On Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th January 2017, Air France celebrated the arrival of its very first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner F-HRBA by organising four welcome flights around France and some of its legendary landmarks. I could not resist the temptation of discovering this new aircraft and Air France’s improved service, so fasten your seat belts and enjoy this trip report.
In late September 2016, I was informed by various sources that Air France would organize special flights to welcome the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner as the latest addition to its fleet. After receiving confirmation from Air France via Twitter, I got feedback from the airline that tickets would go on sale in early December and that more communication would be made via social media.
In the following weeks, it became obvious that tickets for these special flights would go online earlier than communicated. Eventually, Air France announced that tickets would go on sale on Monday 28th November 2016 via a dedicated website. Tickets would not be cheap however:
- Economy: 249 euro
- Premium Economy: 349 euro
- Business: 787 euro
On Monday 28th November 2016, Air France revealed that it had decided to organise four welcome flights around France, two on Saturday 7th January 2017 and two on Sunday 8th January 2017. Each flight would fly to a very specific region of France:
|Saturday 7th January 2017
|Corsica and Mediterranean
|Saturday 7th January 2017
|South West and Gascony
|Sunday 8th January 2017
|Sunday 8th January 2017
|Flight around France
I decided to go for the fourth flight, as it seemed quite a unique experience to fly a ‘Tour de France’ in just a few hours. As Air France would also unveil their new Premium Economy product on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, I decided to purchase a Premium Economy seat ticket. Ticket sales went very fast that day, so I was lucky to be able to purchase a Premium Economy ticket next to a window.
After having booked a ticket for myself (and one for my seven-year old son), I made all other practical arrangements. I decided to travel to Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport by TGV on Saturday and stay in the Hilton Hotel at the airport.
Air France AF789 CDG-CDG (Boeing 787-9 Welcome Flight Boucle ‘Tour de France’)
Date: Sunday 8th January 2017
Flight: AF789 CDG-CDG
Aircraft Type: Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Seat: 12J (Premium Economy)
Scheduled / Effective Time of Departure: 13:30 / 13:46 (GMT+1)
Scheduled / Effective Time of Arrival: 16:00 / 16:59 (GMT+1)
Scheduled / Effective Block Time: 02 hr 30 min / 02 hr 54 min
Scheduled / Effective Flight Time: 02 hr 30 min / 02 hr 40 min
Arrival & Check-In
After a good night’s sleep at the Hilton Hotel, I took the free shuttle service to the airport. I arrived at Terminal 2E around 11:30 in the morning, some two hours before departure. As I had already seen quite some spectacular photos and reports of the first welcome flights on social media such as Twitter, I was aware that a dedicated check-in area would be available for this flight. However, when walking into the departure hall of the terminal, I did not see any special check-in counters, nor did the FIDS display a special zone for this flight. Hence, I opted to go to the information desks. To my big surprise, the ladies at the information desks were unaware of any special Air France flights and did not see the flight on their screens. They adviced me to go to the Air France desks instead. Fortunately, when walking back to the Air France Desk, I noticed a big ‘Air France Welcome 787’ display near the Skypriority check-in zone. How could I have overlooked this?
I was kindly welcomed by the check-in agents and was personally guided to the check-in counter. After a swift check-in, I received my boarding pass and a complimentary booklet with more detailed information on the new Air France Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. I was also informed that I could make use of a special Boeing 787 Welcome Flight / Skyppriority lane at the border and security control posts. As a result, I did not have to queue and arrived at gate M44 just few moments later.
Exclusive Photo Shoot
As the entry of a new aircraft in the Air France is an event that marks the company’s history, the airline decided to celebrate the arrival of its first Boeing 787 by organising an exclusive photo shoot at the foot of the aircraft by renowned photographer Sacha Goldberger. He would immortalize the passengers before they board, representing them as heroes in front of the Dreamliner.
Upon arriving at the gate, I could see that the photo shoot was already in full progress, but as I was also travelling with my son and had quite some carry-on luggage, I decided to skip the hassle and just enjoy the nice views of the magnificent Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner being prepared for its fourth welcome flight.
Shortly after 13:00, all passengers were invited to queue for boarding, which was about to begin. Although gate M44 is equipped with automatic boarding gates, boarding was done manually by Air France gate agents. As soon as my boarding pass and ID were cross-checked, I was kindly welcomed by Air France representatives and made my way to the jetway, where I was again welcomed for this unique flight by Air France hosts.
The jetway was positioned at door L2, which is quite normal for the Boeing 787. Upon reaching the aircraft, passengers were once again kindly welcomed by the cabin crew who explained very thoroughly where our seat was located in the aircraft cabin. Business passengers had to go to the left, Premium Economy and Economy passengers had to go to the right.
I have already seen a few Boeing 787 Dreamliner cabin interiors, but I keep on getting impressed by the beauty of a fresh, brand-new and clean cabin interior. For Air France, the Boeing 787 has many assets:
- The latest Air France cabins – a cocoon in the sky in the Business cabin (30 seats), and comfort for all in the new Premium Economy cabin (21 seats) and in Economy (225 seats);
- A Wi-Fi connection on board adapted to the requirements and habits of customers (from 20MB to 200MB for a price ranging between €5 and €30);
- Additional comfort and space with the new Premium Economy seats;
- Windows that are approximately 30% larger than on similar aircraft;
- A lower cabin altitude and enhanced in-flight humidity levels for greater travel comfort.
I made my way to seat 12J, which is an aisle seat on the last row of the Premium Economy section of the aircraft cabin. I immediately noticed the Air France goodie bag, containing a 1/200 scale detailed aircraft model of F-HRBA and other special souvenir gifts. A nice way to start a unique flight.
The Premium Economy section consists of 21 seats: 3 rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. My first impression of the Premium Economy seat was very positive. It features a more spacious seat, a seat recline of up to 130° within a fixed shell, more leg room and additional storage areas which are very handy to stow e.g. your mobile phone. It also features an individual reading light, a tray table with a groove for posting a digital tablet or book, an electric socket and a USB port and high-quality headphones. A complimentary water bottle was also already available upon boarding.
All Premium Economy passengers also received the new Air France Premium Economy comfort kit, containing:
- Headphone protectors;
- Ear plugs;
- Toothbrush and toothpaste;
- Pair of socks;
- Eye mask.
After boarding was completed, all individual Premium Economy passengers were welcomed by the chief cabin crew member who was in charge of this cabin section. We also received a very nice booklet with more flight details and the special menu for today’s flight.
Few moments later, all doors were closed and we were officially welcomed over the PA by the Captain and the other cabin crew members. Safety instructions were given via a video on our personal screens.
At 13:46, we pushed back from our gate and everybody was ready for a great experience onboard the new Air France Dreamliner.
During our short taxi to the active takeoff runway, we got to see a short video in which we were welcomed by astronaut Thomas Pesquet, a European Space Agency astronaut of French nationality who is currently on a six-month mission to the International Space Station.
After the takeoff of a Middle East Airlines A330, we taxied onto runway 26R and took off at 14:05. I was amazed by the very gentle acceleration, so I can only assume the pilots used a derated takeoff thrust setting to limit the wear and tear on the two new General Electric Genx engines.
Local weather conditions were not favourable that day, with limited visibility and a low cloud base. Hence, we disappeared into the clouds only few seconds after takeoff. After we climbed through a second layer of low clouds, we finally could see the sun again and made a gentle turn to the left, and commenced our southbound routing towards Geneva.
As soon as we reached FL100, the fasten seatbelt sign was turned off and many passengers commenced their tour of the cabin to explore all the features of this brand new aircraft. I made a nice chat with one of the female cabin crew members and other aviation enthusiasts. Unfortunately, just few moments later a lot of passengers were already blocking the aisles and galleys, so it became a bit difficult to move around in the aircraft. Nevertheless, all Air France cabin crew members remained very professional and were fully aware that this was a special flight where people would walk around the cabin more than usual. At a certain moment a cabin crew member spilled some coffee on a tray, but he didn’t get upset. He started to smile, made some jokes with his colleagues, and went into the galley again to make a new coffee for one of the Business Class passengers.
During the first phase of our flight, we got more announcements and information from the cockpit. We also got very detailed in-flight commentary by Bernard Chabbert, an expert journalist from the world of aviation. He answered some questions from passengers, explained the new features of the Dreamliner but also gave more information on how one can become a civil pilot in France.
By the time we reached our cruising altitude of FL330, the cabin crew was already busy serving the meals for this special flights. For Premium Economy passengers, the menu was:
- Comté cheese, ham, butter and mustard sandwich;
- Mini tomato and basil flan;
- Cheese gougère;
- Box of chocolates;
- Pink praline financier;
- Chocolate cream puff;
- Fruit salad.
Drinks included red and white wine, as well a small bottle of champagne. Quite a classy way to inaugurate this brand new aircraft, don’t you think?
Before I started to enjoy my delicious meal, I quickly headed to the left side of the aircraft, as the Captain announced that we had just passed Geneva and that this side of the aircraft could enjoy spectacular views of the Alps and the Mont Blanc.
As I enjoyed my excellent meal, we headed to the South of France and weather conditions finally started to improve a bit while we slowly descended to FL270. At 15:00 we reached the southern coast of France and all passengers had magnificent views of the Rhône river, the Parc Naturel Régional Camargue and the city of Montpellier.
Few moments later, we made a gentle turn to the right over the Mediterranean Sea, and initiated a further descent to FL200. We flew over the city of Béziers and had some nice views of the Parc Naturel Régional Du Haute Languedoc before heading north again towards Nantes.
Personal in-flight entertainment (IFE) including audio & video on demand (AVOD) has certainly become a standard with most legacy carriers nowadays. Therefor, it was time to explore what Air France has to offer. I was quite amazed by the big touch screens. The 3D Airshow proved to be quite stunning, as one can zoom in/out, pan and tilt the screen in a very intuitive way. There is no option to install exterior cameras on the aircraft, so there’s no possibility for passengers to enjoy some exterior views during takeoff, cruise or landing.
The cinema option offers a wide selection of some of the latest movies that have recently been published. When you’re travelling with young children, there’s a wide choice of animation movies to entertain even the youngest passengers on a longhaul flight. The TV option allows passengers to see some of the latest sitcoms. If you’re not interested in movies or TV shows, you can also listen to a wide selection of music or even play games such as chess.
The IFE even allows you to communicate with other passengers onboard the aircraft via text messages. A nice feature if, for one reason or another, you are not able to sit together with other members of your family, friends or relatives.
As already mentioned, another nice feature of the Air France Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is the onboard Wi-Fi connection. I decided to try it out, so that I could for example post a tweet or even make a quick FaceTime call. Unfortunately, the onboard Wi-Fi connection was not free for this special welcome flight, and I had no voucher nor did I have an Air France account. Eventually, I gave up trying to connect my mobile phone to the Internet and decided to continue enjoying the actual flight instead.
A cabin crew member had noticed that my son had not received his special Air France kids travel kit yet. Immediately afterwards she returned with one of these travel kits and apologized for the inconvenience. Another kind gesture by the crew members. This kids travel kit consists of a nice stylish bag featuring red, blue, green and yellow birds, and contains a memory game, a set of five colouring pencils and a card game called ‘My Air Traffic Controller Game’. Few moments later, my son also received a ‘First Flight Certificate’ signed by the Captain of this flight. It wasn’t his first flight, but still another much appreciated kind gesture by the friendly crew members.
In the meantime, we had gained some altitude again and were now cruising at FL320 over the city of Nantes. Unfortunately, meteorological conditions had decreased again, so it was impossible to enjoy views of the French countryside. But fortunately, I never fail to be amazed by the beauty of the world above the clouds…
Around 16:05, we were flying over another famous French landmark, the Mont Saint-Michel, but it was impossible to get any view of this amazing island commune in Normandy, France. At the same time, there was a new announcement by the Captain over the PA. We were given some final flight information and were informed that we would reach our top of descent shortly.
Some eight minutes later, we started heading east and commenced our initial descent into Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport. Twenty minutes later, we made a ninety degrees right turn and were on a base leg for RWY 27R, while still flying above the clouds. After a smooth final approach we made a firm landing on the active landing runway at 16:45. All passengers applauded for the good landing as well as the excellent service during this welcome flight. After vacating the runway the Captain even made a small joke on the PA, informing the passengers that he had stopped making soft landings after a female cabin crew member had complained to him about it.
At 16:59 we came to a complete stop at gate M44 again, the very same gate where we had departed some 3 hours and 13 minutes earlier. Upon leaving the aircraft I congratulated all crew members with the new aircraft and their exceptional service. When entering the airside departure hall again, all passengers received a unique flight certificate as a souvenir. A very kind gesture by Air France.
I am very glad I could experience this Air France Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner welcome flight and would like to show my deepest respect for everyone at Air France who helped to organise this event. Thank you very much for this amazing flight, and I’m already looking forward to board this beautiful aircraft again in the future.
8 January 2017
Photos: copyright © Ivan Coninx unless stated otherwise