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

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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).

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