back to Paris. It is intended primarily as: (a) a review of AF’s PE class, not only internationally but also as it applies to flights within Europe; and (b) an account of my experience as a mobility-impaired passenger on AF and its European partner, HOP Airlines.

Some background: My wife and I are early-70-somethings. Because of my height, I need leg room on flights. In addition, I have problems being able to balance without support as well as difficulty walking long distances. My wife is prone to blood clots and therefore needs room to move around on a long flight.

Since we both needed leg room and couldn’t afford Business Class, we basically had two choices: United’s Economy Plus (EP) seats or Air France’s PE class. It was not a clear-cut choice. I was a little leery of going on United, because its EP is not a separate class, and even if you buy EP seats when you make reservations, it is possible (although not likely on an international flight), that you could be bumped from them when you got to the airport. (I know, because it has happened to me.)

I also had some mixed feelings about Air France. On the one hand, I had read a number of negative reviews of Air France’s PE, especially about the comfort of the seat. On the other hand, Air France’s PE is a separate class with a separate cabin as well as some other perks that are not available on EP. In addition, a good friend of mine often flies PE Dulles to Paris and recommended it to me. In comparing prices, I found that Air France’s PE would only be a few hundred dollars more than United’s EP, which seemed like a good bargain to me. Based on all these factors, I decided on AF’s PE, and I was not disappointed with my decision.

My first interaction with AF was on their website, which I used to purchase tickets with no problems. Moreover, I was also able to indicate on the website that I would need wheelchair service at the airports. However, because the website would not let me choose my seats on any of the four flights that we would take, I decided I would try to reserve my seats over the telephone.

I was able to get through promptly to AF’s customer service center (probably staffed by Delta) and talked with a young man who spoke understandable American English. He too was unable to give me seats, but he also assured me that my seats in PE were safe and that AF did not overbook that class. He also suggested that that I check the website from time to time to see whether I might be able to choose my seats at a later time. Which I did. And although I was unable to reserve seats from Washington to Paris, I was later able to reserve next-to-the-window seats (84A and 84B) on the return trip from Paris to Washington.

Checking in on the website (which AF allows 30 hours prior to takeoff) was easy. At that time we were also given our seats, along with the ability to change them if any other seats were available. We chose to keep the ones assigned to us. However, although I was able to print out an actual boarding pass for my wife, all I could print out for myself was a “Temporary Boarding Document.”

When we arrived at Dulles, our PE status allowed us to get into the fast lane to the AF ticket counter. We checked our one bag (each passenger in PE can check two bags free and can carry on two bags plus a personal item) and I got my boarding pass. The agent said she didn’t know why I had been given the alternative document; but, since the same thing happened in Bologna on our return trip, I suspect it was because of my wheelchair status.

The ticket agent also ordered a wheelchair for me. However, it took almost a half hour for it to arrive where we were waiting. Because of my special wheelchair status, my wife and I were ushered through a shortened security line and I was taken to the waiting area at the gate. (Going through the “express” security line is also a perk of being a PE passenger, even if you don’t have impaired mobility).

Next: Aboard the A380
tom18 is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2014, 07:22 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
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Very informative. Thank you for posting, and waiting for the rest of your report.
cynthia_booker is offline  
Oct 24th, 2014, 06:57 AM
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The Premium Economy Experience

On the A380, the PE cabin is on the top deck between Business and Economy. Two jetways are used to board the plane, one to each deck. Second-deck boarding seemed to go quickly and easily; but I suspect that first-deck boarding was much slower. As others have noted, the A380 is an extremely quiet plane that gives a nice ride. However, there were only two upper-deck lavatories (in the rear) for all the PE as well as economy passengers.
Each PE passenger was given a blanket, a pillow, and a travel kit. A380 PE seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration and we sat in one of the two-seat rows (83A and 83B) on the left side of the plane. The seats are separated by an armrest which contains the two controllers for the personal entertainment system, which is housed in the back of the seat in front. Two nice headphones are stored in a small compartment between the backs of the two seats, and two single-beam “goose neck” reading lamps come out of the back of the seats. The space between the window seat and the plane wall houses a neat storage cabinet that measures about 15 inches long by 6 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Into that we were able to put my backpack (which was only about half full) as well as my wife’s purse and some other assorted items. Besides containing the two screens for the entertainment center, the back of the seat in front of us contained a small storage shelf which could be used to house small items such as water bottles. In PE, a full water bottle was set out for each passenger.
On the back of the seat in front of me was an entertainment screen which could be controlled either through touch or by the remote control. The entertainment center offered a large number of audio-visual choices; one of the neatest consisted of views from cameras mounted outside the plane, from which you could see sights such as the plane lumbering down the runway or Paris as we were flying over it. The seat was a hard-shell one, and to make it “recline,” you had to push down and forward on the seat. The seat also contained a leg rest that popped out from under the seat, as well as a foot rest that came out from the seat in front of you.
I was generally impressed with the seat environment in PE. There was a lot of room to move around, and storage spaces were especially welcome. Once I got the hang of it, the entertainment center worked well, but I would have liked a card that described the working of both the entertainment center and the various aspects of the seat. Although I prefer a reclining seat to the shell type, I did not find the seat uncomfortable. However, I did find it somewhat difficult to push the leg rest back in place, and my wife’s feet were unable to reach the foot rest (which seemed to have only two positions, up and down).
The meals were also a step up from economy-class meals I have experienced on recent flights to Europe. For dinner, passengers received a printed menu, and the meal itself consisted of a salad, a choice between two entrees, dessert, and complimentary beverages, including wine and champagne. A big breakfast was also served shortly before landing.
The flight crew was attentive, friendly, and professional. There was a snack and beverage service set up in the galley at the rear of the deck.
All in all, I was very happy with our PE experience, which was certainly much nicer than our previous EP experiences on United. It reminded me of the first time I flew to Europe from Dulles back in 1997, when I had much the same kind of experience flying economy. Oh well, the times have changed!

Next: We HOP!
tom18 is offline  
Oct 24th, 2014, 07:27 AM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 350
I am glad you had a positive experience with AF Premium Economy. They do overbook though. We were moved from Premium Economy to economy at the gate a CDG a few years ago. No one told us anything. I noticed the change on my boarding pass as we were walking to the plane. We got some money back and $200 vouchers for a future flight that we used last year. We have miles on AF so we were able to upgrade to business last year which helped me to overcome my anger for the previous flight.

Premium Economy is much nicer though as my husband is 6'4" and really needs the room.
lrock5 is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 04:26 AM
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On to Verona

We arrived almost a half-hour early at Terminal E in Paris, where wheelchair attendants were waiting for their passengers. The first stop, still in Terminal E, was at a line where our passports were checked and stamped and where we underwent a security check similar to the one at Dulles. From there, my wife and I were taken to a waiting room, where we were put on a shuttle bus to Terminal G, from which our HOP flight to Verona would depart. The attendant said that someone would be back to get me and take me to the plane when it was time for our flight to Verona.

Terminal G seemed to serve many, if not all, of Air France/HOP flights to smaller destinations outside France. The terminal consisted of one very large waiting room with a number of shops along one wall. When a flight was called (approximately 20 minutes before departure) passengers boarded waiting buses that took them to the plane, which was sitting on the tarmac and which was boarded by a rolling set of stairs. Wheelchair passengers were taken to the plane early for priority boarding. Once at the plane, we checked our 17-inch carry-on suitcase, which we then picked up planeside in Verona.

Our hour and a half flight to Verona, aboard a HOP regional E170, left about 15 minutes late. Because we were flying PE, we were seated in First Class (which on this plane consisted of the first two rows of seats) and served a very large and filling breakfast. We deplaned on the tarmac in Verona and picked up our carry-on. The wheelchair attendant, who had met me on the tarmac, then wheeled me to baggage claim, where we retrieved our one checked suitcase and then went through customs. (We did not go through any passport control or security in Verona.) From there we went outside and hailed a cab to our hotel. All the airport and airplane personnel in Paris, on the HOP flight, and in Verona were very personable and efficient.

Next: A-striking we will go!
tom18 is offline  
Oct 25th, 2014, 06:43 PM
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Coping with the Air France Pilots’ Strike

Six days before our scheduled departure from Bologna, we discovered that the Air France pilots had gone on strike, and that the strike was to last two days past our scheduled departure on Saturday. We had been caught in a French train strike in 2010 and had almost missed our flight home on that trip, so were quite apprehensive about what might happen. When we heard about the strike, we tried to call the various Air France numbers we had, but couldn’t get through. However, the hotel gave us the number of Air France’s Milan office. The customer service representative told us we could either wait until 24 hours before our flight to see whether it would fly, or we could get rerouted through Amsterdam in economy on a KLM flight. She then told us we needed to make up our minds right away, because there were a lot of other people waiting on the lines. Because we definitely did not want to fly home on economy, we opted to wait until Friday morning to see what would happen.

We told the hotel about our problem and asked if we would be able to extend our stay should our flight on Saturday be canceled. Unfortunately, however, there was a big event in Bologna the next week and the hotel was completely booked. Not a happy circumstance. In the meantime, since we didn’t have Internet access to get another flight if ours were cancelled, we found a travel agency near the hotel that opened at 9 a.m. We decided that if our flight got canceled, we would go to the travel agency and see if they could help us get home.

Fortunately, when we awoke on Friday morning, we had a message saying that the Saturday flight was a go (even though that flight had been cancelled a couple of times already that week). This was the second time we had dodged the bullet of a French transportation strike!

It was raining when we left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday with a maniac taxi driver who seemed to have fantasies that he was racing at Le Mans! When we arrived at the airport about 15 minutes later, it was packed, especially at the Lufthansa counter. Fortunately, there weren’t many passengers at the Air France counter, and, once again, our PE ticket got us into the fast lane.

After checking both our bags this time, the wheelchair attendant arrived a few minutes later, whisked us through a special passport-control and security lane, and took us to wait for our 7:10 a.m. flight. Our HOP plane (an E190) was again a little late, and we got a little wet walking up the stairs to the plane, but we again were seating in First Class and were served a very hearty breakfast.

We landed at Terminal G in Paris, and were again transported by special shuttle bus to the main terminal; but we did not go through security again. Because of the strike, the other Air France gates were quite deserted. According to the message-board at the gate, our 11:05 a.m. flight was on time. That is, until about 10:15, when an announcement was made that our crew had not arrived and that the flight would be delayed 50 minutes. I spent an anxious 45 minutes wondering if the delay was temporary or permanent, and trying to figure out what 500 passengers would do if in fact the crew never did show up. Again, however, fate smiled on us, the crew showed up, and the flight took off about an hour late.

The return flight to Dulles was equally as nice as the outbound flight had been, and we actually landed on time in spite of our delayed departure. Once again, a wheelchair attendant picked me up at the gate, rolled me onto the shuttle bus to the main terminal, took us through a short line at passport control, took us to baggage claim and through customs, and to the stop for the parking lot shuttle bus.

All in all, we had a great experience flying Air France PE. We loved the A380: the PE seats and cabin were very nice, the food was good, and all the personnel were super. Flight attendants and ground personnel were also kind and efficient in dealing with an old man with mobility problems.
tom18 is offline  
Oct 30th, 2014, 12:48 PM
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Very interesting and informative report. You should never be surprised in the future when your flight arrives ahead of schedule (or on time even though there was a delay for departure) because all airline schedules are now padded with plenty of extra time due to all of the rules by the EU and other authorities for compensation for delayed flights. The compensation is generally very generous, so airlines do not enjoy paying it at all while passengers almost hope for delays.
kerouac is online now  
Oct 30th, 2014, 01:28 PM
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Cathinjoetown is offline  
Oct 31st, 2014, 02:55 AM
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Tom18, thanks! Very helpful as we are looking into flying from Paris to Singapore on AF PE.
WeisserTee is offline  
Oct 31st, 2014, 06:11 AM
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Good info, tom18. Thanks for sharing.
TDudette is online now  
Oct 31st, 2014, 11:29 AM
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Good report. I'd been wondering about whether PE is a good value.
vincenzo32951 is offline  
Dec 11th, 2014, 10:04 PM
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tom18, thanks for sharing this info with us.
Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 20th, 2015, 11:24 PM
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Many thanks for this very informative report. I'm scheduled on AF PE in March, though I am still trying to upgrade to biz with miles.
annw is offline  
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