By Taylor Rains
Onboard French bee’s Inaugural Flight from Newark to Paris-Orly
After hustling through a challenging pandemic, Paris-based French bee has finally started service between New York and Paris. The airline launched its inaugural flight on Thursday, July 15 with a seven-hour, 20-minute red-eye to Paris Orly Airport, the city’s secondary airport.
The new route is scheduled to operate on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with the outbound departing at 10:55 p.m and arriving in Paris at 12:20 p.m. the following day. The return will leave Orly at 6:25 p.m. with arrival in Newark at 9:00 p.m.
The low-cost carrier initially planned to launch the route in mid-2020 but postponed it due to the pandemic. According to French bee CEO Marc Rochet, it was not an easy year and the company faced many difficulties throughout the pandemic, but getting to New York was a top priority.
“We have a commercial structure in the U.S. and we are ready to launch to New York. French bee is looking at providing U.S. customers with one of the best airplanes flying, the Airbus A350, and having the cheapest product possible,” he explained. “We are focused on building from a white sheet of paper – a small, French airline designed to deliver the best value for a product. We do this by eliminating business and creating a great economy class.”
Despite the setbacks, the flight is now live and is expected to attract leisure travelers with cheap fares between the two cities. Airline Geeks was onboard French bee’s maiden flight and got a firsthand account of its gate-to-gate experience.
French bee’s check-in area sits between the Spirit Airlines and Delta Air Lines ticket counters in Terminal B. The blue color scheme stood out in the space and the screens clearly displayed French bee’s name and logo.
I was particularly impressed with the company’s check-in process, which had separate lines for economy and premium passengers and a dedicated customer support counter.
At the counter, passengers could get their boarding pass and drop their luggage. Checked bags cost extra for French bee’s Basic fare, which only comes with a 26-pound carry-on bag and one personal item. However, passengers who opt for the Smart fare will get a 50-pound checked bag, while Premium passengers get two checked bags.
After check-in, we headed to security. Fair warning — security wait times at Newark’s Terminal B can be painfully long. Most passengers waited over an hour to pass through the checkpoint, and there are no options for TSA Pre-Check or Clear. If you want to avoid the stress, consider purchasing French bee’s line jump option, which is included in the premium fare.
Because there were several passengers unable to get through security in time for boarding, French bee held the flight for a short time to accommodate them. One passenger I spoke with on the aircraft praised the airline for their service, saying they were delayed on a different airline out of Salt Lake City and missed the bag drop time for French bee. However, the carrier went above and beyond to get his family’s bags on the aircraft and ensured they made the flight. That experience alone will guarantee his business going forward.
French bee departs from gates 51- 57, which is just a short walk from the security checkpoint. While the gate area does not have a lot to offer, it does have plenty of charging ports, a restaurant and a grab-and-go shop.
With a departure time of 10:55 p.m., boarding of the Airbus A350-900XWB began at 9:45 p.m. At the gate, French bee was clearly displayed on the screens at gate 53.
For boarding, there were two lines to separate premium and economy customers. People with disabilities and families with children were directed to board first, and premium passengers boarded second. After that, economy class was allowed on.
To celebrate the inaugural flight, employees handed out French and American flags to customers to wave as they boarded the flight to Paris.
French bee is the first airline to operate a fleet of only Airbus A350-900XWB aircraft, which are fitted with a modern design and comfort-enhancing technology. The aircraft is configured with 10 seats abreast in a 3-4-3 layout in economy and 2-3-2 in premium.
“We chose the A350 because of its global comfort. It doesn’t vibrate or make much noise, and most of French bee’s aircraft fly at 40,000 feet, which is above the weather,” Rochet explained. He also explained that the new generation plane is extremely fuel-efficient, presenting cost-saving opportunities for the airline over alternatives.
When asked about the 10-abreast seats, he explained that the four seats in the middle help keep couples and families together, instead of being split up by the aisle.
“Economy is configured into 3-4-3 which is better than 3-3-3 because a lot of people travel in twos, threes and fours. So, having the four middle seats compensates for that because it keeps them together,” he said. “This is also the point where we can reduce our costs and pricing. We have a bit more dense cabin so we have much better pricing than the competition. We are not focusing on people who want the extra space or extra stuff, we are targeting people who want to pay less.”
On the outbound journey, I was seated in seat 15C in economy, and it was relatively comfortable for a seven-hour trip across the Atlantic. The generous 32-inch seat pitch was spacious, and the seat also featured a power port underneath, though the 10-abreast seating forced a tight squeeze. Nevertheless, I did not feel too cramped seated in the aisle, though I can imagine the middle seats could get uncomfortable after seven hours.
I was able to sleep some during the flight. The seats recline, and the airline provides a blanket and headrest, which kept me cozy. The aircraft also features mood lighting to help improve sleep and reduce jet lag. Overall, the quality of rest will vary from person to person, but you get what you pay for — this is a budget airline after all.
Every passenger had access to seatback TV screens, which is not always offered even on some legacy carriers. I had access to plenty of movies, TV shows, music and games. The aircraft is also fitted with external cameras on the tail and nose, which was a unique touch.
As far as inflight service, passengers who booked French bee’s “Smart” economy fare will receive a complimentary meal. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay for food.
The outbound is red-eye, so passengers are served a light dinner an hour after takeoff and breakfast about an hour and a half before landing. Overall, the meals were surprisingly good, though the eggs could have tasted fresher. For dinner, we were served chicken stew, pasta, a baguette, a brownie and carrot cake. Meanwhile, breakfast was a filling plate that included sausage, eggs, potatoes, a roll, Oreos and a croissant.
In addition to the meals, passengers are offered juice, soda and water, but could pay for alcohol, snacks and other specialty drinks through the menu on the seatback screens.
The company does provide WiFi onboard for a fee. For simple internet needs, passengers can opt for the “Hello” or “Social” WiFi plans. Meanwhile, for those that need access for longer, they can choose from “Geek” or “Addicted.”
We landed at Paris-Orly a little behind schedule but were quickly disembarked and directed to customs. Passport control was a quick, simple process, and French bee’s baggage claim is conveniently located right after immigration.
French bee has made its presence known at Paris-Orly. Its check-in area has been modernized with kiosks that allow passengers to check-in electronically and receive a boarding pass and luggage tag.
Customers can then head to the ticket counter to seamlessly drop their bags and head to the gate. It is not uncommon for the regular economy bag drop line to be very long, so plan to be at the airport at least three hours before departure.
There is also a line dedicated to premium passengers, which was quick and easy to get through.
If you have any day-of-travel needs, French bee has a customer service counter next to its check-in area, which it shares with its sister airline Air Caraibes.
Traveling to the U.S. requires a negative covid test, which can be done at the airport before departure. French bee, Air Caraibes and Corsair have partnered with Biogroup to provide rapid and PCR tests. The testing site is located right before the check-in area.
Customers can choose from a rapid test or a PCR test, with results within 50 minutes or 24 hours, respectively.
The return to Newark departed out of gate F30, and the boarding process was similar to the outbound. Passengers boarded by class, and premium passengers entered through the forward left door. The gate area had plenty of places to sit and charge electronics before the long flight.
Flying French bee from Newark to Paris was a breeze, and the product was comfortable, especially for the price you pay for a basic economy ticket. The seats are nicely padded and the inflight entertainment makes the journey more than bearable. Not to mention, the food was surprisingly good, which is unexpected for a low-cost carrier.
In addition, while a red-eye flight may be a nightmare for some, I found that the route schedule to and from Paris is convenient for vacationers. The 12:20 p.m. arrival in Paris is perfect timing for checking into accommodations and enjoying a half-day in the city. Meanwhile, the 6:25 p.m. return gives travelers an easy-going departure day to enjoy final sightseeing activities without the stress of an early flight.