Warning: Air France A350-900 premium economy is infuriatingly cozy

Warning: Air France A350-900 premium economy is infuriatingly cozy

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Air France A350-900 premium economy ain’t all that. It was easily the most cramped I’ve ever felt in a long haul premium economy seat.

It wasn’t completely terrible though. The dinner service was decent. The in-flight entertainment (minus the ultra cheap headphones) was quite good. And the mood lighting? I can’t decide if it was “sexy chic” or “totally kick a**.” It works either way.

Unfortunately, all of that stuff means little when the total stranger in front of you is lying in your crotch for the entire flight. Seat recline is that good bad.

AF137
Chicago, IL (ORD) – Paris, France (CDG)
Thursday, January 18, 2024
Aircraft: A350-941
Registration: F-HTYF
Duration: 7 hours 2 minutes
Seat: 11H (Premium Economy)

Air France A350-900 (F-HTYF) side view
Air France A350-900 (F-HTYF) side view illustration by NorebboStock.com.
af137 flight track
Our route from Chicago to Paris this evening as AF137.

My full review of Air France A350-900 premium economy from Chicago to Paris

The nice thing about flying to Europe in the dead of winter is how cheap it is. I paid just $922.10 for this 4153 mi (6684 km) flight, which I consider low for long haul premium economy these days. At least on a major airline such as Air France.

Arrival at Terminal 5 (O’Hare Airport)

Staying the night at the ORD Hilton required nothing more than taking the train from Terminal 3 to 5. It was exactly the kind of short and sweet airport commute that I like (minus the bitter cold).

I won’t even comment about the fact that I arrived 5(!) hours before the scheduled departure time to Paris. There’s nothing I could say that would fully justify that type of insanity.

Terminal 5 Chicago O'Hare International Airport
Welcome to Terminal 5 at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport! FYI, there’s a butt-clenchng (and nipple-hardening) 70° temperature difference between the outside and the inside today.
Airside terminal 5 ORD
“Aaahhhhhhhh….” Not only did I make it through the security checkpoint in less than five minutes, feeling the butt cheeks unclench (and the ‘ol nips stand down) made this a moment to remember.
SANspotter selfie terminal 5 Chicago O'Hare airport
Here I am having flashbacks to my last Terminal 5 experience (right before flying Turkish Airlines 777-300ER economy to Istanbul). I’ll spare you the details, but I was disappointed in myself for not remembering how dull this terminal is. Pro tip: you’ll be bored to tears if you show up too early.
Gate M20 terminal 5 ORD
Gate M20 is where this flight to Paris will be departing from today. I wonder what the rationale was for trying so dang hard to make this look like the psych ward down at the local penitentiary? They succeeded magnificently.
Air France A350-900 ORD
There she is! Fashionably late, but as stunning as ever. Typical of most French females, I guess.
Air France A350-900 ORD close up
Call me weird (and perhaps culturally insensitive based on my last comment), but I love the simplicity of the Air France livery. It looks fantastic on the A350-900.
Gate M20 seats and waiting area O'Hare airport terminal 5
I didn’t know it at the time, but these seats here at gate M20 look a bit like the premium economy seats I’m about to show you. Keep scrolling…

The boarding process for AF137 to Paris

Of course the flight was delayed. A late departure is almost guaranteed whenever I show up embarrassingly early for a flight, so I had no reason to be surprised by this. Boarding started 45 minutes behind schedule – but it looked to be a fairly light load of passengers in the gate area. It’s hard to feel frustrated with the prospect of open middle seats, right?

Boarding Air France flight to Paris gate M20 ORD terminal 5
OK, yeah, we’re about an hour behind schedule so far. But the caviar and champagne we’ll be served once onboard will no doubt right this mildly annoying wrong.
Air France premium economy boarding pass
Sorry, no, I have no idea what kind of champagne and caviar they serve in premium economy. But I hold up my boarding pass in giddy anticipation nonetheless!
Gate M20 jet bridge T5 O'Hare airport and Air France A350-900 forward boarding door
Just as how a watched pot never boils, why is the jet bridge always clogged when you’re about to try something fun and exciting?

The seats

Upon first glance, the Air France A350 premium economy seats look fantastic. The colors and textures appear to be fairly high-end, and very much on brand. It was unmistakably “Air France”.

Air France A350-900 premium economy cabin
I’ve arrived! This 3 row mini-cabin (in a 2-4-2 configuration) represents the entirety of Air France A350-900 premium economy.
Air France A350-900 premium economy bulkhead row
This is the bulkhead row (row 10). See? I wasn’t kidding when I said that these seats kinda look like the ones back in the gate area.
Air France A350-900 premium economy aisle seat 11H
This one is mine. Seat 11H (and that poor old lady) have no idea what’s in store for them over the next 7 hours.
Air France A350-900 premium economy blankets and pillows
Nice! These look to be halfway decent blankets and pillows. No sign of caviar yet.

Also worth noting was that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate how tight the leg room was at first. It seemed fine, though not as spacious as what other airlines are offering. The severity of the situation didn’t hit me until after takeoff (when the guy in front of me went full recline).

Air France A350-900 premium economy leg room
Uh oh. This is definitely less leg room than what I experienced in Lufthansa A350-900 premium economy. How will I ever survive?
Air France A350-900 premium economy seat width
Seat width is pretty good though. I’m going to be quite comfortable when indulging in that caviar!
Air France A350-900 premium economy tray table in center armrest
“Let’s see…I can put the champagne on that tray table while holding the caviar. OR… I can put the caviar on the tray table, and hold the champagne.” Decisions decisions…
Air France A350-900 premium economy bulkhead row 10 aisle seat
Hmm. It seems as if the bulkhead row (10) is the solution to the legroom problem. Noted for next time.
Air France A350-900 premium economy row 11 window seat
Those of you thinking something along the lines of “Hey, this doesn’t look so bad!” need to keep reading. Spoiler alert: it gets bad.
Air France A350-900 premium economy video screens
The seats themselves are actually fairly feature-rich. There are huge video screens and adjustable lights in the headrests…
Air France A350-900 premium economy USB charging ports
…USB-A charging ports in the center armrests (which may or may not be a little grimy)…
Air France A350-900 premium economy audio and power ports
…and another USB-A charging port (plus a 3.5mm audio jack) beneath the video screen. I’m especially fond of the graphic depicting the large DD bra located beneath every seat.
Air France A350-900 premium economy foot rest, headphones, and blanket
Oh – and let’s not forget the adjustable foot rests, cheap (non-noise canceling) headphones, and a closer look at that thicc a** blanket. I could’ve lived without the foot rest and headphones, but I wouldn’t have given up the blanket without a fight. #comeatmebro
Air France A350-900 premium economy amenity kit
Amenity kits too! The most surprising thing about this is the fact that it was just about as nice as the amenity kit that I got in Air France 777-300/ER business class last year. Merci very much!
SANspotter sitting in Air France A350-900 premium economy
Champagne and caviar update: they came by with champagne, water, and orange juice a few moments ago. They must need more time to prepare the caviar…

The departure from ORD

Just when I was starting to realize how difficult it would be to get departure footage from the vantage point of an aisle seat, they fired up the mood lighting machine (and cranked it up to 10). That’s one way to get me to forget about the fact that we took off 47 minutes late.

Feet on bulkhead wall Air France A350-900 premium economy
At least he’s comfortable, right?
Air France A350-900 premium economy mood lighting
Holy crap! That’s some serious mood lighting. Thus begins Act II of this long-haul premium economy review.
Air France A350-900 premium economy blue and pink mood lighting
The mood lighting was so intense that I could feel it in my body, mind, and soul. Who needs LSD when the Air France A350 exists?
SANspotter enjoying the mood lighting in Air France A350-900 premium economy
Wanna know what would go great with all this mood lighting? Hint: it starts with “cav” and ends with “iar”.
Air France A350-900 taking off from Chicago O'Hare airport
Lift off! Looks like we’ll be Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeering our way all the way to Paris tonight.

In-flight entertainment

To any non-Air France airline executives who may be reading this review (I have a vivid imagination, eh?), take note. The Air France A350 in-flight entertainment system is what you’re competing against. It’s good. Real good.

Air France A350-900 premium economy seat recline
Well, that sucks. Just as I was beginning to get footage of the in-flight entertainment system for this review, the guy in front of me slammed his seat all the way back. I’ll spare you the expletives and just tell you that the screen will be REALLY close to your face (and genitals) in this situation.
Air France A350-900 premium economy in-flight entertainment system main menu
I refuse to accept defeat. Here’s an extreme close-up of the main menu. Count those pixels baby!

The screens are large, highly adjustable, and super crisp. The user interface is extremely intuitive. Most importantly, the catalog of content contains everything that you would expect on one of the world’s greatest airlines.

Air France A350-900 premium economy in-flight entertainment system screens
The clean and simple user interface easily offset the pure hatred negativity I was feeling towards the guy sitting in front of me. This is one of the better in-flight entertainment systems I’ve tinkered with recently.
Air France A350-900 premium economy in-flight entertainment system dinner menu screen
Having a dedicated section for the menu is a feature I quite liked. No mention of caviar – which makes total sense IMHO, because this is a French airline after all (and it’s a given that caviar will be served at some point).
Air France A350-900 premium economy adjustable video screens
I’ll talk more about seat recline later in the review (I can’t freaking wait), but rest assured that the video screens do pivot to offset the angle of recline.
Air France A350-900 premium economy complementary headphones
The headphones? They don’t suck quite as bad as how tight this seat feels right now.
Air France A350-900 premium economy audio jacks and full-size electrical outlets located between the seats
Dang it. Perhaps I should have showed you where the audio jacks (and full-size electrical outlets) were before recline bro did his thing.
Air France A350-900 premium economy entertainment system remote control
I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an entertainment system remote control with a digital display before. At least not on an airline. And definitely not before eating caviar.

The dinner service

Most airlines seem to be in a race to the bottom when it comes to premium economy food. I was feeling a little anxious seeing that meal cart rolling down the aisle, but I we made hopeful that the French still care about this sort of thing.

Long story short: they do! Food quality was excellent, portions were decent, and the service was friendly (although noticeably rushed).

Air France A350-900 premium economy hand wipes
They kicked off the meal service this evening with a little DOUCE FRAICHEUR action. Nope, these little towelettes may not be hot, but that name sure is. I’m curiously aroused by this.
Air France A350-900 premium economy dinner tray
Ok. I haven’t even peeled the cover off the entrée yet, but I’m already declaring this to be better than the food I was recently served in ANA 777-300/ER premium economy. It’s just giving me that kind of vibe.
Air France A350-900 premium economy veal dinner entrée
It’s veal (arguably the most inhumane kind of meat there is). Why did it have to taste so damn good?
Air France A350-900 premium economy dinner salad
Salad, I think? The intensity of the mood lighting has rendered my food identifying skills null.
Air France A350-900 premium economy red wine
This stuff goes good with caviar, right?
SANspotter eating dinner in Air France A350-900 premium economy
I’m not a vegetarian (and I have no plans of becoming one), but…the fact that a baby cow had to sacrifice it’s life for my sorry a** was not making this easy. I should’ve went with the Pumpkin Gratin option instead.
Drinking wine in Air France A350-900 premium economy
Cheers to the impending caviar (and the a**hole in front of me who left his seat fully reclined during the entire meal service).

Seat recline (and cabin comfort)

So yeah. Let’s talk a little more about that seat recline. It all comes down to this: if you’re the person doing the reclining, it’s nothing short of fantastic. If you’re the person being reclined into, it’s frustrating as all hell. I don’t tend to get claustrophobic, but I was definitely starting to feel it about halfway through the flight.

Air France A350-900 premium economy cramped seats
This is easily the most cramped long-haul premium economy seat I’ve ever experienced. For context, even Delta A350-900 Premium Select is more spacious than this!
Air France A350-900 premium economy seat recline angle
Here’s a better picture showing the full extent of the annoying (yet admittedly glorious) seat recline. RIP to anyone not privileged enough to be in the bulkhead row.
Air France A350-900 premium economy annoying seat recline
Maybe I should’ve went with British Airways A350-1000 premium economy (Club Traveler) instead? Nah. They don’t serve caviar on BA.

These seats were so cramped that the sweet old lady sitting next to me couldn’t even get out to use the lavatory because of the reclined seats in front of her. Which, if I’m being honest, shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who flies this airline on a regular basis. Did you see how tight the legroom was in my Air France A321 economy review? They are notoriously stingy when it comes to seat pitch – no matter what type of aircraft it is.

Air France A350-900 premium economy sleeping passengers
FYI, they eventually turned off the mood lighting (because it can’t be hot ‘n sexy all the time I guess).
Air France A350-900 rear galley
Screw premium economy. Maybe I’ll just bring a lawn chair and camp out here in the galley instead. This is kinda nice!
Air France A350-900 premium economy lavatory
Is there anything more French than seeing perfumes and flowery lotions in an airplane lavatory? Not as much as seeing caviar on my tray table when I get back to my seat, that’s for sure.

The breakfast service

Muffins and orange juice for breakfast. Welcome to premium economy in 2024! It wasn’t all that long ago when I remember getting a full plate of eggs and sausage for breakfast in economy class on long haul lights. Now? Well… all I can say is that at least Air France is being consistent with what most other airlines are offering. 

There are exceptions though. How is it that you’ll get more food in Norse Atlantic Premium Class than Air France premium economy? Make it make sense!

Air France A350-900 premium economy breakfast pack
Here we go – not only has the mood lighting returned, it looks like it’s gonna be carbs (and coffee) for breakfast. Mmm!
Air France A350-900 premium economy breakfast
For some reason or another I was expecting the breakfast service to be somewhat on par with what I was served in Air France A220-300 business class. Swing and a (big fat) miss.
Air France A350-900 premium economy breakfast muffin
And for those of you who think I complain too much, go have a look at the breakfast service in my EVA Air 777-300/ER premium economy review. I’m not wrong to be a little salty about this.
Air France A350-900 forward facing camera
At least I had some nice scenery to look at as I dribbled dry muffin crumbs into my lap.

The descent and arrival into the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

God bless technology! Even if the breakfast service wasn’t all that great, having a high resolution camera feed of the outside world directly in front of my face during the descent and landing was pretty cool. I didn’t miss a thing (except for the 29 minutes lost in our delayed arrival into CDG of course).

Air France A350-900 premium economy bulkhead row video screen
Aha! It took about 6 hours, but I finally discovered something about the bulkhead row which isn’t as good as the other seats. Tiny video screens! Sitting next to that huge window (looking out to some of the most spectacular scenery Mother Nature has to offer) must’ve been miserable as well.
Air France A350-900 tail camera
I’m not even kidding about them views. Here we have mother nature trying her absolute best to out-sexy the mood lighting. Ooh la la!
Air France A350-900 landing at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport
Bienvenue à Paris! 19 minutes late, eh? That’s actually not bad considering our 45 minute late departure from Chicago.
Air France A350-900 premium economy passengers gathering carry-on bags end of flight
So what’s the verdict on the premium economy seats? Judging by how badly that sweet old lady is fighting to get out of her seat, I (we) recommend springing for business class instead.
Deplaning Air France A350-900 with carry-on bag
Honestly, my only real gripe was the lack of leg room. The breakfast service was disappointing (for sure), but the caviar they’ll be serving us as we exit the plane is going to make up for it.
SANspotter walking up jet bridge at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport
Blurred for your convenience (because the impending caviar had me drooling in a not so attractive way).
Air France A350-900 at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport
That’s all folks! One last pic before the caviar (which I assume is coming right before we enter passport control).

Pros and cons of the premium economy experience on the Air France A350-900

Let me just leave you with this: this isn’t a horrible long haul premium economy product. It’s also pretty darn far from being the best. The only way that I would do it again is if I found an incredibly good deal (one that would be borderline criminal to pass up).

Pros

  • It’ll be a very good experience if you can score a bulkhead row seat. Not having someone in front of you reclining into your lap will make all the difference!
  • Seat recline (as the person doing the reclining) is fantastic.
  • The main meal service (served immediately after departure) is quite good.
  • The in-flight entertainment is what I consider to be class-leading.

Cons

  • Seat recline (as the person being reclined into) sucks harder than you can possibly imagine.
  • Leg room is quite tight compared to other long-haul premium economy products.
  • The breakfast service was quite disappointing. Make sure to bring your own snacks if a substantial pre-landing meal is important to you.
  • Cleanliness might be an issue. The aircraft I was on was filthy AF. (See what I did there?)

Comments (10)

  1. Jazzsd19

    February 16, 2024
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      February 16, 2024
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    February 23, 2024
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      February 24, 2024
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    March 17, 2024
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      March 18, 2024
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      March 20, 2024
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    March 26, 2024
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      March 26, 2024

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