Worse than Economy Class? Review of Air France’s Premium Economy in the Boeing 777

Air France Prem Eco 777 Sitze Fenster

In premium economy, most airlines offer a very similar hard product. Whether it’s Lufthansa (pre-Allegis), KLM, United, Delta, or Singapore Airlines: Key data such as recline, seat pitch, and other features often vary only by a few percentage points. An airline can distinguish itself more with service, meals, and similar aspects.

An exception here is Air France. The SkyTeam member, like Swiss and now Lufthansa, uses barely adjustable shell seats. I had read many horror stories about the French airline’s premium economy and wanted to see for myself.

I had the opportunity on a flight from Osaka (Japan) to Paris. Without giving too much away: I don’t want to repeat the experience.

Info

In the interest of transparency: As always, the flight was paid out of our own pocket and we didn’t tell anyone we would be writing a review.

First, a brief look at the flight details:

  • Flight: AF 291 Osaka KIX – Paris CDG
  • Seat: 12K (aisle)
  • Aircraft: Boeing 777-200(ER) F-GSPU (delivered February 2002)
  • Scheduled departure: 11:30 AM
  • Scheduled arrival: 7:25 PM
  • Block time: 14h 55min
  • Travel date: June 2024

Booking

In March 2024, Air France & KLM offered very cheap premium economy tickets to Japan. From Italy, they cost around €700 to Tokyo or Osaka and back.

We searched for a long time for a connection with KLM to avoid travelling with Air France. Ultimately, this was not possible due to availability. So, for €717, it was an outbound flight Milan – Amsterdam – Osaka with KLM along with a return flight Osaka – Paris – Milan on board Air France.

When booking, KLM/Air France’s dynamic pricing showed its best side. On the one hand, identical flights on Air France’s website cost significantly less than on KLM’s. On the other hand, the best price was only available for bookings with a maximum of one person. This was not due to booking classes as usual but to the flexible pricing by these SkyTeam airlines.

In the end, we were able to trick the pricing system by booking two tickets for one person each at the same time. A ticket for two would have been about 200€ more expensive.

The flight map – as always – is only for orientation. We actually flew over Alaska and the North Pole.

KLM / Air France offers a Light fare in premium economy. Basically, it only includes two pieces of hand luggage (+ a personal item) but no checked baggage. Only thanks to our SkyTeam Elite (Plus) status could we each check one suitcase up to 23 kg for free.

Check-in

Air France allows checking in online from 30 hours in advance. The online check-in worked smoothly with a mobile boarding pass. So, going to the counter was only necessary if luggage needed to be checked in.

However, it’s annoying that the frequent flyer number cannot be reliably changed online. Therefore, I couldn’t check how many Flying Blue miles an upgrade to business class would have cost. I credited the award miles to Delta.

At check-in, an upgrade to business class was offered for €400 (per person). A comparatively fair price for the nearly 15-hour flight, but we declined after short consideration.

Air France’s premium economy includes SkyPriority amenities. In Osaka, preferred check-in and priority boarding (in Group 2) could be used. However, there is no class separation at security there.

For an 11:30 AM departure, we arrived at the airport 90 minutes early. By that time, the lines had apparently cleared, and check-in was almost empty. We quickly dropped off our luggage and received two vouchers for the Air Side Lounge as SkyTeam Elite Plus frequent flyers. Normally, access is not included with a premium economy ticket.

The lounge is not included in the overall rating. However, it was surprisingly decent (for Japanese standards) with several hot dishes and even showers.

Boarding

Upon entering the lounge, we were informed that the flight’s boarding would be delayed by 40 minutes. In typical Japanese orderliness, multiple signs pointed out the delay. It was a bit irritating that this wasn’t mentioned at the check-in counter, as the plane had landed similarly late.

In fact, boarding was only about 35 minutes late. When we arrived at the gate, we were the last of the SkyPriority group to board immediately. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures of the empty cabin.

Cabin

The premium economy cabin in the Boeing 777 consists of 24 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. The cabin is separated by curtains from the front (business class) and the back (economy). There are no dedicated toilets. Passengers generally have to use the economy toilets, though I saw several guests using the business class toilets, despite it not being intended.

The curtain separation gives the premium economy a more exclusive feel. Despite baby bassinets being right behind in economy, the flight remained quiet throughout.

Seat

I had read several negative reviews about the comfort of the shell seats. Some even recommended downgrading to economy class for more comfortable seating. I was very curious to see what awaited me on board.

Seat Configuration

Shell seats are characterized by a fixed backrest. Only the headrest, the seat cushion at the back (which slides down), and the seat surface (which slides forward) can be adjusted. Both have minimal effects. The seat moves maybe one or two centimetres. I couldn’t even tell if the seat was adjusted or not. The backrest does not recline but only shifts downward.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Sitz

There is also an extendable leg rest. With my long legs at 1.98m, it had no effect, as my leg simply extended beyond it. At other airlines, it’s different. I can imagine that “normal-sized” people up to 1.80m might feel slight relief. Additionally, there is a footrest, but I found it more bothersome than useful.

The headrest can be folded sideways (to lean the head) and rotated upwards (to better support the head).

Noteworthy points include:

  • A fairly wide seat pocket that can accommodate a laptop
  • The seat belt includes an airbag and is therefore very bulky
  • Two compartments for water bottles in the middle console. One was filled with an Evian bottle. The compartments can alternatively be used to temporarily store wallets, trash, etc.
  • Guaranteed power outlets: In premium economy, there is always a power outlet per seat. Our aircraft was quite old, so even economy class still had proper power outlets. Normally, economy class only has USB ports.
  • The armrest is quite wide (as usual in premium eco) and includes a drink holder
  • Each seat has a reading lamp that can be flexibly adjusted via a gooseneck

The fold-out table is huge. It’s larger than any other premium economy table I’ve seen. You can place both a meal tray and a laptop on it simultaneously, though it gets tight. Unfortunately, the table was quite loose, slanting forward strongly. I had to prop it up with a cushion, water bottle, etc., so the mouse wouldn’t slide forward.

The seat comes with a large and thick blanket. The pillow, on the other hand, is only thinly padded.

Seat Comfort

For many, the supposedly higher seat comfort is the main reason to fly premium economy. In this regard, Air France disappoints across the board. After an hour, my back and buttocks were aching, and it didn’t get any better throughout the flight. The pillow didn’t help either.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Polsterung
The thin cushioning at the back

Looking at the seat cushion, this is not surprising. The back cushion is perhaps one centimetre thick. The seat comfort is more reminiscent of a camping chair in European cabins than a premium economy on long-haul flights. Additionally, the minimal adjustability, as described above, makes no difference in sleep comfort. The backrest remains upright.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Beinfreiheit
Metal bar, foot rest, and seat pitch

In the footwell (at least at seat 12K) is a metal bar. To sit somewhat comfortably, one foot must be placed to the left and the other to the right of the bar. This also limits storage space for hand luggage. The bar didn’t bother me much, but crossing my legs was almost impossible.

There’s nothing to complain about with the seat pitch. Aerolopa and others list it at 97 cm, but it feels like more. Despite my height, I had enough space between myself and the seat in front of me.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Sitz hochkant

Overall, the seat is highly uncomfortable. Throughout the flight, one faces a dilemma: standing up hurts the back, but staying seated is no better. Some fans of these shell seats exist, but negative comments prevail among frequent flyers.

For sleeping, I would actually prefer an economy seat. However, the low seat pitch in economy class makes it difficult to work on a laptop.

Despite this, I managed to sleep in two or three 30-minute blocks. This wasn’t due to the seat, but my exhaustion. Even an Osaka subway would offer similar sleep comfort.

Most premium economy passengers remained awake throughout the flight. Most economy passengers, on the other hand, slept even on this daytime flight. Whether it was due to comfort or people had other things to do, I can’t say. But this observation symbolizes the lack of seat comfort in Air France’s premium economy.

Food & Drink

Some airlines cater premium economy close to business class. Air France emphasizes the economy aspect of the journey, similar to Lufthansa. I’m not sure if there are any differences in catering. If so, they are marginal. After takeoff, Champagne was served to all. There was no non-alcoholic alternative like orange juice or water.

Lunch (after takeoff)

Shortly thereafter, it was Fish or Pasta? I chose the fish and got chicken:

Shortly after, the flight attendant noticed the mistake and asked if I’d prefer the pasta. Along with the main course, a salad (cold potato), a piece of chocolate cake, crackers, and a cold roll with Brie + butter were served. Additionally, a miso soup was available upon request.

The best part of the meal was the miso soup. The chicken was good for economy class standards, but for premium economy, it was at best average. The rest of the meal was significantly worse. The cold roll was completely unacceptable. When attempting to eat it, it stretched like a rubber band and then returned to its original shape. It might have been suitable as a toy, but not as food.

The meal was served on cardboard dishes covered with aluminium foil, which did not give a high-quality impression. At least there was a metal cutlery set included.

Snacks

As the lunch was not very substantial, I went searching for some snacks a few hours later. Initially, I found nothing in the economy class galley. After asking a flight attendant, I was given two sandwiches. They tasted slightly better than they looked.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Snack Sandwich
A sandwich with egg chicken salad (or something along those lines)

The front galley is supposedly reserved for business class passengers, but this was not enforced on this flight. I couldn’t resist the cheese-filled crepes available there, which I had already appreciated on a business flight earlier this year.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Snacks Business
Snacks from the front galley. Intended for business class passengers.

Soon after, a flight attendant came through with a proper snack basket. The selection was quite good and tasty. However, this (six hours after departure from Osaka) was the only snack round:

Air France Premium Eco B777 Snackkorb 1

Evening Breakfast (Before Landing)

About two hours before landing, a paper bag with the second meal was handed out. Given the time (midnight in Japan, around 5 PM in Paris), a dinner would have been appropriate. The contents, however, were more reminiscent of breakfast. There was:

  • a cheese-filled pastry (good)
  • the same useless roll as at lunch
  • a small fruit plate
  • a yoghurt
  • a cup of potato and corn salad
  • a piece of cake (good)
Air France Premium Eco B777 Pre Arrival Snack
Various snacks from the bag

Even the flight attendant was surprised that neither butter nor jam was included with the roll. The rest of the meal was acceptable, although, for such a long flight, I would have expected a complete meal rather than a collection of small snacks.

Service

The service was friendly, conducted smoothly in English, and initially quite efficient. The meal was served within an hour of takeoff.

Unfortunately, it then dropped to the typical Air France level. We had our empty trays on the table for about 40 minutes before they were finally cleared. Perhaps that’s why the especially large tables are installed?

Air France Premium Eco B777 Tablett
At least the tray isn’t much of a nuisance when the table is not fully unfolded…

To avoid getting dehydrated, one had to go to the galley. There were a total of six beverage rounds, but one of them had to last for more than 10 hours:

  1. A first round with only champagne (about 30 minutes after takeoff)
  2. A full beverage round with the meals (about 1 hour after takeoff)
  3. A third round with water, tea, and coffee (about 1 ½ hours after takeoff)
  4. A round of water halfway through the flight (about 6 hours after takeoff)
  5. A full beverage round with the second meal (about 12 ½ hours after takeoff)
  6. A final beverage round when clearing the dinner (about 13 hours after takeoff)

Some airlines pass through the aisles with a water bottle every hour. At Air France, however, the flight attendants usually disappear quickly behind the curtain and only reappear in exceptional cases.

One of these exceptions was the activation of the seatbelt signs during light turbulence. Seatbelt use was meticulously checked with a flashlight. I guess this issue has been taken more seriously since the incident at Singapore Airlines.

In-Flight Entertainment

I found varying information on the size of the screen online. I didn’t have a tape measure with me, but it must have been around 12 inches (30 cm). Newer seats now typically have 15″ to 17″ screens as standard, but for older seats, this is acceptable.

Air France Premium Eco B777 IFE

The selection of movies was quite decent, with over 300 films available. At least part of the program can be previewed online before the flight. On board, favourites can be bookmarked for easier access later.

The selection of TV series was much weaker. While there were numerous TV shows available, they were usually limited to two or three episodes. Additionally, there were eight games and a reasonable selection of music.

There were no live cameras, but at least the usual flight map was available. The Voyager 3D software is used by many other airlines and is generally easy to use. However, it crashed several times during our flight. For instance, my screen showed 7 hours of remaining flight time, while the neighbouring seat showed only 5.

There is a remote control located in the middle console, but it is unfortunately fixed in place and therefore hard to reach.

Air France scores points with the headphones. They feel rather cheap but offer active noise cancellation and reasonable sound quality. They don’t match the business class headphones but are at least a decent upgrade compared to economy class. However, the headphones are permanently wired, which seems questionable in terms of hygiene.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Kopfhoerer

WiFi

Air France now offers WiFi on almost all long-haul flights. On this flight, the following packages were available:

  • Message Pass (only messenger apps, without images):
    • Free
  • Surf Pass:
    • 1 hour for €10
    • The entire flight for €22
  • Stream Pass:
    • The entire flight for 38€

Given the long flight time, the Surf Pass for €22 seemed like a good deal. Officially, it can only be used on one device at a time, but this restriction can potentially be circumvented with a hotspot.

Unfortunately, the satellite reception during the trip was very inconsistent. There was a fairly stable internet connection in the first few hours, but it disappeared completely over Alaska. It theoretically became usable again over Iceland but kept dropping out and was barely usable.

The dead zone over the North Pole is also an issue with other airlines, but over Europe and the Atlantic, there shouldn’t be such problems.

Extras

Air France provides a small amenity kit. In a fabric bag, there are:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sleep mask
  • Earplugs
  • Socks

Unfortunately, there are no individual air vents at the seat. Initially, the temperature on the plane was a bit warm but became comfortable for the rest of the flight.

Air France Premium Eco B777 Overhead Panel
Air France sadly doesn’t have individual air vents – for whatever reason

The condition and cleanliness of the cabin were not quite up to the standard of other airlines. For instance, the table had a small crack and was somewhat dirty.

Connection Delay and Communication

Although the flight departed from Osaka 40 minutes late, it landed in Paris on time. However, it wouldn’t be Air France without the next set of problems. While still in the air, there was a notification from Check24 and Airhelp (with an appropriate lounge voucher) that the connecting flight to Linate would be delayed by two hours.

A look at Flightradar24 showed that the aircraft for our flight CDG to LIN still had to complete a flight from Vienna to Paris. It was supposed to take off at 5:55 PM but was still on the ground two hours later. It eventually departed at 8:30 PM with an expected arrival in Paris around 10 PM.

Why am I detailing this? Because Air France itself was unaware of this. Even at 9:18 PM (when the plane was 40 minutes from Paris), Air France believed the plane would depart for Milan in 17 minutes:

Apparently, no replacement aircraft was found. Only when we addressed the lounge staff did they say they would look into it. The promised announcement never came, but shortly thereafter, at least the flight status was updated:

What a difference 2 minutes make since last updated

The provision of meal vouchers under EU law was refused by the lounge staff, as all shops were already closed. No wonder, given the delay was announced two hours late. If such poor communication were a one-time occurrence, it would be a minor issue. However, Air France (and KLM) are often this disorganized.

While we were in the lounge, guests at the next table were informed that their flight to Berlin was cancelled. A frequent flyer merely shrugged: she already knew, as the planned late arrival at 12:30 AM would be impossible due to the night flight ban. Apparently, only Air France was clueless…

The delayed aircraft was then also faulty and had to be replaced. We finally landed in Milan at 1:15 AM instead of the scheduled 10:25 PM.

Air France Premium Economy Boeing 777
  • Baggage Allowance
  • Check-in & Boarding
  • Seat
  • Food & Drinks
  • Service
  • In-Flight Entertainment
  • Extras & WiFi
  • Organisation & Communication
2.48
Conclusion

The word Premium in Premium Economy is quite misplaced at Air France. The onboard service is almost identical to economy class and doesn’t even include a checked bag by default. The worst aspect, in my view, is the catastrophic seat comfort. Even the day flight was uncomfortable; I can’t imagine a night flight.

There are essentially only two reasons to choose this product: priority services on the ground and increased mileage accrual. However, this does not justify the usual surcharge. I recommend flying with KLM (or another airline) instead. Even an economy seat with more legroom (e.g., at the emergency exit) is more comfortable than Air France’s premium economy.

Unfortunately, the uncomfortable shell seats are still installed in a large part of Air France’s long-haul fleet. The Boeing 777s are eventually supposed to be retrofitted with industry-standard recliner seats. Air France already offers these in the A350 but in a cramped 2-4-2 layout.

It should be noted that reviews always describe a personal opinion. At least one person in our team finds the seat comfortable for day flights. In general, however, the reviews on SeatGuru and similar sites are also rather negative.

Translated by Ditmar

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Comments (6)

  1. TM says:

    Fully agree with all the opinions above about PE of AF. Very very bad, even when you have the better seats on the A350, the service aspect is bad – what you get in return to what you pay is just not worth it. I hope that you did not get a back pain after 15 hours on this trip, I would have paid the 400 Euro to upgrade to Biz in this case. Wow, although I’ve not had such significant delay, but from what you have indicated it seems the customer service recovery for the delay is bad. I wonder what happened to the other passenger who’s flight to Berlin was cancelled.
    Cheers!

    • Peer says:

      I still had back pain a few days after the flight. 🤪 Fortunately, it’s gone by now

      I believe that the Berlin guests got accomodation from Air France. Not sure about compensation, as they will probably try to blame it on the weather somewhere else in Europe

  2. Maverik says:

    That front galley for you was for premium economy I was told. I was browsing the mid flight spread, I was told to go to the front galley, because it was for the premium economy.

    I suppose you wanted to review PE for your content, but a €400 upgrade was a deal too good to miss, if you knew what you were getting. I didn’t know there was a huge gap between J and PE on AF both hard and soft products. They didn’t leave empty dishes for too long, except I ate too slow and they forgot to come back. at least we had a permanent side table to place those.

  3. sbams says:

    You passed up on a eur400 upgrade to Business which is a world of difference to this P.E. both in terms of seat and soft product. How much lower would it had have to be to tempt you, especially on such a cheap ticket in the first place?

    • Peer says:

      I would have probably accepted it for €300. But this time I was “happy” to fly it once in order to warn others

  4. Oscar says:

    I flew from Paris to Buenos Aires in AF Premium Economy and I said, never again. Very bad service in all aspects. There are 2 bathrooms after business but you should walk through all plane to go tail ones. In both services, meals were cold and meat or pasta. When the backseats are reclined, the next row passenger cannot get out of their seats, no space to do it.

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