Here’s what it’s like flying budget carrier French bee across the Atlantic.
Whether you’ve long dreamed of visiting the City of Love or know the cafés dotting Boulevard Saint-Germain like the back of your hand, Paris occupies a fixed position near the top of many Americans’ travel bucket lists. In a COVID reality, where much of the world remains off-limits to U.S. citizens, the allure of a French vacation has never been stronger, largely because if we’re fully vaccinated, we can actually get in! It’s perfect timing then for a burgeoning low-cost airline with sparkling new planes to start flying direct to Paris-Orly from New York-Newark Liberty International.
My Claude Monet-loving 14-year-old daughter and I recently got back from a few nights spent in the 6th arrondissement, and a day at Monet’s home and garden in Giverny (a 45-minute train ride away from central Paris). This was a dad and daughter summer vacation made possible because this low-cost route now exists.
Here’s what the French bee Airline experience was like, from researching flights on the French bee website to flying back home with a belly full of baguettes, and everything in between.
The French bee Website
It’s important to note that there is no French bee app. It being the year 2021, this fact was rather unsettling at first. Fortunately, the website is clean, concise, and stellar (on laptop and phone browser) so after the initial shock of finding nothing in the Google Play store under “French bee,” it mattered not to my experience of flying to and from Paris.
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French bee’s once-daily flight into and out of Newark and Paris-Orly removes decision paralysis from the traveling equation. Whereas you might pour over a menu of flight times, with French bee you have a 10:55 p.m. departure from Newark that arrives in Paris at 12:20 p.m. the following day. Easy peasy! You’ll then say au revoir to Paris at 6:45 p.m. and touch down back in North Jersey at 9:00 p.m. This late departure is something of a unicorn for European travel, allowing for an extra half+ day in the city, perfect for a morning at the Musée d’Orsay, another breakfast at that amazing creperie you’d discovered wandering the crooked streets, or a few more hours luxuriating with a book on a reclining chair in Luxembourg Gardens.
Check-In at Newark Liberty International Airport and Paris-Orly
French bee is located in Terminal B where there are six customer service desks sandwiched between empty Delta counters and, on the night I was flying, a severely bloated Spirit Air area teeming with stranded travelers. This location places the French low-cost airline with new planes and a focus on immaculate service and meticulous attention to detail squarely where it belongs: at the intersection of high quality and affordability.
Checking in at Orly 4 is through Port 48. The French bee area here, it being the home airport of the airline, is spacious, well-signed, and efficient. You can print your own boarding passes and luggage tags then go through a quick passport check before using the self-service bag drop off during which you scan tags, weigh bags, and send them on their way to the plane. It’s actually quite fun!
Flying into and out of Orly is a breeze as central Paris is a convenient 20-minute OrlyBus ride away, costing 9.50 euro each way or roughly a 25 euro Uber.
The boarding process in both airports was a snap and followed the familiar formula, with passengers needing assistance going in first, then those in Premium leading the way, followed by the rest of the plane. Our fights were maybe half full, this still being a new route and travel to France only having recently opened up for vaccinated francophiles. You’ll enter and depart the plane in the space between economy and Premium.
This Newark to Paris route still has that new plane smell because it’s serviced by a fresh-out-of-the-box Airbus A350-900 featuring a new air exchange system, better sound insulation for more peace and quiet in flight, pleasant LED lighting, and a spaciously designed cabin in all three areas of the plane: Premium Blue, Cozy Cabin, and Economy. The seating configuration in the five rows of Premium is 2-3-2, whereas in the rest of the plane, including the section referred to as Cozy Cabin Economy, is set up as 3-4-3. This clever and cozy cluster of five rows is designed to blend a serene flying experience with low cost, putting you at the front of economy, and in a quieter part of the plane (you also get food and beverage service first)! Otherwise, these economy seats and service are identical to what you would have at the back of the plane.
While the A350-900 is massive and tall, which provides an abundance of overhead bin space for carry-on bags (everyone gets one plus a handheld carry-on like a backpack or purse) the plane can at times feel warm because there are no individual air vents to help cool you down.
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We flew Premium Blue on the overnight to Paris and found the seats remarkably comfortable. In fact, even though I rarely manage it when flying, I slept for a good four hours in the front row which has enough legroom to stretch my entire 6’5” frame out, and enough hip space to not feel squeezed. I’m too tall to take advantage of the footrests, but more average-sized humans will enjoy this touch of class on French bee. A firm pillow and soft blanket, plus socks and earbuds are awaiting each passenger in Premium Blue.
Coming home to NYC, we were seated in row 14, the center of the Cozy Cabin section of economy. I found the legroom to be above average for an economy seat. In all classes on French bee, the headrests bend inward to cradle your noggin, increasing the chance of sleep. On economy seats when we boarded were blankets but no pillows like in Premium. Once in the air, we did get a small bag with socks and earbuds, along with a card to redeem for your meal.
Each of the Airbus A350-900 seats recline more than any non-first-class, lie-down-flat seat that I’ve experienced. This is fantastic for the individual but less than pleasant for the passenger seated behind you.
Final note about the seats: the Airbus A350-900 seatbelts are very long, so if you’ve had to ask for a seatbelt-extender in the past, you probably won’t need to do so here.
The touch screens were responsive and the entertainment plentiful if not robust. There were 35 total films available in English, only two of which were animated for kids (Disney’s Raya at the Last Dragon and Soul). My daughter watched Shazam and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while I happily gave The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society two hours of my time on the longer flight home.
There’s an assortment of games available too (I stopped playing Solitaire once I finally completed one game) but the absolute best feature of the French bee in-flight entertainment offerings is the chance to watch one of three live camera feeds! Cameras mounted to tail and belly of the plane giving passengers a view of the curvature of the earth, a look at Paris and NYC upon take-off and landing, and the feeling that you too are a billionaire traveling in outer space. It’s exhilarating for 14 and 45-years-old alike!
Final word on entertainment in flight: In Premium, we were offered but declined tablets to read magazines digitally.
Unlike international long-haul flights on, say, American or Delta, for example, you get only one complimentary meal on French bee. During the overnight flight to Paris, breakfast was served roughly 5 hours into the 7-hour journey. The choice of meal, in addition to a roll, bland pastry, and a Chobani Strawberry yogurt, was a cheese omelet with two fingerling potatoes and half of a grilled tomato that was passable or an inedible slice of French toast slathered with a fruit compote that nearly made my daughter gag.
The dinner on the return leg was light years better. I had the pescatarian meal of a hearty white fish (cod, I presume) with delicious mashed sweet potatoes that my daughter kept stealing from my tray, and sautéed zucchini, alongside cold noodles, edamame, and three chilled, tail-on shrimp. Also on the platter was a mini baguette, a creme puff, and a small bag of rosemary crackers. The vegetarian selection my daughter enjoyed consisted of polenta with sautéed sweet bell peppers, a plate of fruit, and a small salad. The regular dinner looked to be chicken and creamy pasta that seemed to be enjoyed by everyone around us. Each meal comes with an actual cup of water. This small, brown cup is 100% vegetal, uses zero plastic, and can be refilled throughout the flight. Both my daughter and I love that there are no individual plastic water bottles used on French bee!
If you get hungry again, the Blue Cafe menu is available to purchase snacks like a warm croissant for 3 euros or a small bag of peanut M&Ms, Pringles, cookies, Madeleines, or noodle soup, sandwiches, and more, all priced fairly.
The Premium Blue bathroom near the cockpit is extremely large, while the toilet behind the Cozy Cabin of economy was also bigger than your average airplane bathroom. I could stand up straight, for one thing, and the full-length mirror is helpful for fixing yourself up right before returning to your seat.
The French bee logo is prominent throughout the plane, from the pillows to the dividers between section, and shows a fine attention to design detail, even on the silver locks holding the seatback tray tables in place. Being a design nerd, I found this pleasing and prideful, and French bee has good reason to be so bold. This is a fine airline, opening up a city, country, and continent to Americans looking for value and quality service in the air and at the gates. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly French bee again the next time I want to visit Paris or use the city as a gateway to explore more of France and Europe.
Surgical masks are currently required to board and fly French bee. And despite it being the fashion capital of the world, you’ll see 99% of the French population in Paris also wearing those generic baby blue masks too.