This was the final leg home on a trip that took me to Niamey, Niger in West Africa. The trip from Niamey to Washington took almost 24 hours, with a long layover in Paris’s Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG). Niger may be far off the beaten path for most travelers, but Air France between Paris and Washington, DC certainly is not. Despite the layover, overall I had a fine experience in economy class to bring my trip to a close. This is my complete review.
Flight: Air France #54
Date: 1 April 2017
Origin: Paris (CDG)
Destination: Washington (IAD)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Since this was a connecting leg for our flight from Niamey to Paris, we had to make our way from one terminal to another, not to mention entertain ourselves for about seven hours. After arriving at 06:00 and making our way through security, we had free reign of terminal 2E. We discovered lounge chairs and couches in a “rest area” at the end of the terminal that seemed ripe for napping... those napping on the lounge chairs were fine, but I believe that one of my travel companions picked up bed bugs from the couch she used to take a nap. I skipped the nap, and took full advantage of the view of planes taxiing, taking off, and parking at an adjacent terminal.
There are no lounges in Terminal 2E, and no options for exploring other terminals once we’d been through security, but CDG does not disappoint when it comes to shopping. Our terminal offered everything from Hermès to Swavorski to Paris Duty Free. Full restaurants were minimal, but I found delicious grab and go options in Ekxi: Nature’s Kitchen. My sun dried tomato and goat cheese quiche was phenomenal by airport standards.
The terminal seats feature outlets at the ends of rows (have your converter ready if your devices aren't French standard), and charging stations at various points. The charging stations provided cord options, but I found they didn’t always work.
Traveling with children? The terminal also provides a few play and video game areas to keep them entertained.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get through this airport, especially if you’re connecting between flights. Terminal 2 is quite large (sections A-F plus Halls L and M), and you may need to take one of the trains between the Halls to get to your departure gate. Security is efficient, but there’s a lot of walking and movement to get from one place to another. I saw more people running for flights in this terminal than I’ve ever seen before, including some who didn’t make it on their flight.
Gate and Boarding
I didn’t make my way to the gate until just before boarding. It was a bit of a walk from the rest area, but I still had a few minutes to get some last minute charging done on my phone before getting on the flight. Boarding was efficient and fairly standard. Have your passport and boarding pass handy as they’ll both be checked multiple times before you actually board the plane. CDG has glass jet bridges, which gives you a look at your plane and those at gates around you as you’re boarding.
The Air France 777-300ER offers four classes: La Première, Business, Premium Economy, and Economy. I would have enjoyed trying the closed suites and 180 degrees of recline offered in La Première (The Points Guy certainly did), but that's not what we came for... the economy seats felt spacious and comfortable enough by economy standards (i.e. if you're flying in the back, there's nothing wrong here). Personal in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems and USB charging stations are at each seat, with many recent movies and TV shows available in English (and French, of course) alongside typical flight tracking map over ocean and music.
Economy is arranged in a 3-4-3 or a 2-4-2 configuration, depending on where you’re seated. This means either two or three seats by the windows, aisle separated from four in the middle, followed by aisle separated from two or three by the windows on the opposite side. Pay the extra fee to reserve your seats in advance, especially if you’re traveling with others. This will let you get seats together without anyone getting stuck in the middle. Be careful, though, there are only seven rows with the 2-4-2 configuration, and some of them are near the lavatory. Premium Economy is, incidentally, arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration throughout that cabin.
Study the plane map on SeatGuru when you’re picking seats! I ended up in an aisle seat on the final row of 3, which meant no one behind me to kick my seat or complain when I reclined. I was a bit miffed on my midnight flight from Niamey to Paris when the flight attendant woke me up to sit my seat upright while the person behind me ate his 1am dinner. Not having to worry about this on my final leg of the journey was a relief.
Crew and Communication
This is an Air France flight, so the crew is (mostly?) French. All announcements are made first in French and then in English, and the crew spoke English very well. The crew was friendly and accommodated both French and English speakers with ease.
The Air France safety video is genius in that it’s so ridiculous, you actually stop to watch the video. It consists of four or five women dressed in red, white, and blue doing choreographed routines that demonstrate safety features of the plane. My favorite line was “not smoking is simply chic”.
Food and Beverage
The food was surprisingly good on this Air France flight. The crew hands out menus prior to serving the main meal so you know exactly what you’re getting. You’re given a choice between two entrees in addition to a side and a dessert. Each meal also comes with a roll and cheese (this is France, after all). My chicken and quinoa did not disappoint, especially when paired with the white wine. Keep in mind this is Economy class, so while the wine is free and fine to drink, it’s not particularly outstanding. Since it is free, don’t hesitate to get an extra glass when they offer their aperitif service! You’ll also get a roll or other snack later on in the flight.
Overall, I was pleased with this leg of the journey. As Andrew says, the timing of this flight is in the sweet spot for travel from Europe to North America. The arrival time in DC was 3:55pm, allowing me to get home in time for dinner and begin to unpack without being too exhausted from travel. IAD’s location allows you to connect to many other cities or easily drive into DC itself. The friendly crew, in-flight entertainment, and comfortable departure airport made this Air France flight from CDG to IAD a good option for travelers flying westward.