For my most recent trip to Istanbul the fares were heavily skewed in favor of starting a round trip on the Europe side rather than the US side. That also meant I needed a one-way ticket into Turkey and, thanks to the Flying Blue Promo Awards I had the option to fly Air France‘s Premium Economy for 25,000 points and ~$200. Given that the economy award was only $80 less in taxes/fees I simply looked at the situation as a cheap upgrade and took the deal, hoping that the Premium Economy option would present a slightly better night’s sleep for the quick JFK-Paris overnight. A number of friends tried to warn me off, suggesting that the product was a miserable debacle of awfulness. So maybe my expectations were too low to begin with, but putting aside the part where I lost my wallet on the plane, it was actually a pretty decent trip.
Departing JFK T1 during the evening bank of flights is nearly as bad as leaving T8 around the same time. I would not wish such experiences on any but my worst enemies and even then the Geneva Convention may come into play. Still, after ~40 minutes fighting with TSA lines I was in the sparse terminal (no lounge access for Premium Economy and no status for me) and shortly thereafter boarding commenced for the overnight flight. Boarding meant passing through the first class and business class cabins en route to my seat. During the check-in process upgrades to business were offered for ~$450. Seeing the product on board I’m very happy I didn’t pay the extra for such.
I was warned that the seats weren’t especially comfortable nor spacious. And I suppose that’s true (though the first row has plenty of legroom). The hard shell articulating seat means losing a bit of legroom as you recline but also no one reclining in to your personal space. I still fit in OK when fully reclined and it was a decent enough position that I was comfy. And it is significantly more space than the regular economy seat offers. That makes a difference for a comfy night’s sleep, or whatever approximates such on a TATL redeye flight.
I did stay awake long enough for dinner, not because I was particularly hungry but because I wanted to see what the upgraded meal service was like. I don’t know what the economy class options were but this looked and tasted a lot like what I expect it probably was. Which is to say the meal was not anything better than what I would expect to receive in economy, though I suppose the salmon appetizer is an upgrade from the normal option. The menu says it is “exclusively designed for the Premium Economy cabin” for what that’s worth. The meal service wasn’t the fastest, something I value immensely on the redeye flights if I’m going to eat. Given the quality and speed I’d say skipping it is generally a better idea if you can get a meal before heading to the airport (or somehow manage to find something edible in T1).
The seat itself was why I paid extra and, well, call it mixed results. The amenity kit is cute and there is definitely more recline, pitch and width than the economy offerings. But it also is a bit limited in the positions available and not especially well padded. I can understand why some might not like it, particularly for a daytime flight. I slept through breakfast per usual and woke up in time for landing at CDG and making my connection onward to Istanbul. IFE is no different in the Air France Premium Economy cabin than in coach and it was far from impressive. The hard-wired headphones were definitely abused but sufficient for the task at hand. Thankfully I had little use for it on the overnight flight.
Premium Economy passengers are afforded SkyPriority access which helped shrink the security line and got me back into the departures terminal quite quickly; I had plenty of time to panic about the missing wallet before making my way to the onward departures gate for the narrow-body flight on to Istanbul.
The Premium Economy section on my flight was a single row wedged in between EuroBiz and economy. I had a window seat and zero issues leaning my head against the wall and passing out for the first half of the flight, skipping lunch in favor of catching up on the sleep I was shorted the night before. Perhaps the most impressive part of the service came at the end of the flight. I woke up with just under an hour to go until arrival in Istanbul. The flight attendant noticed me stirring and immediately came over with the offer of lunch. She heated it up and I was served a meal which was better than dinner the night prior.
Overall I think the experiment was a success, but mostly because of the price point. I do not think the Air France Premium Economy product is worth double the points of regular economy class service, not by a long shot. But if you can score it on a promo award (or a cheap cash upgrade versus the going rate for a paid ticket) then spending $100-200 on it might not be such a bad decision versus the ride a bit further back in the plane.
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