By Chase Hagl
French Bee Begins LAX – ORLY Service — Onboard Experience
On Saturday, April 30, Paris-based carrier, French Bee, held its inaugural flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris-Orly (ORY), a historic event for the carrier, marking its third destination in the United States, along with San Francisco (SFO) and New York (EWR).
By year-end, the carrier looks to add Miami to the list of U.S. cities in the near future.
“We continue to grow the tools to be quite efficient in the U.S. market for our product, we are not in the position to only serve one or two points, and with that, we are continuously building up our capabilities in these markets. We have decided to go very strongly on New York, San Francisco, now Los Angeles, and by the end of the year Miami” stated French Bee CEO Marc Rochet in an interview with AirlineGeeks. “We want to connect enough cities to support our commercial efforts.”
The low-cost carrier looks to serve the LAX-ORY route three times weekly on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, with the possibility of increasing this to five times weekly by June. Fares start as low as $321 one-way for Basic Economy or $679 one-way for Premium Economy. The 5,652-mile flight runs at 10 hours and 50 minutes, with the outbound leg departing LAX at 7:45 p.m., with a scheduled arrival in Paris the following day at 3:35 p.m. The return flight to the states departs ORY at 2:50 p.m.and arrives in Los Angeles at 5:15 p.m.
Guests looking to book with French Bee can expect an A-la-Carte experience, allowing guests flexibility when flying with the airline. Thus making it a great option when strictly looking to get from point A to point B without the added expenses.
Customers have the option between three fare classes: Basic, Smart, and Premium. Basic fare, the least expensive, includes one carry-on bag (26 lbs) plus one accessory and a ticket that is changeable without fee up until the time of departure. Smart Fare includes those two options, plus one checked bag (50 lbs) and one meal included. Both of these fares have a non-refundable ticket. The Premium fare, the most expensive with the most options, includes all of the previous options but adds on an additional checked bag, snack, champagne and wine, and the ticket is refundable with a $65 fee.
Onboard, guests are given packages to choose from for the purchase of inflight WiFi provided through iZiWifi. The four packages are labeled as Hello, Social, Geek, and Addicted. Hello, allows guests 25 MB for $4, Social 50 MB for $9, Geek 120 MB for $17, and Addicted 250 MB for $29.
Utilizing a business model that offers low fares while enhancing comfortability proves to be beneficial for many travelers. The U.S. market as a whole and the LAX-ORY market, in particular, look to be a catalyst for the airline and a popular option for both American and French citizens. When asked where the main point of sale for the market is, Rochet responded, “It has been changing. When we began to sell the U.S. market to Europe, the U.S. market was stronger at 60 percent and only 40 on the French side, a result of the 2021 US economy being stronger, mechanically speaking. The U.S.’s strong relaunch and demand on the market supported this” stated Rochet. “Now the French Market is coming back and there is strong demand on the French side as people are looking to travel again to the U.S. to visit friends or family. Today we are a bit more 52, 53 percent European French and the U.S. a bit less. All of this combined when projected to the summer is doing about 80 percent load factor, so we are quite happy.”
Airline Geeks was fortunate enough to be on board the maiden flight, getting the full inflight experience, from gate to gate.
The journey for French Bee’s guests begins at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. Upon walking into terminal B, screens displaying the prominent French Bee logo appeared above the seven check-in counters utilized by the carrier.
Located at check-in area C, guests were separated into two lines, Premium Economy and Economy. Lucky for me, I was flying Premium-Economy and got to avoid a large number of guests already queued to check in on the Economy side. The process commenced at 4 pm, three hours and 45 minutes prior to departure.
Here, passengers presented both their Passport and vaccination cards to the agents, as well as checked their luggage. Following the check-in process, passengers were given a French Bee branded metal water bottle as a token of appreciation.
Security wait times were anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes for guests on today’s flight. A point to note, passengers should expect to spend a little extra time going through security when traveling with French Bee, as the carrier does not participate in TSA PreCheck.
Once through security, passengers began the ten-minute trek to gate 203, where they were greeted by the simple, yet sleek livery of the French Bee A350. Here, the carrier had set up banners, to show the significance of the event. Gate 203, located amidst gates 201-210 is all located in a very spacious area with plenty of seating, however, there were not many food and drink options available as the majority of shops that were present were closed.
A couple of hours prior to departure, the three pilots and ten flight attendants arrived at the gate, where they participated in a crew picture and crew briefing prior to boarding the aircraft.
Guests began boarding the aircraft 45 minutes prior to departure, starting with Premium Economy and families needing a little extra time and/or assistance. However, the airline did not wait long, as the rest of the guests were quick to follow, creating a free-for-all and very hectic feel to the boarding process. It was here where individuals began getting turned away until they were wearing the appropriate “surgical face mask”, a cloth mask was not sufficient. An unfortunate byproduct of a mask mandate that continues to linger and the lifting of the restriction is long overdue.
Fortunate for those passengers, other guests saved the day by offering some of their extra masks, with bids beginning at $10. The low fare may be offset by the auctioning off of your additional masks prior to your next French Bee flight (noted). What did surprise me, was the fact that the carrier did not have extra masks for individuals that did not have the correct type of mask, especially in a country where the mask mandate has been lifted altogether.
Past the ticket counter, guests were greeted with a large selection of Macaroons, a French staple. I overheard the guest next to me state, “oh how pretty, I love the different colors.” I must have missed this detail, a hapless consequence of being color blind because I’m sure they were indeed, very pretty.
The aircraft utilized for BF Flight 731 was the Airbus A350-941, registered F-HREY, a two-year-old aircraft and the aircraft of choice for the French carrier. The aircraft is one of French Bee’s five aircraft in its fleet, which includes four Airbus A350-900s and one A350-1000.
“In 2014-2015 we began to think about future goals, what will be a good place in the market, and we were considering building a low-cost long-haul French airline. Many people were not convinced. Many people would say low-cost and long-haul don’t fit very well” Rochet stated. “We thought about that, we continued to think about that, but we started. We decided to build the company from scratch” in regards to separating from their sister carrier, Air Caraibes.
The idea to start the airline from scratch was very important as it allowed them to start “perfectly clean”. “Our goal was to build the best organization entering into the long-haul market, and that is our reason behind the choice of the Airbus A350, which is probably one of the best aircraft in the market today.”
French Bee’s A350-900 consist of 411 seats, with a “Premiumblue” cabin consisting of five rows in a 2-3-2 configuration and an “Ecoblue” cabin which utilizes a tighter 3-4-3 configuration.
My first impression of seat 7A and the remainder of the 34 premium economy seats was a pleasing one. For a “lower”-cost carrier, comfortability and the ample amount of legroom offered came as a bit of a surprise. Seats in the premium economy provided passengers with a 36-inch pitch and width of 18 inches. Located at each seat is a 12-inch touch screen display along with power outlets and a USB port for each passenger.
Premium seats had the ability to recline a sizable seven inches, a nice tease to what a completely lie-flat seat might feel like. This was a pleasant feature for those looking to get a little bit of shut-eye over the Atlantic.
Passengers seated in the remaining 376 economy seats have 32 inches of pitch and a width of 16 inches. These passengers also have access to in-seat power as well as a ten-inch touch screen display.
The inflight entertainment consisted of 82 movies, 23 TV shows, 10 games, 141 albums, food and beverage options, duty-free shopping selections and an AirlineGeeks favorite option of external cameras, including the tail view, forward view, and non-functional down view.
One complaint I do have is the inability to control one’s temperature, as there are no individual air vents at each seat, a concern for those who run a little bit hot.
Within minutes onboard the aircraft, passengers in the premium economy were greeted by flight attendants offering a complimentary glass of champagne. For those who declined the offer, guests were offered an alternative soda, coffee, or tea.
At each seat was a French Bee head pillow and blanket, along with a complimentary bottle of water. The cabin crew also handed out complimentary travel kits to premium economy guests that included socks, headphones, two pairs of earplugs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and an eye mask.
Boarding doors were punctually closed at the scheduled departure time of 7:45 and the aircraft was pushed back with no delay six minutes later. By 8:07, just before sunset, the aircraft was wheels up, commencing the 10-hour red-eye journey to the city of lights.
Once through 10,000 ft and out of the sterile cockpit, flight attendants offered guests a tablet with a pre-loaded selection of newspapers, magazines, and books.
Just prior to the dinner service, approximately 20 minutes into the flight, the cabin crew handed out hot (extremely hot), moist towelettes for guests to wash their hands and/or face with.
Forty minutes into the flight, service commenced with the offering of two main courses. Passengers had the choice between beef with mac and cheese or lemon butter shrimp linguine. Each meal came with two California sushi rolls, only appropriate for the route (California), red grapes, a chocolate brownie, a Ghirardelli chocolate square, and a triangle-shaped cheese. A recommendation for future flyers, you are in for a rude awakening when you think the cheese is a piece of cake.
On this flight, I got the beef with Mac and cheese and was pleasantly surprised with the taste and quality of the meal.
Following the first meal, the cabin crew went through the cabin with a cart containing Duty-Free items for sale. This included a wide assortment of name-brand products like cologne, perfumes, cosmetics, sunglasses, jewelry, headphones etc., just about everything I look to buy when getting on a plane.
Cruise flight up until the “Brunch” service was uneventful, a term that is preferred when flying at speeds upwards of 500 knots in a metal tube, or in this case, a composite one.
For brunch, one hour and thirty minutes prior to landing, passengers were given the choice between a French toast with mixed berry and cartelized pineapple or scrambled eggs with peppers, roasted potato wedges, and chicken sausage. Both were served with blueberry Chobani yogurt, bread roll, and a raisin swirl danish, accompanied by your choice of beverage.
My decision was a bit flawed, as I thought one couldn’t go wrong with either choice, especially following the two solid choices for dinner. I was wrong. Possibly a result of the lack of sleep I got due to the two rounds of coffee I consumed, however, I did not order but received it due to my lack of French? Simply put, I did not particularly enjoy the French toast, however again, I do respect the brilliant play on food name choice on the particular route (FRENCH toast).
Following a 9-hour and 59-minute flight, BF731 touched down at 3:05 local time on Orly’s runway 06. By 3:19 we parked at gate B51 with the seat belt sign-off. Disembarking the aircraft was quick and easy due to the location in the aircraft we were situated in. The walk to passport control and baggage claim went fairly quick, and the longest part of the journey was waiting for our bags, however, who was I to complain, I was in Paris.
My first impressions of French Bee are quite good and I respect the business model. The carrier makes it clear that you will not be receiving the same experience as you would traveling with a larger, more well-known carrier, but that is the point. They are offering a product that is not offered by those carriers, a significantly reduced airfare, with the option of additional purchases along the way. This allows each passenger to tailor their experience to their own liking. It also gives individuals who prefer to pay the bare minimum, like me, the opportunity to simply get from point A to point B without the added costs that I likely wouldn’t use anyways. This may not be the ideal way of travel for some, but it opens the door to a much larger market.
I am also impressed by the carrier’s aircraft choice. One would expect a low-cost carrier to use older aircraft which utilize obviously older technology. That is not the case here. The use of the A350 offers passengers a smooth and quiet ride while benefiting passengers through the use of technology like mood-lighting which mimics sunrises and sunsets, resulting in improved sleep quality and reduction of jet lag. The comfortability of the seats along with the good selection of food makes for a bearable 10-hour journey. To top it off, the crew was extremely respectful and enjoyable on both outbound and return flights home.
The trip of course had some hiccups like boarding situation, lack of air vents, not providing appropriate masks, and lack of accommodation to the color-blind, but with as seemingly young as the carrier is, these are almost to be expected and I give them the benefit of the doubt.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and product that French Bee had to offer!