The comfy Air France Premium Economy flight from Paris to Cairo makes me rethink flying with its spacious seats and great service.
“You have time, you have time,” the Air France official cooes as he guides me to the Duty Free shops at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. I want to buy some French wine before my flight back to Cairo, but now departure time is nearing and I’m worried. There are long lines to the boarding gate. The back of my neck feels damp and my breath grows faster. My Premium Economy ticket on the Paris-Cairo flight means I can get into the SkyPriority line, an exclusive service on Air France flights. But even there the line is dangerously long.
And this is no ordinary flight. Air France had just been delivered a new Boeing 787, known as the Dreamliner because of its smooth and comfortable flights. And I’m here to experience its inaugural flight on January 9 that will take me from the French capital to Cairo International. Do I really want to risk any slip-ups just to go shopping?
I bolt toward the Duty Free, get my wine and carry it, in sweaty hands, back to the boarding gate.
For me, airports and flying don’t always get easier the more I travel. Sometimes, when you’re a frequent flyer, you just have more slip-ups under your belt. The time you missed a flight to Stockholm because it took longer than usual to get through security. The time in Bangkok when you were browsing a guidebook on birds and heard the last boarding call for a flight you thought was in an hour.
I’ve been through plenty, and experience has only made me a more worried passenger. The kind that shows up to the airport hours before take-off and obsessively checks the boarding gate numbers.
But in Paris I’m slowly learning that travel doesn’t have to be that way.
And yes, I had plenty of time. Once the SkyPriority line starts moving, we go through the doors as speedily as commuters through metro gates.
Inside the Dreamliner
Once aboard, I slip into my seat and note there’s none of the usual elbow war with my fellow passengers over who’ll get the armrest. The Air France Premium Economy cabin has seats that are 2.5 cm wider, with a recline of 130 degrees if you want to snooze. There is also plenty of legroom that lets me to stretch my legs, sore after a full day of wandering around Montmartre.
There is also Wi-Fi available for purchase. I use mine to let family know I’m on board and ok.
The safety video comes on and shows a chic attendant playfully pointing out that seatbelts help to accentuate your waistline. This nod to French culture and fashion is distinctly Air France. It comes across in the airline’s attention to cuisine and its selection of artsy documentaries.
But first, there is take-off. This part always makes me nervous, so I grab my gum and plenty of water and try to breathe steady. I wait. I get distracted by a travel story about Chile in Air France’s inflight magazine. When I look up, the plane is already off the ground and ascending in a smooth, upward line towards the sunny sky. I get a glimpse of Paris from above out the window, which in the Boeing 787 is about 30 percent larger than similar aircraft. My usual claustrophobia slowly fades as I sip a glass of champagne.
Landings are also usually stressful, especially when they’re turbulent and my ears get painfully plugged. But the Boeing 787 has a lower cabin altitude and enhanced in-flight humidity levels that make for a much smoother ride. It’s so comfortable that all I remember is watching a documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of Giselle. I wake up after the plane touches ground in Cairo.
I grab my bags and my wine and head towards baggage claim, feeling well-rested and relaxed. Normally I’d sleep early on the night after a long flight. But tonight I have dinner, unpack and share a few stories from my Parisian trip with family.
At Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2
The perks of the Boeing 787 and the Premium Economy seats can make you rethink flying. But I should have started my story earlier. Because if you also think airports are exhausting mazes and waiting times, then you should try Charles de Gaulle.
Terminal 2 boasts an art museum that was setting up a Picasso exhibit when I visited. There’s also an outdoor smoking area with walls of vibrant greenery. If you’re in transit for three hours or more, there’s the 4,500-square-meter Instant Paris lounge in Hall L. There’s a library with soft armchairs and a virtual window where you can take a 3D walk through Paris. The children’s area has an Eiffel Tower built out of wooden Kapla blocks.
It’s all so fantastic that I nearly forget my wine.
And if you’re heading to Paris and want to avoid getting lost in the tourist crowds, read my Slow Travel Guide to Paris to discover a more authentic side of the city.