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French bee A350-900XWB (Photo: French bee)

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.”

French bee A350 sits at Paris-Orly Airport (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Check-In and Security

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.

French bee has separate check-in areas for economy and premium passengers (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Premium and customer support counters in Newark (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks

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.

Security wait times at Newark reached one hour on departure day (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

The Gate Experience

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.

Gates 51-57 have charging stations available (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

French bee’s inaugural flight departed from gate 53 in Newark (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Passengers waved their flags in celebration of the inaugural flight (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

The Inflight Experience

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.

Premium economy has a 2-3-2 configuration (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

“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.

French bee’s A350 has a 3-4-3 layout in economy (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

“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.

French bee offers a generous 32-inch seat pitch in economy (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Each seat has a headrest and comes with a blanket (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Each TV was loaded with movies, TV shows, games, and music (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

The inflight dinner was surprisingly tasty compared to other carriers (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Passengers can view the Blue Café menu from the seat back screens (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.”

Arrival into Paris-Orly

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.

Passport control was quick and painless (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

French bee’s baggage claim carousel was located just past the door from immigration (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

Return to Newark

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.

Self-service kiosks are available for passenger check-in (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Economy passengers in line to drop their luggage (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

There is also a line dedicated to premium passengers, which was quick and easy to get through.

The premium passenger line was quick and easy (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Passengers can address day-of-travel needs at French bee’s dedicated customer service counter (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks

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.

Passengers can get their required covid test onsite at Orly (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

Customers can choose from a rapid test or a PCR test, with results within 50 minutes or 24 hours, respectively.

Orly offers rapid tests and PCR tests (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

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.

Passengers board by class (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

The gate area had plenty of places to relax and charge electronics (Photo: Taylor Rains | AirlineGeeks)

Overall First Impression

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.

Author

  • Taylor Rains graduated from Florida Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Aviation Management in 2017. She has worked in the aviation industry for the past five years and has a specialty in safety analytics for part 121 airlines, but she has also worked for a part 135 company in Alaska. Her experience has allowed her to work in many areas of aviation, including airport operations, flight operations, security, inflight, dispatch, and maintenance. Taylor is also an avid traveler and has used her flight benefits to fly on as many airlines and aircraft types as possible. So far, her favorite flight has been aboard KLM’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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