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Review: Air France La Première Paris to San Francisco

Flight Number
AF86
Aircraft
Boeing 777‑300ER
Duration
11 hours 45 minutes
Date
December 2021
Rating

I recently had the pleasure of checking off one of the top First Class experiences on my bucket list, Air France La Première, on a 12-hour flight from Paris to San Francisco on a return journey from Europe. 

In This Post

Air France La Première – Booking

Among the world’s finest commercial air travel experiences, Air France La Première is notorious for being among the most difficult to book, outside of paying the regular cash fare of €5,000–10,000 per ticket. 

While many airlines choose to release some First Class seats on each flight for members of their loyalty program to book with rewards points, Air France keeps its La Première award availability gated off very strictly.

You must be a Flying Blue Elite member with Gold or Platinum status to be eligible to redeem miles for La Première awards.

Even then, it’ll cost you 175,000+ Flying Blue miles for a one-way award redemption in La Première, which is an exorbitant number of miles compared to other First Class products that you could book on points. 

It’s also possible to book La Première via a paid upgrade from Air France business class, subject to availability, whether the original flight was booked with cash or Flying Blue miles. 

On a few occasions over the past few years, however, Air France has released the occasional “super sale” in the La Première cabin, when paid fares are available at extraordinarily low prices.

Indeed, I myself had booked this flight on a US$472.05 one-way fare between Algiers and San Francisco that was briefly available back in March 2020, and that I had continually rescheduled until its eventual travel date in December 2021.

Air France La Première – Ground Experience

Part of what makes Air France La Première so special is the ground experience in Paris.

Passengers originating in Paris enjoy a seamless journey from curbside all the way to the First Class cabin, while connecting passengers are whisked away to the comfort of the La Première Lounge to relax before their onward flight. 

Air France La Première Lounge Paris

You can check out my full review of the Air France La Première Lounge in Paris from the previous installment. 

Upon departing the lounge by way of a BMW 7 Series, my chauffeur Guillaume took me on the scenic route along the tarmac of Charles de Gaulle Airport before pulling up at the base of the Boeing 777 that would be taking me to San Francisco. 

Air France La Première – Private BMW car transfer
Air France La Première – Private BMW car transfer

He then escorted me upstairs and led me down the dedicated jet bridge for First Class passengers, handing me off to the cabin crew as I stepped foot into a long-anticipated La Première cabin. 

Air France La Première – Jet bridge to aircraft

Air France La Première – Cabin

Air France La Première on the Boeing 777 consists of a single row of only four seats, all with direct aisle access, laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration.

It’s one of the world’s most exclusive First Class cabins based on the seat count alone, matched only by Singapore Airlines 777 First Class and Malaysia Airlines A350 Business Suite. 

Seats 1A and 1L, spanning four individual windows along the port and starboard sides respectively, are naturally ideal for solo travellers who prefer maximum privacy.

Air France La Première – Seat 1A

Meanwhile, Seats 1E and 1F share the middle section, and would be a great choice for couples who wanted to share the La Première experience side-by-side. If you find yourself in one of the middle seats as a solo traveller, you can raise the central divider to give yourself some privacy from your seat mate. 

Air France La Première – Seats 1E & 1F

Rather than the over-the-top ostentatiousness that you’d find on some of the world’s other airlines, the cabin conveys luxury through a more unassuming sense of style, drawing upon a classic cream palette with distinctive bright-red pops of colour.

Air France La Première – Cabin

Unique to La Première are the full-height curtains adorning every seat. They provide incredible privacy when drawn during the flight, while adding an undeniable French chicness to the overall look of the cabin when they’re tied up in place. 

Air France La Première – Cabin

Air France La Première – Seat

I had selected Seat 1A for this flight, which is my favourite choice for a window seat whenever I’m flying long-haul. Nevertheless, it didn’t really matter which seat I picked, since I was the only passenger onboard today’s La Première cabin to San Francisco.

Air France La Première – Seat

As I finished gawking at my surroundings and began to settle into my suite, I heard the captain come on the PA to announce that we’d experience about an hour-long delay before taking off due to a mechanical issue. That was music to my ears: more time to soak in the splendour of La Première! 

Between personalized introductions from the cabin manager and in-flight crew, I took the time to carefully explore all of the seat features around me.

At the far end of the 79 inches of seat pitch, there’s a 24-inch entertainment screen mounted on the bulkhead wall.

Air France La Première – Entertainment screen

Beneath that, you’ll find a soft-leather ottoman, which acts as part of the bed in lie-flat mode and a buddy seat in upright mode. The ottoman equipped with a seat belt of its own, allowing you to dine with a fellow passenger face-to-face. 

Air France La Première – Ottoman

Underneath the ottoman is a spacious storage drawer, where the bedding is typically kept. You can also store a small personal item in here, while your larger carry-on items would be housed in the overhead bins. 

Air France La Première – Ottoman storage drawer

Each La Première suite comes with an entire seat length’s worth of surface space, adorned with subtle wooden and metallic touches. Storage compartments are dotted along the flat-top seat console, while the literature pocket is set into the vertical surface down below. 

Air France La Première – Literature pocket

At the base of the seat console, you’ll find an effortlessly chic lamp adorned with the La Première’s signature seahorse design. The lamp can be turned on and off with an easy rotation of a metal control stick, making it feel like a bedside lamp at your very own luxury apartment in the sky. 

Air France La Première – Lamp

The main storage unit is situated right at your fingertips, underneath a sturdy latch. Inside the suede-lined compartment, you’ll find the entertainment controller, seat controls, power and USB outlets, headphone jack, and a deep storage space where you can put away all your loose items during the flight.

Air France La Première – Main console

The latch also comes with a small gap, through which you can thread your cables and use your devices while they’re charging. 

Air France La Première – Main console

After that, there’s an indented surface to place your drinks and snacks, followed by a large flap that contains the tray table. 

Air France La Première – Surface space

The tray table is a hefty piece, popping upwards and folding down into place along a sliding rail, perfectly positioned for dining solo or with a companion. 

Air France La Première – Tray table

Finally, there’s another deep storage unit at the far end of the console, this one ideally shaped for keeping a tablet or small laptop. 

Air France La Première – Deep storage unit

On the aisle side, there’s a set of buttons that trigger an additional privacy partition. Even if you’re sitting in the already very private window seats, these can be useful if you’d like some measure of privacy but don’t want to fully draw the curtains, for example. 

Air France La Première – Privacy partition (disabled)
Air France La Première – Privacy partition (enabled)

It’s worth noting that the La Première suites have been around for a while now, and are starting to show their age a little bit with small scratches and dents along the plastic and metallic surfaces.

Nevertheless, the leather and suede finishes are all kept in good condition, and the cabin maintains an air of polished and understated luxury despite little imperfections here and there.

Air France La Première – Amenities

Shortly after taking my seat, one of the La Première crew came by to offer a pre-departure beverage service, and I naturally opted for a glass of the house champagne. 

Air France La Première –Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs 2007

Air France tends to rotate through top-shelf champagnes fairly regularly in their forward cabin. On this flight, I was treated to some Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs 2007, an airy and fruity Chardonnay that I greatly enjoyed over the course of perhaps one too many glasses throughout the flight.

Air France La Première – Pre-departure beverage

There were also a range of in-flight amenities left at my seat, including the amenity kit by Carita Paris and the pajama set.

Air France La Première – Amenities

The amenity kit was one of the most distinctive and unique designs I’ve ever encountered. The rounded rectangular box is coated in fine leather, and its interior compartment rotates outwards along a hinge in the corner to reveal all of the kit’s contents.

Air France La Première – Amenity kit

Indeed, I’d love to say that this is one of the amenity kits I’ll keep for my own personal use going forward – but the design is so unique that I’d prefer to save it in my collection instead! 

Among the special items inside, there was a wooden comb, a pen featuring the La Première logo, and a handful of Carita Paris skincare items.

Air France La Première – Amenity kit
Air France La Première – Amenity kit contents

Meanwhile, I found the medium-sized pajamas a bit small at first, so I asked if they had any large ones in stock. The crew member handed me an extra-large instead, which I found to be more comfortable.

Air France La Première – Pajamas
Air France La Première – Pajamas

One of my benchmarks for assessing the quality of airline pajamas is how well they hold up as everyday loungewear when I’m back at home. Alas, as nice as it was to bring home a set of Air France pajamas emblazoned with the seahorse logo, they ended up shrinking pretty significantly in the wash.

Lastly, I put away my shoes in the under-seat storage and donned the pair of slippers instead, which kept my feet snug during the 12-hour journey.

Air France La Première – Slippers

Air France La Première – Meal Service

After our delay was cleared up, we taxied away from the gate and began our takeoff roll.

Drawing the curtains to my suite as we climbed to cruising altitude, I took the time to browse through the menu, which took the form of an oversized bright-red booklet.

Air France La Première – Menu

The menu read as follows:

As a First Class passenger, I’d normally have the ability to tailor the entire flight to my liking, with full rein to choose whether I wanted to dine immediately after takeoff or later on. And since I was the only passenger onboard today, I enjoyed an even greater degree of customizability, with the entire crew happy to cater to my every whim. 

Given the obstacles I had faced in securing my seat onboard La Première, I was ready to stretch my stomach to its limits and fully indulge in Air France’s world-renowned First Class food and drink.

I asked the crew member if I could begin with a round of the caviar and some more Taittinger Comtes 2007, followed by not one, but two of the appetizers – and then followed by not one, but two of the main courses. Given that each of the dishes had been loaded on the plane anyway, the crew did not hesitate in obliging my requests.

I opted to break bread soon after takeoff, so the caviar plate was swiftly brought out. At first, the crew offered me the tray of caviar and champagne to keep at my side, allowing me to take a few initial sips while they set the table.

Air France La Première – Caviar plate

Even after having experienced so many First Class flights beyond my wildest dreams, the ritual of caviar and champagne still doesn’t get old for me, and it was quite a sight to behold La Première’s signature metal tray glistening under the light of four Boeing 777 windows across the length of my suite.

I waited until my table was fully set before digging in. Air France proudly serves up their own national Sturia Caviar, which carried a powerful salty taste. I layered on plenty of the vodka & lime whipped cream, the lemon juice, and of course the free-flowing Taittinger to balance out the flavours.

Air France La Première – Caviar plate

After polishing off the fish eggs to start, it was time to indulge in my twin appetizer dishes: foie gras and three pepper terrine, along with langoustines atop a disc of celeriac and green apple rémoulade sauce. 

Air France La Première – Foie gras and three pepper terrine
Air France La Première – Langoustines

Both dishes were excellent. The foie gras’s rich flavours were delicately weighted against the creamed apple and chestnut quenelle on the side, while the lightly seared langoustines bestowed upon my taste buds their signature subtle sweetness with every soft bite. 

I also particularly appreciated the flatware that everything was served on, featuring the now-ubiquitous hand-drawn seahorse design. It’s often this type of attention to detail that sets apart the world’s best flying experiences from all the rest. 

Between the appetizers and the main courses, I was also brought an additional dish on the side: a fully customizable mixed salad for which I had selected each of the desired individual ingredients from the menu one-by-one.

Air France La Première – Mixed salad

The crew had meticulously noted down the items and plated the salad behind-the-scenes, and I now nibbled through the bowl as I awaited the upcoming bigger plates. 

My decadent airborne procession of fine seafoods and meats would continue with a hearty helping of the former: another langoustine dish for the main course, this time served alongside truffle-stuffed scallops and vegetable julienne, topped with a red wine reduction sauce and all paired with a glass of Sauternes 2016 sweet white wine. 

Air France La Première – Truffle-stuffed scallops and vegetable julienne

So far, the flavours of the La Première dining experience had very much left me impressed, but this was the first moment that I was taken aback by the sheer creativity of one of three-Michelin-starred Chef Régis Macron’s onboard creations.

The thin layer of black truffle, ensconced in the middle of juicy seared scallops, was a gustatory delight that left me grinning to myself ear-to-ear.

After enthusiastically finishing up my seafood plate, I was feeling quite full by this point, and I had barely enough room in my stomach for an entire steak to come. Still, I was determined to last the course, and took full advantage of the customizable meal sequence to pause for a little while and sip on my beverages while I allowed myself to digest.

30 minutes later, I gave my crew member the all-clear to bring forth the meal’s main event: a centre-cut beef tenderloin, accompanied by both red wine sauce and red wine itself.

Air France La Première – Beef tenderloin

Slowly working my way through the steak, I noted a slight toughness in the meat, which needed quite a few dollops of the sauce with each bite to compensate. Overall, this dish fell slightly short of the impossibly high standards that Air France had already set throughout the meal so far.

Of course, we weren’t finished just yet. There was still the small matter of a cheese plate to navigate, which I was certainly not about to pass up when flying with the airline of one of the world’s great cheese nations.

Air France La Première – Cheese platter

Once again, customization is the name of the game here, and the crew presented me with an entire platter of cheeses, many of which carried official Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, for me to pick from.

“Un morceau de chacun,” I signalled, asking to sample one bite of each. I should mention here that the crew was exceedingly patient in communicating with me in both French and English, speaking slowly to accommodate my intermediate language levels and repeating themselves in English without a trace of exasperation if necessary.

Air France La Première – Cheese plate

The Roquefort sheep’s milk blue cheese was particularly interesting, though quite pungent, as I nibbled my way through the carefully plated arrangement. 

And at long last, it was time for dessert, which consisted of two creations by well-known French pâtissier Philippe Urraca. 

Air France La Première – Desserts

The caramel and chocolate cake was rich and sweet, but it was the subtler fruity profile of the “red berry and violet square” that impressed me more. I washed both down with a cappuccino, which I needed to fend off the impending food coma, intending to stay awake for as long as possible during this rare luxury experience.

Air France La Première – Cappuccino

A refreshing trio of hazelnut, passion fruit, and lime sorbets served as the meal’s final flourish, and I had to save the fresh fruit plate as a snack for later on during the flight, as my stomach was now truly stretched to its maximum limits.

Air France La Première – Sorbets
Air France La Première – Fruit plate

To ultimately wrap things up, I picked from an assortment of fine teas by Palais des Thés, concluding the meal just as it had begun with a nourishing substance served in luxurious metallic tableware. 

Air France La Première – Palais des Thés tea selection
Air France La Première – Tea service

Overall, it suffices to say that I enjoyed one of the best airplane meals of my life here onboard Air France La Première. Not only was almost every dish was executed to perfection, the menu also did a splendid job of showcasing the creative talents of the chefs who designed it. 

It was certainly the absolute-best demonstration of Western cuisine I’ve ever experienced in the air – albeit with the incredible Japanese menus of Japan Airlines First Class still holding top spot in my personal rankings. 

In terms of the crew’s service, I must commend them for their work ethic and patience throughout what turned out to be a very long meal for a very fickle passenger.

However, the service wasn’t perfect: some responses to the call button were slower than I expected, while a few of the drink coasters for keeping drinks on the side console were plopped down rather casually, rather than placed with precision. 

These are ultimately trivial complaints, which I was happy to overlook given the deal I had scored on this flight, though I think they’re worth noting in the context of the very high expectations that I had for La Première. 

Air France La Première – Entertainment

Air France’s entertainment system consists of hundreds of movies and television titles, including new releases from within the past few months.

Air France La Première – Entertainment system

I tend to prefer to stay productive while flying, so I decided to connect to the Wi-Fi. Air France’s usual Wi-Fi plans are fairly reasonably priced:

La Première passengers are given complimentary Wi-Fi, which I took advantage of to get plenty of work done throughout the 12 hours. The Wi-Fi was fast enough for most online tasks, but not quite strong enough to upload videos to Instagram Stories, which I found a little frustrating. 

Still, working on my laptop allowed me to resist the temptation to sleep. It certainly also helped that I had full rein to keep my four windows open as the sole occupant of the cabin (and even if there were other passengers, the curtains at each suite would give window passengers the freedom to keep the shades open without disturbing others who were resting).

Air France La Première – Bed

Despite having no intention to sleep, I still asked the crew to prepare a bed in neighbouring Seat 1D, so that I could sample the quality of the La Première sleeping experience. 

I took this time to visit the restrooms, which were sufficiently spacious here on the Boeing 777. There’s a sleek all-white countertop, a fold-down bench that can be helpful when changing into loungewear, as well as additional amenities by Carita Paris.

Air France La Première – Restroom
Air France La Première – Restroom changing bench
Air France La Première – Restroom sink
Air France La Première – Restroom amenities

Returning to the cabin, I discovered the curtains between Seats 1A and 1D fully drawn, with the latter set revealing a lie-flat bed that was simply all too inviting.

Air France La Première – Drawn curtains
Air France La Première – Bed
Air France La Première – Bed

Lying down to merely experience the comfort of the bed, I discovered a memory-foam mattress pad with an ideal softness, a fluffy duvet and pillow that matched the standard of a luxury hotel, and a generous amount of space for both my upper body and my legs to toss and turn. 

Air France La Première – Bed

Ultimately, I needed to recharge a little bit after an eventful flight and travel day so far, so I ended up dozing off for about one hour in the absolute comfort of La Première’s top-notch bedding.

Upon awaking and stumbling back to Seat 1A rather groggily, I was presented with a stunning sight: the snow-capped Canadian Rockies as we flew southward across the polar route en route to San Francisco.

Air France La Première – View of the Rocky Mountains

I spent the next hour or so relaxing back in my seat, spellbound by the views, sipping on a mug of hot chocolate followed by another glass of Taittinger as I geared up for the tail end of the flight. 

Air France La Première – Snack Service

For my pre-arrival meal, I decided to mix things up by heading over to the starboard side of the Boeing 777, where the westerly afternoon daylight would allow me to dig into yet more fancy gastronomy in brighter surroundings. 

Air France La Première – Seat 1K

I had put in a cheeky request for a second serving of caviar if there was any left, which is something I’m often tempted to do when deriving great enjoyment from a luxurious flight. Unfortunately, as I was the only passenger onboard today, only one portion of the Sturia had been loaded, so the crew was unable to accommodate.

I then asked for the tender beef and pan-fried foie gras pastry puff – but was informed that this item too, despite being on the menu, was unavailable today.

Mildly disappointed, I went with the only starter possible, the wholegrain and citrus fruit salad. While the quality and taste was fine, it was among the more unremarkable dishes I tried this day.

Air France La Première – Wholegrain and citrus fruit salad

More appetizing was the two-salmon cannelloni with a self-poured creamy tomato sauce. Despite a discernible rubbery texture on the edges of the cylindrical lasagna, potentially due to slight overheating in the preparation process, the salmon’s delectable flavours ultimately shone through.

Air France La Première – Two-salmon cannelloni

The snack service was wrapped up with small portions of cheese and apple compote. At this point, I truly couldn’t finish off everything despite my best efforts, but I made sure to try a few more bites of the intriguing Roquefort and the fruity dessert before finally releasing my stomach from duty.

Air France La Première – Cheese plate
Air France La Première – Apple compote

As we approached San Francisco during the final hours of the flight, I returned to Seat 1A and troubled the crew for a few more top-ups of my Taittinger Comtes 2007.

Air France La Première – Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs 2007

Having worked up a strong buzz by this point, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself in sheer satisfaction at having checked off one of my biggest bucket-list aviation experiences onboard an impeccable flight on Air France La Première.

Air France La Première – Arrival Experience

The La Première treatment does not end, however, with touchdown at your destination. Indeed, this is one final point of differentiation that sets Air France apart from many of the world’s other leading airlines.

Upon landing and taxiing to the gate, the crew was immediately met by a San Francisco-based La Première representative upon opening the plane doors, handing me off seamlessly to the ground representative’s care.

The staff member escorted me down the jet bridge and through to the arrival terminal, where she mentioned that she’d meet me after the immigration checkpoint.

In the past, La Première representatives would escort passengers directly to the front of the immigration queues, though US immigration officials now discouraged this practice during times of stricter border controls due to the pandemic. 

I therefore walked by myself to navigate through immigration, and sure enough, my handler met me at the baggage carousel, accompanied by a second Air France employee wearing La Première insignia.

My bag arrived relatively quickly considering that I was the first passenger to deplane, proving that Air France’s priority baggage handling for First Class passengers is indeed respected.

No sooner than my bag had hit the belt, the second staff member removed the bag from the carousel and placed it on the ground. And with that final act, Air France wrapped up their white-glove service philosophy from the start to finish of a passenger’s journey, and my La Première experience was officially complete.

Conclusion

Air France La Première holds a legendary reputation as one of the world’s best and most exclusive First Class cabins. Despite having to navigate some major obstacles on my way to securing my seat in La Première, I’m pleased to say that the experience lived up to its hype and made all of the struggles worthwhile. 

From the ground experiences at the origin and destination to the incredible onboard gastronomy, from the unparalleled elegance of the four-seater cabin with full-height curtains to the luxurious bedding optimized for comfort and rest, I’d categorically state that Air France La Première is the single-most well-rounded First Class product that I’ve had the pleasure to experience.

Would I declare it the best First Class product with similar confidence? This is a question I’d like to flesh out more in the future, but my instinct is to say that Air France didn’t quite capture that crown with this particular transatlantic journey.

At the risk of overly nitpicking, the service was fantastic but fell short of perfection, while some of the flawlessly-imagined dishes may have been let down by less-than-optimal heating and preparation immediately before being served.

Ultimately, though, this La Première flight ranked squarely up there with the best flights of my life, and I can only dream of experiencing it again in the future through a more refined lens and a less dramatic booking experience. 

1 Comment
  1. Ana

    Well, for the less than $500 you paid for this flight, it paid itself in food and wine alone!

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