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Air France Boeing 777-300ER Economy Class Review [IAD to CDG]

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Airline: Air France (AF)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Flight #: AF0051
Route: Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG)
Date: April 23, 2024
Duration: 7 hours, 48 minutes
Cabin and Layout: Economy class, 3-4-3 configuration
Seat: 40J, 40K, 40L
Cost: 20,000 Flying Blue miles per adult each way (or from $600 cash)

A few months back, I decided to visit friends in France whom I hadn’t seen since the summer before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since I wanted to bring my spouse and our kindergartener with us, I wanted to do it on points and get the most bang we could for our buck.

I wanted to book flights through the Air France-KLM Flying Blue program because it often provides great-value redemptions. I also figured there’d likely be a monthly Flying Blue Promo Reward that would fit the bill nicely at some point soon.

The way it worked out, we ended up flying not out of our usual airports in New York City but out of Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Washington, D.C. So after a whirlwind tour of Washington, we took an overnight Air France flight out of Dulles to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) on a Boeing 777-300ER in coach.

Here’s how that went.

Booking Air France Economy

It turned out there were not 1 but 2 Flying Blue promotions to take advantage of. In November 2023, Flying Blue and Chase offered 25% bonus points for Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Flying Blue. I didn’t have any existing Flying Blue miles, so I jumped on that, transferring 88,000 Ultimate Rewards points based on the assumption that whatever Flying Blue Promo Reward between New York City and Paris came up would probably be for 25% off the redemption price, based on the history of this promotion.

The very next month — only days after I’d transferred the points, in fact — Flying Blue came through, with a monthly promotion of 25% off KLM flights to Paris. The only catch? It only applied to flights from Dulles in Washington, D.C.

After finding an IAD-CDG flight that fell during spring break, we decided to turn it into a 2-part trip, with a few days in the nation’s capital followed by a week or so in France. It was, after all, only about a 4-hour drive between New York City, where we live, to D.C.

The price was 20,000 miles each way for each adult, for a total of 80,000 for both adults. Flying Blue discounts flight redemptions for children by 25%, which meant the redemption was 15,000 miles each way for our son, or 30,000 round-trip. The total bill was 110,000 Flying Blue miles.

Flying Blue IAD CDG Nov 2023 redemption
Paying 88,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points plus a 25% Chase bonus and a Flying Blue promo of 25% off from IAD to CDG meant flying 3 to Paris for cheap. Image Credit: Flying Blue

Though the Flying Blue Promo Reward specifically named KLM flights, and KLM was the airline that initially confirmed the booking, we were booked onto Air France metal, and the flight was referred to as an Air France flight from that point forward. Air France was also the airline that contacted me with updates from then on.

Normally, the one-way flight between IAD and CDG would’ve cost around $600 each way per passenger, for a grand total of $3,600. But by using the Flying Blue Promo Rewards to parlay 88,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points into the flights for the 3 of us, I effectively received 4.09 cents per point of value — more than double our current valuation of Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents per point.

I did, of course, have to shell out cash for the taxes, fees, and surcharges for each of us. Those tallied up to $736.20 in cash, which I paid for using my Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which I wanted to earn more points on for a big redemption later. Overall, still solid value for round-trip tickets for 3 to Paris, which left at 9:05 p.m. (D.C. time) and landed at 10:53 a.m. (Paris time).

If I hadn’t used points, I would’ve booked this flight with The Platinum Card® from American Express, which earns 5x Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines or with AmexTravel.com (up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). There’s also the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard®, which earns 3x miles per dollar on Air France, KLM, and SkyTeam flights, but this isn’t a card I carry.

Hot Tip:

Learn about even more ways to redeem Air France-KLM Flying Blue miles for maximum value in our complete guide.

Checking In

Dulles isn’t our usual airport, but thanks to the CLEAR Plus membership that my wife and I have as a benefit of Amex Platinum card, we were checked in, bag-dropped, and through security before I had time to realize I’d totally forgotten to take photos of any of it for this review.

Visualize Air France check-in kiosks and a bag drop right here.

One final note for this section: The Air France attendant at the bag drop let our son weigh himself on the baggage scale. (She actually suggested it when she noticed how curious he was about the digital reader and how it all worked.) He definitely enjoyed that, and it was probably the highlight of the service.

Etihad Lounge in Collaboration With Chase

A few weeks before our visit and without any fanfare, the Etihad Airways Lounge had reopened as a joint endeavor with Chase Sapphire Lounge, turning this Terminal A space into what’s nominally a hybrid of both lounges but seemed in practice to be 100% Sapphire. The Etihad Lounge in Collaboration With Chase was a stealthy enough reopening that I had no idea it was there until we stumbled upon it almost by accident.

The way that worked out was we had over an hour to kill, so we tried to see if we could get into the Air France-KLM Lounge, only to be told they couldn’t take any more guests. The host, however, suggested we try the Etihad Lounge, adding that a lot of people seemed to be going there instead. So we backtracked to gate A14 and were surprised to see the Sapphire Lounge sign and logo hanging at the reception desk inside, under the more obvious Etihad sign outside.

IAD Etihad Lounge entrance
Signs within signs.

I presented my physical Priority Pass card to the people at the desk, who ushered us in with a smile. (Complimentary Priority Pass memberships are available with several credit cards.)

IAD Etihad Lounge reception main area
Open and airy.

It was hard not to see the similarities and differences between this lounge and the Chase Sapphire Lounge by The Club at LaGuardia Airport my son and I had checked out ahead of a flight a couple of weeks before.

Both had the same light, open, backlit aesthetic, with the same furnishings. It was much smaller than the lounge at LGA, though, meaning that it would’ve been impossible to make the bar the centerpiece at IAD. Instead, the bar was at the end of the space, like a liquid counterweight to the buffet, which was relatively hidden under the mezzanine.

A straight staircase led up to that mezzanine, which turned out to be bigger than we’d expected.

Another difference was that the artwork was more generic than at LGA, which had artwork and memorabilia that evoked New York City’s various heydays or present-day diversity. I’m not saying I wanted to see chintzy neon Lincoln Memorials and plastic cherry blossoms everywhere, but you could’ve plopped the lounge at Dulles anywhere in the world with an airport and no one would’ve batted an eye.

IAD Etihad Lounge stairs
Straight, not curved, staircase in IAD.

As soon as we finished climbing the stairs, the upstairs server immediately and effusively greeted us, found us a table, and asked what he could bring us. We barely had time to start on those drinks when he returned and suggested we move to the couch by the window, which gave us more space and was more suited to a family with a young child. He was right, and this was essentially our camp until departure.

IAD Etihad Lounge upstairs
Lots of seating upstairs, too.

The couch and coffee table were comfortable and spacious enough for my wife and son to keep themselves busy with watercolors and crafts. Though there was a buffet downstairs, our servers (our original, a man, was replaced by an even friendlier and more solicitous young woman who snuck our son packaged cookies from her apron) seemed so eager to tend to us that we almost felt obliged to order delivery using the QR codes on the tables.

I got a lamb meatball, which was hefty but somehow light, luscious, and tasty — really quite good. The chicken tagine with olives was fall-apart tender but overly salty and too heavy on the cumin. All in all, though, the food here was superior to the food at the Sapphire Lounge at LGA during our stay. It all also came within a few minutes, noticeably faster than in New York.

IAD Etihad Lounge lamb meatball muhamarra
The lamb meatball was delicious.

The biggest advantage the Dulles lounge had over the LaGuardia lounge, however, was probably the floor-to-ceiling glass wall, which let natural light flood in and afforded views of the apron from pretty much anywhere in the space.

IAD Etihad Lounge apron view
The wall of windows let the light in.

The Dulles lounge also had a family room and reflection room, but we didn’t check them out, as the time to board crept up sooner than we’d expected in such a pleasant and cozy place.

Before we left, our server (the second, female one with the cookies) made a point of finding us, saying goodbye to us, and wishing us a happy journey.

I’d definitely recommend hanging out at the Etihad Lounge in Collaboration With Chase at Dulles in Terminal A, which only reinforces the feeling that Chase is onto something with its lounge rollout. Not long after we’d returned home, my son started coming up with more suggestions for flights we could take — mostly for the explicit purpose of visiting a Sapphire Lounge.

Boarding

Refreshed and upbeat from our stay in the Etihad Lounge in Collaboration With Chase, we walked to our gate, A25, and found it in utter chaos with everyone upset.

The Air France staff had just announced that, because of mechanical problems aboard the plane, 46 passengers would have to be denied boarding. What’s more, they wouldn’t know who those 46 were until nearly everyone else was on board.

Thus began a bizarre, stressful sequence in which Air France employees simultaneously made frantic public announcements for presumably out-of-luck flyers to come immediately to the desk while trying to board passengers group by group as normal. As they checked boarding passes, the flight attendants weeded out some of the people in line, asking them to wait to the side by the boarding door. No one explained to anyone, including that growing, unhappy throng, whether that meant they weren’t going to Paris that day, but it was hard not to feel guilty as we entered the sky bridge under the melancholy gazes of so many.

IAD Gate A25
Dulles Airport (IAD) gate A25.

On Board Air France’s Boeing 777-300ER

Once we were finally aboard, the pilot made an announcement that may or may not have meant that everyone, even the people who’d been made to wait and watch everyone else board without delay, eventually got a seat. His English wasn’t great, and he phrased it in such a safely corporate and abstract, circuitous way, that it could’ve been taken either way if you weren’t paying close attention to his words.

He also finally explained the mechanical issue — kind of. Using the same opaque language, the pilot somehow got across that it involved the rear door and that the crew was roping off a bunch of seats in the rear that no one should move into under any circumstance.

That was it for the explanation. No assurances that the door wouldn’t pop off over the Atlantic and that anyone in or near those cordoned-off seats would be sucked out. Nope, we just had to accept these rows of ghost seats behind us and hope the issue wasn’t such that the door might pull a Goldfinger.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG taped off seats
The no-go seats on our flights.

Cabin

No surprises for the rest of the economy cabin, which was arranged in a typical 3-4-3 configuration.

Air France 777-300ER economy IAD CDG economy cabin
If you look toward the back, you can see where the line between the “safe” seats and the “you might get to find out how the door is malfunctioning” seats is.

Between the seats at about ankle level were universal power outlets. The one at my seat looked like it’d been chewed on and possibly melted or lightly set on fire. I didn’t bother plugging anything into it, but it had that look of so many other airplane power outlets I’ve had to suffer with … that looseness that meant my plug would pop out every time I flexed a toe. But, as I said, I never actually plugged anything in — maybe it was secretly the world’s clingiest airplane power outlet.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG power outlet
I’ve seen dog chew toys in better shape.

Lavatory

It wasn’t clear whether the bathroom in the aft of the plane was also supposed to be off-limits. Passengers seemed to avoid it — and the rear galley — at the beginning of the flight, but once the lights were dimmed after the dinner service, everyone assumed it was OK, and the crew never protested.

The bathrooms were narrow and, as economy-cabin airplane lavatories usually do on overnight (really all) flights, started to look grotty well before we landed. Bits of toilet paper lay on the floor, toilet rolls stood on the counter like unpopular guests in the kitchen at a house party, and at least 1 passenger had failed to grasp how the drains in airplane sinks work.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG toilet
It was a narrow lav.

Seat

Eight hours in any seat is hard to categorize as a fun time, but Air France’s narrow, cramped, and not especially comfortable seats didn’t do our time in the air any favors. They were 17 inches wide and had 32 inches of pitch, meaning they were essentially the same as any coach seat on any airline. I suppose it’s less an indictment of Air France than of flying economy internationally in general.

We were in seats 40J, 40K, and 40L, taking up our entire side row. Our son, naturally, claimed the window seat. I got the middle seat.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG seats 40JKL
Air France’s Boeing 777-300ER had standard coach seats.

Each seat came with a pillow with a coarse cover, a thin blanket, and headphones. Since we’d all brought our own, we left the headphones in their bags.

It was not easy or comfortable to sleep in these seats. By the time we arrived, my knees, hips, back, and neck were all tired and sore.

Amenities

As this was an economy seat, we didn’t expect all the bells and whistles from our flight, but as this was also an international flight, Air France did try to keep us entertained.

Entertainment

Each seatback came with an inflight entertainment screen. Noticeably, they were not tiltable, meaning they were angled too far down for me but too high for my son, as if the only people who exist are about 5 feet, 6 inches.

My wife’s screen didn’t work at all at first, merely an opaque black rectangle, until a flight attendant jiggled something out of view and reset her screen.

There was a reasonably large library of programs, including a thick selection of French programs and movies.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG IFE
Heavy on the Disney on this trip.

Underneath each screen was a standard 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and a USB-A port.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG IFE ports
Look for the blue to hear something new.

Wi-Fi

Air France offers free messaging, and the Air France Play app lets you download periodicals. But anything else on Wi-Fi, including browsing, requires that you buy a pass.

The Wi-Fi came in tiers, from hourlong internet browsing to streaming movies. The prices ranged from €8 to €30 (~$9 to $33) for this long-haul flight, which was too rich for my blood.

Food and Beverage

Dinner was served shortly after we hit cruising altitude.

The meals for the children were served first. Our son got overcooked penne marinara, a roll, and water, which he didn’t touch. My wife chose the adult pasta meal, which was essentially the same thing.

I got the chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes, which tasted much better than it looked. (It looked like an abstract artist was going through a beige period.) Surprisingly, the chicken wasn’t overcooked into pale jerky, and the creamy mushroom sauce was actually rich and delicious.

It came with a vinaigrette-y couscous salad, a forgettable cake with some sort of vanilla-strawberry icing, a Babybel cheese, and, naturally, butter.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG chicken dinner
It was mostly better than this looks.

Disappointingly for a French company, the breads were universally terrible, like Styrofoam handballs. This was true on both the flight to and the flight from Paris, so it wasn’t a matter of the caterers being from the U.S. or France. I know bread is among the more difficult foods to get right for flights, but these were as bad as I’d ever had.

Breakfast was of the continental variety: orange juice, more Babybel and butter, a drinkable yogurt, and another awful bread roll.

Air France 777 300ER economy IAD CDG breakfast
The best part of breakfast was to be drunk, not eaten.

Service

Getting to weigh himself on the luggage scale was likely our kindergartener’s favorite part of this leg of the trip. It was a nice gesture on the Air France agent’s part, and it didn’t slow the line down, as we’d arrived well ahead of schedule.

At the gate, the staff members gave little information about the seating situation but also seemed to have little information themselves. They seemed flustered and, at one point, near panicking as it became clear how many people would be affected. They quickly recovered, though, and got everyone aboard quickly, efficiently, and courteously.

Aboard the flight, they were neither overly friendly nor helpful but were always polite and efficient.

Arrival

We landed safely and on time at Terminal 2E at Charles de Gaulle and even considered whether we’d be able to meet our friends in time for lunch.

However, we hadn’t considered the immigration process at CDG, which was by far the worst part of the experience.

It took us nearly 3 hours to get through customs and immigration, exacerbated by poor or nonexistent signage and general confusion over what anyone was supposed to be doing. This was true even though we were in the family line, which was shorter and faster-moving than the regular line.

The rare airport staff who deigned to make an appearance only seemed to make things worse, committing to inexplicable decisions like creating new or splitting existing lines without adding new immigration agents. That, naturally, only ended up making everyone wait twice as long. Acknowledging that the room was getting uncomfortable with the body heat of hundreds of people packed in, 1 airport employee walked around with a case of bottled water, passing them out to whomever he could comfortably reach (so like a dozen or so people out of several hundred).

Despite being stuck in bureaucratic limbo, the passengers were well-behaved and proved themselves real troupers. When we finally made it to baggage pickup, everyone from our plane found that we’d long since passed our flight’s unloading slot and discovered all our luggage stacked neatly on the floor by the carousel.

This immediately made me think about how much of a mess this summer’s Olympic games in Paris will be.

Final Thoughts

This was a solid redemption that saved me thousands for a much-needed visit to friends we hadn’t seen in too long, so I must chalk this flight and its return up as a win. It was beset by confusion, bizarre errors, and mediocre food, ending in a bureaucratic morass.

We’re definitely going to fly Air France again, mostly because of our friends in France. But next time, we’ll fly in business class.

The information regarding the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to fly from Dulles to Charles de Gaulle?

It takes just under 8 hours to fly from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Paris (CDG).

How many miles is it from CDG to IAD?

The distance between Paris and Washington, D.C., is about 3,850 miles.

Is CDG a small airport?

No, Charles de Gaulle is France’s largest airport by far, and you could spend hours navigating it … most of it waiting in line at immigration.

Which airport is closer to the Eiffel Tower?

Paris Orly Airport (ORY) is closer to the Eiffel Tower than CDG at about 9.5 miles. Charles de Gaulle is about 16 miles from the tower.

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About Michael Y. Park

Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and queen of Malaysia, tramped around organic farms in Cuba, ridden the world’s longest train through the Sahara, and choked down gasoline clams in North Korea.

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