In the third installment of our monthly flight review series, Richard Holmes checks out Air France’s Premium Voyageur (Premium Economy) cabin, which launched in 2009 and is now available on all long-haul services from Europe, including A380 flights to and from Johannesburg.
Check-in: Although Air France offers a handy online check-in service, Premium Voyageur customers have access to the Business Class priority check-in desks. With a full A380 to process this is a definite plus. Premium Voyageur passengers also receive a generous baggage allowance of two pieces of luggage up to 23kg. If you’re a member of Flying Blue you’ll also earn 25 percent more loyalty miles on the booking.
Lounge & boarding: Premium Voyageur travellers don’t receive lounge access, but the dedicated gates at OR Tambo International Airport where A380 flights board offer plenty of seating. If you have a long wait before boarding, the excellent Shongololo Lounge nearby accepts paying guests (R250pp) and has free Wi-Fi, refreshments and shower rooms.
Boarding was organised and efficient, with a spacious boarding area set aside to pre-clear passengers for the flight. Unlike many other airlines, Premium Voyageur travellers do not receive priority boarding.
Flight: One of the major selling points of the Air France Premium Economy cabin is that it is precisely that – an entirely separate cabin. Situated between Economy and Business Class it has a quiet, peaceful atmosphere that immediately makes it feel more ‘premium’ than cattle class at the back.
Secondly, seats in Premium Voyageur are constructed similar to many Business Class products: every seat has a hard shell surrounding it, protecting your personal space and allowing you to recline during meal service with a clear conscience. The seats are also 20 percent wider and have 20 percent more legroom than economy class. A bottle of water, noise-reduction headphones and in-seat power add to the promise of a little more luxury.
The only letdown of the flight came during the meal service, with surly staff – no Gallic charm here – and disappointing food. A plentiful supply of fresh French baguettes was the saving grace.
Arrival: Our flight arrived on time at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. It’s a curious airport with plenty of tunnels and passageways to confuse unwary tourists, but before long I was through passport control and on my way to a connecting flight. Although the softer touches were absent on this 12-hour hop to the northern hemisphere, the hardware of Premium Voyageur certainly places it amongst the better Premium Economy products.
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